By Ito Kazuya, staff writer
Japan carried out its first executions in two years on Dec. 21 by hanging three death row inmates, one of them a mass murderer, in Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture.
Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa, who took office in October, signed the death warrants on Dec. 17, suggesting the new Kishida administration will continue to implement a hardline stance against capital crimes.
The previous execution, on Dec. 26, 2019, occurred when Masako Mori was justice minister. The latest hangings bring the number of convicts on death row to 107.
Yasutaka Fujishiro, 65, who was sentenced to death for killing seven people, including his relatives and neighbors in Hyogo Prefecture in 2004, was executed at the Osaka Detention House.
Tomoaki Takanezawa, 54, and Mitsunori Onogawa, 44, were put to death separately at the Tokyo Detention House. They were handed the death sentence for killing two people and stealing cash from one of the victims as well as an employer of another man they murdered in Gunma Prefecture in 2003.
Fujishiro went on a stabbing spree on Aug. 2, 2004, targeting relatives and neighbors in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, where he lived. He apparently bore a grudge against the victims, believing they looked down on and made light of him.
He initially fatally stabbed three relatives aged between 46 and 80 and seriously injured a woman. They all lived in a neighboring property. Fujishiro continued his rampage by fatally stabbing four members of a family aged between 26 and 64 who also lived nearby. Later that day, he set fire to his own house.
His first trial at a district court ended with a death sentence. His lawyers appealed, arguing that he had a diminished mental capacity. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in 2015.
Takanezawa and Onogawa were sentenced to death in connection with two murder cases. The first concerned the death by strangulation with a rope of a 47-year-old pachinko parlor employee inside a car parked on a mountain in Miyagi, now called Maebashi, in Gunma Prefecture on Feb. 23, 2003.
The court heard that the pair later broke into the pachinko parlor using a key taken from the man they had just killed and stole 3 million yen ($26,000) kept on the premises.
They abandoned the man’s body in a river in Gyoda in neighboring Saitama Prefecture. They continued their crime spree by targeting another pachinko parlor employee,
this time in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, on April 1, 2003. The 25-year-old man was also strangled to death with a rope inside a parked car. The pair stole 119,000 yen he had on him in cash. They tried to enter the pachinko parlor by using the key they had taken from him, but failed. They dumped his body in the same river in Gyoda.
They both pleaded guilty to charges of murder and robbery in their first trial at a district court and were sentenced to death.
Their lawyers appealed, but Takanezawa’s death sentence was confirmed after he withdrew the appeal in 2005. Onogawa argued that he only followed Takanezawa’s instructions because he was scared of him, but the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal in 2009.
No executions were carried out in 2020, during which time Yoko Kamikawa served as justice minister for a third time.
However, Kamikawa ordered the executions of 13 former members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult during her second stint in office in 2018.
According to the Ministry of Justice, death sentences were confirmed for four people this year. One of them killed a boy and a girl, both first-graders at a junior high school in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture. Another killed three men and tried to murder a fourth by getting them to swallow capsules containing a cyanide compound.
Also this year, three male death row inmates, aged 87, 76 and 71, respectively, died of illness before their sentences could be carried out. The average age of death row inmates now stands at 59. They have been detained for just over 13 years on average.