Reiko glances nervously about her. She’s never been in a saibansho (裁判所, courthouse) before. The sixth floor, the yobidashijō (呼び出し状, summons) had said. She looks around for an elevator.

“Sumimasen . . . “

Momentarily startled, she quickly regains her self-composure. “What am I so bikubiku (びくびく, jumpy) about?” She smiles tentatively at the young man addressing her.

“Are you a saibanin (裁判員, lay judge) too?” he asks.


He laughs awkwardly. “Jitai suru riyū ga arimasendeshita (辞退する理由がありませんでした, I couldn’t get out of it). Oh well, kaisha wo yasumu kō jitsu nimo narimasushi (会社を休む口実にもなりますし, It’s also an excuse to get off work). Also, of course” — another awkward laugh — “it’s a shakaiteki koken (社会的貢献, contribution to society).”

“Where’s the elevator?”

“Over there, I believe.”

Signs posted on the sixth-floor walls lead them down a long corridor to a large room, bare except for a round table in the middle, at which four others are already seated: two women, two men. Reiko is too tense to observe them closely. No one is talking; everyone is waiting expectantly.

Saibanin no minasan, omatase shimashita (裁判員の皆さん、お待たせしました , Lay judges, I apologize for keeping you waiting).” Three people in long judges’ robes have entered the room: two men and a woman. The older man looks about 50; Reiko is surprised at how young the other two look. The older man proceeds: “Watashi wa tōsaiban no keiji-bu de saibanchō wo tsutomete orimasu (私は当裁判の刑事部で裁判長を務めております, I am the chief judge of this court’s criminal division). Tazawa desu (田沢です, My name is Tazawa.”

Saibankan no Endo desu (裁判官の遠藤です, I am Judge Endo),” the younger man says.

Onajiku saibankan no Fujino desu (同じく裁判官の藤野です, And I am Judge Fujino),” says the woman.

Judge Tazawa’s manner as he proceeds with his setsumei (説明, explanation) is calm, cordial, engaging. He is grave without being intimidating. Reiko’s tension eases. He is like a good teacher — like herself in the classroom, it occurs to her.

“The case we will be judging,” he says, “is a satsujin jiken (殺人事件, a case of murder) that occurred four months ago. The higaisha (被害者, victim) was a wakai josei (若い女性, young woman) . . . “

Oboete imasu (覚えています, I remember),” interposes one of the two women saibanin excitedly. She is young and, Reiko notices now for the first time, wearing a pink dress, which suddenly strikes her as vaguely out of place. “It was on all the terebi waido shō (テレビワイドショウ, TV talk shows).”

“Right, right,” says the young man Reiko came in with, as he leans back in his chair with exaggerated nonchalance. “The guy josei ni tsukimatotte ita (女性に付きまとっていた, had been hanging around her) . . . They said on TV that he jikyō shita (自供した, confessed) and that he . . . “

Quietly but firmly, Judge Tazawa interrupts. “We must not,” he says, “prejudge the case based on what the keisatsu (警察, police) or masukomi (マスコミ, media) have been saying. Whether the hikokunin (被告人, defendant) is yūzai (有罪, guilty) or muzai (無罪, innocent) is for us, saibankan and saibanin together, to determine, based only on the shōko (証拠, evidence) we hear in court.

“Remember,” Tazawa continues, “the kensatsukan (検察官, prosecutor) must prove his case gimon no yochi ga nai hodo (疑問の余地がないほど, beyond reasonable doubt). Go-iken ya go-shitsumon wa arimasu deshō ka? (ご意見やご質問はありますでしょうか? Are there any comments? Any questions?)”

Reiko raises a hand. “I just want to say . . . Watashitachi no handan (私たちの判断, our judgment) will hikokunin no isshō wo sayū shimasu (被告人の一生を左右します, determine the course of the defendant’s entire life).” She is looking at the rather oroka na (愚かな, flaky) young man as she speaks, because somehow she doubts he fully appreciates this. “Terrible mistakes have been made. The Sugaya case just recently — Mr. Sugaya confessed under keisatsu ni yoru gōin na torishirabe (警察による強引な取調べ, coercive police questioning) to killing a child. He spent 17 years in prison before his innocence was recognized and he was shakuho saremashita (釈放されました, released).”

Tazawa nods. “You are absolutely right. The point you make cannot be stressed too strongly.” He pauses to let it sink in, and then he says,” Hōtei e mairimasho (法廷へ参りましょう, let us proceed to the courtroom).”

Fiction series “Keyes’ Point” appears on the first Wednesday of each month.

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