The number of criminals on death row at the end of 2012 stood at 133, the highest on record, the latest Justice Ministry figures show.
Seven criminals were executed this year and nine were given death sentences.
For the third consecutive year, the number of inmates on death row climbed to record numbers. Data about the inmates has been available since 1949.
After remaining below 60 during the first half of the 2000s, the yearend totals topped 100 in 2007 and 130 in 2011, when no one was executed for the first time in 19 years.
In the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan from September 2009 to this month, nine people were executed, far fewer than the 28 hanged in the three years to 2008 under the Liberal Democratic Party-led government.
The fall is believed to stem in part from the frequent change in justice ministers during the DPJ’s first period in power. After former Justice Minister Keiko Chiba ordered two criminals executed in July 2010, none followed for about 20 months until Toshio Ogawa, the fifth to hold the post after Chiba, issued an execution order in March this year.
New Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki of the LDP has expressed a positive stance toward executions. “The death penalty system has adequate grounds and I will perform my duties under relevant laws,” he told a recent news conference.
Criminals whose death penalties were finalized this year include Takayuki Fukuda, 31, who was a minor when he killed and then raped a woman and murdered her baby in 1999 in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The high-profile case caught the nation’s attention and gave momentum to proponents of capital punishment.
Meanwhile, in a recent survey on the inmates, a large number of them said they want to be notified of their execution date in advance instead of being told only in the morning of the day they are to going to be hanged.
The survey, conducted by a lawmaker who opposes capital punishment, said that 51 of the 78 inmates who replied said they favor advance notice. A majority of them also called for a review of the execution method, with many saying they would prefer lethal injection to the noose.
The survey, conducted between September and November by Mizuho Fukushima, deputy chairwoman of the nonpartisan Parliamentary League for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, covered the 133 inmates and offered a rare insight into their thoughts on the system in a country widely known to severely limit information about its death penalty population and policies.
On Dec. 20 the United Nations adopted a resolution calling on countries that conduct executions to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and disclose information about the practice. With opinion polls showing 80 percent of Japanese expressing support for capital punishment, Japan voted against it.
The survey by Fukushima found 24 of the inmates said they want to be notified of the date of their execution by one to seven days ahead, while nine wanted about a month. Several said they wanted the opportunity to bid farewell to their relatives and friends.
Four said advance notification was not necessary, while one cited the possibility of having the option of suicide, the survey said.
On the execution method, 44 of 78 said they want the state to review hanging, and the largest portion — 25 inmates — said they want to die by lethal injection, the survey said.
Fukushima is a veteran House of Councilors’ member who leads the Social Democratic Party, a minor opposition party.