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Food by VICE

Japanese Prisoners Want Better Curry and Cutlery

The Japanese correctional system has been surprisingly accommodating to the culinary demands of its prison population.

by Nick Rose
Sep 10 2015, 8:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Clark Gregor

Japan has one of the most refined, strange, and interesting food cultures in the world.

So it's not exactly surprising to find out that high culinary standards are expected from the country's inmates and prison guardsit's not like you stop having a refined palate just because you've become a hardened criminal.

Japan's Penal Institution Visiting Committee has released a report collecting data about the current state of its prison system. But the survey answers, which was based on prisoner and guard feedback, read more like a Yelp review than an evaluation of the correctional system.

READ MORE: How to Eat in an Egyptian Prison

According to Yahoo! News Japan, complaints ranged from underheated food to elderly inmates being forced to peel their own oranges.

Cutlery was not spared criticism either. One inmate lamented the messiness of eating pudding and yogurt with chopsticks. "When they serve pudding or yogurt, I want a spoon. [Without one] I have to stir it up with my chopsticks, then put my mouth on the cup and drink it," Yahoo! News Japan reported.

A spoon can easily be fashioned into a blade, and anyone familiar with the show Oz knows that in prison, a metal spoon can be used in even more disturbing ways. But guards at Obihiro Prison were remarkably accommodating and eventually authorized the use of paper-based spoons, so that prisoners could still eat prison pudding with a shred of dignity.

Even prison guards got in on the criticism, citing unacceptably watery curry being served to prisoners at Fukui Prison. "The curry is watery. I want them to care enough to add some starch, so it won't be so runny," they told the Visiting Committee.

READ MORE: The Public Is Dying to Taste the Prison System's Worst Food

These complaints haven't fallen on deaf ears either, as Japan's Ministry of Justice has apparently been looking into the matter and is considering adding starch to its curry "to produce a more substantial texture."

According to a Corrections Bureau spokesperson who spoke with Yahoo! News Japan, the quality of the food was adequate but there was definitely room for improvement within the prison system.

"All food is tasted by the cooking staff before being served to inmates, and I've sampled the curry as well. Compared to what would be served in an ordinary cafeteria, it isn't bad. As for the proper texture, a lot of that depends on the individual preferences of the person eating it."

And it's not just food that has drawn the ire of Japan's convicted criminals. At Fuchu Prison, there were also complaints about hygiene standards. "I want bath time extended from 15 to 30 minutes," one inmate demanded. "I want to be given the opportunity to bathe more than two or three times a week."

All of this might make Japan's hardened inmates look spoiled brats, especially compared to the American penal system, which is infested with maggots, corruption, and mysterious food-like matter. But Japan seems as committed to culinary excellence within prison walls as it does outside of them.

How-To: Make Prison-Style Sweet and Sour Pork with Andy Roy