Japan: The Penalty of Death

On August 23, three inmates, in Tokyo and Nagoya, all convicted of murder, were put to death by hanging. The executions brought the number of hangings administered under then-justice minister Nagase Jinen, who was removed from the position shortly later in the recent reshuffle, to 10 during his 11-month term. With over 100 inmates on death row, Japan is one of the very few so-called industrialized nations, along with the United States, in which the death penalty is still in practice and is supported by a large portion of the population. In a report issued earlier in 2007, the UN Committee agaist Torture pointed to the fact that death-row inmates are not told of their execution until the last minutes and condemned the process as amounting to torture.

Asia Death Penalty has a comprehensive summary of the recent event and the issues concerning Japan's practice of death penalty in English.

Despite criticism from outside Japan, the issue does not get much attention inside the country. Following last week's executions, a handful of bloggers responded to the news.

An overwhelming number of bloggers are supportive of the executions. Blogger enterprise presents a typical view expressed by them:



それ以前に、死刑反対してる方々って命の尊厳云々を仰っての事だと思いますが、 犯人に殺された命はどのようにすれば報われるの??

Well, i guess people have different things to say, but in my personal opinion,

the death penalty is a necessary system, I think.

If the death penalty were abolished, then who would take care of the imprisoned criminals?
Would they be fed by tax money?
This means that the money which the victim's family pays would be used as well, doesn't it?
Somebody kills his/her family, and then they are taken care of — I have to question this.
I guess those people who are agaist the death penalty oppose it based on the sanctity of life or whatever,
but then how will the life of the murdered person be requited??

Blogger Yakuni writes:


If somebody commits a crime for which they deserve to die, then he/she should be sentenced to life in prison with no commutation, not only so that the person cannot get out of jail after something like 7 or 15 years, but also so that they feel that with heavy labour is more difficult [than death]. That is what atoning for crimes is all about. It should be noted that death is mere liberation of the soul.

Blogger retsureppu was one of the few bloggers who expressed a strong criticism agaist the death penalty:


Guillotine Justice Minister Nagase again carried out executions of three people on August 23. This means that within only 10 months of his term, he has carried out 10 executions. He does not even have the slightest chance to be appointed as justice minister in the cabinet reshuffle on August 27, and we can't accept this latest execution order, the “last fart of this skunk” [translator's note: Japanese expression]. I believe I wrote this before, but I think the judge who handed down the death sentense and the justice minister who signed the execution order should be present at the scene of execution. If the justice minister can keep his sanity after 10 executions, then I will accept his conviction to some degree. I don't think there is a warden who has observed 10 executions in 10 months, but I suspect that it would probably make him insane. I heard that it takes about 10 minutes, depending on the person, to die by hanging, and [as they are dying] they thrash around. I read earlier in a book about the death penalty that prison staff who observe executions lose a night of sleep. Capital punishment is brutal murder by the state.

While many bloggers discuss pros and cons of the death penalty, some bloggers also discuss other aspects of the system.

One blogger writes:


My house is near the Tokyo Detention Center.
Two people were apparently put to death the day before yesterday.
At animal shelters for puppies, they use a gas chamber for euthanasia.
In the case of humans, it's done by hanging.
I heard that the floor falls out when the button is pressed,
but even if it's for administering [the death penalty],I wonder how the prison staff who presses the button
feels about killing a person with his or her own hand?
I wondered about this for just a moment.

Another blogger discusses the issue from both sides of the debate:



This week, the justice minister ordered the execution of three inmates. The present justice minister has given permission for 10 executions in total during his appointed term. However, there are over 100 inmates who have been sentenced to death and are now waiting on death row. Since 1993, several individuals have been appointed justice minister, but no one stamped an order of execution.

It seems that this issue is never covered in the Hochi Shimbun. When a perpetrator commits a crime, it gets talked about and reported everyday. And, in murders, especially grim cases, everyone hopes that the defendant will be sentenced to death. However, at the time when the death order is carried out, no one would hope for a “death” of a fellow human being, as an individual human.




This poses a few issues. “Do humans have the right to judge others?” “Isn't punishing someone by death the same as committing a murder?” “Does an individual who killed a person in a brutal way have the right to continue living?” “What about the pain of the victim's family?” “Can the crime commited be compensated by capital punishment?” and other issues like these.

In any society, there exist both those people who oppose the death penalty and those who support it. Those who oppose it are usually people who are directly involved in the these cases. And then, when something happens and their own family is put in the victim's position, they I think they might change their opinion. On the other hand, people who are in favour [of the dealth penalty] probably would also change their opinion if they were forced to be where the execution takes place. This is because a person's death cannot be compensated by the death of his or her opponent: to put it another way, it is because it is impossible to bring the victim back to life.

As long as humankind exists, this issue will be discussed. It will also never reach a final conclusion.


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