Criminal justice system in Japans: effective but chilling to Westerners

How different is the criminal justice system in Japan if compared to the ones in the Western World? Japanese culture and history have produced a completely different justice system, with exceptional results and means difficult to accept or understand for Westerners.

I’ve recently stumbled upon an article about “crime and punishment” in Japan. Its title can be translated in “Japan, lights and shadows of Justice. The most frequent crime is bike theft.”

I found the article extremely interesting because it highlights how different Japanese law enforcement system is from the ones in the western world.

The article, authored by a European journalist who has been living in Japan for a couple decades, begins by listing facts and figures about crime in Japan.

Japan law, crime, jail, courts

  • Japan is the country with the lowest crime level among the countries belonging to G20
  • Japan has 54 inmates every 100,000 citizens (US: 700)
  • Japanese citizens who are victim of at least one crime over one year are 16% (US: 39%)
  • Risk of being robbed in Tokyo is 80 times lower than in New York City
  • Risk of being assaulted in Tokyo is 200 times lower than in NYC
  • Risk of being raped in Tokyo is 700 times lower than in NYC
  • Risk of being killed in Tokyo is 2,000 times lower than in NYC

However, such stellar results don’t come without a price.

Here are some aspects of the Japanese police and legal system that might seem odd or even against human rights to Western eyes.


Custody and trial

The Police can legally keep an individual under custody without charging them up to 23 days.

Conviction rate after a trial is 99.8%.

The reason for such a huge conviction rate is mainly due to the fact that bringing someone in court is at discretion of the authorities.
In other words, if a person is deemed guilty during custody or investigation, a penalty can be immediately issued by skipping court completely.


A respectful behavior

A remarkable aspect is the importance given to the prisoner’s attitude.

Confessing is considered to be a collaborative behavior and can be rewarded with probation, even in the case of a serious crime [the author here doesn’t give an example to define “serious”].

On the other hand, requesting legal assistance means lack of collaboration and is labeled as arrogant.
That usually results in a trial, and we’ve already seen what chances are of being acquitted.
After a trial conviction, probation is unlikely: the defendant goes mostly to jail.



In prison inmates are forced to work and are not paid.

The first two weeks are spent in isolation. The newly arrived is given a booklet containing over 100 rules he is expect to follow after his initial isolation time. Among those rules there is how and when brushing teeth, and what posture to keep during sleep.

Inmates are granted right to talk for only one hour per day. Looking at a guard in the eyes is a major infraction.

Punishments for breaking such and the other rules span from reduced food availability to long isolation periods.

During marches, inmates are forced to holler the same sentence again and again: “FROM NOW ON, I WILL BE HONEST, SINCERE, GOOD-MANNERED, AND ABIDING. I WILL COOPERATE, I WILL RESPECT THE RULES, AND I’LL BE GRATEFUL.”

Once an inmate is released though, there is an effort to find him a job, often carried out by the correction center itself.


The reason why I wrote a post about this topic has nothing to do with judgment.

I did it to bring an example of how different cultures can be from one another, to the point that such an important aspect in community life as law enforcement is handled in totally different ways, so that the Japanese system is light years distant from the ones of the Western World.

We are talking about another planet here.


For those of you who can read Italian, here is the original article.


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7 Thoughts on “Criminal justice system in Japans: effective but chilling to Westerners

  1. Where is better to live: in NY or Tokyo?
    Victor Tribunsky recently posted..Eternal Oyster Season in Cancale, FranceMy Profile

  2. I LOVED the sound of those statistics…until I continued reading about the penal system…I still like those stats. Very compelling post!
    Alex-Wanderlust Marriage recently posted..5 Ways to Know You’ve Become EuropeanMy Profile

    • I keep wondering whether those results are reachable with a different penal system. Something tells me it’s possible (probably it’s the liberal that is in me), but I have no way to demonstrate it! :)

  3. Very interesting country! I was in Japan in ’03-’04. The bicycle culture is enormous and I love it. Where I was it seemed that people sometimes took random bikes from bike racks if they needed one. Or, if someone stole your bike, you just nonchalantly took someone else’s.
    I didn’t know much about their criminal justice system, very interesting!
    May I also add: a Japanese doctor told me that if she gets caught drinking and driving, the mandatory penalty is to take away her license to practice medicine, for life.
    Mike | Earthdrifter recently posted..The Saudi SkinnyMy Profile

    • They just mean it! They walk the talk. It may be stressing when it’s done to the extreme, but I come from a country which has the exact opposite mentality, and I know the disasters such a culture can bring a country to.

  4. So that’s why they have a low crime level.
    Shaun Hoobler recently app devMy Profile

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