Capital Punishment in Japan
July 17, 2012
Sara Tomizawa

A 2010 survey indicated that 85% of Japanese are in favor of the death penalty seeing it as unavoidable punishment for brutal crimes.  However, there are some groups seeking to abolish capital punishment in Japan. Will Japan maintain the death penalty in the future?  To come to a better understanding of the situation, parties on both sides of the issue were interviewed.

  Tsuneo Matsumura, Acting Chairman of the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families (Asu no Kai)     Tsuneo Matsumura, Acting Chairman of the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families (Asu no Kai) insists that capital punishment is necessary. He said “the possibility of wrongful convictions cannot be a reason to abolish the death penalty; it is the duty of the police to carry out proper investigations. The crime victims and surviving families demand the death penalty and such demand has nothing to do with wrongful convictions.”  “If you support respecting the human rights of criminals, then the same holds true for the victims and family members perhaps even more so.”

The global trend is toward abolition of capital punishment with fewer and fewer nations supporting it. One of the current conditions for a country to join the EU is that the death penalty be abolished if in existence.  Amnesty International reported in 2009 that approximately 30% of all countries including the United States, Japan, China, India, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have the death penalty. When asked about this trend, Matsumura responded “other countries have a religious basis behind this issue and Japan does not. Besides, if we look at population instead of the number of countries, more than half of the world’s population lives in an area with the death penalty.”

In addition, Matsumura is skeptical in regard to the introduction of life imprisonment as a substitute for capital punishment; currently more taxes are spent on prisoners than for supporting lower income families. Life imprisonment would increase the operational costs of prisons. Spending taxes paid by crime victims for the benefit of the criminals is unreasonable. “How could a murderer compensate for the life he took while still alive? Surviving families desire to recover their lost ones, but we know this is impossible. So, the only consolation available is to take away the life of the criminal.”

 Shizuka Kamei, the chairman of the diet members group for abolishing the death penalty   Shizuka Kamei, the chairman of the diet members group for abolishing the death penalty, advocates its elimination. As a former public official belonging to the Police Agency, he stated that it is impossible to prevent 100% false accusation. He said “even criminals should have their human rights protected. The government must protect their rights because it is its duty.”

Kamei points out that the survey indicating that the majority of the people support the death penalty was not developed properly. The questionnaire limits choices and leads respondents to choose that the death penalty is unavoidable. His group conducted a survey asking whether or not people were in favor of abolishing the death penalty when lifelong incarceration is put in place. The majority said “yes.” Based on this survey, he believed that the ratio of Japanese in favor of the death penalty would significantly fall if life imprisonment is alternatively proposed.

Kamei proposed life imprisonment as a first step to abolish the death penalty.  Life imprisonment could be crueler than imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 10-20 years.  However, he thinks there is no choice but for criminals to consider the damage they caused and reflect on their crimes. He strongly advocates as a politician that the government must not kill a citizen.

With the introduction of the jury system, ordinary citizens are now involved in the judicial process and need to deal with the application of the death penalty.  Accordingly, we are obliged to study and think about capital punishment. Debate over this issue will continue.