2006: Three old men and a taxi driver

Two years ago today, Japan resumed executions after a break of more than a year with four hangings.

Septuagenarians Yoshio Fujinami (wheelchair-bound) and Yoshimitsu Akiyama (partially blind) both needed the guards’ assistance to reach the trap at Tokyo Detention Center, a mere hour after they were informed of their imminent demise.

Two other prisoners, 64-year-old Michio Fukuoka and 44-year-old Hiroaki Hidaka, were simultaneously hanged in Osaka and Hiroshima, respectively.

Hidaka, a serial killer, had dropped his appeals and thus died a mere 12 years after his crimes. Fukouka died maintaining his innocence of three murders from 1978-81 he said police torture had forced him to confess. The oldest men were on the hook for killings dating to 1975 and 1981. (Much more from The Japan Times.)

Talk about justice delayed.

In Japan’s strange death penalty system, the condemned might await death for decades only to be hanged, as these were, with next to no warning. Their families and supporters did not hear about it until after the deed was done.

These hangings, though protested, were not altogether unexpected, for a break in the Japanese Diet around the end of the year often heralds an appearance on the public stage by the gallows. (Look for them in 2008 as the Diet goes out of session starting today.) And a turnover at the top of the Justice Ministry had replaced a pol disinclined to authorize any hangings, the source of the long break between executions during a decade when Japan’s use of the death penalty has generally been intensifying.

Although at least one particularly pressing motivation for this date’s hanging will not be present this year. After the long hiatus, an anonymous official told a newspaper,

We absolutely wanted to avoid ending the year with zero executions.

But in 2008, Japan has already carried out more hangings than in any year since 1975.

A panel from former prison guard Toshio Sakamato’s “How the death penalty is carried out”. More here.

On this day..