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  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2020

The Culture of Capital Punishment in Japan


  • Presents an accessible and concise study of Japanese capital punishment

  • Offers up to date, rigorous scholarship that explores key questions in a jurisdiction that little is known about

  • Discusses: does the death penalty deter homicide?

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 31.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (6 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-xv
  2. Why Does Japan Retain Capital Punishment?

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 1-18Open Access
  3. Is Death Different? Two Ways Law Can Fail

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 19-36Open Access
  4. When the State Kills in Secret

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 37-60Open Access
  5. Wrongful Convictions and the Culture of Denial

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 61-80Open Access
  6. Capital Punishment and Lay Participation

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 81-100Open Access
  7. The Death Penalty and Democracy

    • David T. Johnson
    Pages 101-120Open Access
  8. Back Matter

    Pages 121-125

About this book

This open access book provides a comparative perspective on capital punishment in Japan and the United States. Alongside the US, Japan is one of only a few developed democracies in the world which retains capital punishment and continues to carry out executions on a regular basis. There are some similarities between the two systems of capital punishment but there are also many striking differences. These include differences in capital jurisprudence, execution method, the nature and extent of secrecy surrounding death penalty deliberations and executions, institutional capacities to prevent and discover wrongful convictions, orientations to lay participation and to victim participation, and orientations to “democracy” and governance. Johnson also explores several fundamental issues about the ultimate criminal penalty, such as the proper role of citizen preferences in governing a system of punishment and the relevance of the feelings of victims and survivors.


  • death penalty
  • democracy and punishment
  • wrongful convictions
  • capital jurisprudence
  • crime in Japan
  • homicide
  • Open Access



“This superb book, by an eminent scholar of criminal justice, provides many original insights about capital punishment in Japan. I welcome its publication, and I hope it moves Japan closer to abolition by informing readers in the rest of the world about the problems that afflict the death penalty in my country, and about the impossibility of administering capital punishment in a manner that is fair, just, and accurate.” (Koichi Kikuta, Professor Emeritus, Meiji University, Japan)

“There is a saying in the board game of Go that “on-lookers see more than players.” In this insightful book, David Johnson analyzes Japanese capital punishment from a variety of external perspectives. He also identifies obstacles to abolition, and he illuminates a path forward as well.” (Sadato Goto, Attorney at Law, Osaka, Japan)

“David Johnson brings two rare capacities to this masterful essay – a deep and sympathetic knowledge of the law and culture of the Japanese criminal process, and an expert's understanding that civilizing state killing as a legal punishment is an impossibility in Japan or any other nation.” (Franklin E. Zimring, Simon Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley, US)

“This brilliant book sheds light on many mysteries concerning Japan’s machinery of death. It is the most interesting and provocative work on the subject. By combining empirical and sociological analysis, it shows how Japan’s death penalty is peculiar in its own way, and it reveals troubling truths about Japanese criminal justice more generally.” (Kana Sasakura, Professor of Law, Konan University, Japan)

“Japan's death penalty is shrouded in secrecy because the Japanese government refuses to disclose many details about it. But this book describes many of the problems that plague Japanese capital punishment, including the reality of barbarous hangings. It should be read widely in the United States and around the world.” (Forum 90, an NGO promoting the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, USA

    David T. Johnson

About the author

David T. Johnson is Professor of Sociology at The University of Hawaii at Mānoa, US.

Bibliographic Information

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 31.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)