Japan’s antiquated penal system is certainly a bone of contention of Amnesty International, who have previously expressed worry not only in the continued use of the death penalty but also the treatment of prisoners on death row and prisoners in general population.
The Japanese have a saying “出る釘は打たれる”(deru kugi wa utareru) which translates to the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, expressing a clear notion that Japanese society is built primarily on the premise of “和” (wa) or social harmony. Rather opposite to the jealousy fuelled ‘tall poppy syndrome’ whereby our biggest and brightest reap distain due to talents and achievements, this belief is that all need to abide by an ingrained social code, which stitches the very fabric of Japanese society together, thus providing the rationale in hammering down those who don’t conform to the established and expected way of life.
This is evident none more so than in the workings of the penal system in Japan. Rights afforded to prisoners in the West aren’t evident in the Japanese system, though what comes hand-in-hand with a brutal prison regime and justice system is a system which is a microcosm of Japanese society; disciplined. Serious crime-rates are low in Japan, and unlike in any of her peer cities, Tokyo is rather safe to walk around at night, without fear of mugging or attack.
Various accounts from foreigners who have had the unfortunate opportunity to see what goes on behind the bars, talk of a regulated regime with one hour recreational time outside their cells a day, as well as rest bites for showering.
According to news outlets conviction rates in Japan stand at 99.8%, with prosecutors reluctantly pursuing cases that they feel could ‘go either way’.
When I read accounts of prisoners in my native UK having access to satellite T.V, the latest games consoles, it is hard to criticize the nefarious penal system in Japan, but perspective is blurred when one hasn’t experienced either.