Japan’s application of the death penalty is cruel, secretive and out of step with much of the developed world, say its opponents. As a record 102 inmates now wait on death row for the hangman’s noose, in this JT review of the capital-punishment system, the one man alive and free who knows the true horrors those condemned men and women face speaks exclusively to The Japan Times.

After breakfast on Christmas Day, 2006, three Japanese pensioners and a middle-aged former taxi driver were given an hour to live. The men were told to clean their cells, say their prayers and write a will. Yoshio Fujinami, 75, scribbled a note to his supporters before he was taken to the gallows in the Tokyo Detention Center in a wheelchair.

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