A Long Hard Time…

There is an English expression… if you do the crime, then you must do the time. Well, there is a very big difference in the quality of life in jail in the USA compared to Japan. As a prisoner you might not have all the same rights & treatment as you would back in your country… looking at a long hard time.

Let’s say you get arrested at Narita International Airport by Japanese customs officials as you tried to enter Japan, and you have 1kg of hashish in your possession… you will be charged for violating the cannabis control laws of Japan. And for this crime you can be sentenced to 5 years forced labor and sent to prison.

Basically after the appeal process is exhausted, prisoners are transferred from the detention center to the prison where they will serve out their sentence. Male foreign prisoners in Japan are generally locked up at Fuchu Prison in Tokyo while females are usually housed at Tochigi Prison in Tochigi Prefecture. All penal institutions in Japan are national facilities under the jurisdiction of the Correction Bureau of the Ministry of Justice.

Documented here are everyday realities in a Japanese prison.

long hard time

Fuchu Prison

Fuchu Prison is the largest prison in Japan and contains both Japanese and foreign prisoners. The Japanese prisoners are male offenders 26 years old or over with prison terms of less than 8 years, who have past prison records, lack the desire for rehabilitation, and are difficult to treat. Many of the inmates are members of criminal organizations, substance abusers or vagrants. They are often more repeat offenders rather than truly dangerous criminals.

Most foreign men convicted in Japan are held at Fuchu Prison. The number of foreign inmates is increasing yearly, and at present, more than 500 foreigners representing over 40 nationalities are found in the foreign inmate population. The vast majority of the prisoners eat Japanese style food consisting of rice and soup. The food you receive is barely enough to keep you alive.


Upon admission to Fuchu Prison, on the first day of arrival you will be thrown into a filthy solitary cell and given a rule book to read. The rule book consisted of hundreds of rules and regulations for living in the prison. During this time the prisoners undergo a 15 day orientation and assessed as to your skills. You will be forced to perform menial labor, such as smoothing out the wrinkles in hundreds of aluminum cupcake doilies. Once you have finished smoothing out the entire carton the guard will come to inspect your work. He will reach into the box containing all the smoothed out doilies and crush them all up again. You will be told that you will have to do them over. You will have no idea how hard and lonely and miserable the next few years of your life are about to be.


Life in Japanese prison is very hard. The prison imposes a strict, military-like discipline in order to maintain the security, order, and safety of the institution and its inmates, much like the Nazi prison camps of WWII. The prisoners wear prison-issue uniforms and during the orientation period you learn how you will do everything in the correct manner. It will feel like a boot camp for Nazis. There are rules for how to walk, how to talk, how to use the toilet, how to sit, how to eat, how to place things in your cell, etc. etc. You will be systematically turned into automatons.

Doing things the wrong way or at the wrong time will be punished. Similarly, good behavior is rewarded with more privileges. There are four grades of prisoners with increasing privileges accorded those of higher rank. Requests for assistance from the guard staff are followed by this structure.

As a result of the harsh discipline, the guards are able to exert near complete control over the prison and so guarantee the physical safety of the prisoners. As in a military boot camp, the system seems geared towards breaking down old behavior patterns and instilling a more disciplined self-control and an ability to function in groups. Fuchu Prison provides continuing guidance in self-discipline and social ethics for everyday life and there are monthly slogans and frequent personal counseling.


Prisoners are generally allowed to write and meet only their family, their lawyer and their consul. They are not allowed to correspond with or have visits from friends. During the orientation period, the prisoners will be asked to make a list of their relatives which will be their authorized correspondents. There are limitations on the number of letters which prisoners can write but no limit on the number of letters they may receive.

All mail is censored and the prisoners must pay for all postage, stationary, etc. There are strict limitations on communications between prisoners. Talking is permitted only at prescribed times during the day.

Prisoners also have access to radio and television, books and newspapers during leisure hours. Furthermore, outside speakers are invited to give lectures. There is very little time for exercise periods except in the summer only twice a week for 30 minutes. During the winter they allow exercise for 3 times a week but they cut one of the 3 x 15 minute bathing periods. So during the winter there are only 2 x 15 minute baths. There is no heating or air conditioning in the prison. There are many cases of frostbite in the winter, heatstroke, and heat exhaustion in the summer. God forbid if you get sick and need medical attention. In order to see a doctor, or receive medicine a prisoner must fill out a form and wait for days. Generally, you will not be allowed to see the doctor unless you have a real emergency. Tuberculosis is prevalent and there are many skin diseases due to the poor sanitation in the shower facilities. Foreign embassy staff members and authorized non-Japanese religious representatives also are available to assist foreign inmates.


Fuchu Prison provides vocational training in auto mechanics, leather craft, woodworking, and ceramics, as well as supplementary education courses in Japanese. In addition to the vocational training-related work, prisoners may do assembly work for outside contractors and work in various sections of the prison plant, e.g. the prison laundry, the kitchen, etc.

Foreign inmates are offered Japanese language lessons. Fuchu Prison maintains a library with over 5,000 books and magazines in English. The prisoners receive payment for their labor which they can use to buy books and magazines, or buy items from the prison store. Any unspent money will be given to the prisoner upon release. All income received by the prison for the sale of goods produced by the inmates is treated as government revenue.


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