February 09, 2017

Justice for all (Japanese)


I don't think it a stretch to say that Japan's sakoku ("national isolation") period from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century never really ended. It just lightened up a bit (after Matthew Perry and Douglas MacArthur took turns prying it open with the crowbar of military might).

The U.S. remains one of only two countries Japan has a formal extradition treaty with (the other being South Korea). But even that distinction can prove fairly meaningless, especially when it comes to civil matters and white-collar crime in particular.

For example, in divorce cases involving a foreign national, Japanese family courts will almost inevitably favor the Japanese party, regardless of what ruling a foreign court may hand down (which occasions no little bitterness on the part of divorced foreign nationals).

Following WWII, the Occupation forced the dissolution of the family-controlled vertical monopolies called zaibatsu. However, the zaibatsu soon reassembled themselves as the ostensibly more benign keiretsu.

During the economic boom times of the 1950s and 1960s, nobody on either side of the Pacific cared. But then came the rise of the Japanese auto industry and the fall of Detroit. U.S. law, in the form of the Sherman Antitrust Act, frowns on the keiretsu concept, especially in the auto parts industry.

The National Law Review reports that since 2010, "More than 30 companies [auto parts industry] have pleaded guilty to antitrust violations and paid approximately $2.4 billion in criminal fines." And while some guilty executives have "subjected themselves to U.S. jurisdiction,

Others appear to have taken the gamble that the DOJ will not be able to extradite them. In truth, it may not be such a bad gamble in light of the fact that the DOJ has yet to extradite a Japanese national for crimes committed under the Sherman Act [emphasis added].

Extradition treaty or no, Japan just isn't big on the concept for common criminals either. In an in-depth post on the subject, the Turning Japanese website wryly observes that,

An additional "benefit" of becoming legally Japanese [and being a Japanese citizen] is that you're protected (so long as you're on Japanese territory) from facing the justice system of other counties. If you do commit a serious crime overseas, and are arrested in Japan, you will face the courts of Japan and face punishment inside Japan.

What wrongdoers will face in Japan is the equivalent of the "village stocks" from Colonial days.


Public acts of contrition are de rigueur for public officials and titans of industry who get caught doing the wrong thing (or wrong things happening under their watch). Japan doesn't have "show trials" (no cameras in the courtroom during the trial). They do have "show apologies."

It's a very pro forma ritual. The guilty Pooh-Bahs, dressed like they're attending a funeral, stand in front of a swarm of reporters and television cameras and bow deeply. It's the Japanese version of the "perp walk."

Sony executives apologize for the 2011 PlayStation data breach.

After which it's common for the guilty parties to disappear from sight until they have "repented." In Japan, prison sentences across the board are spartan and severe (bail and parole are rare) but far shorter than in the U.S. (For truly heinous crimes, the death penalty is still applied.)

Essentially, they are metaphorically banished to Mount Koya.

Mt. Koya is renown as the home of the Buddhist Shingon sect (if you're in Osaka, it's worth a day trip). For a millennium it was also where defeated warlords and disgraced officials could "retire" instead of losing their heads. (And it's the setting for Serpent of Time.)

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