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News Navigator: Does Japan need the death penalty?

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) recently announced that it would seek the abolition of the death penalty. The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about capital punishment in Japan.

    Question: Are there a lot of people who feel the death penalty is unnecessary?

    Answer: In fact it's the opposite in Japan. In a 2014 government survey of 3,000 people (garnering 1,826 valid responses), 80.3 percent of respondents said that "having the death penalty is unavoidable." Just 9.7 percent of those surveyed were in favor of abolishing capital punishment.

    Q: Wow, that's so few, isn't it?

    A: Indeed. However, the answers changed when a life imprisonment option was included in the question. Asked if "it would be good to abolish capital punishment if sentences of life imprisonment were introduced," 51.5 percent of respondents favored keeping the death penalty, while 37.7 percent said they would want it abolished.

    Q: There's no life sentence in Japan?

    A: Imprisonment is being sentenced to a penal institution, where the convict will be assigned some type of work. Even if someone is sentenced to what is referred to as "life imprisonment" in English-language Japanese news media, the literal meaning of the Japanese term is "imprisonment without defined length." In such cases, if after 10 years behind bars the convict is recognized as displaying deep remorse, he or she may be released on parole. However, only a few such convicts have been released on parole annually in recent years.

    There are foreign nations where true life imprisonment is the most severe punishment for criminals, and there are not a few voices calling on Japan to go the same route.

    Q: Aren't there other issues with capital punishment?

    A: In 1998, the Justice Ministry began releasing information on the number of convicts executed on the day the sentence was carried out. In 2007, the ministry added the name of the prisoner, their crime, and where the execution took place. However, the method used to decide which prisoner is executed when remains something of a mystery. The government should provide more information so that the Japanese people can think about whether to continue the capital punishment system. (By Nobuyuki Shimada, Tokyo City News Department)

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