Japan’s Secretive Death Penalty Policy: Contours, Origins, Justifications, and Meanings

By David T. Johnson / Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal, on 1 January 2006

The secrecy that surrounds capital punishment in Japan is taken to extremes not seen in other nations. This article describes the Japanese state’s policy of secrecy and explains how it developed in three historical stages: the “birth of secrecy” during the Meiji period (1867 – 1912); the creation and spread of “censored democracy” during the postwar Occupation (1945 – 1952); and the “acceleration of secrecy” during the decades that followed. The article then analyzes several justifications for secrecy that Japanese prosecutors provide. None seems cogent. The final section explores four meanings of the secrecy policy that relate to the sources of death penalty legitimacy, the salience of capital punishment, the nature of Japan’s democracy, and the role and rule of law in Japanese society.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list Japan
  • Themes list Transparency,