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March 21, 2009

"Crime and Punishment in Japan: From Re-integrative Shaming to Popular Punitivism"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting piece from The Asian-Pacific Journal, which describes notable developments in criminal justice trends in Japan.  The piece is a few years old, but just showed up on line and still seems timely.  Here is how the piece begins and ends:

Since the Second World War, Japan has avoided the correlation between rising crime and increased affluence that has afflicted other comparable advanced democratic economies.  This has prompted other countries to investigate to famous koban ‘community policing’ principle and to look at notions of re-integrative shaming, which were seen as prevalent in dealing with Japanese offenders.  However, since the late 1990s, the Japanese press and public have lost confidence in their public safety and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.  Public opinion surveys show that fear of crime among the Japanese has risen. This perceived rise in crime, which is reflected in a 44% increase in recorded crime between 1995 and 2004, is generally associated in the Japanese press with the economic slump during this period, and a subsequent collapse of traditional community-based society.  A major watershed was the way in which police investigative competence was questioned by the press at the end of the 1990s, and the early 2000s, also saw a heavy press focus on a rising tide of youth violence and mass killing sprees....

Western scholars have generally focused on the role of apology and forgiveness in everyday life and in criminal justice in Japan.  However, the questions posed above beg further research into whether Japan has started to resemble other developed countries, such as the US and UK, in moving towards popular punitivism, or whether, at least to some extent, the Japanese public were always more punitive than they were perceived to be.

March 21, 2009 at 09:27 AM | Permalink


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This is a great disappointment. I saw Japan as an example to emulate based on obsolete impressions of it. They chose to soften their punishment of crime to emulate us.

Question. They were an underlawyered nation. What has happened to their lawyer to population ratio? If the ratio has gone up, the Rent Seeking Theory is a better explanation for the rise in crime than the economic downturn.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 22, 2009 9:06:16 AM

The lawyer-population ratio is misleading, and the largest part of the misleading element is the way that their legal profession is organized. A Japanese lawyer is comparable to a British barrister, while a better Japanese comparable to a U.S. lawyer would be someone who majored in a legal field in college, even though that isn't how the profession is defined in Japan.

Japanese practice in corporate law (shared by many Europeans) is for corporations to have legally trained executives who are not barristers do most of the work that would be done by in-house counsel and outside transactional lawyers. Legally trained notaries are also important to transactional legal work there.

Also notable is that many petty misdemeanor cases that would be handled by lawyers in courts of limited jurisdiction here, are within the plenary authority of police officers there -- a bit like the authority to summarily impose low level punishments given to officers in the military justice system, or like typical traffic cases in the U.S. So those cases also end up "unlawyered."

The judge to lawyer ratio is much higher in Japan as a result (and due to the lack of civil juries).

The number of U.S. lawyers who regularly litigate, which would be a better comparable to the Japanese legal profession, is a quite small percentage of the U.S. total.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Mar 31, 2009 1:57:11 PM

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