Miyazaki Tsutomu

Miyazaki Execution: Politics and capital punishment
a volatile mixture

On June 17,2008, 45-year-old Tsutomu Miyazaki, convicted of abducting and killing four little girls between 1989 and 1989, was executed in Tokyo’s Kosuge Prison. Miyazaki, who had been working as a photo technician at the time of his arrest, was disfigured due to a birth defect and had suffered bullying as a child.

Psychiatrists diagnosed Miyazaki as psychotic (dissociative identity disorder and/or schizophrenia). But the court ruled that he was nonetheless aware of the consequences of his acts and therefore accountable, and sentenced him to death in April, 1997. The Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in January 2006.

The timing of Miyazaki’s execution did not escape the media’s notice, having been carried out just nine days after 25-year-old Tomohiro Kato went a rampage, killing seven people and injuring 10 in broad daylight on the streets of Akihabara.

Akihabara’s “Electric Town” is regarded as a mecca for “otaku” (a term translated variously as nerds, geeks or fanatical hobbyists). Miyazaki became referred to as “The Otaku Murderer” after a police search of his residence turned thousands of videotapes with pornographic or violent contents.

The New York Times (6/18) quoted Jeff Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University Japan, as saying he thought the executions of Miyazaki and two other convicts on the heels of the Akihabara killings “was designed to send out a reassuring message to the Japanese people that the full sentence will be carried out.”

The executions once again put controversial Minister of Justice Kunio Hatoyama back in the media limelight.

Last week, Hatoyama was infuriated at remarks in the evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun (6/18) the day after Miyazaki’s execution, in which he was described as “shinigami” (a grim reaper) for having speeded up the process of executions. So far, 13 men have been hanged during his 10-month tenure.

Compared to the average of 60.5 executions per year in the three decades from 1949 to 1979, the pace of executions, which in Japan is done by “long drop” hanging, has declined considerably. Last year nine convicts, all males, were executed. Japan currently has 102 inmates on death row, including several women. No woman, however, has been executed in Japan since 1965.

“For over three years during the early 1990s, not a single execution was carried out,” notes a legal authority in Nikkan Gendai (6/19). “One of the justice ministers, Megumu Sato, was a devout Buddhist and refrained from ordering any for religious reasons, and also during this time the abolition of capital punishment was actively debated.

“The recent change from those times has been almost unbelievable,” he continues. “For the decade up to 2007, the duration between the final court decision and execution was around eight years. For the three men (executed on June 17), this was drastically shortened, to about three years.”

Osamu Seki, a lecturer in psychology at Meiji University, tells Nikkan Gendai he thinks the rush to expedite executions may be due moves afoot to revise the penal code to include sentencing for life without possibility of parole—a provision currently not on the books.

“I get the feeling that Justice Minister Hatoyama, whose hobby is collecting butterflies, does not have a deep respect for human life,” says Seki. “He’s infatuated with looking at his mounted specimens, and likes things done in a neat, orderly manner. To him, to not move ahead with executions after the death penalty has been determined by the court is a ‘rule violation.’ I wonder if he perceives himself as ‘beautiful’ for having enforced the rules.”

While opinion surveys indicate that roughly four out of five Japanese support capital punishment, there is also an ambivalence toward the practice, stemming from awareness over previous miscarriages of justice. Police coercion of criminal suspects during extended periods of detention—before any charges are actually filed—has recently come under strong criticism.

Writing in Shukan Kinyobi (6/13), Akira Maeda notes that last Jan 24, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department released a new set of “guidelines for investigation” at divisions other than those engaged in criminal investigation.

“Cells at police stations are ‘substitute prisons,’ and used as a systematized means for generating miscarriages of justice,” Maeda quotes a man who had been detained on suspicion of a crime in the Nagoya Police Station from February to July 2003. “I saw guys who would confess, or lie, in exchange for gifts of juice or treats from a detective. Being inside is rough, since you can’t purchase anything yourself. If you keep denying your guilt, they won’t even let you have a cigarette. Do what they tell you, and they let you smoke.”

But the debate ended, as far as Miyazaki was concerned, when the executioner at Kosuge, acting on Hatoyama’s authority, sprung the trap on June 17.

“We were in the process of filing a new appeal,” Miyazaki’s attorney Maiko Tagusari tells Friday (July 4). “The end of May, we had sent a contents-certified registered mail requesting a stay of execution, pointing out that Mr Miyazaki was undergoing psychotherapy in prison. Despite knowing this, they went ahead with the execution anyway. We strongly protest.”