Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Japanese Prison

Five weeks ago I told my Japanese teacher that I was going to prison and she was shocked. She asked me: why are you so excited about? What did you do Grigore-san? And I replied I am going with my fascinating teacher to visit a Japanese prison.

After one hour of driving to Shiga Prefecture we finally arrive; the place was very clean.  We were welcomed by 3 guards and we we sat in a conference room where we watched a documentary about the prison, had a tour around the prison, which was followed by a question and answer session.

I discovered that Japan is not really happy about admitting people to prison. One may say that there is a theory about the sociology of crime in this country, and therefore there are about 2 million crimes are reported per year, 95% of which are disposed of. I also discovered that it is preferable to confess, admit, apologize, express your deepest sorrow for committing the crime rather than hiring a lawyer. I thought that Japan, lawyers evade truth.

Then I asked myself: “Why does it matter if I did something wrong? I confessed it and don’t need to waste time and money on a lawyer who might not be successful enough in order to help me. I guess this process is actually pretty easy and also honest, isn’t it?”

I visited is a “Class A” prison. In Japan there are 8 classes of prison: juvenile prison, gaijin prison, women’s prison, class B, etc. The institution we visited is about 40 years old, and it looks incredible. (Compared to a Romanian one, it can be considered Heaven). Prisoners are 26+ years old, and all of them are sentenced for no more than 9 years. interesting, isn’t it? Apparently there are no gang members but we discovered that was an 80+ year old murderer who had killed a family member and therefore he is spending 6 years in jail. The rest of the prisoners were mostly involved in robbery, embezzlement or economic crimes.

The tour around the prison was extremely interesting.  There is a factory where prisoners work and this is because according to the Japanese constitution, every Japanese citizen must work, and prisoners are of course citizens. “Woooow,” I thought, ”this will probably never happen in the country where I was born.” Prisoners in Japan make many different items such as bed sheets, carton bags, futons and wooden ornaments. These things are then sold and the revenue goes to the Ministry of Justice. I am wondering what prisoners in other countries do.

One may argue that another important fact is that the Japanese reward their prisoners which means more work = more food plus, a mark on the uniform to indicate that this prisoner has been well-behaved for a period of time. (blue=6 months and red=1 year). Moreover, prisoners also are welcome to join clubs: music, literature, sports, and even calligraphy.

I was surprised when I first saw a Japanese cell because  it looks more spacious, cleaner and even more fun than my own dorm room: and I forgot to mention…each cell has a TV set.  Prisoners can order books, magazines, manga, and board games online and from the library.

The guards in the prison don’t carry guns. The prisoners in the factory work with knives. Escape attempts? Organized violence? None! I am wondering why…

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”. Isn’t that kawaii?

So if I am not successful enough in my life should I commit a crime in Japan, confess and go to  prison?!


  1. Norwegian prisons are considered as heaven as well.
    THey also have a tv and all. And norwegian prisoners actually earn money while being in prison. Not a big amount though, but that mean that they can go to the stationary shop in the prison and buy smoke if that is what they wanna use their money for.
    Other than that I know they can work out in a gym and they can study while being in jail.

    But I don't think we have any clubs they can enter :P

  2. Wictoria, thank you for your comment!:-)
    Actually, Japanese prisoners earn money too but I don't know the exact amount. They also can buy tobacco and other items which can be found in the prison. Regarding gym and studying, these issues may also apply to Japan.(Maybe in bigger prisons, or other types)
    Maybe clubs are Japanese-style only :) Hahah!

  3. Sounds like it was a great fieldtrip - I'd like to go to prison as well...

    I would like more specific info about the different kinds of prisons you mention. And I am not sure how you are using the visual images. Were photos against the rule in jail? Even outside of the prison? I miss your usual excellent photos in this post...

    Anyway, a great topic. We will see a film in class in a couple weeks about forced (and falsified) confessions in Japan.

  4. I could not take any pictures. The institution was very strict. I will research more about the different types of prisons I mentioned in my post.

    I am using the visual images to show where Shiga is. I also wanted to visualize the life of a prisoner in a metaphoric way: a man on a river. The flow of the river represents the life and the man on it represents the prisoner.