Japan opens up its secret death chamber to the world

One of the world's most secret execution rooms was opened up to reporters for the first time yesterday, the likely first step in a long-delayed debate on Japan' s controversial death penalty.

The Justice Minister, Keiko Chiba, who opposes the death penalty, ordered the ministry's conservative bureaucrats to allow the press to visit Tokyo Detention Centre to stimulate public debate on hanging.

A select group of reporters was allowed to take pictures of the execution chambers, including the room where prisoners are hanged.

Visitors have only been allowed to see the gallows on three occasions. In each case they were members of parliament who were forced to surrender recording and photographic equipment before their visit. What little is known about the centre comes mainly from former prison guards.

Last month, Ms Chiba became the first justice minister to witness an execution when she sat grey-faced through the hangings of Kazuo Shinozawa, 59, and Hidenori Ogata, 33. The decision caught many people by surprise – Ms Chiba was widely expected to begin a moratorium on the death penalty.

Yesterday she said she hoped her actions would help the public decide on the system's merits. "It was the most open we could be, after considering the feelings of death row inmates, those who are close to them and prison guards as well as security problems."

Footage of the facility released by the state broadcaster NHK showed an anteroom with chairs, a large Buddhist altar and low table, where the execution order is read to the condemned. In a second room, a blue curtain conceals an observation chamber and a platform with a trapdoor marked in red. Some reporters said the entire facility was chilled by air-conditioners and smelled of incense.

Foreign reporters were banned from the tour, which did not show the hangman's noose or the area where the body is collected beneath the trapdoor – a concrete basement with little except a drain to catch the excretions of a thrashing or dead body. Reporters were told that inmates sometimes sip tea in the anteroom as the execution order is read out, before writing a final will.

"It's not a complete opening up because the rope wasn't shown," said Nobuto Hosaka, a former MP and campaigner against the death penalty. "The ministry knows that it's just too raw and would reveal the essential cruelty of what goes on." Last week Mr Hosaka said the facility looked like a "lounge in an expensive hotel" where "life and death are separated by a trap door".

A total of 107 people wait on Japan's death row, and many are aging and thought to be senile. The condemned include 84-year-old Masaru Okunishi, who has protested his innocence of poisoning five women for over four decades. Of the over 30 people who have been hanged since January 2006, five were in their seventies. It is not unheard of for some inmates to be ferried to the gallows in wheelchairs. At least five are mentally ill, according to Amnesty International.

Some surveys put public support for executions as high as 85 per cent. A fresh poll commissioned by NHK found support at 57 per cent, with 8 per cent opposed. "It's true that surveys find high public support for the death penalty, but most people don't have enough information to make such a choice," said Yuji Ogawara, a former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which wants executions scrapped. "If they had more information, I believe opposition would be much stronger."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference