The lives of two men ended this week. Both were lives cut short, and there is not a lot of information available about either death, but there the similarities end.
On Thursday morning, a man who had been convicted in 2008 of murdering three members of his family, was hanged at Osaka detention centre. His name was Masanori Kawasaki, he was 68, and he was the first person to be executed this year, but the ninth since Mr. Abe became Prime Minister two and a half years ago.
According to Amnesty International, there are 128 people on death row in Japan. The Justice Minister authorises executions but the person awaiting execution (the vast majority men but several women) are not told the date in advance; one morning guards will come to their cell and they will be escorted to the death chamber where they will be hanged. Until that moment they don’t know when it will be; consequently, every day could be their last. Amnesty International has criticised Japan not only for having the death penalty, but also for the secretive manner in which it is carried out.
This afternoon, another Japanese man, according to sketchy reports possibly also in his sixties, killed himself in Shinjuku. While there is little information available, it appears he climbed onto a bridge at Shinjuku station, and sat for an hour, using a microphone to speak about his opposition to the constitutional changes Mr. Abe’s government wants to make, and could make this week. When police moved in to try to climb up to him, he poured something over his head and set himself alight. The fire was extinguished but no information is available about him, though early reports said he had died.
Two Japanese men, their lives very different, their deaths news. What is the value of a life? How public should a death be? If someone murders another, is executed for their crime, is their execution news? Can we say by their terrible, even evil act, they have forfeited the right to humane treatment? If someone climbs onto a bridge in the middle of Tokyo, uses a microphone to broadcast his views, and then self-immolates, should those pictures be on the news? Can we assume that by such a public act he expected that?
Two lives have ended, violently. This evening I feel weighed down by the news, distressed by such a horrifying, public act. Sad to live in a country that still enforces the death penalty. Trying to make sense of something that makes no sense. I had hoped that by writing this I would somehow make peace with what I have read, but several hundred words later, I am still feeling that by these two deaths we are all diminished.