Japanese courts passed a record number of death sentences in 2007, a survey by Kyodo news agency showed Sunday.
Some 46 people convicted of murder were sentenced to death by hanging last year, two more than the year before. It was the highest figure in almost 30 years.
At least 106 people were in prison awaiting execution, the highest number since 1980. Nine people were hanged last year, also more than any year since 1980.
Japan is one of the few industrialized countries to still carry out the death penalty.
The slowness of the appeals process means that those convicted can spend decades awaiting execution. Prison conditions have been harshly criticized by Amnesty International and other human rights agencies.
A UN General Assembly moratorium on the death penalty was accepted by 104 countries in December and rejected by 54, including Japan. Japan's Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama has argued that the majority of Japanese are in favour of the death penalty for murderers. ( Dpa )