- Capital punishment in Japan
Capital punishment is legal in Japan. The only crimes for which capital punishment is statutory are homicide and treason. Between 1946 and 1993, Japanese courts sentenced 766 people to death (including a small number from People's Republic of China, South Korea and Indonesia), 608 of whom were executed. The death penalty is ordinarily imposed in cases of multiple murders involving aggravating factors.
Beginning in about the fourth century, Japan became increasingly influenced by the Chinese judicial system, and gradually adopted a system of different punishments for different crimes, including the death penalty. However, beginning in the Nara period, cruel punishments and the death penalty were used less and less, likely as a result of the influence of Buddhist teachings, and the death penalty was phased out completely in the Heian period. The death penalty was not used for the next 300 years, until the Genpei War. During the following Kamakura period, capital punishment was widely used and methods of execution became increasingly cruel, and included burning, boiling and crucifixion, among many others. During the Muromachi period, even harsher methods of execution came into use, such as upside down crucifixion, impalement by spear, sawing, and dismemberment with oxen or carts. Even minor offenses could be punished by death, and family members and even neighbors could be punished along with the offender. These harsh methods, and liberal use of the death penalty, continued throughout the Edo period and into the early Meiji period, but due to the influence of Confucianism, offenses against masters and elders were increasingly punished much more harshly than offenses against those of lower rank. Torture was used to extract confessions. In 1871, as the result of a major reform of the penal code, the number of crimes punishable by death was decreased and excessively cruel torture and flogging were abolished. In 1873, another revision resulted in a further reduction in the number of crimes punishable by death, and methods of execution were restricted to beheading or hanging.
Sentencing guideline - Nagayama Standard
The supreme court of Japan, in imposing the death penalty, ruled that the death penalty may be imposed "inevitably" in consideration of the degree of criminal liability and balance of justice based on a nine-point set of criteria. Though technically not a precedent, this guideline has been followed by all subsequent capital cases in Japan. The nine criteria are as follows:
- Degree of viciousness
- How the crime was committed; especially the manner in which the victim was killed.
- Outcome of the crime; especially the number of victims.
- Sentiments of the bereaved family members.
- Impact of the crime on Japanese society.
- Defendant's age (in Japan, someone is a minor until the age of 20).
- Defendant's previous criminal record.
- Degree of remorse shown by the defendant.
Stays of execution
According to Article 475 of the 'Japanese Code of Criminal Procedure', the death penalty must be executed within six months after the failure of the prisoner's final appeal upon an order from the Minister of Justice. However, the period requesting retrial or pardon is exempt from this regulation. Therefore, in practice, the typical stay on death row is between five and seven years; a quarter of the prisoners have been on death row for over ten years. For several, the stay has been over 30 years (Sadamichi Hirasawa died of natural causes at the age of 95, after awaiting execution for 32 years).
After the failure of the final appeal process to the Supreme Court of Japan, the entire records of trial are sent to the office of prosecution. Based on these records, the chief prosecutor of the office of prosecution compiles a report to the Justice Minister. This report is examined by the officer in the Criminal Investigation Bureau of Justice Ministry for the possibility of pardon and/or retrial as well as any possible legal issues which might require consideration before the execution is approved. This officer is usually from the office of prosecutors. Once satisfied, the officer will write an execution proposal, which has to go through the approval process of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Parole Bureau and Correction Bureau. If the convict is certified to be mentally incapacitated during this process, the proposal is brought back to Criminal Investigation Bureau. The final approval is signed by the Minister of Justice. Once the final approval is signed, the execution will take place within about a week. By the regulation of penal code section 71, clause 2, the execution cannot take place on a national holiday, Saturday, Sunday, or between December 31 and January 2. The date of execution is kept secret, even to the family of the condemned and the family of the victim(s).
Japanese death row inmates are imprisoned inside the detention centers of Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka (despite the city having a high court, Takamatsu Detention Centre is not equipped with an execution chamber. Consequently, executions administered by the Takamatsu High Court are carried out in the Osaka detention center). Those on death row are not classified as prisoners by the Japanese justice system and the facilities they are held at are not referred to as prisons. Inmates lack many of the rights afforded to other Japanese prisoners. The nature of the regime they live under is largely up to the director of the Detention Center, but it is usually significantly harsher than normal Japanese prisons. Inmates are held under solitary confinement and are forbidden from communicating with their fellows. They are permitted two periods of exercise a week. They are not allowed televisions and may only possess three books. Prisoners are not allowed to exercise within their own cells. Prison visits, both by family members and legal representatives, are infrequent and closely supervised.
Executions are carried out by hanging in a death chamber within the Detention Center. When a death order has been issued, the condemned prisoner is informed in the morning of his or her execution. The condemned is given a choice of the last meal. The prisoner's family and legal representatives are not informed until afterwards. Since December 7, 2007, the authorities have been releasing the names, natures of crime and ages of executed prisoners.
As of late January 2009, there were 95 people awaiting execution in Japan. Tsutomu Miyazaki and two others were hanged on June 17, 2008. A total of nine convicted murderers were executed in 2007. Three men were executed on August 23, 2007, four men were executed on December 25, 2006, one execution was carried out in 2005 and two in 2004.
According to media reports, 4 death-row inmates were executed in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka in January 2009. A further 3 were hanged on July 31 bringing the total to 7 in 2009. Two inmates were executed in July 2010.
Death sentences for minors
Having signed both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which forbid any execution for crimes committed under the age of 18, Japan sets the minimum age for capital punishment at 18 (Juvenile Law § 51). Although death sentences for minors (defined in Japan as those under age 20) are rare, those who commit capital crimes at age 18 or 19 may be legally sentenced to death.
Nine juvenile criminals have received death sentences that were finalized since 1966: Misao Katagiri, Kiyoshi Watanabe, Mitsuo Sasanuma, Fumio Matsuki, Sumio Kanno, Tsuneo Kuroiwa, Norio Nagayama, Teruhiko Seki and Takayuki Mizujiri. Seven of them have already been executed. Watanabe and Seki, both of whom killed four people when they were 19 years old, are still on death row.
The most recent juvenile death sentence was given to Takayuki Fukuda, passed by the Hiroshima High Court on April 22, 2008. A month after his 18th birthday he raped and killed a mother, along with murdering her baby. He appealed to the Supreme Court and is waiting for its final and conclusive judgment.
Although the public has generally supported the death penalty, capital punishment is a contentious issue in Japan nonetheless. A 1999 government survey found that 79.3 percent of the public supported it. In 34 polls taken between 1953 and 1999, support for the death penalty has varied, although never having dropped below 50 percent. At a 2003 trial, a Tokyo prosecutor presented the court a petition with 76,000 signatures as part of his case for a death sentence.
During the late 1980s, four high-profile acquittals of death-row inmates after retrial "shook public confidence in the system and profoundly embarrassed the Ministry of Justice, which until then had believed that the execution of an innocent person was all but impossible". Between 1989 and 1993, four successive ministers of justice refused to authorize executions, which amounted to an informal moratorium. Until then, the groups campaigning to end capital punishment were marginal but they coalesced into a single umbrella organization called Forum 90. Unlike in the U.S., where a state's governor can issue a pardon for any state crime and the president can pardon a federal crime, in Japan, the Justice Minister has to sign death warrants. It is not uncommon for a Justice minister not to sign death warrants, some for political or religious convictions, others for personal dislike for signing death warrants. This has caused some debate in Japan, some accusing those justice ministers of neglecting their public duty. For example, Seiken Sugiura, Minister of Justice between October 2005 and September 2006, and a follower of Pureland Buddhism, publicly stated on October 31, 2005 that he would not sign execution warrants. He said that "From the standpoint of the theory of civilizations, I believe that the general trend from a long-term perspective will be to move toward abolition." A few hours later, he retracted the statement, saying it represented his "feelings as an individual and (the comment) was not made in relation to the duties and responsibilities of a justice minister who must oversee the legal system". However, he never agreed to any executions as a Minister of Justice.
The Times claimed that the death penalty was effectively suspended on September 17, 2009 with the appointment of Keiko Chiba as Minister of Justice. However, no official policy statement was made in this regard. Chiba only stated that "I will cautiously handle (the cases) based on the duties of the justice minister." The Times' speculation was conclusively disproved when Chiba signed two death warrants and personally witnessed the execution.
Supporters say that capital punishment is applied infrequently and only to those who have committed the most extreme of crimes—a single act of murder does not attract the capital punishment without additional aggravating circumstances such as rape or robbery. In the 1956 debate, Japanese serial killer Genzo Kurita, who engaged in rape and necrophilia, was cited by the Diet as an example of a murderer whose crimes were atrocious enough to merit execution. However, it is more due to the rarity of extreme crimes in Japanese society rather than an unwillingness of the authorities to carry out executions that has caused so few executions to take place.
Since executions resumed in 1993, a rise in street crime during the 1990s, the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 and several high-profile murders[such as?] have hardened attitudes amongst the public and the judiciary. Since 1999, there have been a series of cases in which criminals sentenced to life imprisonment have been given the death penalty after prosecutors successfully appealed to High courts.
On March 18, 2009, a district court sentenced to death two men for the murder of Rie Isogai. Fumiko Isogai, who lost her only child in this crime, launched a campaign to call for the death penalty on the three murderers in September 2007. Within ten days, her petition was signed by 100,000 citizens. She presented her petition for the death penalty with some 150,000 signatures to the District Public Prosecutors' Office of Nagoya on 23 October 2007. About 318,000 citizens had signed her petition by December 2008.
Although single murderers rarely face a death penalty in Japan, Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a criminal law scholar at Hakuoh University and former prosecutors of the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office, expected that the recent trend toward harsher punishments, backed by the growing public support for capital punishment, would encourage the court to sentence Kanda and Hori to death. Major national newspapers published editorials in support of this unorthodox judgment on the premise that capital punishment is retained. The Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun wrote in editorials that the general public favored the judgment, and  the Nikkei lended his support to it. The Sankei Shimbun aggressively evaluated the judgment with a phrase "a natural and down-to-earth judgment of great significance." The Tokyo Shimbun expressed that capital punishment would be the inevitable sentence in consideration of the brutality of the murder and the pain that the victim's family felt. They also noted, however, that it would be difficult for citizen judges to determine whether death penalty would be appropriate in this kind of case under the lay judge system, which will be started in May 2009. Hiroshi Itakura, a criminal law scholar at Nihon University said that this decision could be a new criterion for capital punishment under the lay judge system.
Amnesty International argues that the Japanese justice system tends to place great reliance on confessions, even ones obtained under duress. According to a 2005 Amnesty International report:
- Most have been sentenced to death on the basis of confessions extracted under duress. The potential for miscarriages of justice is built into the system: confessions are typically extracted while suspects are held in daiyo kangoku, or "substitute prisons", for interrogation before they are charged. In practice these are police cells, where detainees can be held for up to 23 days after arrest, with no state-funded legal representation. They are typically interrogated for 12 hours a day: no lawyers can be present, no recordings are made, and they are put under constant pressure to confess. Once convicted, it is very difficult to obtain a re-trial and prisoners can remain under sentence of death for many years.
Amnesty also reports allegations of abuse of suspects during these interrogations. There are reports of physical abuse, sleep deprivation and denial of food, water and use of a toilet. One of its biggest criticisms is that inmates usually remain for years (and sometimes decades) on death row without ever actually being informed of the date of their execution prior to the date itself, so inmates suffer due to the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not any given day will be their last. According to Amnesty International, the intense and prolonged stress means many inmates on death row have poor mental health, suffering from the so called death row phenomenon. The failure to give advanced notice of executions has been stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee to be incompatible with articles 2, 7, 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre claims that the issue of death warrants by the Ministry of Justice may be politically motivated — in 1997, Norio Nagayama, a prisoner who committed the first of several murders as a juvenile was executed during the sentencing phase of Sakakibara Seito, whose case was another high-profile juvenile murder trial - an attempt, according to South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, to show that the harshest punishment could be administered to juveniles. According to The New York Times, the execution of Tsutomu Miyazaki after the Akihabara massacre was claimed to be a similar case.
Executions since 1993
Inmate Age Date Place Crime victim(s) Minister Seikichi Kondo 55 March 26, 1993 Sendai Multiple murders 2 Masaharu Gotoda Shujiro Tachikawa 62 March 26, 1993 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Masaharu Gotoda Tetsuo Kawanaka 48 March 26, 1993 Osaka Multiple murders 3 Masaharu Gotoda Tadao Kojima 61 November 26, 1993 Sapporo Multiple murders 3 Akira Mikazuki Yukio Seki 37 November 26, 1993 Tokyo Single murder 1 Akira Mikazuki Hideo Deguchi 70 November 26, 1993 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Akira Mikazuki Toru Sakaguchi 57 November 26, 1993 Osaka Akira Mikazuki Yukio Ajima 44 December 1, 1994 Tokyo Multiple murders 3 Isao Maeda Kazumi Sasaki 66 December 1, 1994 Sendai Multiple murders* 2 Isao Maeda Eiji Fujioka 40 May 26, 1995 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Isao Maeda Fusao Suda 54 May 26, 1995 Tokyo Single murder 1 Isao Maeda Shigeho Tanaka 69 May 26, 1995 Tokyo Single murder 1 Isao Maeda Shuji Kimura 45 December 21, 1995 Nagoya Single murder 1 Hiroshi Miyazawa Naoto Hirata 63 December 21, 1995 Fukuoka Multiple murders 2 Hiroshi Miyazawa Tokujirou Shinohara 68 December 21, 1995 Tokyo Multiple murders* 2 Hiroshi Miyazawa Yoshiaki Sugimto 49 July 11, 1996 Fukuoka Single murder 1 Ritsuko Nagata Kazumi Yokoyama 43 July 11, 1996 Fukuoka Ritsuko Nagata Mikio Ishida 48 July 11, 1996 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Ritsuko Nagata Yoshihito Imai 55 December 20, 1996 Tokyo Multiple murders 3 Isao Matsuura Mitsunari Hirata 60 December 20, 1996 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Isao Matsuura Satoru Noguchi 50 December 20, 1996 Tokyo Isao Matsuura Yasumasa Hidaka 54 August 1, 1997 Sapporo Multiple murders 6 Isao Matsuura Nobuko Hidaka 51 August 1, 1997 Sapporo Isao Matsuura Hideki Kanda 43 August 1, 1997 Tokyo Multiple murders 3 Isao Matsuura Norio Nagayama 48 August 1, 1997 Tokyo Multiple murders 4 Isao Matsuura Masahiro Muratake 54 June 25, 1998 Fukuoka Multiple murders 3 Kokichi Shimoinaba Yukihisa Takeyasu 66 June 25, 1998 Fukuoka Multiple murders* 1 Kokichi Shimoinaba Shinji Shimazu 66 June 25, 1998 Tokyo Multiple murders* 1 Kokichi Shimoinaba Masamichi Ida 56 November 19, 1998 Nagoya Multiple murders 3 Shozaburo Nakamura Tatsuaki Nishio 61 November 19, 1998 Nagoya Single murder 1 Shozaburo Nakamura Akira Tsuda 59 November 19, 1998 Hiroshima Single murder 1 Shozaburo Nakamura Masashi Satou 62 September 10, 1999 Tokyo Multiple murders* 1 Takao Jinnouchi Katsutoshi Takada 61 September 10, 1999 Sendai Multiple murders* 1 Takao Jinnouchi Tetsuyuki Morikawa 69 September 10, 1999 Fukuoka Multiple murders* 2 Takao Jinnouchi Teruo Ono 62 December 17, 1999 Fukuoka Multiple murders* 1 Hideo Usui Kazuo Sagawa 48 December 17, 1999 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Hideo Usui Kiyotaka Katsuta 52 November 30, 2000 Nagoya Multiple murders 8 Okiharu Yasuoka Takashi Miyawaki 57 November 30, 2000 Nagoya Multiple murders 3 Okiharu Yasuoka Kunikatsu Oishi 55 November 30, 2000 Fukuoka Multiple murders 3 Okiharu Yasuoka Toshihiko Hasegawa 51 December 27, 2001 Nagoya Multiple murders 3 Mayumi Moriyama Koujirou Asakura 66 December 27, 2001 Tokyo Multiple murders 5 Mayumi Moriyama Ryuya Haruta 36 September 18, 2002 Fukuoka Single murder 1 Mayumi Moriyama Yoshiteru Hamada 51 September 18, 2002 Nagoya Multiple murders* 3 Mayumi Moriyama Sinji Mukai 42 September 12, 2003 Osaka Multiple murders 3 Mayumi Moriyama Sueo Shimazaki 59 September 14, 2004 Fukuoka Multiple murders 3 Daizo Nozawa Mamoru Takuma 40 September 14, 2004 Osaka Mass murder 8 Daizo Nozawa Susumu kitagawa 58 September 16, 2005 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Chieko Nono Hiroaki Hidaka 44 December 25, 2006 Hiroshima Multiple murders 4 Jinen Nagase Yoshimitsu Akiyama 77 December 25, 2006 Tokyo Single murder 1 Jinen Nagase Yoshio Fujinami 65 December 25, 2006 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Jinen Nagase Michio Fukuoka 64 December 25, 2006 Osaka Multiple murders 3 Jinen Nagase Yoshikatsu Oda 59 April 27, 2007 Fukuoka Multiple murders 2 Jinen Nagase Masahiro Tanaka 42 April 27, 2007 Tokyo Multiple murders 4 Jinen Nagase Kosaku Nada 56 April 27, 2007 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Jinen Nagase Hifumi Takezawa 69 August 24, 2007 Tokyo Multiple murders 3 Jinen Nagase Kozo Segawa 60 August 24, 2007 Nagoya Multiple murders 2 Jinen Nagase Yoshio Iwamoto 62 August 24, 2007 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Jinen Nagase Seiha Fujima 47 December 7, 2007 Tokyo Multiple murders 5 Kunio Hatoyama Hiroki Fukawa 42 December 7, 2007 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Noboru Ikemoto 75 December 7, 2007 Osaka Multiple murders 3 Kunio Hatoyama Masahiko Matsubara 63 February 1, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Takashi Mochida 65 February 1, 2008 Tokyo Multiple murders* 1 Kunio Hatoyama Keishi Nago 37 February 1, 2008 Fukuoka Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Kaoru Okashita 61 April 10, 2008 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Masahito Sakamoto 41 April 10, 2008 Tokyo Single murder 1 Kunio Hatoyama Katsuyoshi Nakamoto 64 April 10, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Masaharu Nakamura 61 April 10, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Tsutomu Miyazaki 45 June 17, 2008 Tokyo Multiple murders 4 Kunio Hatoyama Yoshio Yamasaki 73 June 17, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Shinji Mutsuda 37 June 17, 2008 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Kunio Hatoyama Yoshiyuki Mantani 68 September 11, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders* 1 Okiharu Yasuoka Mineteru Yamamoto 68 September 11, 2008 Osaka Multiple murders 2 Okiharu Yasuoka Isamu Hirano 61 September 11, 2008 Tokyo Multiple murders* 2 Okiharu Yasuoka Michitoshi Kuma 70 October 28, 2008 Fukuoka Multiple murders 2 Eisuke Mori Masahiro Takashio 55 October 28, 2008 Sendai Multiple murders 2 Eisuke Mori Yukinari Kawamura 44 January 28, 2009 Nagoya Multiple murders 2 Eisuke Mori Tetsuya Sato 39 January 28, 2009 Nagoya Eisuke Mori Shojiro Nishimoto 32 January 28, 2009 Tokyo Multiple murders 4 Eisuke Mori Tadashi Makino 58 January 28, 2009 Fukuoka Multiple murders* 1 Eisuke Mori Hiroshi Maeue 40 July 28, 2009 Osaka Multiple murders 3 Eisuke Mori Yukio Yamaji 25 July 28, 2009 Osaka Multiple murders* 2 Eisuke Mori Chen Detong 41 July 28, 2009 Tokyo Multiple murders 3 Eisuke Mori Kazuo Shinozawa 59 July 28, 2010 Tokyo Multiple murders 6 Keiko Chiba Hidenori Ogata 33 July 28, 2010 Tokyo Multiple murders 2 Keiko Chiba
Note : Inmates noted with a * were sentenced to death for murder(s) committed while on parole for another murder
- Law of Japan
- Criminal justice system of Japan
- Judicial system of Japan
- Human rights in Japan
- Criminal punishment in Edo-period Japan
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- Daily Mail article on Tokyo death chamber, 2010
- Matsutani, Minoru, "Shedding light on death penalty", Japan Times, 28 August 2010, p. 2.
Capital punishment in Asia Sovereign
- Burma (Myanmar)
- People's Republic of China
- East Timor (Timor-Leste)
- North Korea
- South Korea
- Saudi Arabia
- Sri Lanka
- United Arab Emirates
States with limited
- Northern Cyprus
- Republic of China (Taiwan)
- South Ossetia
- Christmas Island
- Cocos (Keeling) Islands
- Hong Kong
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