Japan hanged two death-row inmates Tuesday morning, including a 44-year-old man who killed four people when he was a minor, the Justice Ministry said.
Teruhiko Seki became the second inmate to be hanged for a crime committed as a minor in the first such execution in 20 years, after Norio Nagayama, who killed four people when he was 19, was executed in 1997.
Seki was 19 when he killed a 42-year-old corporate executive, his wife, 36, their 4-year-old daughter and the executive's 83-year-old mother, while injuring the only survivor, a daughter who was 15, in 1992. He also stole 340,000 yen ($3,000) from their house in Chiba Prefecture.
The other executed inmate Kiyoshi Matsui, a 69-year-old former plumber, killed his girlfriend and her parents in Gunma Prefecture in 1994.
Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa ordered the executions, the first since July, bringing the total number of executions to 21 since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012.
Both Seki and Matsui had submitted requests for retrials, according to the ministry.
"These crimes were very heinous and utterly deplorable for the victims and their families. The death penalties were finalized following adequate trials in the courts. I gave orders to execute them after careful consideration," said Kamikawa in a press conference.
Japan's capital punishment policy has drawn international criticism, while the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has called for it to be abolished by 2020, demanding lifetime imprisonment instead.
Nagayama's case created the so-called Nagayama standards, which take into account factors such as the number of victims, brutality and social impact of the crimes. The standards have been used in determining whether to apply the death sentence in murder cases.
"A minor is less able to judge things than adults and easily affected by family and social circumstances. It is not appropriate to put responsibilities on individual minors and they should not be executed," said Yuji Ogawara of the bar association in charge of abolition of the death penalty.
Debate on abolishing the death penalty remains sluggish in Japan, though most developed countries have already done away with it.
The bar association adopted a proposal stating for the first time that it will work to abolish capital punishment at a meeting in October 2016, but met strong opposition from lawyers who support victims of murder cases.
More than 100 lawyers across the country this year sent an open letter to the chairman of the association, insisting the adopted proposal would cause confusion among lawyer members as there are arguments both for and against it.
Hidemichi Morosawa, a former principal of Tokiwa University, said it is "not appropriate" to avoid the death penalty based on "an unscientific reason that young people can restore their lives." Capital punishment is inevitable, considering victims' feelings and the effects of the crimes on society, he said.
Kamikawa has been reluctant to change the policy. She said in a press conference on her inauguration as justice minister in August, "I would like to carefully and strictly deal (with executions) in line with laws and with respect for judgments of the courts."
She ordered the execution of one inmate when she filled the position of justice minister for about a year from October 2014.
In July this year, Kamikawa's predecessor Katsutoshi Kaneda gave orders to hang two male inmates.
Kyodo News had previously withheld the name of Teruhiko Seki as he was a minor when the crimes were committed but named him after his execution.