Japan’s justice minister has allowed media to come in and look at the gallows where the executions take place:
Here is a video from TBS with more details. Apparently, the whole place smells like burning incense. The reporter has a good description of the room – 無機質 which literally means “inorganic” but I guess would be more naturally conveyed as sterile and banal.
The room is located at Tokyo Detention Center, which is a 20-minute or so walk from my house. It’s always a little disturbing to think this is where it all goes down.
I would strongly encourage people to read the NYT’s article, written by superstar Japan reporter Hiroko Tabuchi who should go down in history as their best ever Japan correspondent.
According to accounts in local news outlets, journalists were taken to the execution site in a bus with closed curtains, because its exact location is kept secret. There are seven such sites across Japan, the Justice Ministry said.
The journalists were led through the chambers, one by one: a chapel with a Buddhist altar where the condemned are read their last rites; a small room, also with a Buddha statue, where a prison warden officially orders the execution; the execution room, with a pulley and rings for the rope and a trapdoor where the condemned inmate stands; and the viewing room where officials witness the hanging.
The inmate is handcuffed and blindfolded before entering the execution room, officials said. Three prison wardens push separate buttons, only one of which releases the trapdoor — but they never find out which one. Wardens are given a bonus of about $230 every time they attend an execution.
Satoshi Tomiyama, the Justice Ministry official who later briefed the foreign news outlets and others excluded from the tour, said that wardens take the utmost care to treat death row inmates fairly and humanely.
The Buddha statues can be switched with an altar of the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion for followers of that faith, he said. For Christians, the prison provides a wooden cross. Inmates are given fruit and snacks before their execution, and sentences are not carried out on weekends, national holidays and around the New Year.
What amazes me is that this system has been in place for so long even when just about everyone, including death penalty supporters, knows there are serious problems. If nothing else, the government needs to reform the itinerary for carrying out executions. It just seems exceptionally cruel and Kafkaesque to keep the execution date secret for so many years and only tell them at the last minute. I also see no reason why the justice ministry should be allowed to hide their decision-making process on when to execute people.