Art

Photos highlight the everyday lives of prisoners in Japan

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

A week-long photo exhibition being held next month will aim to shed light on the everyday lives of inmates of Japanese prisons and promote public awareness about the challenges the country’s criminal justice system faces.

Around 60 photos, which were taken by six photography majors at Tokyo Polytechnic University with permission of the Justice Ministry, will be displayed at Hibiya Library & Museum in Hibiya Park, central Tokyo, from April 1 to 7.

The students visited six penal detention facilities in and around the capital to take photos of the daily routines of prisoners and correctional officers as part of the Japan Social Justice Project, which was initiated by a Japanese human rights group and the University of Reading in England.

Maiko Tagusari, secretary general of the Center for Prisoners’ Rights, says the project promotes public awareness about the methods of criminal rehabilitation as well as whether capital punishment should be maintained or terminated, among other issues.

“It was a rare opportunity for ordinary citizens to take photos from inside prisons so people will know what prisons are, and we expect the photos will inspire the public to start serious debates on how criminal justice should be,” says Tagusari, who is also a Tokyo-based lawyer.

The upcoming photo exhibition, which offers free admission, will mark the launch of CrimeInfo — a website for the social justice project, which is subsidized by the European Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Tagusari says.

CPR, which receives inquiries from inmates, has worked for more than 20 years toward improving their circumstances.

On the website, the CPR and Reading university plan to introduce statistics on the numbers of executions or parolees, as well as other various documents, such as books, research papers and news stories for the use of researchers and journalists.

“We will also provide file footage relating to the criminal justice system and records of the justice minister’s press conferences,” Tagusari says.

The file footage is expected to be used as educational material, particularly for high school students to deepen their understanding about Japan’s criminal justice system.

Seiya Matsumura, a senior, was among the six who photographed the prisons. Most of his photos thus far have focused on day laborers and people living in severely ostracized buraku districts as well as the northeastern Japan areas affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster.

“Before visiting the prisons, I thought they would be a place like they’re depicted on TV and in the movies, under stone-cold surroundings with many former delinquents,” Matsumura, 22, says. “But at a female prison, for example, an old woman was walking with the support of prison guards, and it made me wonder if she really committed a crime and if it is really a correctional facility. I confused the prison with a welfare institution.”

Matsumura says he noticed the prisons were insufficient in terms of adequate standards of living, such as providing proper heating and cooling facilities.

“While it is a punishment for them to have their freedom taken away, they should be guaranteed the same level of living conditions as the general public even at prisons,” Matsumura says. “Their food, however, looked better than what college students living alone like me eat.”

His photos include a community cell, a carpenter shop and female prisoners being trained to cut hair.

CrimeInfo takes place at Hibiya Library & Museum from April 1 to 7 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). Admission is free. For more information, call the Center for Prisoners’ Rights Japan at 03-5379-5055 or visit www.crimeinfo.jp.