Capital punishment in Japan
Capital punishment is legal in Japan. The only crimes for which capital punishment is statutory are murder, treason, offences against the state (substantially treason, but applicable to non-Japanese nationals), and serious acts of violence resulting in death (including arson, unauthorised use of explosive, wilful derailment of trains, tampering with the water supply, hijacking, and piracy). The general rule that applies to this last category of capital offences is that of transferred malice: whether the target of the crime died or an innocent by-stander, the crime is still capital. However, no successful capital prosecutions of any of these crimes, with the sole exception of murder, have occurred since the end of World War II.
Between 1946 and 1993, Japanese courts sentenced 766 people to death (including a small number from China, South Korea and Indonesia), 608 of whom were executed. The vast majority of death sentences are imposed in cases of multiple murders.
- History 1
- Sentencing guideline – Nagayama Standard 2.1
- Stays of execution 2.2
- Approval process 2.3
- Death row 2.4
- Execution 2.5
- Death sentences for minors 3
Public debate 4
- Support 4.1
- Criticism 4.2
- Executions since 1993 5
- See also 6
- References 7
- Further information 8
Beginning in about the 4th 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 offences could be punished by death, and family members and even neighbours 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, offences against masters and elders were increasingly punished much more harshly than offences 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
In Japan, the courts follow guidelines laid down in the trial of Norio Nagayama, a 19-year-old from a severely disadvantaged background, who committed four murders in 1968 and was finally hanged in 1997.
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 the 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 prosecution. 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 31 December and 2 January. 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 centres 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 Centre). Those on death row are not classified as prisoners by the Japanese justice system and the facilities in which they are incarcerated 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 in solitary confinement and are forbidden from communicating with their fellows. They are permitted two periods of exercise a week, 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 centre. When a death order has been issued, the condemned prisoner is informed in the morning of his/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 7 December 2007, the authorities have been releasing the names, natures of crime and ages of executed prisoners.
The method of hanging is a substantial drop, causing a quick death by neck fracture. It was not always thus. When Kanno Sugako was hanged in 1911: "...she was ordered to sit upright on the floor. Two thin cords were placed around her neck. The floor-board was removed. In twelve minutes she was dead."
As of late March 2012, there were 135 people awaiting execution in Japan. A total of nine convicted murderers were executed in 2007. Three men were executed on 23 August 2007, four men were executed on 25 December 2006, and one execution was carried out in 2005. and two in 2004.
Two inmates were hanged in July 2010, three in March 2012, three in February 2013, two in April 2013, one in September and two in December 2013.
As of August 2014, the number of inmates on death row was 126. Of them, 89 are applying for their cases to be reopened and 25 are requesting amnesty.
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 finalised 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 and Watanabe and Seki, both of whom killed four people when they were 19 years old, remain on death row awaiting execution.
As of February 2013, the most recent juvenile death sentence was given to Takayuki Fukuda, passed by the Hiroshima High Court on 22 April 2008, and upheld by the Supreme Court on 20 February 2012. A month after his 18th birthday he raped and killed a woman, along with murdering her baby.
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 acquittals of longtime death-row inmates after retrial greatly embarrassed the Ministry of Justice, whose officials sincerely believed that such mistakes by the system were almost impossible. Between 1989 and 1993, four successive ministers of justice refused to authorise executions, which amounted to an informal Seiken Sugiura, Minister of Justice between October 2005 and September 2006, and a follower of Pureland Buddhism, publicly stated on 31 October 2005 that he would not sign death 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 British newspaper The Times claimed that the death penalty was effectively suspended on 17 September 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 death. 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 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 18 March 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 sentence 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 lent 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 issueance 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" for the Kobe child murders, also resulting in a 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.
The Japanese Federation of Bar Associations also says that capital punishment should be abolished in Japan.
Executions since 1993
Condemned was female (4 executed since 1950)
|Seikichi Kondo||55||26 March 1993||Sendai||Multiple murders||2||Masaharu Gotoda|
|Shujiro Tachikawa||62||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Tetsuo Kawanaka||48||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Tadao Kojima||61||26 November 1993||Sapporo||Multiple murders||3||Akira Mikazuki|
|Yukio Seki||47||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Hideo Deguchi||70||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Yukio Ajima||44||1 December 1994||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3||Isao Maeda|
|Kazumi Sasaki||66||Sendai||Multiple murders*||2|
|Eiji Fujioka||40||26 May 1995||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Fusao Suda||54||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Shigeho Tanaka||69||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Shuji Kimura||45||21 December 1995||Nagoya||Single murder||1||Hiroshi Miyazawa|
|Naoto Hirata||63||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2|
|Tokujirou Shinohara||68||Tokyo||Multiple murders*||2|
|Yoshiaki Sugimto||49||11 July 1996||Fukuoka||Single murder||1||Ritsuko Nagata|
|Mikio Ishida||48||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Yoshihito Imai||55||20 December 1996||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3||Isao Matsuura|
|Mitsunari Hirata||60||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Yasumasa Hidaka||54||1 August 1997||Sapporo||Multiple murders||6|
|Hideki Kanda||43||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3|
|Norio Nagayama||48||Tokyo||Multiple murders||4|
|Masahiro Muratake||54||25 June 1998||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||3||Kokichi Shimoinaba|
|Yukihisa Takeyasu||66||Fukuoka||Multiple murders*||1|
|Shinji Shimazu||66||Tokyo||Multiple murders*||1|
|Masamichi Ida||56||19 November 1998||Nagoya||Multiple murders||3||Shozaburo Nakamura|
|Tatsuaki Nishio||61||Nagoya||Single murder||1|
|Akira Tsuda||59||Hiroshima||Single murder||1|
|Masashi Satou||62||10 September 1999||Tokyo||Multiple murders*||1||Takao Jinnouchi|
|Katsutoshi Takada||61||Sendai||Multiple murders*||1|
|Tetsuyuki Morikawa||69||Fukuoka||Multiple murders*||2|
|Teruo Ono||62||17 December 1999||Fukuoka||Multiple murders*||1||Hideo Usui|
|Kazuo Sagawa||48||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Kiyotaka Katsuta||52||30 November 2000||Nagoya||Multiple murders||8||Okiharu Yasuoka|
|Takashi Miyawaki||57||Nagoya||Multiple murders||3|
|Kunikatsu Oishi||55||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||3|
|Toshihiko Hasegawa||51||27 December 2001||Nagoya||Multiple murders||3||Mayumi Moriyama|
|Koujirou Asakura||66||Tokyo||Multiple murders||5|
|Ryuya Haruta||36||18 September 2002||Fukuoka||Single murder||1|
|Yoshiteru Hamada||51||Nagoya||Multiple murders*||3|
|Sinji Mukai||42||12 September 2003||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Sueo Shimazaki||59||14 September 2004||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||3||Daizo Nozawa|
|Mamoru Takuma||40||Osaka||Multiple murders||8|
|Susumu Kitagawa||58||16 September 2005||Osaka||Multiple murders||2||Chieko Nono|
|Hiroaki Hidaka||44||25 December 2006||Hiroshima||Multiple murders||4||Jinen Nagase|
|Yoshimitsu Akiyama||77||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Yoshio Fujinami||65||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Michio Fukuoka||64||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Yoshikatsu Oda||59||27 April 2007||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2|
|Masahiro Tanaka||42||Tokyo||Multiple murders||4|
|Kosaku Nada||56||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Hifumi Takezawa||69||23 August 2007||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3|
|Kozo Segawa||60||Nagoya||Multiple murders||2|
|Yoshio Iwamoto||62||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Seiha Fujima||47||7 December 2007||Tokyo||Multiple murders||5||Kunio Hatoyama|
|Hiroki Fukawa||42||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Noboru Ikemoto||75||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Masahiko Matsubara||63||1 February 2008||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Takashi Mochida||65||Tokyo||Multiple murders*||1|
|Keishi Nago||37||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2|
|Kaoru Okashita||61||10 April 2008||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Masahito Sakamoto||41||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Katsuyoshi Nakamoto||64||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Masaharu Nakamura||61||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Tsutomu Miyazaki||45||17 June 2008||Tokyo||Multiple murders||4|
|Yoshio Yamasaki||73||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Shinji Mutsuda||37||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Yoshiyuki Mantani||68||11 September 2008||Osaka||Multiple murders*||1||Okiharu Yasuoka|
|Mineteru Yamamoto||68||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Isamu Hirano||61||Tokyo||Multiple murders*||2|
|Michitoshi Kuma||70||28 October 2008||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2||Eisuke Mori|
|Masahiro Takashio||55||Sendai||Multiple murders||2|
|Yukinari Kawamura||44||28 January 2009||Nagoya||Multiple murders||2|
|Shojiro Nishimoto||32||Tokyo||Multiple murders||4|
|Tadashi Makino||58||Fukuoka||Multiple murders*||1|
|Hiroshi Maeue||40||28 July 2009||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Yukio Yamaji||25||Osaka||Multiple murders*||2|
|Chen Detong||41||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3|
|Kazuo Shinozawa||59||28 July 2010||Tokyo||Multiple murders||6||Keiko Chiba|
|Hidenori Ogata||33||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Yasuaki Uwabe||48||29 March 2012||Hiroshima||Multiple murders||5||Toshio Ogawa|
|Tomoyuki Furusawa||46||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3|
|Yasutoshi Matsuda||44||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2|
|Junya Hattori||40||3 August 2012||Tokyo||Single murder||1||Makoto Taki|
|Kyozo Matsumura||31||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Sachiko Eto||65||27 September 2012||Sendai||Multiple murders||6|
|Yukinori Matsuda||39||Fukuoka||Multiple murders||2|
|Masahiro Kanagawa||29||21 February 2013||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2||Sadakazu Tanigaki|
|Keiki Kano||62||Nagoya||Multiple murders*||1|
|Kaoru Kobayashi||44||Osaka||Single murder||1|
|Katsuji Hamasaki||64||26 April 2013||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Tokuhisa Kumagai||73||12 September 2013||Tokyo||Single murder||1|
|Mitsuo Fujishima||55||12 December 2013||Tokyo||Multiple murders||2|
|Ryoji Kagayama||63||Osaka||Multiple murders||2|
|Masanori Kawasaki||68||26 June 2014||Osaka||Multiple murders||3|
|Mitsuhiro Kobayashi||56||29 August 2014||Sendai||Multiple murders||5|
|Tsutomu Takamizawa||59||Tokyo||Multiple murders||3|
|Tsukasa Kanda||44||25 June 2015||Nagoya||Single murder||1||Yōko Kamikawa|
|Tsukasa Domyouji||18||1 November 2015||Tokyo||Multiple murders||8||Mitsuhide Iwaki|
|Rui Hanazawa||18||Tokyo||Multiple murders||7|
|Sojirou Nishikado||18||Tokyo||Multiple murders||5|
|Akira Mimasaka||18||Tokyo||Multiple murders||6|
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
- Life imprisonment in Japan
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- Takefuji arsonist, ex-yakuza hanged for eight murders
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- Wayback Machine
Japan's Supreme Court jurisprudence on the death penalty :
- The Nagayama Case (1983)
- Other landmark cases : 1996 1999 2010
- Japan: Death Penalty Worldwide Academic research database on the laws, practice, and statistics of capital punishment for every death penalty country in the world.
- "Inside Tokyo's death house: Japan opens door to the chilling execution chamber where condemned men get one hour's notice." Daily Mail. 27 August 2010.
- Matsutani, Minoru, "Shedding light on death penalty", Japan Times, 28 August 2010, p. 2.
- Japan's dance with the death penalty - report by Matthew Carney broadcast by ABC Radio National Sunday, February 15, 2015 which includes an interview with Iwao Hakamada who was released after 43 years on death row.