Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Kevin Mcgue

Hung Jury
Changes to Japan’s legal system may energize the debate over capital punishment

Kevin Mcgue is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo

In December 1948, Sakae Menda was arrested in rural Kyushu on the charge of stealing some rice. This was a common crime in Japan’s hungry postwar years, and his case would have been open-and-shut had it not been for the murder of a Buddhist priest and the priest’s wife in a nearby town. Although Menda had an alibi that was supported by witnesses, he was arrested and interrogated for six days without food or water, after which he signed a confession that was the only evidence presented at his trial. Without even understanding the difference between the police station and the courtroom, Menda was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Each morning in solitary confinement, Menda listened as the sound of clinking keys approached his cell. A guard would pause outside the door, and the prisoner would become paralyzed with fear. Then the guard would move on. If the clinking keys stopped at another cell and the door swung open, the inmate inside would be led to the gallows. Menda endured this psychological torture every day for 34 years.
Illustration by Eparama Tuibenau

In 1983, after countless calls for a retrial, a court admitted that the police had suppressed evidence which supported Menda’s alibi, and he became the first person in Japan’s history to be released from death row.

Menda went on to become one of the country’s most vocal opponents of capital punishment. Shortly after his release, three other men were also exonerated and freed. More recently, a judge who handed down the sentence of a fourth man—this one on death row for 42 years—went public with his belief that trial evidence was fabricated. These high-profile cases have sparked a debate over capital punishment that continues today.

Reforms have moved slowly, however, as the whole system seems designed to prevent public or political discussion. Inmates are kept in solitary confinement, and visits by family and legal counsel are limited. Execution orders are given to guards and inmates on the same day they are carried out. Journalists, families of the condemned, and relatives of victims are never granted entrance to the execution chamber. You will not find the likes of Sean Penn and Sister Helen Prejean holding candlelight vigils outside prisons, as the public is only notified of executions after they occur. Until December 2007, even the names of the condemned were withheld from the public. Executions are scheduled when the Diet is not in session to prevent protest from opposition parties.

This secrecy has so separated the average person in Japan from state-sanctioned killing that the issue has become an abstraction for the public and a taboo for politicians. Yet capital punishment is not a hypothetical ethical dilemma, but an actual practice in which the government exterminates human life in our name.

Justice Minister Kunio Mori recently said that the time has come for public debate on the topic, prompted by Japan’s recent introduction of a trial-by-jury system. This system brings the public closer to the death penalty, as ordinary citizens may be called upon to decide on the ultimate sentence.

As it stands now, the public is overwhelmingly in favor of capital punishment—a 2005 survey found that over 80 percent of the population supports it. Mori has urged citizens to continue their support, saying the death penalty deters violent crime and maintains social order.

However, if the example of the US is anything to go by, that argument is wrong. In America, each state has the power to decide whether to allow capital punishment, and those states that use the death penalty consistently have higher murder rates than those that do not. While such statistics don’t conclusively prove that deterrence doesn’t work, they likewise fail to support the argument that it does. If the death penalty were lifted in Japan, the murder rate would rise, fall, stay the same—or, most likely, do some combination of the three over time. But it would be impossible to prove or disprove any connection to the lack of capital punishment.

Much more specious is Mori’s claim that social order is supported by destroying human life on behalf of the citizenry—in effect, forcing us to kill whether we support the death penalty or not. The new jury system has brought the people of Japan closer to a practice that has always weighed on them and, hopefully, one step closer to rejecting this practice.

The last word goes to Sadamichi Hirasawa, another long-term death row inmate who many now feel was unjustly condemned—but who, unlike Menda, died of natural causes in prison. Explaining why he fought to prove his innocence and to end capital punishment, Hirasawa said, “I am trying to get rid of a misfortune imposed on all people in Japan.”

Got something to say about this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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