"The accused was sitting right there, so close to me, and yet I felt like there was an unbridgeable distance between us."

Tomomitsu Shibuya, a 55-year-old pastor from the city of Aomori who served as a lay judge almost 10 years ago, recalls the day that he sat in the Aomori District Court for the trial of a man accused of robbery and sexual assault.

It was the first trial in the Tohoku region involving lay judges and the first sexual assault case in Japan to be tried using them.