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Japan: Death Penalty Broadcast, 53 Years Later

An audio tape recorded 53 years ago of a death penalty execution in Japan, aired by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting on May 6th and and by Asahi television's Super Morning show [ja] on April 29th, has triggered conversations among bloggers about the country's death penalty system. The 50-minute audio footage, which features the last moments of one unnamed death row inmate, is the first of its kind to have ever been released. The airing of the footage comes just as Japan is moving toward the implementation of a citizen judge system, with debate surrounding issues such as the Hikari murder case still ongoing.

At the Happy Road blog (ハッピーロード笑店街), one blogger writes:

やっぱり聞いてしまいました。文化放送は53年前に執行された死刑の瞬間が録音されたテープを5月6日放送した。テープは大阪拘置所長が、死刑囚の処遇改善などのため1955年に録音したもの。約55分間の番組では、死刑囚の氏名は伏せられいた、執行2日前に面会した姉との会話や絞首刑執行時の音などが約10分間放送された。 死刑囚は姉に「泣かないで、笑って別れましょう」と語り、執行直前には刑務官と談笑。読経が響く中、刑場の床板が外れる音が放送された。感想は・・・んーだな。 凶悪犯罪が後を絶たない中、死刑廃止を考えさせられる。

Of course I listened to it. On May 6th, Nippon Cultural Broadcasting aired a tape, recorded 53 years ago, of the instant at which a death penalty execution was carried out. The tape was recorded in 1955 in order to allow the head of the Osaka detention center to review the treatment of death row inmates. In the 55-minute program, the name of the death row inmate was withheld, and they broadcast 10 minutes of sounds from a conversation with the inmate's older sister two days before the execution, as well as from the hanging execution itself. The death-row inmate told his older sister: “don't cry, let's say our goodbyes while still laughing,” and just before the actual execution, he had a friendly chat with the prison guard. The sound of the floorboards being removed was broadcast against the backdrop of sutra chanting. My impression was … hmm. In the midst of never-ending atrocious crimes, it made me think about abolition of the death penalty.

Many bloggers objected to what was perceived as a biased presentation by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting. Blogger Moriri writes:

私は死刑賛成とは言いませんが、少なくとも死刑廃止には反対していますので、その考えに立てば今回の文化放送の行う内容では片手落ちであると考えます。なぜならこれは死刑囚が刑を受けて殺されるときの音声しか放送しないからです。これでは明らかに死刑囚寄りの放送内容であって、このような放送を行えば当然ながら「死刑囚が殺されるのは可哀想」という意見を醸成することになるでしょう。しかしこの死刑囚が本当の罪人だとするのであれば、彼が死刑を受けるに至った行為についてもきちんと説明する必要があるでしょう。それが公平な放送、ということになります。

I wouldn't say that I am for the death penalty, but I am at least against the abolition of the death penalty, and from that perspective I consider the contents broadcast in this case by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting to be one-sided. The only thing that was broadcast was the voice of the death-row inmate when he received the death sentence and was killed, this is why [I consider the broadcast to be one-sided.] This is clearly a broadcast that is biased toward the death-row inmate, and it is natural that broadcasting this kind of content will lead people to “feel sorry about the killing of death-row inmates”. However, if we take it that the death-row inmate is actually a criminal, then there would appear to be a need for a proper explanation of the actions that led him to receiving the death penalty. Then this would be a fair broadcast.

Blogger Takao Yoshiki (高尾善希) meanwhile argues that the blame for the death penalty finally comes back to Japanese citizens through the game of shiri-tori:

尻取り遊びをしてみよう。死刑執行の時の床板は誰が外すのだろう。それは刑務官に決まっている。刑務官はどうして床板を外すのだろう。それは法務大臣から紙が来たからに決まっている。しかしなぜ法務大臣は紙に判をついたのだろう。それは法務大臣になったからである。じゃあなぜ彼は法務大臣の椅子に座っているのだろう。それは国民が選んだからである。そこでこの尻取り遊びは仕舞いになる。つまり床板は廻り廻って国民が外したという理屈になるから、床板を外す状況を国民に向けて放送したとしても何ら差し支えないということになる。この放送についてどのような意見を述べようと自由であり、法務大臣を誰にするかということも、当然自由である。

Let's play shiri-tori [Japanese word game/cap verses]. Who is it who removes the floorboards at the moment of the death penalty execution? That's the prison guard. And why does the prison guard remove the floorboards? That's because a paper arrived from the Minister of Justice. But why did the Minister of Justice put his seal on the paper? That's because he became the Justice Minister. So then I wonder, why did he take on the position of Justice Minister? That's because the citizens chose him. And that's where this game of shiri-tori comes to an end. In other words, since the logic loops around back to the start with the citizens removing the floorboards, broadcasting the removing of the floorboards to citizens is somehow permissible. [People are] free to state whatever opinions they like about this broadcast, and they are also naturally free to make whoever [they like] the Minister of Justice.

3 comments

  • So awful, the United States (where I live) has just started executing people again after the US Supreme Court decided lethal injections aren’t “unconstitutional”. I don’t how anyone could be in favor of the death penalty, unless you were convinced that all people (rich or poor) could be sure of adequate legal defense and a perfectly functioning system of justice. I don’t think any country in the world can guarantee that.

  • Rose Young

    I’m not against the death penalty, and I’m American. If you kill in cold blood, you deserve to have your life taken. If you kill ANYONE for any reason other than war, you aren’t innocent. What do you propose to do with incorigible criminals? Are you aware that the recidivism rate is extremely high? Some types of criminals cannot be rehabilitated. One good example is the pedophile.

  • chikachy

    An eye for an eye… this is exactly the kind of vengeful thinking that keeps throwing people into hatred and turmoil over and over again. What is it about criminals that are so different from us? We are all humans, and we are all sinners. Nobody is perfect, and we are not capable of judging other people’s inner thoughts and morals, because we are only a step away from committing the same crimes. Leave the decision of life or death to God. It’s high time that we stopped playing God to satisfy our own skewed sense of justice.
    Another thought about war….. Yes we are murderers if we kill people in a war march for whatever sanctimonious cause, because we do it with a purpose, with a plan, to inflict pain and death in cold blood. The Nazis killed people in a war; most of them were soldiers simply obeying orders, believing in their cause and drumming to their own sense of justice. Yet they are criminals in some if not most people’s eyes. Bloodshed begets bloodshed, hatred begets hatred. This is to me the most ineffective and costly type of crime. War is the ultimate crime, and that’s why there is no worse criminal than a war criminal.

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