A faith healer who beat six followers to death was hanged on Sept. 27, making her only the fourth woman to be executed in Japan since 1950, the Justice Ministry said.
Sachiko Eto, 65, was one of two convicted murderers put to death, taking to seven the number of executions carried out this year.
Eto's punishment was carried out at the Sendai Branch Detention House in northeastern Japan.
The slayings occurred during "exorcism" rituals in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, in 1994 and 1995. Two of the victims were male. Eto ordered the fatal beatings, which involved blows with heavy wooden sticks used for Taiko drumming, and took part in them with her followers.
Eto was originally sentenced to death by a district court, which was upheld on appeal to a high court. The Supreme Court finalized the sentence in 2008.
Yukinori Matsuda, 39, was hanged the same day at the Fukuoka Detention House in western Japan.
Matsuda was convicted in the stabbing murders of a couple during a burglary in Matsubase, Kumamoto Prefecture, now part of Uki, in 2003.
Matsuda made off with 80,000 yen ($1,030) in cash, a wrist watch and other items. He also was originally sentenced to death by a district court, which was upheld on appeal to a high court. His sentence was finalized after he retracted his appeal in 2009.
The executions, the second in two months, leave 131 inmates on death row.
The numbers have been increasing as death sentences continue to be handed down under the citizen judge system introduced three years ago.
It was the fourth round of hangings carried out under Democratic Party of Japan administrations since the party wrested control of government in September 2009, and the second set under Justice Minister Makoto Taki.
Taki, who is 74 years old and has asked to be relieved of his ministerial duties in a Cabinet reshuffle expected next month, denied that he rushed the executions while he was still in office.
Taki is the oldest minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
"I am too old. I had better be left out (of the reshuffle)," Taki told a news conference on Sept. 25.
Taki said he began reviewing the death warrants for Eto and Matsuda even before two other executions were carried out on Aug. 3.
"I decided on the (latest) executions before I made the remark (about being too old)," he said.
Although he is a strong supporter of the death penalty, Taki has called for national debate on capital punishment, which opinion polls show has strong support in Japanese society.
"My basic idea is that those who were sentenced to death should be executed," he said. "(But) it is an issue that needs to be discussed constantly.
"There is a limit to what discussions within the (justice) ministry can do," Taki added. "What matters is how the general public perceives this question."
When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, executions began to be regularly carried out under Justice Minister Masaharu Gotoda. He resumed executions in 1993 following a 40-month hiatus.
The pace of executions accelerated around the time Jinen Nagase became justice minister in 2006.
Under Kunio Hatoyama, 13 death row inmates were hanged during his 11 months in office.
Hatoyama caused much controversy by saying he wished a system was in place to "automatically" execute death inmates without the justice minister having to review the cases.
Eisuke Mori, the last justice minister under an LDP administration, ordered nine executions during his 11 months in office.
The DPJ, acknowledging a global trend to abolish capital punishment, floated the idea of introducing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after it took the reins of government in 2009.
Keiko Chiba, the first justice minister under the DPJ-led government, was opposed to the death penalty. Even so, she ordered two hangings in July 2010 and then called for "national debate" on the issue.
A 20-month lull in executions followed as justice ministers came and went. But no national debate was held on the merits of capital punishment.
Executions resumed in March, when Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa ordered three inmates hanged.
He said executions were part of his official duties.
Seven convicted murderers have been executed this year, almost at the pace of LDP-led administrations.
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