At a glance the room looks like it would not be out of place in a Japanese company building. A small room, where one might entertain guests, or where the sales team might meet to crunch figures. Several things give the death chamber away: the pulley on the roof, the rings on the wall where the prisoner will be shackled prior to receiving his or her sentence, and the clearly demarcated trapdoor in the center of the room.
Tokyo’s death chamber has been opened to the media for the first time in Japan’s history. As a staunch opponent of the death penalty, the country’s Justice Minister, Keiko Chiba, hopes to draw people’s attention to what goes on there. She faces an uphill struggle as the vast majority of the Japanese public support the death penalty or at least see it as unavoidable.
While prisoners are aware that they have been sentenced to death, the date of the execution is seldom fixed. In theory, it is supposed to be carried out within six months of the sentence, but this rarely happens and the prisoner will only learn of his or her execution date on the day that it will happen. The prisoner will be given a few hours to get their affairs in order, a final meal and then be taken to the death chamber. After meeting with a priest the prisoner will be taken to the death room and shackled to the wall. At the appointed time, the prisoner will be led to the red square in the center of the room where the noose will be drawn around his or her neck.
Behind the curtain, three guards will each press a button. None of them will know whose button activated the trapdoor beneath the prisoner’s feet. If the hanging goes smoothly, the neck will be fractured at either the 2nd and 3rd or 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. Death may not be instantaneous, in fact it may take as long as fifteen minutes, but unconsciousness usually is. After death, the body’s sphincters relax, causing the release of urine and feces. Approximately one-third of male prisoners will experience a death erection.