Arrested Development

Isn't it cute? A police station in Matsumoto!

I've seen a part of people that I never really wanted to share
I've seen a part of people that I never knew was there
Sarah McLachlan

Obviously, the legal system present in any country can be important in understanding the 'lowest common denominator' of conformity.

There are some quite interesting reads on the current legal system of Japan and the changes it is facing.

As you can imagine, growing up with a mother who was a lawyer makes you sort of sensitive to jurisprudence and legal issues.

Basically the current Japanese law is a mish-mash of Germanic, French, and American law. The wording of many laws are purposefully vague. This is meant to yield greater discretionary powers. This contrasts laws in Canada or America where incredibly precise wording results in multiple-interpretations. Just like in other countries, laws are finding it hard to keep up with society.

Especially during the post-war industrial era, but even today, the laws and legal system are primarily for the use of business. They are there to keep big business in business. They are there to keep 'those beyond reproach', beyond reproach. And, they are also structured to punish interference with business. The legal system is a quite the 'old boys' club. Only one law school exists. And, credit to the quality control fervency of Japan, pretty well everyone gets exactly the same training and experience. Traditionally, this has not only resulted in outrageously long trials, but also helped to discourage litigative actions on a grand scale. Businesses have used the legal and bureaucratic system not only to entrench themselves, but also to thwart competition.

They are able to do this through two major means: Monetary and chronological cost. To initiate a civil action takes a lot of money. Moreso depending on how controvertial the case is. Lawyers are not in abundance (as in America). Then, it may take a inordinate amount of time to receive a verdict. This can happen because the courts often play 'hot-potato' with verdicts: The appeal process seems to go both ways here. Not only can a verdict be appealed to a higher court, but the higher court can also ask the lower court to 'reconsider'. All this takes considerable time. And makes the system prone to 'battles of attrition'. Where the stronger party will simply bide it's time and/or money until litigation become a mute point. This 'Jungle Law' takes a different form in America where, for the right price, your 'dream team' of lawyers will extricate you from even the most messy of legal problems.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. And, I have strong admiration for the way Japan handled itself in the light of the American business machinations. (If only because Canada was so feeble in the same respect). Japan has had several trade conflicts with the USA. Most over market penetration. Recently, the Americans have been demanding increased access to Japanese consumers. But, the Japanese continue to skillfully out- manouver the Yanks.

Major Consumers of the Legal System in Japan:

Legislators - Legislators in Japan may not be immune from suspicion, but are almost always immune from prosecution. Making generous use of this was the infamous --even notorious-- Muneo Suzuki. Suspiciously linked to the assassination of his former boss, among other things, he continues to successfully evade punishment. His most recent antics caused such a kerfuffle, that for the first time ever, a legislator (he) was stripped of his immunity. In keeping with Japanese tradition, he then beat a hasty retreat back to his own stronghold. He has remained silent. Doubtless he will return when the storm passes. If 'Clinton' was compared to 'teflon'; ' Sukuki' must be 'kevlar'.
Judges - The judiciary in Japan is not unbiased according to some independant research. When judgements can be career-limiting-moves, it makes sense to take as long a time as you can to ponder and hear a case. In fact, it is alleged that it is better to render a guilty verdict in all cases. While this seems more like 'preventative punishment' to many, it makes sense in a twisted sort of way: If they are really innocent, they'll appeal. And by that time, you are 'out of the spotlight'.
Gaol Employees - The prison system of Japan can be likened to that of Victorian England. Harsh, omnious, even fatal conditions are used in the hope that (others) knowing about them will keep people 'in line'.
Prosecution - The office of the public prosecuters seems to rely upon the police to do all the groundwork necessary to ensure a case where charges will undoubtedly lead to a conviction. Not beyond reproach, it is one of many institutions struggling to keep public confidence in it.
Lawyers - Japanese are loth to litigate. Even one television programme I saw in Tokyo, had a lawyer giving advise on how to settle disputs amongst themselves. I simply cannot imagine that same programme in Canada -- let alone the USA. Lawyers don't seem to command the same levels of respect that they do in other countries.
Police - The modern police evolved from laid-off samurai. They were once responsible for policing thoughts as well as actions. More reported incidents, injurious to their public image are materialising. But it is thought that only the reporting is getting better --that these sort of things have always existed (just never reported on). They continue on as a self-regulating paramilitary body. They are unreservedly racist.
Yakuza - Basically the Japanese version of organised crime. Although somewhat glamorized in movies, you are not likely to see any. They are thought to keep to big business. In recent years, they have suffered a string of 'setbacks'.
Soukaiya Depending on who you talk to, they are either thought of as an independent racketeering influence, or a sub-division of the yakuza. Regardless of affiliations, the make money by (or the threat thereof) stirring up the yearly stockholder meetings. Possessing a minimum number of company shares entitles them to publicly question the company directors. Their silence commands a high price during the annual meetings.
Chinpira - Young yakuza-want-to-be groups/gangs. They typically form the foundation for many of the common activities associated with organised crime (as we think of it in the West). Typically they range in age from 20s through 40s. A common perception is that exemplary chinpira are recruited as yakuza.
Bosozoku - Although this term could be translated as closer to "Wild Boys", it refers to Bike Gangs. But, this term does not do it justice for North American (and some European) readers (Yeah! Really Dangerous: They bought an old man some soup after he scolded them). In North America, biker gangs typically operate in competition or cooperation with other organized crime groups. From what I have seen, the bosozoku seem more of a danger to themselves. They love to ride their incredibly noisy motorcycles in a rather reckless manner en masse through city streets. And they are deafening: Their little motorcycles are as loud as the Cessna's I pilot.

A Sampling of Japanese Crime

On pretty well any day, you can read about some rather interesting stories of crime. I think the crime committed by Japanese is relatively unique. Quite often, you can read about crimes so strange or cruel, they could make for a short story/episode by Stephan King or The Twilight Zone:
- cruel and graphic crimes committed by children have been rising
-elderly abuse and homocide.
-Fallen Paragons.
-Police brutality.
-Rear-ending a racehorse.
-It's illegal to use a cell-phone while driving in Japan.
-Last act of defiance.
-A Grimm trail.
-Inland Revenue's 'reminder' posters being poached.
-Murderess proposes to victims (former) boyfriend.
-Pornography vending machine placed too close to school.
-Sailor Moonstruck
And these are just from one newspaper.

From the outside looking in

It is much more disturbing when you look at the international picture. From the outside looking in, Japan is as insular as it ever was. Asian neighbours of Japan justifiably complain that the Yakusuni shrine glorifies war criminals. The sad fact is that it was constructed for just this purpose. Even to this day, Japan continues it's 'romance' with war criminals --even in defiance of international law. In their defence, I feel that I must add that Japanese are not, what one would call, 'war mongers'. However, the very nature of their society makes questioning authority and critical thinking unpopular, dangerous, or both. So, if they feel 'commanded' to go and do nasty things, they will. If only because it's 'company policy'.

The legal system is a curious reflection of the introverted, xenophobic society of Japan.

It seems that even if a Japanese is genuinely guilty, as long as they show apparent regret, (and are still useful to society), you can expect relatively lenient treatment.

However, this only applies to Japanese. Conversely, the legal system and it's employees are quite severe toward non-Japanese.

Even more amazing is the fact that the Japanese justice system is still so traditional, an extraordinary amount of reliance is placed on confession. Without that crucial confession, the system is at quite a disadvantage.

It would seem natural to wonder why the Japanese insist on such a harsh system to enforce law and order in our 'modern' age. I think the answer lies in the Japanese appreciation of Japanese history. Even if we ignore the white-washed history books that attempt to trivialise wartime atrocities committed by Japanese, there is still more savagery inside Japan. Committed by Japanese against Japanese. Every day you can read a new story about some local who has done something really nasty to another member of society. The fact that the Japanese themselves are not keen to acknowledge this is evident in their language: Pretty well all Japanese refer to a certain event as the 'Meiji Restoration'. It had all the elements of a 'revolution' as we know it, and over 1000 people were killed or assassinated. But, 'revolution' is such an ugly word. Even to this day, industry is much more keen on profits versus humanitarian concerns (like health). The Aum\Oum cult used sarin nerve gas dispensed by Japanese for Japanese consumption in a quintessential act of terrorism. These and many other daily occurrences here constantly remind Japanese that, even on a sub-conscious level, nobody is more insensitive to Japanese suffering than Japanese. The legal system, then, can be seen as part of the cycle of this sort of behaviour, but also to sublimely acknowledge the utter fear that Japanese have for Japanese.

On a practical note, it would be easier to silence all the critics of it, if the results were better. However, they are not. The system has not changed (prehaps for hundreds of years), but there are complaints that the rate of crime is increacing.

Although various nationalists (including the mayor of Tokyo) are quite certain that foreigners are to blame, the evidence of this is fanciful at best: Any day of the week, visit your local police box (koban), note the wanted posters, and see if you can even find a foreigner among them. Good luck!

Note: Comming from Canada, and having lived most of my life in Toronto, it is far too easy to notice racism for the repugnant festering sore it is on the face of humanity. Unfortunately, too many will 'apply more make-up' or avoid mirrors rather than set about medicating/curing the condition.