EU hopes exhibit on hanged killer spurs debate

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

The European Union delegation to Japan will exhibit documents relating to executed murderer and noted writer Norio Nagayama this month to “stimulate discussion and reflection on the issue of the death penalty.”

The eight-day exhibition starting next Thursday, the World Day against the Death Penalty, will display 10 panels on Nagayama, who gunned down four people over the course of two months in 1968 at the age of 19 and later became an award-winning writer through intensive study in prison, as well as some of his personal possessions.

Nagayama, a neglected child who grew up in difficult circumstances, wrote several books before he was hanged in 1997, including a best-selling autobiography, “Muchi no Namida” (“Tears of Ignorance”), while reading numerous books on a range of subjects, including the judicial system and philosophy.

The exhibit in the EU’s office in Minato Ward, Tokyo, will include handwritten manuscripts of his books.

“His writing allowed him not only to atone, but also to convey his thoughts and message to Japanese society,” EU Ambassador to Japan Hans Dietmar Schweisgut said in an email interview.

“Today, his case continues to raise issues around the death penalty in Japan: prison conditions, circumstances of executions (secrecy, extended time on death row), and the limited possibilities of pardon or sentence commutation,” he said.

The EU opposes capital punishment, with High Representative Catherine Ashton issuing a statement on Japan’s execution of a prisoner in September that said the bloc “believes that the death penalty is cruel and inhumane and that its abolition is essential to protect human dignity.”

Ashton called on Japanese authorities “to consider seriously a moratorium on executions and to promote a thorough public debate on moving away from capital punishment, in line with the worldwide trend.”

Nagayama’s personal belongings are now maintained and occasionally displayed by a longtime supporter, Michie Ichihara, at her home in Tokyo.

“I hope the EU exhibition, to be held on the 45th anniversary of the Nagayama case, will trigger further moves to terminate the death penalty in Japan and around the world,” she said.

Before committing the four murders, Nagayama had moved from a small town in Aomori Prefecture — immediately after graduating from junior high school — to bustling Tokyo during the postwar period of high economic growth.

He was sentenced to hang by the Tokyo District Court, but this was commuted to life in prison by the Tokyo High Court on grounds that blame for the slayings rested partially with the state for failing to rescue him from the miseries of his childhood. The Supreme Court, however, finalized the death sentence in 1990.

“The Nagayama case illustrates how difficult and sensitive the issue of the death penalty can be from a human and legal perspective,” Schweisgut said. “As he was himself such a young offender, who experienced such personal transformation as he matured, we hope this exhibition will resonate with young adults in particular.”

The exhibit will also be held in the library at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo from Oct. 22 to 31.

Around 85 percent of Japanese polled by the Cabinet Office said they support the death penalty in at least some cases.

The Supreme Court set the so-called Nagayama criteria in applying capital punishment, including the number of victims, the motive, brutality and social impact of the crime.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    All civilized countries have abolished the death penalty. Let us hope Japan will join this group.

    • Roan Suda

      I am not wildly enthusiastic about capital punishment and think that at the very least both the condemned and the general public should be informed about forthcoming executions. But the notion that “all civilized countries have abolished the death penalty” is pretentious nonsense…I would say that if one wishes to label the United Statee, for example, as “uncivilized,” one should first look at that nation’s appalling murder rate–and at legalized abortion.

  • Yo Han

    @ Jamie Baeridge – Not all civilized countries have abolished the death penalty. USA is a civilized country or Singapore is a civilized country, just two examples, but still they did not abolish the death penalty. If you want to abolish the death penalty, what about visiting China? Only a few criminals who committed horrible crimes are executed in Japan. We also should pay more attention to innocent victims of those crimes – who cares about them and their families?

  • Guy DE LA RUPELLE

    The death penalty question is very delicate indeed. Close to a quarter of a century in Japan and I find myself tottering between both positions. Indeed, all the countries in the EU have abolished (it’s a requisite as well if a country wants to join the EU) the death penalty, and the only two so-called first-world countries to continue this tradition are Japan and the United States, with some states such as Texas zealously carrying on many executions every year. It is interesting to note that polls continue to show very high numbers of people in Japan in favor of keeping that system, according to this article 85%.
    There is also an economic factor that some pro-capital punishment people mention, not to be ignored as the number of unemployed and destitute people is growing. Keeping someone in prison costs the government around 2.2 million yen a year and of course, this is from the tax-payers pockets. There are some crimes which are so heinous that one wonders, why should that person have a long life, with access to dentists and medical attention when some people in Japan are dying alone, and sometimes of malnutrition. Compassion, is what Buddhism replies, and the Dalai Lama has repeatedly asked Japan to reconsider the death penalty, in the name of compassion. One should also look into the Japanese prison system, and it’s no picnic here. Google “japanese prisons” and it won’t be long before you will find Amnesty International with examples of horrid conditions in prisons here. Something also to be addressed.

  • Jud Mag

    I find the debate in the posts below amusing. The notion of civilized and uncivilized countries is very 19th century… :-) The world today cannot even agree on what constitutes universal human rights.