This article uses Börzel and Risse's norm diffusion framework to conceptualize and evaluate the EU's ‘death penalty diplomacy’ in Japan. Despite the ‘exceptional’ nature of Japanese politics with regard to the death penalty the EU has enjoyed numerous successes in its attempts to diffuse the abolitionist norm within Japan. These successes have occurred through both direct and indirect methods of norm diffusion, and through socialization, persuasion and functional emulation. Despite the dramatic increase in executions in Japan in 2018, in practice the EU and Japan have established an understanding that executions will in future stabilize at a low and symbolic level. The EU has also co-funded research that successfully challenged the Japanese government's public opinion polling-based justification for retaining the death penalty. This research also played an important role in socializing and persuading the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations to change its official position and to support the abolition of the death penalty.
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