Those with the conviction that members of Japan's Imperial family have negligible impact on the lives of their subjects should bear in mind that for a tiny few, it can literally be a matter of life or death.

More specifically, on festive occasions such as the coronation of a new emperor, it has long been the practice to offer amnesty to convicted criminals. The law provides for five levels of pardons ranging from amnesty, special amnesty, commutation of sentence (usually by one degree) and exoneration to full restoration of rights. These are determined according to the recommendations of a penal review board.

One well-known beneficiary of this form of clemency was the notorious murderer Sada Abe, whose lurid mutilation-murder of her lover, Kichizo Ishida, in Tokyo on May 18, 1936, led to a citywide dragnet. She was sentenced to a seven-year term at Tochigi Women's Prison, but in May 1941 was granted early release as part of a general amnesty the previous year, in celebration of the 2,600th anniversary of the mythical founding of Japan by Emperor Jimmu.