Crimes against property are rare in
Japan, which is owing to the high-spirited and honourable
feelings that actuate all classes of the community;
but from the feudal nature of the government, the small
value attached to life, and the deadly weapons constantly
carried, by the military classes, who are notoriously
proud and revengeful, crimes against the person are
A great check upon criminal offences
is the severity of the punishments inflicted, and
the disgrace entailed upon the culprit’s family.
Although the laws are extremely severe,
and in their administration there is neither jury
nor counsel, justice is delivered with great impartiality;
and the judge, who is generally the governor of the
town or district in which the offence has been committed,
is entrusted with considerable discretionary power.
When a prisoner is being examined
his arms are bound to his sides by a rope, which also
passes round his neck, the end of which is held by
an official, who, if his charge prove unruly, manages
him by pulls and jerks.
‘Thrashemono,’ or ‘public
exposure,’ is associated with all Japanese punishments,
and is said to be in itself a great preventive of crime,
as the spirited Japanese dread being held up to the
reprobation of their acquaintance more than they fear
the extreme penalty of the law.
The illustration, showing the mode
of conducting a criminal to execution, is an instance
of ‘thrashemono.’ The culprit is bound
on a horse, and is preceded by a placard, borne by
his relatives or neighbours, and indicating his crime.
In this manner he is conducted through the town to
the place of execution, where his sentence is read
to him. He is then placed (with his limbs still
bound) over a freshly-dug hole, where he is supported
by his relatives till the executioner’s sword
performs its task.
After execution, the heads of malefactors
are generally exposed: that of Simono Sedgi (the
lonin who was decapitated in the presence of the British
garrison of Yokohama, for being the organizer of the
assassination of Major Baldwin and Lieutenant Bird
of Her Majesty’s 20th Regiment) was exhibited
on the public stand at the guard-house at the entrance
of the town.
This man was a fair specimen of the
lonin type, and was a most determined ruffian, whose
whole life had been a career of crime.
When exposed in the streets of Yokohama
the day preceding his execution, he conducted himself
with great bravado, remarking on the improvements
in the town since he last visited it, and expressing
his regret that he had not killed a consul.
At the place of execution he made
an impassioned speech, in which he declared that he
was a gentleman by birth, and had studied the arts
and sciences, and never believed the government would
sacrifice a Japanese for the death of a foreigner.
He said that the days would come when they would repent
the encouragement they were now giving to strangers;
and ended by complimenting the executioner on his
The lonin differs from the ordinary criminal, and is thus
ably described by the highest authority on Japanese matters:
’As a noble or head of a house
is responsible for all who are of his family, or claim
his protection, when any of his people are resolved
upon a desperate enterprise they formally renounce
the protection and declare themselves “lonins;” in
other words, outlaws, or friendless men: after
which no one is responsible for their acts, and this
is considered a highly honourable and proper thing
The worst of this system is, that
any one harbouring or assisting a lonin endangers
his head; and such men are, therefore, compelled to
resort to robbery and extortion as means of supporting
themselves. It generally happens that this legalised
method of taking the law into their own hands drives
those who avail themselves of it into a series of
crimes, and frequently they become the associates of
Of the gang represented in the illustration
as robbing a rich merchant’s house, one or two
probably are lonins, the rest being thieves in disguise.
The servants, kowtowing before two
men, whose naked swords plainly intimate the consequences
of any attempt to give alarm, or to offer resistance
to their demands, have apparently been collecting all
the money in the house and are laying it before the
thieves. The oblong boxes are iron safes, in
which the Japanese keep their money.
From the position of the other members
of the gang, it is evident that they have not got
all they require, and are watching something going
on in the interior of the house. They have probably
learnt that the merchant has to forward some money
for the purchase of goods by a certain date, and know
exactly how much to expect.
In the spring of 1865 the Tycoon,
in levying a tax on the Yeddo merchants, congratulated
them on the fact that the portion of the country under
his immediate control was exempt from the depredations
of lonins; but notwithstanding this statement, a robbery
of the nature described took place in the capital
immediately after the issue of the Tycoon’s
manifesto, and a lonin concerned in it gave as an excuse
for his conduct, that he had learnt that the money
was intended for foreigners, who were settled in the
country in opposition to the laws of Gongen Sama,
which had never been revoked.
With such dread are these men regarded
by the non-combatant classes, that it frequently happens
that one or two will go into a village and extort
what they require without the slightest resistance
As a rule, Japanese punishments resemble
those inflicted by the Chinese, and seem to be based
on the Mosaic principle of ’an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth.’ Arson, for instance,
is punished at the stake; and a thief who endeavours
to conceal the results of his robberies by burying
them, has the disadvantages of that mode of concealment
impressed upon him, by being himself embedded for a
day or two in the ground, with only his head out a
mode of instruction that rarely requires a repetition
of the lesson.
Apropos of this punishment
is the testimony of an eye-witness, who, in passing
the public execution place at Yeddo, noticed a head
on the ground, which he supposed to have been recently
struck off. He had turned away with a shudder,
when a laugh from the bystanders caused him to look
again, when, to his great astonishment, the head was
vigorously puffing at a pipe which the facetious executioner
had a few moments before been smoking himself.
The last illustration shows a man
and woman undergoing public exposure for adultery a
crime which is rare in Japan and which is punished
with great severity.
With such detestation is it regarded,
that, in addition to all legal cognizance, the husband
is permitted, in certain instances, to avenge himself
by taking the lives of the offenders upon the spot.
The board on the right contains the
official intimation of the crime.
The curious instruments depicted in
the woodcut are Japanese emblems of justice and are
to be seen at all the guard-houses; they are used
to catch runaway offenders or to pin a drunken yaconin
against a wall or house, and so facilitate the task
of disarming him without danger to the captors.
Although the Japanese use torture
to extract information from obstinate criminals, they
employ all necessary caution to preserve life; and
a doctor and responsible officer are always present
when it is employed, as representatives of the respective
claims of humanity and justice. A singular punishment,
to which only the nobles of the country are liable,
is secret banishment to the island of Fatzisiu, which
is situated on the northern coast of the empire.
It is small and barren, rising perpendicularly from
the sea. The only communication with it is by
means of a basket, which is lowered from an overhanging
tree to the water, a distance of about fifty feet.
From this island there is no return, and the unhappy,
incarcerated nobles, are compelled to support themselves
by weaving silks, which are the most beautiful the
country produces. A junk visits the island once
a-year, when the silks are exchanged for provisions.