The Shocking Story Of A Japanese Boxer Who Spent 46 Years On A Death Row For Nothing!

Posted on October 6, 2014 in GlobeScope, Specials

By Kathakali Banerjee:

“I could do nothing but crouch down on the floor trying to keep from defecating… one of the interrogators put my thumb onto an ink pad, drew it to a written confession record and ordered me, ‘Write your name here!’ [while] shouting at me, kicking me and wrenching my arm.”, he muttered softly to his sister.


He was born on March 10, 1936 in Shizuoka, Japan. Since a very young age, he struggled hard to achieve success in life. He fought 29 professional boxing matches. A featherweight, he was ranked sixth in his weight class. He achieved a 16—11—2 record, including one win by TKO.

This simple man is famous around the world now, and has successfully secured a place in the Guinness World Records.

But here comes the twist in the tale.

His record in Guinness is not for his boxing, Guinness World Records certified him as the world’s longest-serving death row inmate. He is famous today, not as a boxer, but as a prisoner!

Yes, we are talking about Iwao Hakamada. Everybody recognizes him as a Japanese former professional boxer who was sentenced to death on September 11, 1968, for a 1966 mass murder that came to be known as the Hakamada Incident. He spent almost half a century behind bars and was set free on 27th March 2014 when a Japanese court declared that the investigators had likely fabricated the evidences.

Hakamada Story – A Recap

In 1966, Hakamada was a factory worker and also a featherweight boxing champion in Japan. The manager of the factory where Hakamada worked got assassinated along with his wife and two children. The family was robbed, their bodies left in the house, and the house was set alight. Hakamada was arrested for the murders on 18th August. Since then, he never left prison.

He was interrogated for 20 days with no lawyer present. Being bitterly tortured, poor Hakamada had to sign a false statement. Out of 45 documents presented to the court, 44 were rejected and only one was considered legitimate. The alleged murder weapon was a fruit knife with a 12.19 centimetre blade. No one ever questioned how a petty knife could withstand forty stabbings without being damaged. Moreover, the pajamas that were used to justify the arrest had disappeared and were miraculously replaced with some bloody clothing, based on which Hakamada was imprisoned. Such anomalies in evidences didn’t prompt the jury to probe into the matter more significantly. Instead, they sentenced him to death.

After almost three decades, Amnesty International eminently featured Hakamada in their campaign against the death penalty in Japan. According to them “Japan’s death row system is driving prisoners into the depths of mental illness”.

In November 2006, 500 Hakamada supporters, including world champion boxers Koichi Wajima and Katsuo Tokashiki submitted letters to the Supreme Court asking for a retrial.

Kumamoto Norimichi was one of the three judges on Hakamada’s case and strongly believed that this pro boxer is innocent. Yet, it took him 40 years to attract the United Nations’ attention and finally, when he did, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) initiated a fresh trial and the 78 year old man was ultimately set free.

On 27th March 2014, the world witnessed some very brief news in some regular newspapers and media channels with catchy headlines like ‘Declared innocent after 46 years of death row’. That is it. The story ends here for us.

Aren’t there still several questions unanswered? Why did it take so long for a developed country like Japan to solve a case? Why did Japan not take any serious action against the investigators? How could a so-called “strict” judicial system grant a barbarous interrogation? Most importantly, how could the Japanese Judicial System sentence a person to death depending on some baseless evidences? We keep seeking several answers, but we are to find none.

Japan is one of the 22 nations and the only developed country, apart from America, that boasts of capital punishment. Focusing on Hakamada, the question arises – Is Japan deliberately delaying justice to kill their inmates twice, once mentally and then physically? Is this too a part of Japan’s so-called secretive Judicial System? Well, Hakamada might give us the answer.

Amidst fast paced scientific advancements, technological innovations and every nation’s struggle to achieve a “developed” tag, we are indeed running out of time to consider ‘unimportant’ issues like a few cases scattered here and there, a few questions unanswered and a few people anxiously waiting for a fresh beginning to an already ruined life.

In Japan, judges often give more preference to confessions than other evidences, including forensics. This often keeps the police pressurized to acquire confessions.

Here are some of their illogical rules based on which their secretive confession mission is carried out-

1. The police may interrogate a suspect for up to 23 days.

2. The suspect is not permitted to have a lawyer present for interrogation.

3. Defense lawyers are not given access to police records.

4. The system can leave inmates on death row for unlimited period of time and then execute a prisoner with very little advance or sometimes no notice.

What if we say that every single day several such cases go unnoticed and the culprit might not be the police, but the system itself?

A judicial system giving more preferences to confessions than evidences should itself be put under trial. So, when shall we get to see a judgement “on” the judiciary instead of the in-justice committed “by” it?