From measuring support for the death penalty to justifying its retention: Japanese public opinion surveys on crime and punishment, 1956–2014

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The death penalty remains a controversial issue in Japan. While Japan has been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1979, the Japanese government has been reluctant to abolish the death penalty on the grounds that public opinion supported its retention. This claim rests on the results of surveys conducted every 5 years by the Japanese government. This article compares two of these surveys, from 1967 to 2014, showing how the nature of the questions has changed during this period, and reports on a secondary data analysis for the 1967 survey. First, the article argues that earlier surveys were more open and honest and the later surveys are more geared to generating answers that support the government’s position. Second, it argues that public opinion towards the death penalty is not as clear-cut as it seems. The rate of approval varies, and a more nuanced picture can be derived from both surveys. The article concludes that the public in fact would probably have been ready for abolition as long ago as 1967. While the government continues to cite public support for the death penalty as justification for retaining it, the strength of that support is ambiguous at best.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCrime and Justice in Contemporary Japan
EditorsJianhong Liu, Setsuo Miyazawa
Place of PublicationCham Switzerland
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9783319693590
ISBN (Print)9783319693583
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

Name Springer Series on Asian Criminology and Criminal Justice Research
ISSN (Print)2522-5545
ISSN (Electronic)2522-5553


  • Death penalty
  • Government survey
  • Public opinion
  • Comparison

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