What Are Prisons Like In Japan (A Look Behind Bars In Nihon)

Japan is considered to be a very safe country, and part of that can be attributed to its structured legal system. That being said, as, in any country, there is crime. 

The Japanese prison system is often referred to as strict. While most prison systems that exist in the world could gain from certain improvements.

It’s fair to say that Japanese prisons are nothing like Western systems that are known for being demoralizing with very sometimes dangerous conditions and lack of structured reform. 

The Prisons In Japan 

Some of the prisons or jails in Japan are established for a particular type of inmate. For example, there were 6 jails in Japan specifically for young offenders as of 2018. Additionally, as of 2018, there were about 62 prisons or jails in Japan in general. 

Prisons in Japan exist to punish those who break the law and operate as a deterrent for those who are at risk of committing crimes.

However, they are also structured to try and help prisoners reduce their risk of reoffending through rehabilitation, education, and adding structure and accountability into their everyday routines. 

Two of the governing bodies of the Japanese prison system include The Correctional Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and The Rehabilitation Bureau Of The Ministry Of Justice. 

Tokyo Ministry Of Justice

Prisons For Foreign Inmates

There are two main prisons where foreign inmates will be sent in Japan; the Tochigi Prison in Tochigi Prefecture, and Fuchu Prison in Tokyo Prefecture. Tochigi is where female inmates are sent, while Fuchu houses men. 

Both prisons are quite expansive in size and house a mixture of foreign and domestic inmates. Foreign inmates should expect to be held to the same stringent schedule and expectations for behavior as domestic inmates.

Additionally, foreign inmates receive the opportunity to learn Japanese while they are in prison. 

How Prisons Are Structured In Japan 

The prison system in Japan is known for being quite regimented. There is also a schedule that prison inmates are expected to follow.

Their schedule includes time for meals, exercise, work, as well as some free time before bed. 

Inmates are also not expected to socialize until they are on leisure time, such as during their block of exercise or free time. 

The Prison Set Up In Japan 

When an inmate is sent to prison, there is an orientation process they must undergo to get acclimated into prison life. They are going to be told what is required of them during their stay.

Inmates also participate in an assessment that will help prison officials determine what types of skills and abilities inmates have, so they can be assigned work and/or training. 

Guards are responsible for upholding the structure of how the prison is meant to operate in relation to inmates. Inmates also don’t have much contact with the outside world, except for their family and their legal team. Mail is also monitored by prison staff. 

Japanese Prison Cells

While many Western prisons have one to two inmates per cell, Japanese prison cells are larger to accommodate more inmates.

A cell will usually accommodate anywhere between six and 12 inmates, with tatami mats on the floor and Japanese futons to sleep on. 

There are also some prisons with more Western prison cells that hold fewer inmates with beds, as well as cells that only hold one inmate. 

The Prison Work System

Inmates in Japanese prisons are expected to work. They will participate in a variety of occupations in which they earn wages that they are able to withdraw when they are leaving prison.

The work system also offers opportunities to learn different vocations and trades, along with the ability to earn proper certifications to continue that type of work after prison. 

Some other jobs that inmates may complete include the typical cooking and cleaning of the prison, as well as woodworking and other artistic types of jobs

Japanese Prisons And Education

Education has been a strong component of the organizational structure of Japanese prisons for many decades. In 1871, a prison in Tokyo began offering reading and writing education to inmates, and ever since, programs continued to be implemented to allow inmates to learn during their time served. 

This was especially beneficial for their juvenile prison systems, so that young offenders did not fall too far behind in their education.

This would allow for these young offenders to come out of prison with a set of skills to hopefully encourage them to follow a more productive path. 

Social Time In Japanese Prisons

According to the standard schedule, inmates are allowed a half-hour a day for exercise, and three hours of free time in the evening. During this time, inmates are free to chat amongst themselves. They can also enjoy watching television, listening to the radio, or reading books. 

The expectation in place for this leisure time is that all conversation and media consumption must be done in Japanese

Historical Issues Within Japanese Prisons

Japanese prisons are not without their faults. There have been reports of abuse within the prison system and inmates have been treated with inhumane action. In 2006, prison reform began in order to try and improve the conditions within the prison system, though it was met with a lot of rebuttals from those working in the prisons. 

The ideology was that improvements would be beneficial because the type of abuse that was occurring would not be conducive to rehabilitating inmates. If inmates are given opportunities to learn and do better in a safer environment, their likelihood to re-offend would decrease. 

Reforms also gave inmates the ability to seek reparations for any abuse experienced by prison officials who did not follow the new rules. 

Life After Prison In Japan

When an inmate has finished serving their time in prison, many will be placed on some type of probation to try and discourage them from re-offending.

It is hoped that with the structure they are used to following in prison, as well as with any education or training they have been able to undergo, they will become productive members of society.

Japan Prison Documentary

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.