Doing Time: My day at a Japanese Prison

No. I wasn’t caught shop lifting, I wasn’t caught drunk bike driving and I wasn’t caught in a Yakuza office  recruiting new members…

Along with my ever-fascinating professor and a few of his students, I got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Japanese prisoner. And let me tell ya, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I am now a little bit more than tempted to go for some not-so-subtle shop lifting from Lawson and live a sweet suite life for a week or two.

It took us roughly one hour to arrive to the prison, which was located in a residential area, overlooking a pretty lake and surrounded by trees. Not bad at all…

We were seated in a conference room, where we watched a documentary about the prison, had a tour around the prison, which was followed by a Q and A sessions with the prison warden.

Japan hates to admit people to prison. You can say they prevent creating this “Sociology of Crime” by not admitting people to prison. In Japan, about 2 million crimes are reported per year, 95% of which are disposed of . In Japan, it is preferred to confess, admit, apologize, express your deepest sorrow for committing the crime rather than hire a lawyer. In Japan, lawyers evade truth. If you want to be a lawyer, the last place you want to be at is Japan, because you’ll be looked down upon, not to mention starve. Confession matters the most; force confession is quite common, too..

Why does it matter? You know if you confess you’ll be forgiven, and you know that if you hire a lawyer to proof that you didn’t commit a crime, it will 1. cost you a shitload of money,  2. waste lots and lots of time,  3. generally suck the life out of you and 4. won’t work anyway… Pretty easy to choose which route to go for now, isn’t it?

Anyway, the prison I visited is a “Class A” prison (there are 8 classes; juvenile prison, gaijin prison, women prison, etc etc). The institution is about 40 years old, but still looking pretty good. Prisoners are 26+ years old, and all of them are sentenced for no more than 9 years. No gang members. However, there was an 89 year old murderer who had killed a family member and who’s imprisoned for  6 years; 3 done and 3 to go. The rest of the prisoners were mostly involved in robbery, embezzelment or economic crimes.

The tour around the prison was mind blowing, to say the least. Attached to the prison there’s a factory were prisoners work. According to the Japanese constitution, every Japanese citizen must work, and these people are citizens, so they work too. They work in a factory though, producing everything from bed sheets to carton bags to futons to carpets to wooden ornaments. These things are then sold and the revenue goes to the Ministry of Justice. What do our prisoners in سجن طره do? Make small rocks out of big ones??

Not to mention how the Japanese reward their prisoners: more work = more food +  a mark on the uniform to indicate that this prisoner has been well behaving for a period of X months/years (how good and how long varies with the color).

Prisoners also are welcome to join clubs: music, literature, all kinds of sports, of course, and even calligraphy.

The cells looked more spacious, cleaner and even more fun than my own dorm room , to say the least. (The fact that  each cell has a TV set says it all). Prisoners can order books, magazines, Manga, board games and the like online.

The guards in the prison don’t carry guns. The prisoners in the factory work with knives. Escape attempts? Organized violence? None.

After a prisoner has done his time, he goes through a graduation ceremony, and receives a certificate with cute Japanese calligraphy that says that he has successfully completed “the program”.

So, how about some barefaced Kelptomania?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jasmine
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 00:14:47

    Awesome post, that was really enlightening. Mind if I link it on my next blog post? In case there are people who are interested 🙂


    Oct 17, 2010 @ 01:02:04

    wow, i love this. it makes me wana go to japan and steel just for the hell of it.
    great work dina…i love how you integrate information and humor together so that we learn new things about japan and still crack a few laughs….NICE JOB 😀


  3. Maha el Kholy
    Apr 08, 2011 @ 23:23:24

    I’m amazed ! O_o


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