From 1967 to 1994, novelist and nonfiction author Toshio Sakamoto worked as a guard, supervisor and warden in seven of Japan’s penal institutions. Since retiring, he has served as an advisor to TV dramas and film makers, and recently published a book titled “Order to Proceed with an Execution” (Nihon Bungeisha).
In Shukan Taishu (June 9), Sakamoto talks about what an average day is like for a condemned prisoner on Japan’s death row. The article was inspired in part by the release last March 27 of 78-year-old convicted killer Iwao Hakamada, who had been incarcerated for 48 years—the last 34 of which had been spent after his having exhausted all appeals. Hakamada was released after the Shizuoka District Court ordered a retrial on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct—a rare but not unprecedented event in Japan.
“While serving as a Ministry of Justice official from 1979 to 1984, I was engaged in a study of conditions for dealing with death row convicts, and met with Mr Hakamada on numerous occasions,” says Sakamoto. “Likewise from autumn of 1988, when I served as warden.
“My first impression upon meeting him was that he was a ‘good kid.’ He seemed determined to prove his innocence and I had doubts that he was the type of person who could have slain a family of four.”