A Long Hard Time…

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.


Work & Daily Life

Work is obligatory for inmates sentenced to imprisonment with forced labor, which is the bulk of the population at Fuchu Prison. Work is the main focus. The prison population is used as slave labor. Inmates are assigned eight hours of work per day, 168 hours of work every four weeks. Suitable work is assigned to the inmate based on the results of the orientation assessment.

After a 3 week orientation in solitary, you will start working in a prison factory. During the training period you are shown how you will do everything in the correct manner. Everything will be drilled repeatedly into your head. If you make mistakes during the training you will be pushed around and screamed at.

There have been two occasions that a foreign prisoner had witnessed prisoners who were beaten for their failure to cooperate. He also had personally experienced a physical beating and strangulation to the point of unconsciousness at the hands of no less than eight guards after only being in the prison for three months.

The reason for his beating was because he was not marching properly. He was singled out by the Factory manager for his offense and told to stand in the corner, like a child, with his nose to the wall. After refusing this order the manager pushed his secret panic button, and the goon squad of guards rushed into the factory and smashed him to the ground, beating and kicking him for extra measure. One of the guards grabbed his collar from behind and twisted it until his air supply was effectively cut off. Upon regaining consciousness, he found himself in the presence of the Foreign Prisoner’s Chief. He informed him that he would be placed in solitary confinement for a while until the prison authorities could decide what to do with him.

Back to solitary Japanese style.

The cell that he was placed in this time had the window blocked and wreaked of piss. The walls were moldy and the floor surrounding the toilet was too. There were lots of bugs to keep me company. Everything was taken out of the cell except for a filthy mattress. It was explained to me that I would have to sit in the middle of my cell and face my door all day long [from 7:30am-5:00pm]. I was told to keep my hands on my lap and not to move. That was my existence for an entire month! The little bit of rice and soup I had previously received, my daily allotment, was cut in half. If I wanted to use the toilet, I had to wait until the guard gave the signal twice daily. No exercise and 1 x 15minute shower every ten days! I was caught on several occasions exercising in my cell and time was added to my solitary confinement. After about 40 days, I was taken out of solitary and placed back in a factory to work.

As you gaze at the stains on the wall, so many thoughts run through your head while sitting motionless for hours on end. Never before in your life have you been caged and cut off from the world. You think about your travels in the past and fun adventures, the feeling of freedom… you always wonder what all of your family and friends were doing. So many times you will think of real food; a bar of chocolate, a cup of coffee. It is so strange all of the fleeting thoughts and visions that pop into your head.  While in solitary your monthly 15-minute visit behind a glass partition is not allowed, so you will not able to see anyone during the months that you are punished. You will not be allowed to write your one monthly 7-page letter either. No communication with anyone whatsoever!

Many times, you start to wonder if you are strong enough to make it through the shit you are now facing. You just have to make a vow to yourself that you will get through this, and that suicide would never be an option for you. Prior to being in prison, you have to take the things you learned and the knowledge you have gained to help you be able to deal with the suffering you will experience in prison. In prison, you will learn much about survival in the face of adversity. You must be determined not to give up hope.

A Typical Day At Fuchu Prison

06:50 Rise/Roll-call
07:10 Breakfast
07:35 Proceed to workshops
08:00 Resume work
09:45 Break time
10:00 Resume work
12:00 Lunch
12:40 Resume work
14:30 Break time
14:45 Resume work
16:40 End of work
16:45 Return from workshops to cells
17:15 Dinner/Roll-call
18:05 Educational and other activities
19:00 Optional activities
21:00 Sleep

Tochigi Prison

Tochigi is a regular women’s prison which is also designated to hold foreigners. Housing over 400 prisoners, it is located in a quiet, rural area north of Tokyo. The prison is organized along the same lines as Fuchu Prison, though the overall regime is less harsh. The procedures described for Fuchu Prison are applicable to Tochigi Prison as well, with a few minor differences:

The English-language holdings at the prison library are much smaller than at Fuchu Prison. The Embassy, however, is contributing books to increase the English-language holdings.

Instead of training auto mechanics and carpenters, Tochigi Prison offers training for beauticians, (Japanese) typists and seamstresses. The beauticians provide limited hairdressing facilities for their fellow prisoners, though they specialize in treating Japanese-type hair and have difficulty with curly or thicker hair.

Advanced inmates at Tochigi also have the option of working an extra two hours per day for their own, personal profit.

The most advanced inmates are permitted to live by turns in a completely open house outside the prison, like ordinary citizens. Other advanced inmates are able to live in unlocked rooms within the prison compound.

A Typical Day At Tochigi

06:30 Rise
06:50 Roll-call
07:15 Breakfast
07:50 Resume work
09:30 Break time
09:45 Resume work
12:00 Lunch
12:20 Break time
12:40 Resume work
14:30 Break time
14:45 Resume work
16:20 End of work
16:30 Dinner time
17:00 Roll-call/Free time
20:00 May lie down
21:00 Sleep

Hopefully you are lucky enough to be transferred to an American Federal Prison to serve your sentence. Apparently, the Japanese prison authorities know that we will receive better treatment in American prisons, so they are making foreigners serve at least 50% of your sentences in Japan before they will agree to let you transfer.

When you arrive at the federal detention center in the USA, it will feel like you had died and gone to Disneyland. The difference in the two prison systems is incredible! The treatment you will receive in the American prison was humane and tolerable.

The Japanese system lacks all traces of humanity. I believe that Japan needs to change many things about their prison system. Japan is one of the leading high-tech societies in the world, yet the prison system is a reflection of a draconian medieval society.

The prisons operate under a veil of secrecy and silence that needs to be lifted. The truth needs to be known. That is why I am writing this story. Even though I am living a free life there are many people who are suffering daily in Japanese prisons. Yes, I think that criminals should be taken off the streets, but I feel that nobody deserves to be tortured, abused, thrown away, and isolated from everything in a living hell.


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