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Capital punishment is legal in Japan, but was effectively suspended on September 17, 2009 with the appointment of Keiko Chiba as Minister of Justice.[1] However, she never said that she won't carry out death penalty while she is in the office.

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 Malaysia), 608 of whom were executed. The death penalty is ordinarily imposed in cases of multiple murders involving aggravating factors.[2]



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[3]).

Approval process

After the failure of the final appeal process to the supreme court, 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.

Death row

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). Because they are awaiting execution, 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 Centre, 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, with inmates allegedly not even permitted to do limited exercise within their own cell.[4] They are not allowed televisions and may only possess three books. 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 their 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.[5]

As of late January 2009, there were 95 people awaiting execution in Japan.[6] Tsutomu Miyazaki and two others were hanged on June 17, 2008.[7] A total of nine convicted murderers were executed in 2007.[8] Three men were executed on August 23, 2007,[9] four men were executed on December 25, 2006,[10] one execution was carried out in 2005[11] and two in 2004.[2]

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.[12]

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.[13]

Nine juvenile criminals have received death sentences that were finalized since 1966:[14] 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.[15][16] He appealed to the Supreme Court and is waiting for its final and conclusive judgment.[17]

Public debate

The death penalty is broadly supported by the Japanese public - 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 never 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.[2]

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".[2] 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.


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 bizarre murderer.[18] However, the very small number of executions is due to the rarity of extreme crimes in Japanese society rather than because of an unwillingness of the authorities to carry out executions.[2]

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 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.[19] 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.[20] Within ten days, her petition was signed by 100,000 citizens.[21] 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.[22] About 318,000 citizens had signed her petition by December 2008.[20]

Although single murderers rarely face a death penalty in Japan, Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a criminal law scholar at Hakuoh University and former prosecutor of the Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office, expected that the recent trend toward stricter punishments, backed by the growing public support for capital punishment, would encourage the court to sentence Kanda and Hori to death.[21]

Major national newspapers published editorials in support of this unorthodox judgment on the premise that capital punishment is retained.[23] The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi Shimbun wrote in their editorials that most people would be supportive of this judgment.[23] The Nikkei commented that the judgment was reasonable.[23] The Sankei Shimbun aggressively evaluated the judgment with a phrase "a natural and down-to-earth judgment of great significance".[23][24] The Tokyo Shimbun expressed that capital punishment was inevitable when they thought how brutal the murder was and what the victim's family felt of it.[23] 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.[23] 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.[19]


Amnesty International argues that the Japanese justice system tends to place great reliance on confessions and it has been claimed that these may be 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."[25]

Amnesty International also reports of 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.[25] It also criticises the fact that inmates usually remain for years, sometimes decades, on death row, knowing that executions come with little warning and each day may potentially 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.[3]

South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre claims that the issue of death warrants by the Ministry of Justice may be politically motivated—in 1997, a prisoner who committed the first of several murders as a juvenile was executed during the sentencing phase of 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.[3] According to The New York Times, the execution of Tsutomu Miyazaki after Akihabara massacre was claimed similar case.[26] Amnesty International also complains of another process on death row in Japan- Prisoners are not told when they will be executed prior to a few hours before they are executed.[27] The Organization claims that prisoners must live their lives constantly wondering whether this day will be their last.

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 Taizo Nozawa
Mamoru Takuma 40 September 14, 2004 Osaka Multiple murders 8 Taizo 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

Note : Inmates noted with a * were sentenced to death for murder(s) committed while on parole for another murder

See also


  1. ^ Parry, Richard Lloyd (19 September 2009). "Japan’s death penalty effectively scrapped with arrival of Keiko Chiba". The Times. Retrieved 21 September 2009.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Charles Lane - "Why Japan Still Has the Death Penalty". Washington Post. Retrieved June 7, 2006.  
  3. ^ a b c "Japan Hanging on to Death Penalty". South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre. Retrieved May 28, 2006.  
  4. ^ Bruce Wallace - "Awaiting Death's Footsteps". Los Angeles Times.,0,2614967.story?coll=la-home-headlines. Retrieved June 7, 2006.  
  5. ^ BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Secrecy of Japanese executions
  6. ^ "4 hanged; 95 left on death row". The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved January 30, 2009.  
  7. ^ "Japan executes serial killer who left four-year-old girl's charred bones on her parents' doorstep". Retrieved 2008-06-17.  
  8. ^ "Three prisoners hanged in Japan". BBC News. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-17.  
  9. ^ "Japan hangs three murderers". The Age. Retrieved August 23, 2007.  
  10. ^ "Japan Executes Four Prisoners on Christmas Day". Yahoo News. Retrieved January 4, 2007.  
  11. ^ "Annual Report 2006". Amnesty International. Retrieved May 28, 2006.  
  12. ^ BBC News Four prisoners executed in Japan
  13. ^ Adachi, Kōji. "年長少年に対する死刑の是非". Ritsumeikan University. Retrieved December 17, 2008.  
  14. ^ "山口の母子殺害で最高裁「死刑回避は不当」" (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun Morning Edition: p. 13. June 21, 2006.  
  15. ^ Mother, baby killer sentenced to hang April 22, 2008
  16. ^ "山口・母子殺害事件「死刑回避は不当」" (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun Morning Edition: p. 1. June 21, 2006.  
  17. ^ "弁護団が上告" (in Japanese). Shikoku Shimbun. April 22, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008.  
  18. ^ "第024回国会 法務委員会公聴会 第2号" (in Japanese). National Diet Library. 1956-05-10. Retrieved 2008-03-19.  
  19. ^ a b "Net strangers to hang for slaying". The Japan Times. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2009.  
  20. ^ a b Ishihara, A.; Matsuda, S.; Kajiura, K. (12 March 2009). "被告の言葉 「耐えられない軽さ」―無念の叫び 闇サイト殺人 18日判決(5)" (in Japanese). The Yomiuri Shimbun. Retrieved 10 April 2009.  
  21. ^ a b "ネット上で死刑求める署名 10日間で10万人! 集まる" (in Japanese). J-Cast News. 4 October 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2009.  
  22. ^ "極刑求め15万人が署名 闇サイト殺人、地検に提出" (in Japanese). 47 News. Kyodo (Press Net Japan). 23 October 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2009.  
  23. ^ a b c d e f Morishima, M. (22 March 2009). "社説ウオッチング:闇サイト殺人判決 死刑制度前提に容認" (in Japanese). The Mainichi Shimbun. Retrieved 10 April 2009.  
  24. ^ "闇サイト殺人 常識に沿った死刑判断だ" (in Japanese). The Sankei Shimbun. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2009.  
  25. ^ a b "Urgent Action in Focus, August 2005". Amnesty International. Retrieved May 28, 2006.  
  26. ^ "Japan Hangs Three Convicted Killers". The New York Times. 2008-06-18. Retrieved 2008-06-18.  
  27. ^ Amnesty International- Stop the death penalty now- Video narrated by Colin Firth

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