Adam* is a British citizen. He is currently incarcerated in Japan. He is 61 years old and has been imprisoned abroad since 2010. He tells us what a day in a Japanese prison looks like. But not any day: weekends and holidays, when time seems to stop. Frozen time for frozen days, behind the walls.

Since my arrest in 2010, I have experienced over eight years, in total, of various phases and places of detention.

Firstly, let me explain why I’ve separated weekend, and ‘holidays’ in all their various forms, from the regular working days of the week. Basically, as a ‘foreigner’, for the duration of the weekend (often, at least twice per month, commencing at approximately 16.00 hours on Thursday to 7.30 on a Monday; this is approximately 63.5 hours in duration), one is kept in absolute solitary confinement. Allow yourself to imagine this: the ‘room’ is 4.0m x 1.65m, contains a bed (tatami-mat in metal frame) of 2.0m x 0.90m; a desk-table of 80cm x 60cm; a washbasin (cold water only) of 50cm x 40cm; a ‘European’ flush toilet of 70cm x 35cm; a wheeled cupboard of 47cm x 44cm; a suitcase (for storing spare clothes and personal items); a chair, a TV, and various buckets, basins and cleaning implements…so “free-floor space” is almost negligible. There is quite a large window (1.1m x 1.1m; one half can slide to open) but the view is hardly one to promote inspiration of any sort!

The epitome of mental suffering

Communication, of any sort imaginable, with any other inmate is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN, and any transgression will result in a period of 20 days in a “punishment cell”. In a nutshell, weekends and holidays are the epitome of mental suffering…isolated, alone, no-one to converse or associate with, and very little to relieve the boredom.

Permitted activities within the confines of this ‘extreme isolation’ are also very strictly enforced and controlled by the official rules and regulations. Any transgression, regardless of how minor or insignificant, will result in severe reprimands or even a period in a “punishment cell” (called “shobatsu” in Japanese). The days, and all activities, are stipulated, and adhered to, with military precision and enactment with orders for their commencement and termination being screamed by the officer-in-charge or announced over the radio/intercom system. To describe the “daily routine” of an “off-day” it is, perhaps, better to reproduce the timetable as given in the prison, “Guide for Institutional Life, Table I. It must be noted that there are no watches or clocks allowed!

Alarm clock (by ‘radio’) – 7:10

Washing face / Room cleaning – 7:10-20

Count of persons – 7:20

Breakfast – 7:30-40

Lunch break – 12:00-30

Nap-time (optional) – 13:00-14:45

Dinner – 16:10

Count of persons – 16:50

Bed-time (can lie down) – 18:00

Lights out – 21:00

That there is quite a considerable amount of unaccounted-for time is obvious. Generally, although there are some exceptions, radio (one or two stations only!) is available from 7:40 to 9:00 and 15:00 to 19:00, while the TV shows a choice of three stations from 9:00 to 11:00 and 19:00 to 21:00. Exercise, in the extremely limited ‘free-floor-space’ is at two periods of 20 minutes – at 8:30 and 15:00 – at other times, if one “exercises”, it is FORBIDDEN!

Boredom is the perpetual enemy

Meals are served via an access-hatch at the exact times as shown and are, in general, quite palatable although somewhat strange for European tastes. The standard meal always contains rice – not ‘regular rice’ but some other variety termed ‘barley-rice’ – although if requested in only the initial two-weeks at the prison any ‘foreigner’ can replace the staple of rice with that of bread…served at every meal.

As is plainly evident there is an astounding lack of activities for any “off-day”, and the only reliable (and permitted!) activities are reading, and writing letters. Boredom is the perpetual enemy and is exponentially aggravated by the solitary isolation that is strongly enforced.

  • Since there is no communication or association in the single-cells occupied by the ‘foreigners’, there is no background noise other than that of the radios or TV when operating.

From the time of ‘lights cut’ – 21:00 hrs to “Reveille” – 7:10 hrs – all activities, except the use of the toilet, are very strictly forbidden with a ‘night light’ (~10 W power – an estimate only!) kept on for the entire night-time period. The general atmosphere that pervades the ‘foreigners’ section is one of suppressed frustration and resentment.

Obviously, if ‘solitary confinement’ is enforced then the possibility for any shower facilities is removed. The only exceptions to this are when ‘off-days’ combine to exceed five or more days – such as New Year, and the recent “Bon holiday” (10 to 15 August, 2018 = 6 full days!) when a single 20-minute bathing period – NO TALKING ALLOWED! – is given on a ‘factory by factory’ basis.

  • “Activities” have been, recently, further reduced by the removal of colour pencil sets from inmates, so the ‘artistic expressions’ are limited to pen and pencil sketching…but no drawing paper is allowed, and any drawings one wishes to mail MUST be done on the lined-side of the writing paper for some obscure reason.

From this description of the daily routine for an off-day it will be apparent that the basic needs of human rights are being violated, and that the treatment amounts to ‘mental suffering’. In general, civilized societies have declared such treatment to constitute ‘torture’, or only to be used in the most extreme circumstances, whereas Japan uses it as their normal system, especially as applied to ‘foreigners’.

*name has been changed


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