Country Profiles

Tokyo Detention House, which houses one of Japan's seven execution chambers

Japan continues to be an executing country.  It has the most unfortunate reputation of making its prisoners on death row live under extremely harsh rules and conditions.

In the last ten years, it has executed between none and fifteen prisoners in any one year. Those executed may remain on death row for many years, even decades, but will only learn of their date of hanging on the actual day of execution.  From day to week to month to year, inmates do not know which date will be their last.

The prisoner's family are informed only after the execution, so they too suffer all through the years. Additional strong criticisms arise because when a suspect is arrested, a suspect can be interrogated for 12 hours a day for 23 days straight, with few recordings and minimal legal contact.

In numerous ways, Japan breaches minimum international standards in this area of criminal justice. In October 2016, Japan's biggest lawyers group, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, issued a declaration calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Japan, citing among other things the possibility of wrongful convictions, and querying any supposed deterrent value.

Japan was shaken by the recent release in 2014 of Iwao Hakamada, who spent more than 45 years on death row. His sister never stopped campaigning for him. In the most recent, and finally successful appeal, the Presiding judge noted the possible innocence of the prisoner, and the possibility that key evidence had been fabricated.