This Culture Day, our reporter Yuichiro Wasai went straight to Fuchu Prison. He did not pass Go. He did not collect 200 dollars.
Some guy once said something about a culture being measured by how well it treats its prisoners. It may have been Mozart… I don’t know because, you see, I am not cultured. Even though Japan offers a public holiday on 3 November in the spirit of embracing culture, I, like most people, spend it either sleeping or doing unpaid overtime work.
But there still are certain events scattered across the country in honor of Culture Day, and our Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro paid a visit to one such festival held in Japan’s largest correctional facility, Fuchu Prison. Located in Fuchu City, this celebration is actually really popular with people in the surrounding areas and attracts lots of visitors.
In other words, the Fuchu Prison Cultural Festival is the one time that an overcrowded prison is a good thing.
This festival has many exhibits and activities, but the two big draws are the Prison Bento Boxed Lunch and the Prison Special Bread. This first is a lunch set modeled after the actual food prisoners eat, and the latter is a pack of bread made by the inmates themselves.
This might not seem so alluring, and Yuichiro felt the same way. However, here was the line-up for the Prison Bento just after the festival opened. They even needed a guy to hold a sign to indicate where the end of the line was.
Luckily, Yuichiro could snag a lunchbox for 800 yen (US$7.70) before they sold out. The Prison Bento was actually pretty standard fare. There was some fried chicken, seasoned beef, rich with barley, and some other little side dishes.
It wasn’t extravagant but everything tasted good. The chicken had a spicy sauce to give it a little zing and the rice was pretty average. The beef was nicely cooked and seasoned so that it was a lot like Yoshinoya’s beef but a little sweeter. Yuichiro finished it off wondering if prisoners ate better than he did on a daily basis.
Next, he went to get some of the Prison Special Bread. Like with the bento, the line for this was all the way around the cell block.
And when Yuichiro finally made it to the front after an hour or so, he was a little underwhelmed to see it was just two pieces of bread in a clear plastic bag for 100 yen. Holding these little buns he couldn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about.
However, after cracking them open and taking a bite, it all made sense. The Prison Special Bread comes in a set of two types of bread; Coppepan (a fancy name for a hot dog bun) and Raisin Bread. These can be found in any convenience store, but the ones Yuichiro was holding had a lot more weight and density to them. Rather than light and fluffy, these were warm, tender, and filling. They also had a homemade taste to them.
Of course the 41st Annual Fuchu Prison Cultural Festival isn’t all about bread and bento. There are many other attractions for all ages. Firetrucks and police motorcycles were out on display for anyone to see and touch.
There are also shop-like exhibits featuring products made by the inmates of Fuchu Prison such as wallets and shoes.
And there is also the Prison Adventure Tour. Because of security reasons, Yuichiro couldn’t take any photos inside the prison where it was held, but he assures that it is an interesting experience inside.
Yes, for one day a year, Fuchu Prison isn’t just for murders and arsonists. It’s fun for the whole family! So, next Culture Day, why not stop by? Just take Yuichiro’s advice and arrive early because you’ll have to wait in some long lines for the good stuff.
Original article by Yuichiro Wasai