This week’s featured article


While the execution of Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara and the group’s former senior members may offer a degree of closure on a string of crimes that shocked the nation, it also creates an opportunity for further debate in Japanese society about the death penalty.

At a time when the global trend is toward abolishing capital punishment, the country’s death penalty system has sparked international criticism — especially over the secrecy surrounding its executions — and has prompted critics to push for its abolition.

Even so, Friday’s execution of the seven death row inmates including Asahara reflected the Justice Ministry’s sensitivity not only to the feelings of victims and their families but also strong public resentment against him over the deadly crimes he perpetrated.

The 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people, among a total of over 6,500 victims, was only one of numerous murders masterminded by Asahara. The sarin gas attack also shattered the country’s reputation for public safety.

With the June 6 executions of cult members, the nation will now have to grapple with unanswered questions about the crimes.

Yuji Ogawara, who heads a lawyers’ group that is opposed to the death penalty at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, disputes that the executions bring closure to Aum’s crimes.

Recounting how the doomsday cult attracted educated youths, Tadashi Moriyama, a Takushoku University professor, said he feels that “it was not fully revealed in trial or among researchers why many highly educated people, or those with high social status, were involved in the crimes.”

Amnesty International, a human rights organization, criticized the country on Friday for executing Asahara and six of Aum’s former members, saying that capital punishment does not deliver justice for the victims of crimes committed by the doomsday cult.

The ministry said the number of people with finalized death sentences dropped to 117, one of whom is under retrial, after the executions of the seven men on Friday.

Even though the death penalty has been under fire from international rights groups, a majority of the public has shown support for it. A 2014 government survey showed that 80.3 percent of Japanese people aged 20 or over favored capital punishment — down from a record 85.6 percent in the previous government survey in 2009.

First published in The Japan Times on July 7.

Warm up

One-minute chat about crime.


Collect words related to trials, e.g., court, law.

New words

1) perpetrate: commit, e.g., “He perpetrated the terrible crime.”

2) grapple: to wrestle with, e.g., “We have to grapple with the problem of homelessness.”

Guess the headline

Aum founder Shoko Asahara’s e_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ leads to renewed debate in Japan on death p_ _ _ _ _ _


1) How many people were executed?

2) Why do some people oppose the execution of the Aum members?

3) What is the Japanese public’s opinion on the death penalty?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you remember about the Aum crimes?

2) What do you think of the death penalty?

3) What do you think needs to be done to keep society safe?


日本中を震撼させたオウム真理教による連続的な事件から20年以上の時を経て、その中心メンバーであり主犯格であった死刑囚の刑執行が複数人同日という形で行われました。 死刑制度のある日本では地下鉄サリン事件をはじめとするショッキングな事件を引き起こした主犯格の死刑は当然のこととしてとらえられる声がある一方、世界的にみると廃止される傾向が顕著である死刑制度を続ける日本の制度を批判する声も海外からだけでなく国内からも聞こえるようになっています。犯罪のない安全な生活を送るために何が必要なのか、朝の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。


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