Our Japanese-language writer, Yuichiro Wasai, offers a rare look inside the country’s largest prison with a series of original drawings!

So what’re Japanese prisons like, you might’ve wondered? We recently had a chance to visit the country’s largest, in Fuchu, a suburban area in Tokyo. When  one of our Japanese-language writers, Yuichiro, learned about the “Prison Adventure Tour,” the compound’s cultural festival, he jumped at the opportunity to take a look inside one of Japan’s notoriously strict correctional facilities. Chances are if you commit a serious crime in Japan, this is the sort of place where you’ll get sent, so consider this a cautionary tale!

▼ An aerial photograph of the prison facility


A bit of background information about Fuchu Prison before we pass through its non-descript gates. According to a helpful description on the U.S. Embassy’s website, Fuchu Prison mainly houses non-violent, “repeat offenders rather than truly dangerous criminals.” Life in the prison follows a rigidly prescribed schedule, and “guards exert near complete control” over the facility, according to the Embassy’s information. Prisoners undergo intensive training upon entry, and must adhere to strict rules that dictate how they “walk, talk, eat, sit and sleep.” As a result, the prison is considerably safer, from a physical perspective at least, than what an inmate might expect in a country like the U.S.

▼ A diorama on the tour shows communal life in the prison.


While Yuichiro didn’t have a chance to see any prisoners during the tour, which anyone is free to join, he was able to look at facilities including their working space and bathing area. The verdict? Our writer said that he imagined life here is something like “hell,” indicating that the tour vividly demonstrates the many rules of this communal existence and gives a thought-provoking glimpse into what is likely a very bland life for inmates.

▼ “Photography is forbidden inside. Please place your belongings in this bag.”


Upon entering the facility, photography was strictly prohibited by the guide. Fortunately for us, Yuichiro committed the sights he encountered inside the prison to memory, and created a series of illustrations to reveal some points of interest.

The group assembled before the gates, and then walked across the prison yard. Yuichiro remarked that the grounds of the facility were fairly large, and were surrounded by a high wall beyond which you could make out people’s’ homes.

Next was the bathing area. After passing through a room for disrobing, which includes a space for a guard to observe the prisoners, Yuichiro saw where residents at the Fuchu Prison get to take their baths. The guards strictly regulate the use of water–inmates are permitted to use only two scoops of water on themselves from a small handheld wash bucket. The facilities for washing are communal, and there are two bath tubs arranged side by side with rows of chairs outside the bath lined up with very little room for personal space.

▼ Two baths are surrounded by small areas for communal washing.


Finally, the tour group went to the work area, where prisoners spend the majority of their waking life engaged in forced labor. The prison’s rules strictly prohibit private conversation during designated  working hours, which are spent doing things like leather-working and creating ceramics. The quarters were so cramped that two participants of the tour could just pass through the area between the two sets of work tables.


Curiously enough, Yuichiro also noticed a safety poster in the work room featuring Mayu Watanabe, a popular member of idol group AKB48. Surreal! This appears to be one of the highlights of the tour, and perhaps a rare bright spot in the dreary lives of the inmates at Fuchu Prison.

▼The resemblance is uncanny!


And thus concludes our tour of Fuchu Prison. If anything, this article has hopefully convinced you that Japanese prison is not a place you’d like to be, so make sure to follow the law of the land!

Source: Embassy of the United States in Japan
Top image: Photograph by RocketNews24
Insert images: Illustrations and diorama photograph by RocketNews 24, Aerial photograph from Wikimedia Commons/© National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
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