One convenient thing about Japanese law for those of us who are professors of it is that it is quite modern. Virtually all Japanese laws and institutions antedate the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and, of those, most have a 20th-century provenance. Compared to Anglo-American law with Magna Carta, bewigged barristers and centuries-old constitutional notions born from religious strife, Japan's system is rather rational — in its own way — with few quaint vestiges of days gone by.

The imperial system is a noteworthy exception. The emperor plays an important — albeit symbolic — constitutional role, coming from a lineage of monarchs that has purportedly reigned (though not always ruled) since the dawn of history. This brings us to another comparatively old fixture of modern legal systems, one that is getting some attention in Japan with the recent succession to the throne of the nation's 126th emperor, Naruhito: amnesties.

Dynastic successions are typically an occasion for widespread reprieves for offenders and the government is currently debating the scope of the amnesty to be granted in connection with Naruhito's enthronement, with details expected to be firmed up in the fall.