Sometimes when you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself.
Such a philosophy also seems to apply to getting justice in Japan — because those enforcing the law in this country certainly don’t appear to be very concerned about it.
This lack of enforcement is spurring some reported attempts at vigilante justice — or, at least, arousing interest in it.
The law-and-order side of Japan doesn’t appear to believe they should serve the people they are supposed to protect; they serve greater powers.
In 2011, thousands filed criminal charges against Tokyo Electric Power Co. and its top executives for criminal negligence resulting in injury and death after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
How did the Prosecutor’s Office respond? They declined to press charges, leaking the decision on the day that Japan was chosen for the 2020 Olympics. They buried the story almost as deeply as the Tepco workers who drowned when reactor 1 flooded — something that could have been predicted.
The Fukushima Police Department did take action on the nuclear problem and filed charges against an anti-nuclear activist and mother, for “criminally insulting” a pro-nuclear advocate. Prosecutors let the activist off with a stern warning. It’s rare for police to intervene in these matters, but we can’t very well have people going around dissing pro-nuclear activists, can we?
By comparison, the 11-member Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution ruled that Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tepco at the time of the disaster, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, should be indicted after all. The panel even reprimanded the Prosecutor’s Office for failing to do its job. The committee oversees the decisions of prosecutors; they aren’t tied to the police and they aren’t prosecutors.
The Prosecutor’s Office now has to decide whether or not to reopen the investigation. Anyone willing to make a guess as to what will happen?
The powers that be seem intent on letting the powerful walk free. Their benelovence even seems to extend to the ordinary criminal.
Over the past two years, there have now been several cases of stalking victims or family members being killed by their tormentors after the victim consulted with the police. The courts aren’t much help, either.
Ikumi Yoshimatsu, a former Miss International who defied the country’s “entertainment mafia,” filed for a provisional restraining order against her alleged stalker in January. After eight months that included a lot of paperwork and a change in judges along the way, a court decided they weren’t in a position to do anything until after she was attacked.
Under the country’s stalking laws, a police chief has the power to summarily give the equivalent of a restraining order to a stalker; no police chief has ever used this power. The standard practice is for the police to encourage a victim to move away and change their identity before a stalker can do anything serious.
Even then most people leave the punishment of criminals to the police but, last month, one store owner decided to take the law into his own hands and see that justice is done.
Mandarake, a chain of stores specializing in secondhand anime and manga goods, threatened to release the picture of a man who shoplifted a rare windup robot doll from a store.
On Aug. 4, the thief stole a tin windup toy robot valued at ¥250,000 from Mandarake’s Nakano branch. The store put up a public notice on its website that vowed to show a security camera still of the thief to the world unless the item was returned within a week from the day it was taken.
The toy was a model of the fictional Tetsujin 28 (Iron Man 28), who, according to comic books from the 1950s, was a robot that had been originally created by the Imperial Army as a secret weapon against the Allied forces in World War II.
A young private detective later gained control of the robot and turned him into a force for good, even working with the Metropolitan Police.
The reaction of police investigators to the threat was not altogether positive. They ordered the store not to reveal the identity of the accused. They also accused the store of “hindering their investigation.”
What started as an attempt to shame a thief into returning the goods he stole quickly turned into a debate about vigilante justice and personal privacy protection. Even tasteless wide-shows debated the appropriateness of the warning.
The police did eventually get the culprit but many argued that this only happened because there was so much attention on the case. (In their defense, however, the police clearance rate for shoplifting is near 70 percent, which is pretty good by global standards.)
In fact, the Police Department isn’t bad at solving basic crimes, it is simply bad at preventing them from happening in the first place. They are also good at refusing to accept difficult cases, or even acknowledging them — which would lower their clearance rate.
Prosecutors do the same. One reason that Japan has a 99 percent criminal conviction rate is that prosecutors won’t accept anything other than a slam-dunk.
If the law enforcement community refuses to protect citizens until they’re victimized, ignores thieves unless there’s a public uproar and fails to punish gross criminal negligence on a corporate level, is it any wonder that vigilante justice starts to look appealing?
Such action could also be legal as well.
The government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, decided they can reinterpret the Constitution to engage in overseas conflict if it is in the interests of the country’s strategic allies. No constitutional reform is necessary, just the magic words: collective self-defense.
If Abe can do it, why not a common man? There is a word for legal self-defense in Japanese: seitōbōei (正当防衛). I think it’s time we more widely interpreted it to include proactive self-defense.
For example, perhaps it’s OK to hunt down a thief because if they succeed once, they’re more than likely to come back and try to steal again. Instead of waiting for a stalker to kill a victim, why not take them out while we can?
If the police and prosecutors are reluctant to defend us, who can we turn to?
Testsujin 28 … where are you?
Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.