The execution chamber at the Tokyo detention house where inmates are hanged, often with just hours notice Photo: AFP
crime

Cruel yet popular punishment: Japan's death penalty

45 Comments
By Miwa Suzuki

Years waiting on death row, inmates told their fate just hours before their execution, and guards paid extra to do an "unbearable" job –- Japan's capital punishment system is criticized as cruel and secretive yet remains popular.

Unusually for an major industrialised power, capital punishment in Japan enjoys broad public support with few calls for its abolishment.

Inmates are executed not by professionals but by ordinary prison staff who may have been guarding the condemned for months or even years, and who receive extra pay of 20,000 yen each.

"It's awful, the body bounces like a 70-kilogram object on a nylon rope," said Toshio Sakamoto, who witnessed noosed inmates plunge to their deaths, and described the process as "unbearable."

Blindfolded convicts, usually those who have killed more than one person, are led to a spot with their feet bound and hands cuffed. Then, a trapdoor opens below.

The mechanism is triggered by a button in an adjacent room, pressed simultaneously by several officers, although none is told which button is the "live one" that will cause the prisoner's fall.

The guards assigned to carry out the executions "remember the (inmates') body temperatures, their breathing, their words... But they must do most of the work," he told AFP in an interview.

And they receive no counseling. They are expected to "digest" the execution themselves, Sakamoto explained.

"There is no worse job," he said. "The cost of a human life is 100,000 yen."

Japan is the only major industrialised democracy other than the United States to carry out capital punishment.

The system was thrust into the international spotlight in July when the country hanged 13 doomsday cultists but the secretive methods have come under fire for being cruel for criminals, families and guards.

Under law, the death sentence should be carried out six months after confirmed by the top court. In reality however, prisoners languish on death row for many years -- Japan has a total of 110 awaiting execution.

"Prisoners are typically only given a few hours' notice before execution, but some may be given no warning at all," said Amnesty International in a recent statement.

"Inmates are kept in isolation suffering the anguish of never knowing when they are going to be put to death -– sometimes for decades," added the pressure group. Families are only informed after the execution, noted Amnesty.

Munehiro Nishiguchi, a convicted murderer whose appeal against the death sentence is being heard in the Supreme Court, said the news of the Aum cult executions came as "an indescribable shock".

"I feel I'm such a pathetically weak person," he wrote in a letter to Yo Nagatsuka, who filmed a documentary exploring public perceptions of capital punishment in Japan.

"I have realized the real punishment or agony from the death sentence is the fear you feel until the day comes," he also wrote.

Former guard Sakamoto notes that a high reliance on confessions and a conviction rate of well over 90 percent allows room for coercion and false charges.

The government cites broad public support as a reason to maintain capital punishment but there is little public debate as the whole process is veiled in secrecy.

The authorities have just once allowed a 30-minute media visit inside the glass-walled execution room in the Tokyo Detention House, arguably the best-kept among Japan's seven facilities with gallows.

A 2014 government survey of around 1,800 people showed 80 percent thought capital punishment was "unavoidable", with only one in 10 in favor of abolishing it.

But 38 percent thought it should be abolished if Japan introduces life imprisonment without parole -- something the penal code does not currently allow.

One 62-year-old businessman in Tokyo said it would be "insane" to think of scrapping capital punishment.

And Mika Koike, a 29-year-old IT engineer, said: "Taking the victims and their families into consideration, I think there is no other clear, absolute way to punish the offenders."

Kotaro Yamakami, a 25-year-old politics student, said murderers should pay in kind.

"There is a saying 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' I think it's unavoidable that those who committed heinous crimes are executed," he said.

But he acknowledged there was an increasing number opposed to the death penalty and urged authorities to consider introducing life imprisonment with no parole.

For now, there is no sign that Japan's leaders are pondering any changes.

On July 5, the eve of executions of seven Aum cultists, a smiling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was photographed in a drinking party with fellow politicians, giving the thumbs-up for a collective snapshot with his justice minister who had signed off on the hanging orders.

© 2018 AFP

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.


45 Comments
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Lookingat the map, it is amazing how few countries still have the death penalty and most are emerging economies.

The way Japan allows people to linger on death row is shocking. They need to get it over and done with.

At least they do not execute people who committed their crimes as children, as occurs in middle eastern countries and some US States.

-6 ( +9 / -15 )

Well done to Japan for keeping with this system. For those convicted of heinous crimes there is no other way, they must be put to death. My only complaint with the death penalty is that it takes too long! Why does it take so long? It should be administered within a month, max.

Why have a go at Abe and co. for drinking the night before those scumbags met their justice? Anyone would drink to that!

-5 ( +17 / -22 )

"There is a saying 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' I think it's unavoidable that those who committed heinous crimes are executed," he said.

Yes, a phrase that was created around 5,000 years ago. This goes along with those who steal items have their hands cut off. This is 2018 AD, not BC. The death penalty is just revenge killing. It is not a punishment. In fact, the majority of those on death row in Japan committed their crimes in order to get the death penalty. This should tell you that, the death penalty is an incentive for heinous crimes, not a deterrent. Spending the rest of their lives slowly going insane in a small cell is a punishment. Death is a release from punishment.

6 ( +17 / -11 )

Disillusioned

some of what you say may be true, but for those who have irrefutably committed awful crimes why should society at large pay to incarcerate them for a long time or forever when they are never going to be rehabilitated?

Just because a value or maxim is 5000 years old doesn't make it wrong.

6 ( +19 / -13 )

For those wishing for a quit death penalty sentence to be carried out, sure if that person is guilty without one doubt, but what if it is you accused of a heinous crime, receive the death penalty without time to prove that it wasn't you but someone who was a close close match as you...oops too late, I just pushed the button not sure if it was mine that hung you but pushed never the less, oh well too late. Next week, oops the person who got hung was not the actual person, but police messed up and withheld crucial evidence...mmmm...

8 ( +14 / -6 )

Most Japanese support the death penalty simply because they don't want to think about it, or haven't had much opportunity to.

It does not deter crime.

It does not bring solace to the victim's loved ones.

It is not justice. An execution is still a moral sin, a failure to find better solutions.

The death penalty serves no purpose other than to legitimize state murder.

-2 ( +16 / -18 )

Always the same arguments in favor of death penalty.

What transpires from the article is that people just don't think about it. It could be abolished tomorrow, and they wouldn't see the difference.

And that's because the death penalty brings nothing. No justice, no closure, no safety, nothing.

It just brings nightmares to the executioner, and 5 minutes of joy for some people who will forget the whole thing immediately.

-1 ( +14 / -15 )

Fortunately, the execution process in Japan is not cruel. I see from the article photograph that the execution chamber is fully air-conditioned. How considerate! There's nothing worse than being hanged when you're feeling a bit uncomfortable because of the heat.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

My only complaint with the death penalty is that it takes too long! Why does it take so long? It should be administered within a month, max.

Even in the UK, who have a much fairer system of prosecution than in Japan, there have been abuses of prosecution with innocents jailed for years and being found innocent later. Under your ISIS-style law they would all be dead long before receiving justice. I hope for your sake you never end up wrongly imprisoned for a crime.

6 ( +15 / -9 )

If police and prosecutors were in anyway competent in their jobs, if judges were educated enough to understand they are as incompetent as those gathering evidence. Might not be so against it. So against this barbaric practice. Looking forward to the multi nation justice meeting here in Japan soon, should be some great quotes from the ministry of justice out of that one.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Why is it that every one on these forums who is against capital punishment never give any alternative solutions?

-3 ( +11 / -14 )

under law - Japanese laws and entire legal system are a sick joke - Japanese call it 'chaban ' meaning farce or charade - Under law, the death sentence should be carried out six months after confirmed by the top court. In reality however, prisoners languish on death row for many years -- Japan has a total of 110 awaiting execution.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

@lesenfant - Why is it that every one on these forums who is against capital punishment never give any alternative solutions?

Pardon me? "Spending the rest of their lives slowly going insane in a small cell is a punishment. Death is a release from punishment."

@Kaerimashita - Disillusioned - some of what you say may be true, but for those who have irrefutably committed awful crimes why should society at large pay to incarcerate them for a long time or forever when they are never going to be rehabilitated?

Can't you see the selfish naivety of such a statement? Criminals who commit heinous crimes are not put in prison to be rehabilitated. They are put in prison as punishment. The death penalty is state sanctioned revenge killing. If I was to kill someone for a heinous crime, I would go to prison for it. Why does the state have the right to kill people and we do not?

@Kaerimashita - Just because a value or maxim is 5000 years old doesn't make it wrong.

No, the fact that it is 5,000 years old does not make it wrong. However, the fact that society has progressed far beyond this ancient 'eye for an eye' mentality does make it wrong.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

Why is it that every one on these forums who is against capital punishment never give any alternative solutions?

Murder should mean contemplating what you did for the rest of your life in a prison cell.

Next question.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

"I feel I'm such a pathetically weak person,"

Me too brother but I'm not Japanese , I have no vote , when i've used Japan for what I want, I'll be back in a country that has critical thinking and feelings.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Inmates are executed not by professionals but by ordinary prison staff who may have been guarding the condemned for months or even years, and who receive extra pay of 20,000 yen each.

Is there an industry/sector where J businesses do not cut corners? Pretty appalling.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

let the inmates slowly rot in prison. To execute them is like doing them a silent favor!

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Great, they should anguish not knowing when execution comes, that is the punishment...

after they are dead , no punishment anymore....

That said, a better system could be devised, why would you need real people doing it today, just do a computer controlled execution, with a random lottery on the date / hour.

-5 ( +7 / -12 )

Hard labor.

But if I’m murdered by the state, not a bright tatami room. A forest or cliff.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

when i've used Japan for what I want, I'll be back in a country that has critical thinking and feelings.

What is this magical country of which you speak? Do they have unicorns as well?

There are perfectly good cases to be made on both sides of the argument. I tend to lean against the death penalty for the same reasons Europe did after World War II - because governments should not have the right to kill citizens. They saw first-hand where that could lead. The argument that innocents might be executed is another good argument, as is the argument that killing people is just plain wrong.

On the other hand, what is society to do with irredeemably toxic people? Why should they be supported at great expense for the rest of their lives, after taking many lives themselves? Even more worrying is how can we guarantee that these monsters will stay in prison. Many murderers are released for good behavior, or after a successful appeal, or just to make space for more prisoners - and then go on to hurt and kill more people.

It's not that simple. I won't even get into the contradictions between abortion positions and capital punishment positions.

But there is certainly no place for intolerantly saying capital punishment countries are inferior. The very attitude is antithetical to enlightened thinking.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

I think that if someone has deliberately killed your mom, dad, child, or family member...they do you a life sentence.

You may never get over it. A parent will never get over the death of their child.

As mentioned above yes it is revenge! A good healthy dose of it. Is this not reserved for the worst or the worst?

Japan needs to get their police methods updated, not force confessions, and be more transparent. And someone who kills others because they want to, they want to wreck your life and take your family members life too...

Its hard to imagine that justice hasnt been done.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The purpose of the the Law and a Legal System and It's Procedures is to prevent victims and survivors from engaging in the three Rs. Revenge, Retaliation, and Retribution. Each capable of destroying a societies cohesion and stability. The question is actually does the system as applied work.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why is it that every one on these forums who is against capital punishment never give any alternative solutions?

Obviously imprisonment is an alternative solution, otherwise prisons wouldn't even exist. Even in capital punishment jurisdictions, it's where a lot of murderers serve out their punishment.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan should adopt a more humane method for execution like lethal injection.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

On the other hand, what is society to do with irredeemably toxic people? Why should they be supported at great expense for the rest of their lives, after taking many lives themselves? Even more worrying is how can we guarantee that these monsters will stay in prison. Many murderers are released for good behavior, or after a successful appeal, or just to make space for more prisoners - and then go on to hurt and kill more people.

We kept the Moor's Murderers in prison for life, the Krays, Yorkshire Ripper, Fred West and his wife... all of those safely locked away, never to be released. They don't need to be executed... as has been said above, it's an act of revenge.

There is also the possibility of mistakes - Japan's interrogation system seems broken from what I've read, and I don't think they're that good that 90% of arrests lead to an accurate conviction rate.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Tax payers doesn't need to foot expenses of life-termers. Here in japan, they actually do work and that work can support their livelihood for the rest of their lives. Better than death penalty

2 ( +3 / -1 )

plasticmonkeyToday  04:26 pm JST

Most Japanese support the death penalty simply because they don't want to think about it, or haven't had much opportunity to.

Any evidence for that? Can you cite a survey or a research effort that has found that this is how most Japanese people think?

It does not deter crime.

Personally, I'm not a death penalty fan -- but it's for reasons other than the "doesn't deter argument."

Maybe it's true that capital punishment doesn't deter crime. But by the same logic, the next-harshest punishment -- life imprisonment -- doesn't deter it either.

Of the 50 U.S. states, 19 of them have no death penalty at all, and in most of the other 31, capital punishment is rarely doled out. Yet those states still have murders.

So, if "it doesn't deter crime" is going to be a reason not to have a death penalty, then we'd logically have to get rid of life imprisonment too. Because that doesn't seem to deter murder any less than capital punishment does.

So, in arguing against the death penalty, "doesn't deter crime" doesn't work. Have to come up with a better argument.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

There are always going to be people who commit crimes so heinous they deserve death, but the death penalty should be saved for the worst of the worst ...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There are always going to be people who commit crimes so heinous they deserve death, but the death penalty should be saved for the worst of the worst ...

These are the worst of the worst if you ask me:

Blindfolded convicts, usually those who have killed more than one person, are led to a spot with their feet bound and hands cuffed. Then, a trapdoor opens below.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Alex EinzSep. 10 05:56 pm JST

Great, they should anguish not knowing when execution comes, that is the punishment...

I imagine the anguish must be a whole lot worse when the condemned are innocent people who have had confessions forced out of them by police who are more interested in making conviction rates look good and maintaining the illusion that they're actually competent.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Another example of how japan is not a civilized country.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Simon, gotta break some eggs.. the innocent rate is too low anyway.. in fact the system should be made to work much faster, once sentence committed, execution asap.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

"The cost of a human life is 100,000 yen." This "life" took the lives of innocent people, remember that.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The story directly above this one in today's news feed was about a man who killed and dismembered nine people, eight of whom were women who were all sexually assaulted.

Is death too great a punishment for him?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Alex EinzToday  11:22 am JST

Simon, gotta break some eggs..

I don't consider sloppy police investigations, wrongful incarceration or wrongful executions acceptable under any circumstances.

in fact the system should be made to work much faster, once sentence committed, execution asap.

Forgotten your earlier statement so quickly?

Alex EinzSep. 10 05:56 pm JST

Great, they should anguish not knowing when execution comes, that is the punishment...

Which could be read to mean you're quite okay with the condemned being made to wait in solitary confinement for years on end, but then you offer the view that the state should get on with executing them as soon as possible. No contradiction at all there, then?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Not really, I generally think faster executions are better but letting em wait instead of converting it to " life" which is like what 20 years in most countries is definitely ok with me.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

in general, no convicted mass killer should be wasting public money ,eating or using resources.. locking em up in cells with no access to food , water or fresh air would be fine too.. I am talking about proven mass murderers.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Alex EinzToday  10:04 pm JST

.. I am talking about proven mass murderers.

What did "gotta break some eggs" mean, then? I wasn't talking about proven mass murderers, but the somewhat more dubious convictions that the Japanese criminal justice system is known for.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

If you believe that your life should be spared after you done took someone else life, then you are delusional and sickening. Suffer and meet your fate the same way you did to the innocent people livesyou took

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Capital Punishment perspectives:

From a convicted innocent - it is an unfair system, from a perpetrator of a heinous crime - to live is preferable, for the victims of the crime it's Justice to appease their pain, for the State - it is a deterrent to heinous crimes. For Human Rights activists, for religion, for the Philosophy majors...

unfortunately, the State cannot satisfy everyone's interest.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Simon, anyone that the law deemed entitled to be hanged is typically beyond just killing one person.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Everyone else should be doing hard labor ,and all money should go to victims.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

... who receive extra pay of 20,000 yen each.

Well break out the check book!

And then no counselling is offered. Sure, there may be justification for sentencing those inmates to death. But there is no justification for the shocking lack of mental health services and compassion here! That is the truly barbaric part.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In a culture where confession through coercion is the norm... how can one justify capital punishment?  IMHO

1 ( +1 / -0 )

if someone kidnaps rapes tortures murders your family your relatives your countrymen would you want them executed to have a life in prison possibly eligible for parole or exonerated or let bygones be bygones 40 years later? that's what a certain country thinks is fair.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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