February 25, 2016

Lawyering up


As I discussed last week, prison life in Japan is harsher but sentences are (often much) shorter than for comparable crimes in the U.S. In Japan through the Looking Glass, Alan MacFarlane points out that, compared to the United States, prison sentences

are lighter in every category of crime, except for homicide. Suspended sentences are meted out extensively, as are small fines. Less than two percent of all those convicted of a crime ever serve a jail sentence as compared with more than 45 percent in the U.S.

The crime rate in Japan is a fraction of what it is in the U.S. But the police have more latitude when it comes to due process. Too much latitude. His .44 Magnum aside, Dirty Harry would be right at home. Detaining a suspect for weeks without access to a lawyer makes extracting a confession the easy way to "solve" a case.

Japan also has a fraction of the number of lawyers as the U.S. Observe that in Hero, criminal defendants almost never have a lawyer present during interrogations, despite ostensibly having the right. On the rare occasions that a defense lawyer does show up, it's cause for great consternation.

Lots of order, not much law, and hardly ever an actual trial.

Few complain because the Japanese are generally loath to involve the courts even for civil matters. So on the one hand, doctors pay almost nothing in malpractice premiums. On the other, an incompetent quack is less likely to get sued, and if money changes hands, rarely the sums common in U.S. malpractice suits.

This creates enough uncertainty in the system that patients in dire circumstances will bribe doctors to guarantee getting the proper care by the proper people (a scene not uncommon in Japanese medical melodramas). Oh, excuse me, that's not a bribe; it's a "gift" (orei).

Though to be fair, a decade ago, the UCLA Medical School received a generous "gift" after performing a liver transplant for a yakuza boss. The exception rather than the rule. Dick Cheney really did wait his turn. (So few transplants are performed in Japan that a bribe would have done the yakuza boss no good at home.)

A decade ago efforts were made to increase the number of practicing lawyers in Japan, in part to counter the powerful National Police Agency, after several prominent cases were overturned because of coerced confessions. Those efforts succeeded about as well as government schemes to increase the birth rate.

Most Japanese simply don't want to become lawyers.

But the Justice Ministry was able to enact a jury system in which "one's peers" essentially act as lay judges, in addition to the traditional panel of judges (usually three). An obvious intent was the threat of jury nullification.

Lay judges comprise the majority of the judicial panel. They do not form a jury separate from the judges, like in a common law system, but participate in the trial as inquisitorial judges in accordance with the civil law legal tradition, who actively analyze and investigate evidences presented from the defense and prosecution.

This strikes me as the more logical approach. The U.S. jury trial system makes for great melodrama, but it's hard to imagine a more inefficient and less effective system for dispensing justice. Not to mention being subject to all sorts of manipulation, hence the whole dubious industry of jury selection.

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February 18, 2016

(Less) crime and (less) punishment


Well, except for the death penalty, which Japan still carries out. But prison terms for less heinous crimes are much shorter than their U.S. counterparts. Call it a quantity vs. quality thing. Japanese prisons are also more austere. Like strict Buddhist monasteries with bars and barbed wire and guards.

It was only in 2010 that the statute of limitations was eliminated for murder and crimes that result in the death of the victim. They rarely "lock 'em up and throw away the key" in Japan.

Social expectations are supposed to do the rest and they usually do.

When Paul McCartney got arrested for marijuana possession at Narita International Airport in 1980, he quickly figured out that conformity was the quickest way out. He only spent a few days in detention, but it's not hard to infer from his reminiscences what life is like in a Japanese prison.

I realised from all the movies I'd ever seen and from all the books I'd ever read that the gig in the morning is that you've got to clean your cell. They'd put a reed brush and a little dustpan through the grill in the cell door.

I started to realise, "Right, I'm going to get up when the light goes on, I'm going to be the first up, I'm going to be the first with his room cleaned, I'm going to roll up my bed, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that."

You had to clean your room and then sit cross-legged on your blanket.

I tend to agree more with the Japanese approach. Aside from the especially grievous offenders, for those criminals who don't pose an ongoing threat to the general public, shorter and more austere makes more sense than "three strikes and you're out."

Aside from the death penalty, Japanese law does not have "life imprisonment." The term is muki choueki, or "indefinite servitude." Meaning you may get out sometime. Probably will. Taking away all hope seems a counterproductive way of handling a prison population.

I mean, Bernie Madoff is a bad guy who deserves to be punished, but I don't see the point of keeping him in prison until he keels over, beyond simple vengeance. I'd rather see him in an environment where he could make at least a token effort towards restitution.

In any case, "low security" prisons aren't the "country clubs" people imagine.

Now, having begun with Paul McCartney's misadventures with marijuana smuggling, I should point out that when it comes to drug use and possession, not just law enforcement, but social mores in Japan are far more exacting than in the U.S.

At the end of the perp-walk, a celebrity in Japan won't get that much worse of a sentence than did, say, Robert Downey Jr. But their careers will be completely wrecked until they've wandered in the wilderness for forty metaphorical years.

And so discussions about drug legalization or decriminalization in Japan remain purely hypothetical. On the other hand, getting drunk and even smoking (gasp!) in public won't make you into a social pariah (unless you get drunk and take your clothes off).

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February 11, 2016

Valentine's Day in Japan


Valentine's Day has become a ubiquitous custom throughout Northeast Asia. In Japan, it took off after the war thanks to the obvious commercial interests and a brilliant ad campaign. (As did the practice of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and sponge cake on Christmas. No kidding.)

And given the pressures of social conformity, it's brought about the inevitable backlash: secretaries feeling duty-bound to give chocolates to the guys in their office (called giri-choko or "obligation chocolate"). The profound difference between a cheap box you bought at the store and chocolates lovingly hand-made cannot be underestimated.

And, of course, the BMOCs rake in all the good stuff (a standard scene in anime is a popular guy's locker stuffed to overflowing with boxes of chocolates and cards).

Valentine's Day's is bifurcated by sex, with "White Day" coming a month later (March 14). On White Day, boys give chocolates (or other gifts) to girls. As you might imagine, this is not something guys get terribly passionate about (unless they have a compelling reason to), and approach the occasion in a more pro forma manner.

Lately, Christmas Eve (also not an official holiday in Japan but another big commercial blow-out) has become the real Valentine's Day, when couples indulge in excessive demonstrations of affection, get engaged, that sort of thing.

For my money, the cutest Valentine's Day depicted in anime is the penultimate episode (15) of Kamichu! (sadly out of print, but Netflix still has most of the DVDs, and you can find dubbed episodes on YouTube). Yurie Hitotsubashi may be a Shinto goddess, but that doesn't make the romantic dilemmas any easier.

Though it can produce rather unexpected resolutions.

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February 04, 2016

Don't make a federal case out of it


Yaoi manga is far more prevalent and "mainstream" in Japan than slash-fiction is here in the U.S. and yet (especially male) homosexuality--despite the lack of Victorian taboos--is far less accepted in Japan as a matter of accepted practice (in real life) and statutory law.

Japan is a "Don't ask, don't tell" kind of place. Or rather, you can tell all you want as long as don't expect people to spring into action. So actual social change takes place slowly, but "stuff that doesn't have to be taken seriously right away" gets a lot of latitude.

More latitude than even western liberals would be willing to grant. The opening scene in the anime Denki-Gai (about a manga bookstore) has a officious-looking lady browsing the stacks in the hentai section. It turns out she's from the town council, and is making sure that the NC-17 titles are properly sealed (can't be read in the store).

She's not there to ban anything, only to make sure the rules are being followed. As long as social disorder isn't in the offing, then the sky's practically the limit. Thus "gay marriage" becomes a topic tabloid TV shows in Japan love to discuss precisely because nobody is drawing lines in the sand.

As Justin Sevakis observes,

Modern Japanese society has a lot of red tape and is very slow to change, but people also aren't as in-your-face about their personal beliefs--so the end result is a place where there's simply no provision for anything like gay marriage. But there are also barely any hate crimes.

Japan's far left is about as ideologically threatening as Bernie Sanders, and its far right is basically a tossed salad of rabid historical reenactors hopelessly trying to resurrect the late Meiji period (when the Imperial Navy clobbered the Russians and annexed Korea), obnoxious but mostly harmless.

Alas, the downside is that well-established bureaucracies and social institutions (like those governing agricultural policy) that made sense fifty years ago are still barreling along on pure momentum and the only way to derail them now would be to tear up the tracks.

This makes the whole idea of "coming out" much more difficult, since there's often a lot of guilt involved in what's perceived to be to shirking your own responsibilities as a member of society and having a "normal" family.

But it also means that every blessed disagreement in life doesn't immediately get polarized and politicized in the public square. The First Amendment should include a clause defending the right to like (or dislike) something without turning it into, well, a federal case.

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