On intervals down the sidewalk, street lightsOn intervals down the sidewalk, street lights

On a normal day crime is virtually non-existent. As an example, through
out Japan vending machines sell everything from books to drinks, operate
24 hours a day, are well-lit, always clean, electronic, and
consistently in working order.

Never does one find oneself beating the machine senseless for the drink
now balanced precariously- but not dropping- at the top of the shelf. In
fact, so pristine are they that both cold and hot drinks are available
from the same machine. Never tampered with or covered in graffiti, they
are located on every street corner. Truly, given their illumination and
sheer number, each marking regular intervals down the sidewalk, street
lights aren’t needed at night.

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Children as young as 6 routinely ride the subway unaccompanied. Nary a clutchy parent in site.

The lack of crime, and maybe the reason behind the lack of a massive
crime wave post earthquake, has to do with the Japanese concept of the
Insider vs. the Outsider and putting the group well-being above that of
the individual. In the old days, Japanese lived in villages where all
were taken care of regardless of ability. Everyone contributed to the
management of the village in some way and in return, the poorer members
were fed and housed. The village was the Inside. As long as one was a
member of the village, an Insider, all needs would be met. If a person
did something criminal, that person was cast out of the village- and
would become an Outsider. The Outsider no longer had the advantages
associated with having all needs met and became completely self
sustaining- probably to their detriment. For that reason, people did not
want to become Outsiders as it became both a survival and a social

Committing a crime, which negatively impacts the overall group, causes
the criminal to become an Outsider. This desire to remain part of the
Inside group, and/or not to appear different, is the crux which keeps
the criminal activity to a minimum. Additionally, the laws when caught
are harsh and swift.

Crime in Japan is lower than in many other first world countries. While
crime is still infrequent in Japan, the past decade has seen increasing

Although the total number of crimes by non-Japanese is substantially
lower than those by Japanese, the public perception is that the influx
of immigrants has led to the crime increase. A large portion of crimes
by immigrants are by Chinese in Japan, and some highly publicized crimes
by organized groups of Chinese (often with help of Japanese organized
crime) have led to a negative public perception.

According to Ruth Benedict’s shame culture/guilt culture analysis, an
important factor keeping crime low is the traditional emphasis on the
individual as a member of groups to which he or she must not bring
shame. Within these groups, family, friends, and associates at work or
school, a Japanese citizen has social rights and obligations, may derive
emotional support, and meets powerful expectations to conform. These
informal social sanctions display potency despite competing values in a
changing society.

Ownership of handguns is forbidden to the public, hunting rifles and
ceremonial swords are registered with the police, and the manufacture
and sale of firearms are regulated. The production and sale of live and
blank ammunition are also controlled, as are the transportation and
importation of all weapons. Crimes are seldom committed with firearms,
yet knives remain a problem that the government is looking into,
especially after the Akihabara massacre.

Of particular concern to the police are crimes associated with
modernization. Increased wealth and technological sophistication has
brought new white collar crimes, such as computer and credit card fraud,
larceny involving coin dispensers, and insurance fraud. Incidence of
drug abuse is minuscule, compared with other industrialized nations and
limited mainly to stimulants. Japanese law enforcement authorities
endeavor to control this problem by extensive coordination with
international investigative organizations and stringent punishment of
Japanese and foreign offenders. Traffic accidents and fatalities consume
substantial law enforcement resources.

Conviction Rate
One of the main features of the Japanese criminal justice system well
known in the rest of the world is its extremely high conviction rate.
Some in the common law countries argue that this is to do with
elimination of the jury system in 1943, however, trials by jury were
rarely held as the accused had to give up the right to appeal. Lobbying
by human rights groups and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations
resulted in the passing of a judicial reform bill in May, 2004, which
introduced a lay-judge system in 2009, which is often confused with jury
system in common law countries.

J. Mark Ramseyer of Harvard Law School and Eric B. Rasmusen of Indiana
University examine if the accusation is in fact warranted. In their
paper (“Why Is the Japanese Conviction Rate So High?”) they examined two
possibilities. One is that judges who come under the control of central
bureaucracy are pressured to pass a guilty verdict, ensuring high
conviction. Another possibility is that, given that non jury system
under inquisition system has predictable ruling on guilt, prosecutors
rarely ever bring a case which have even minute chance of failure.

All Japanese court rulings are accessible in digital format; the two
academics examined every case after World War II in which the court
found the defendant not guilty. The result is mixed. Simple statistical
analysis shows that the judge’s later career tends to be negatively
affected by a non-guilty verdict. However, by examining the individual
cases, the two academics found that all of those cases which negatively
affected judges’ careers had political implications (such as labour law
or electoral law) and that the facts of the case (i.e. the defendants
committing the accused deed) itself were never in dispute. However,
judges delivered ‘not guilty’ verdicts on technicalities such as
statutes of limitation or constitutional arguments, which were
subsequently reversed in a higher court. In cases in which the judge
delivered a ‘not guilty’ verdict because they ruled that there was
insufficient evidence to ascertain that the defendants did the accused
deed, the judge suffered no negative consequence. For this reason, the
paper argued that Japanese judges are politically conservative in legal
interpretation but are not biased in matter of fact.

In the matter relating to Japanese prosecutors being extremely cautious,
the paper found ample evidence for it. In Japan, 99.7% of all the cases
brought to court resulted in conviction, while in the U.S. the figure
is 88%. According to a cited research, in the U.S. the accused contest
guilt in 22% of federal cases and 11% of state cases, while in Japan,
the ratio is modestly less. The paper attributes this difference to
greater predictability of the outcome in Japanese cases. This is due to
two reasons. One is that it is the judge rather than the jury who
determines the verdict. As judges “have seen it all before” and the
lawyers on both sides “have seen them seeing it”, as they can read the
judge’s previous ruling (which includes written reasoning for the
previous verdict), the way that the judge thinks and argues is very

Secondly, Japanese trials before the institution of the current lay
judge system, were discontinuous. The defense and the prosecutor would
first gather in front of the judges and present the issue. Then, the
court would enter recess and both sides would go back to prepare their
case. As they reconvened on different dates, they would then present
each case which the judges examined, the court would be put in recess
again and each side would go back to gather further evidence. Some
complex trials took years or even a decade to conclude which is
impossible under jury system. During the questioning of evidence, judges
were explicit about their opinions by the way they questioned the
evidence, which gave greater predictability about the final verdict.

For this reason, the prosecutor is far more likely to bring in the case
where conviction is assured and the accused is far more likely to

Moreover, the paper found that Japanese prosecutors have a far more
pressing need to be selective. In the U.S., the federal government
employs 27,985 lawyers and the states employ another 38,242 (of which
24,700 are state prosecutors). In Japan, with about a third of U.S.
population, the entire government employs a mere 2,000. Despite Japan
having a low crime rate, such numbers create a significant case overload
for prosecutors. In the U.S., there are 480 arrests (96 serious cases)
per year per state prosecutor. (The actual figure is lower as some are
prosecuted in federal court). In Japan, the figure is 700 per year per
prosecutor. In the U.S., a rough estimate is that 42% of arrests in
felony cases result in prosecution – while in Japan, the figure is only

In murder, U.S. police arrested 19,000 people for 26,000 murders, in
which 75% were prosecuted and courts convicted 12,000 people. In Japan,
1,800 people were arrested for 1,300 murders, but prosecutors tried only
43%. Had the allegation that Japanese prosecutors use weak evidence
mostly based on (forced) confessions to achieve convictions been true,
the larger proportion of arrests would have resulted in prosecutions and
eventual conviction. But the opposite is true. In fact, the data
indicates that Japanese prosecutors bring charges only when the evidence
is overwhelming and likelihood of conviction is near absolute, which
gives a greater incentive for the accused to confess and aim for a
lighter sentence, which, in turn, results in a high rate for confession.

The Japanese criminal justice system, despite retaining the death
penalty, is relatively lenient in sentencing by the standard of the
United States. Outside capital cases, many of those sentenced to life
sentences are paroled within 15 years. Those convicted of less heinous
murder and manslaughter are likely to serve less than 10 years. Those
convicted of rape will often serve less than two to five years. It is
even possible for someone convicted of murder to serve a suspended
sentence if the defense successfully argues for mitigating
circumstances. Moreover, in Japanese criminal proceedings the conviction
and sentencing phase are separate. In the Japanese criminal justice
system, these are distinct phases, echoing that of common law
jurisdictions where sentencing is usually remitted to a later hearing
after a finding of guilt. The court proceedings first determine guilt,
then a second proceeding takes place to determine the sentence.
Prosecutors and defense teams argue each phase. Defense lawyers, given
the predictability of the outcome in term of guilt once the charge is
brought, together with leniency of punishment (except in death penalty
cases), often advise the accused to confess their guilt in trial.
Remorse is seen as a mitigating factor which tends to bring reduced

Confession in Japanese Criminal Investigation
Many Western human rights organizations alleged that the high conviction
rate is due to rampant use of conviction solely based on confession.
Confessions are often obtained after long periods of questioning by
police. This can, at times, take weeks or months during which time the
suspect is in detention and can be prevented from contacting a lawyer or

Article 38 of Japan’s Constitution categorically requires that “no
person shall be convicted or punished in cases where the only proof
against suspect is his/her own confession,” In practice, this
constitutional requirement take a form of safeguard known as “revelation
of secret” (Himitsu no Bakuro, lit “outing of secret”). Because
suspects are put through continuous interrogation which could last over a
month as well as isolation from the outside world, including access to
lawyer, the Japanese judiciary as well as the public is well aware that
confession of guilt can easily be forced. Consequently, the court (and
the public) take the view that mere confession of guilt alone is never
any sufficient ground for conviction.

Instead, for confession to be a valid evidence for conviction, the
Japanese court requires confession to include revelation of verifiable
factual matter which only the perpetrator of the crime could have known
such as the location of an undiscovered body or the time and place the
murder weapon was purchased, a fact about the crime scene, etc.
Furthermore, to safeguard against the possibility that the interrogator
implanting such knowledge into confession, the prosecutor must prove
that such revelation of secret was unknown to the police until the point
of confession. For example, in the Sachiura murder case which happened
in 1948, the conviction (and three death penalty) was initially secured
by the confession of the location of the body which was yet to be
discovered. However, it later transpired that the police likely knew the
location of the body and this created a possibility that the confession
of the location of the body could be forged and implanted by the
investigating police, resulting in the higher court declaring the
confession unsafe and reversing the verdict.

While it is impossible for an innocent suspect to reveal relevant
information about a crime even under severe torture, a guilty suspect is
likely to crack under prolonged interrogation in isolation and make a
damning confession. Activists claim that the Japanese justice system
(and Japanese public to some extent) consider that prolonged
interrogation of suspect in isolation without access to lawyers is
justified to solve the criminal cases without risking the miscarriage of
justice. In addition, the requirement that the revelation of relevant
information by the accused was unknown to the police and that the
prosecutor examines the police investigation before the case is brought
to the court, is seen as an extra layer of safeguard for the validity of
confession as evidence.

However, most miscarriage of justice cases in Japan are, indeed, the
results of conviction solely based on the confession of the accused. In
these case, (1) the record of sequence and timing of the police
discoveries of evidence and the timing of confession is unclear (or even
faked by the police) (2) the contents of the revelation of secret has
only weak relevance to the crime itself or that (3) the revelation of
secret to be actually vague enough that it is apply only loosely to the
elements of crime (Prosecutor’s fallacy). Serious miscariage of justice
cases in Japan involve police deliberately faking the police evidence
(and insufficient supervision by the prosecutor to spot such rogue
behaviour) such as where the police already knew (or suspected) the
location of the body or the murder weapon but they fake the police
record to make it appear that it is the suspect who revealed the
location. During 1970s, a series of reversals of death penalty cases
brought attention to the fact that some accused, after intensive
interrogation signed as-of-yet unwritten confessions, which were later
filled in by investigating police officers. Moreover, in some case, the
police falsify the record so that it appear that the accused confessed
to the location where the body was buried yet the truth was that the
police written in the location in the confession after the body was
discovered by other means. These coerced confessions, together with
other circumstantial evidence, often convinced judges to (falsely)

Currently the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations is calling for the
entire interrogation phase to be recorded to prevent similar incidents
occurring. The International Bar Association, which encompasses the
Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, cited problems in its
“Interrogation of Criminal Suspects in Japan”. Japan’s current Minister
of Justice, Hideo Hiraoka, has also supported videotaping
interrogations. Police and prosecutors have traditionally been opposed
videotaping interrogations, stating that it would undermine their
ability to get confessions. The current office of prosecutors has,
however, reversed their previous opposition to this proposal. Proponents
argue that without the credibility of confessions supported by
electronic recording, the lay judges may refuse to convict in a case
when other offered evidence is weak. It is also argued that recording of
interrogation may allow lowering standard in the “revelation of secret”
that confession must contain the element of crime which police and
prosecutor did not know. Once the recording is introduced, it would
become impossible for the police to forge confession. Then, it may
become possible to bring conviction based on confession of elements of
crime which only perpetrator “and” police knew.

In October 2007, the BBC published a feature giving examples and an
overview of “‘Forced confessions’ in Japan”. The case was called
“Shibushi Case”. In addition, Hiroshi Yanagihara, who was convicted in
November 2002 for attempted rape and rape due to forced confession and
the identification by the victim despite alibi based on phone record,
was cleared in October 2007 when the true culprit was arrested on
unrelated crime. The two cases damage the credibility of Japanese

To Japanese citizens and police, however, the arrest itself already
creates the presumption of guilt which needs only to be verified via a
confession. The interrogation reports prepared by police and prosecutors
and submitted to the trial courts often constitute the central evidence
considered when weighing the guilt or innocence of the suspect.