Six months ago Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were ordinary men looking after young families. But in June they were arrested by a large group of uniformed police, taken to a detention center in Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan, and held for 26 days.

They were granted bail on July 15 after paying ¥4 million each, but their release, after an unusual decision by an Aomori judge to hear their case, is highly conditional. Neither is allowed to freely meet or talk to work colleagues, leave home for extended periods or travel abroad. Both are watched by detectives and followed. They can only talk to journalists, separately, in their lawyer's office. Any violation of these conditions will land them back in jail.

Their crime? Taking a 23-kg box of whale meat from a delivery company warehouse. If, as looks very likely, they are found guilty of trespassing and theft, they face a maximum 10 years in prison.