The Los Angeles Times offers a rare peek into the mists of Japan’s death row, where prisoners live in conditions designed to induce submission and where executions, all by hanging, are carried out in secret. The Japanese government says 75 inmates await execution, living under rules set out in a 1908 prison law and tightened by directives in 1963. They are prohibited from talking to other prisoners. Their contact with the outside world is limited to infrequent, supervised visits from family or their lawyers.
They are not allowed hobbies or television, and may own only three books, though more can be borrowed with the warden’s permission as long as the content is not deemed to preach “subversion of authority.” Exercise is limited to two short sessions a week outside their cells, four solid walls and one small window. Some rely on sleeping pills, bought with money provided by their families, to survive the isolation. Many prisoners live in this purgatory for more than two decades while appeals against their sentences churn through Japan’s notoriously sluggish legal system. But once appeals are exhausted, executions will come without notice, on the whim and with the stamp of the justice minister. There are no last meals. Hangings are carried out without witnesses, and the inmate’s family members aren’t informed until the prisoner is dead and they are told to collect the body.