So that's what an execution chamber in Japan looks like

The Kyodo/Reuters photograph accompanying this NYTimes article by Hiroko Tabuchi is a stunner.


  1. More important than the aesthetics (though the ‘maximum security Ikea’ look is sort of interesting), would seem to be details on the false-positive rate among the death row inmates and the accuracy of the hangmen: when done correctly, hanging is fairly quick. If you end up just dangling the person while they slowly suffocate, on the other hand…

    1. I’m not sure that knowing they will die quickly is a lot of relief to someone who might stay on death row as long as 40 years, in solitary confinement, not having a clue of when they will be killed. Hiring accurate hangmen seems like it’s minimizing just the smallest source of stress in the whole situation. Also, I think part of their discussion is indeed related to false-positives but also to trying to ban executions on moral grounds. Even assuming that we had 0 false-positives, we could always decide to execute inmates by throwing them into a volcano or something (should be fairly quick), but that doesn’t mean that we should do it.

    2.  Hanging has a chance of decapitation – which is why we don’t allow it – the slow death by strangle is just icing on the cake – if you get the rope measurement wrong you cut off a head and that’s considered cruel.

      1. The British Home Office had tables for the exact length of rope required in order to ensure a quick death but not risk decapitation, depending on the weight of the condemned. I have heard, though, that hangings in Japan are “short drop”- in other words, death is by suffocation as there’s not enough of a drop to break the spine.

        Incidentally, this is a model of the last execution chamber in Britain, at Wandsworth Prison in London- while the last hanging was in the mid 60s, the gallows here remained in working order (and were regularly tested) until 1994, as there were still a few capital crimes on the books (treason, piracy on the high seas, and certain military offences). The room is now used as a break room for prison guards!

  2. What’s stunning about it?  It looks like a pretty average execution room to me.  But I’m totally missing the Buddha statue.  Are we looking at the same photo?

    1. Banality of evil and all that.

      I was reminded of Lucinda Devlin’s series of photographs of execution chambers in the US, The Omega Suites. 

  3. “Either that wall paneling goes, or I do” “That paneling and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”

  4. Wow.  The things we do to try to assuage our guilt over state-sanctioned murder.   Pretty grim.  And being held in a room that’s 50 square feet, in solitary, for 5+ years?  That’s 5 feet by 10 feet.  One foot wider and two feet longer than a sheet of plywood.  About the size of a dog kennel.  Roughly the size of the bathroom at a low-priced hotel.  And no friends are allowed to visit – only relatives – so if you don’t have close relatives I guess you’re on your own.  You can buy books and newspapers, although they don’t specify how you get money.  Since no contact is allowed with other prisoners, I wouldn’t think it would be practical to allow inmates to work in the prison to earn money, so if you’re broke when you go in, I guess you’re just screwed.  And all of this is “humane”?

  5. I once spent a couple of weeks in the old prison in Pietermauritzburg, South Africa, which is now an Aids orphanage. Our team would meet up every morning to discuss the day in the room which used to be directly below an execution chamber like that one. You could still see the hatch in the ceiling and the square area directly underneath where they had a sandpit to catch any gore if the head came off.

  6. “Apart from Japan and the United States, the other countries in the world that carry out capital punishment are those accused of other grave human rights violations,”. Wait what? USA has most definitely been accused of grave human rights violations.

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