On 21 February, Japan hanged a trio of convicts for murders including the kidnapping death of a young girl and a stabbing rampage which left nine dead. Those executed were Masahiro Kanagawa, Kaoru Kobayashi and Keiki Kano (nee Muto).
As always, these hangings drew outrage from Amnesty International and the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations who made a statement saying they find “these executions unacceptable.”
However, this opposition is largely ignored by the government of Japan who maintains that the population at large supports their policy of penalty by death.
To confirm this, the following day, the Research Panel website posted the results of a survey conducted of 29,364 people asking them how they felt about the death penalty.
According to the survey, 85.2% of people responded that they are in favor of having a death penalty, and 14.9% stood against it.
These figures are in line with surveys conducted by major newspapers on their subscribers. The percentages of readers who support capital punishment are as follows.
■ Sankei – 91.1%
■ Yomiuri – 88.1%
■ Nikkei – 86.2%
■ Mainichi – 84.1%
■ Asahi – 82.2%
So it certainly seems that in Japan people are overwhelmingly in favor of executions. The reasons are typical of death penalty supporters around the world. Here are few gathered by the Research Panel website.
■ “Keeping violent criminals alive is a waste of tax revenue.”
■ “If a loved one was killed in cold blood, it’s only natural to want them to pay with their life.”
■ “I wish they were executed right after sentencing.”
On the other side of the coin here’s what the anti-hanging crowd had to say.
■ “I think crime hasn’t slowed down with the existence of the death penalty.”
■ “Taking another person’s life for any reason is still murder.”
■ “I think you have to be very careful when passing judgments and really take false accusations into account.”
A large number of the people disagreeing with capital punishment cited wrongful convictions and false accusations as the main reason for life sentences.
However, fracturing the already small minority of death penalty opponents is a group with more unique views on the issue.
■ “Ending a person’s life by death is way too light a punishment.”
■ “I think they should get an even crueler penalty [than death].”
■ “Apologize by dying? Come on. Death just ends their miserable life. I want them to suffer a hell of being unforgiven no matter how much they apologize or feel remorse.”
Given this development, if the survey were to be retaken with three options – life sentence, death sentence, or fate-worse-than-death sentence – we would surely see some of the death penalty numbers crossover into this new camp.
So while much of the developed world seems to be moving away from capital punishment, the people of Japan remain firmly in favor of it and are perhaps even willing to take things a step further.
It’s unlikely to see the nation return to boiling people alive or pick up hanging, drawing, and quartering as more extreme forms of punishment.
And with the closed nature of executions in Japan it’s hard to gauge what psychological condition the current 134 death row inmates are kept in to begin with. People’s opinions could change with more light shed on how the system works and the actual effect it has on prisoners.
For better or worse, current Minister of Justice Sadakazu Tanigaki has no intentions of making any changes saying “it is not necessary to review the issue at this time.”