Friday, December 26, 2008

"Japanese homicides fall, but hangings rise

"TOKYO — Japan is executing criminals at its fastest pace in more than three decades, defying international condemnation and bucking a trend away from the death penalty across Asia.

"The increase comes as homicides actually are on the decline — the lowest since World War II, according to Japan's National Police Agency. But the public, fed a steady diet of lurid crime news by the Japanese news media, is more fearful than ever.

""The number of killings is declining," says Ryosuke Matsuura, who leads Amnesty International's campaign against the death penalty in Japan. "But the public believes Japan is getting more dangerous."

"Tatsuya Mori, author of the book Shikei (Execution) on the death penalty in Japan, says, "People's fear is getting stronger."

"He says ordinary Japanese are bewildered and frightened by senseless crimes, such as the sarin gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult that killed 12 commuters in the Tokyo subway in 1995.

"Japan and the United States are the only nations in the Group of Eight large, wealthy countries that still impose the death penalty. Japan hanged 15 convicts this year, up from nine in 2007 and the most since 17 were executed in 1975. In the U.S., 37 have been executed so far this year, down from 42 last year.

"Other Asian countries have been abolishing, reconsidering or reducing executions. The Philippines banned the death penalty in 2006. Singapore, which once had the world's highest executions per capita, killed two prisoners in 2007, down from a peak of 76 in 1994. And Pakistan's government this year proposed granting everyone on death row a life sentence.

"The United Nations Human Rights Council in October urged Japan to abolish the death penalty, joining similar pleas from the European Union and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

"But the Japanese government hasn't buckled to outside pressure.

""In 2006, a large EU delegation toured Japan, promoting abolition," says Michael Fox, director of the Japan Death Penalty Information Center. "The Japanese Ministry of Justice responded by hanging four people on (that) Christmas Day."

"The ministry executed two men this past October, days before the U.N. was due to issue its report criticizing Japan's use of the death penalty.

"In April, Japan for the first time executed a prisoner for murders committed as a teenager.

"Last year, a 75-year-old Japanese man went to the gallows for a murder he committed 22 years earlier, prompting then-U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to protest: "It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly. … I would urge Japan to refrain from such action."

"In 2005 and 2006, the gallows went unused during Seiken Sugiura's 15-month term as justice minister. Sugiara said his Buddhist faith prohibited him from imposing the death penalty.

"Executions resumed under his successors. One of them, Kunio Hatoyama, was dubbed the "Grim Reaper" by the liberal Asahi newspaper for authorizing the execution of 13 prisoners in seven months.

"The Japanese public stands firmly behind the executions: A 2005 government survey found that support for the death penalty had surpassed 80% for the first time, up from less than 57% in 1975, according to The Japan Times newspaper.

"Still, homicides have been dropping in Japan since 2004 and hit a low of 1,134 last year. By contrast, there were 3,081 murders in 1954.

"Mori, the author, argues that ordinary Japanese might have second thoughts about executions if they knew more about them. State killings are shrouded in secrecy. Until last year, the government didn't even announce the names of those put to death.

""The government hides it, and people don't want to know about it," Mori says.

"Critics say Japan's death row is particularly inhumane. The condemned are isolated from other prisoners. "Once the appeals process is complete, a death row prisoner in Japan may wait for years or even decades before execution," Amnesty International reports.

"And in an attempt to prevent death row suicides, prisoners aren't told they are going to be executed until hours before they are led to the gallows. Their families find out only after the hanging."

By Paul Wiseman and Naoko Nishiwaki (USA Today, 12/23/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/26/2008)

"Stalker judge Yoshiharu Shimoyama fired

"Judge Yoshiharu Shimoyama has been impeached following his conviction under the Anti-Stalking Law for repeatedly e-mailing to a woman.

"The Diet's Judges Impeachment Court stripped 55-year-old Shimoyama, a judge at the Utsunomiya District Court, of his legal license on Wednesday. He is the first judge to be impeached in Japan since a Tokyo High Court judge was dismissed seven years ago after being convicted under the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the sixth in history.

"House of Councillors member Iwao Matsuda, who presided over the trial, said Shimoyama "has no conscience or dignity as a judge."

""It was outrageous that he sent e-mails to the victim while knowing that his actions constituted a crime. He betrayed the public's trust in him," Presiding Judge Matsuda added.

"The court added that the incident came as a shock to the public and badly damaged the public's trust in the judicial authorities at a crucial time, as Japan prepares to introduce the lay judge system.

"The impeachment court then concluded that his actions fall under immoral conduct that badly damages his dignity as a judge, for which judges can be sacked under the Law for Impeachment of Judges.

"Shimoyama was sentenced in an earlier criminal trial to six months in prison, suspended for two years, for sending a subordinate in her 20s anonymous e-mails, including some of a sexual nature, on 16 occasions between February and March this year. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

"Under Article 78 of the Constitution, judges cannot be dismissed except by public impeachment unless judicially declared mentally or physically incompetent to perform official duties. They can be impeached only if two-thirds or more of the 14 judges in the Diet's Judges Impeachment Court agree on the decision. The Judges Impeachment Court comprises seven members of the House of Representatives and seven from the House of Councillors. Impeached judges cannot appeal the Judges Impeachment Court's decision, and automatically lose their legal licenses and pensions.

"However, judges can ask the Judges Impeachment Court to restore their license five or more years after they are impeached."

By Mainichi Shimbun (12/25/2008), Link to article (last visited 2008/12/26)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Executives sued for stance over diseased kidney transplant

"MATSUYAMA--A group of kidney disease patients filed a damages suit against five executives of The Japan Society for Transplantation on Wednesday, claiming the society violated their right to choose medical treatment by encouraging a ban on diseased kidney transplants.

"In the suit filed with the Matsuyama District Court, the seven plaintiffs--three who underwent kidney transplants and four who are on artificial dialysis--in Ehime Prefecture demanded about 60 million yen in compensation from the five executives, including the society director.

"According to the suit, the society erroneously stated in March last year that transplanting diseased kidneys is experimental medical care and denied the validity of the procedure.

"The suit further claims that the society's stance led the central government to ban the transplants in principle, even though they are an indispensable form of treatment.

"The group also plans to file a suit against the central government over its revision in July last year of guidelines for the Organ Transplant Law to ban the transplants in principle, demanding state compensation and acceptance of the transplants.

"Shinichi Oshima, a defendant in the case and the president of the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology who was serving as vice director of the society at the time of the statement, said: "I just stated an opinion as an expert based on the medical standard at the time. I didn't intend to violate the rights of patients.""

By Yomiuri Shimbun (12/11/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/13/2008)

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Diet passes bill granting Japanese nationality to children born out of wedlock

"The Diet on Friday passed a bill to revise the Nationality Law, which had been blasted as unconstitutional and discriminatory against children of mixed couples born out of wedlock.

"However, the discussions in the Diet did not go as smoothly as planned because of concerns over fake nationality claims and even some xenophobic messages from the public.

"The revised law will allow children born to an unwed Japanese father and foreign mother to claim Japanese nationality if the father recognizes paternity. Under the old law, children whose fathers recognized paternity before birth were granted Japanese nationality. But those who were recognized after birth could not gain nationality unless their parents got married.

"The Justice Ministry estimates that between 600 and 700 children a year will become eligible for Japanese nationality under the revised law, which will apply to children born after January 2003.

"The bill passed by an overwhelming majority, with support from the ruling coalition, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

"Only three days of deliberations were enough to pass the legislation in both chambers of the Diet, thanks largely to an agreement reached between the LDP and Minshuto, the largest opposition party, to enact the revised law as soon as possible.

"The government submitted the bill to the Diet in November, following a Supreme Court ruling in June that said a provision in the Nationality Law barring children born out of wedlock from attaining nationality was "unreasonably discriminatory and unconstitutional."

"However, nine lawmakers from the opposition camp or independents voted against the bill, saying it lacked measures to prevent false nationality claims. Three LDP members abstained from voting.

"Concerns about the bill started to intensify just before the Lower House unanimously passed the bill on Nov. 18.

"About 100 lawmakers, mainly from the LDP, created a parliamentarian league calling for measures, such as DNA tests, to prevent false nationality claims.

"The ruling party, eager to have the bill passed swiftly, warned members of the Lower House legal affairs committee that they would be replaced if they voted against the bill.

"As a result, several members abstained from voting in the Lower House plenary session, and deliberations were completed in one day.

"But after the bill was sent to the Upper House, objections were raised by members of Minshuto, which holds the most seats in the chamber. Some opposition lawmakers criticized the lack of debate on the bill in the Lower House.

"Citizens opposed to the bill had inundated high-ranking officials and lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps with faxes and e-mail messages.

"One Lower House member's office received enough faxes to create a 20-centimeter-high stack. Although most of the messages called for further revisions to stipulate DNA tests, at least one citizen, apparently concerned about the Japanese identity, said, "Japan will be overrun."

"The Upper House committee devoted about seven hours over two days to deliberate the bill, about twice the amount of time in the Lower House.

"The concerns over false claims stemmed from an increasing number of cases in which foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan for a long time arrange fake marriages with Japanese citizens to gain legal resident status.

"Critics of the bill said that without the marriage requirement, some foreign women could pay Japanese men to falsely claim paternal recognition to acquire nationality for the children and obtain legal status for themselves to stay in the country.

"To address the fears over false nationality claims, the ruling coalition and Minshuto submitted an additional resolution to the Upper House legal affairs committee. The resolution, which was adopted along with the bill on Friday, calls for the government to report on the application of the revised law every six months, as well as the need to introduce such measures as DNA tests to prevent abuse of the system.

"In addition, the parties included a clause in the law that makes fake nationality claims punishable by a prison term of up to one year or a maximum fine of 200,000 yen.

"Although crime experts say DNA tests could remove any doubts about paternity, Justice Ministry officials remain cautious about adopting the procedure, saying it could create a new form of discrimination against children of foreign parents. The Supreme Court's ruling in June recognized Japanese nationality for all 10 plaintiffs--children born out of wedlock to Filipino mothers and Japanese fathers.

"Following the ruling, the Justice Ministry began work to lift the marriage requirement in the Nationality Law.

"While the revised law could have an immediate effect of hundreds of children, it will also open the door for such children who live in their mother's countries."

By Asahi Shimbun (12/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/5/2008)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"New Supreme Court justice

"The Supreme Court's new chief justice took office Nov. 25. Mr. Hironobu Takesaki, who had served as head of the Tokyo High Court since February 2007, was promoted to the highest post of Japan's judiciary over the heads of 14 justices of the Supreme Court. This is the first time in 48 years that chief justice has been appointed without first serving as justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Takesaki will serve in the new position until July 2014, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

"Former chief justice Jiro Shimada retired on Nov. 21 after heading the top court for slightly more than two years. It is said that Mr. Shimada recommended that Mr. Takesaki succeed him, demonstrating his high level of trust in him. It is also believed that the relatively young Mr. Takesaki, who will be able to serve as chief justice for about five years and eight months, was chosen so that the Supreme Court can tide over a possible change of government without being swayed by it.

"Mr. Takesaki, an expert on criminal cases, was dispatched by the Supreme Court to the United States in 1988 to study its jury system. From 1997 to 2006, he served in important positions of the top court's secretariat. He displayed strong leadership in introducing the lay judge system, under which citizens will sit together with professional judges and try serious criminal cases.

"The lay judge system, which will start in May 2009, is a major reform in the nation's legal system in recent years. The choice of Mr. Takesaki as chief justice points to the Supreme Court's strong determination to have the lay judge system take roots in Japanese society.

"As Mr. Takesaki said, while the system helps deepen citizens' understanding of and trust in the nation's legal system, it also imposes some burdens on them. He and the Supreme Court should continually try to detect and solve problems related to the lay judge system to ensure fair trials and the smooth participation of citizens. The Supreme Court under Mr. Takesaki also should not shy away from passing clear rulings on constitutionality questions of important issues."

By Editorial (Japan Times, 12/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/3/2008)

"Companies plan for citizen judge start

"With the new citizen judge system just months away, companies are trying to figure out ways to cope with possible interruptions to their business caused by staff forced to take leave.

"Companies are also trying to lessen the burden on such employees by creating new paid leave or arranging mental care for those who could be traumatized by dealing with crimes in court.

"Small businesses, however, fear participation by their employees will result in a serious worker shortage. They are asking for special consideration to allow their workers to decline to serve.

"Starting Saturday, the first crop of citizen judge candidates began receiving notices from the Supreme Court that they had been selected for the system that starts in May.

"Department store chain Takashimaya Co. on the same day posted on its in-house website details about special leave created in April 2007 to allow citizen judge service. Both full-time and part-time workers of the stores will be paid wages for their days in court, the company said.

"Under the new system, six citizens will join three professional judges to try serious crimes such as murder. Seven in 10 trials are expected to end within three days, but some could last for a week or more.

"Toyota Motor Corp. plans to create a special leave. It is urging workers receiving notices to consult their section chiefs about work schedules.

"Toyota says it needs to know who may be called up so it can adjust assignments for long business trips.

"Delivery service Sagawa Express Co. will not pay for additional leave, but it still wants employees to report when they receive notices, as other workers may have to be assigned to cover their work areas while they attend trials.

"Meanwhile, shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines told employees who spend most of their year at sea to advise the court that "it is difficult" for them to serve.

"According to a survey by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry in October, only one in four small or midsize firms has set special court leave, or plans to do so.

"Many small firms said they could not afford to spare workers to serve and asked for special exemptions, it said.

"Some businesses also worry about how the trials will affect their employees.

"Job information firm Recruit Co. will have its managers, together with doctors, take care of employees' mental health after they serve as judges. A Recruit official said courts should try to avoid showing explicit crime photos to citizen judges.

"A call center set up by the top court received 3,890 inquiries and complaints from citizens on Monday alone."

By Asahi Shimbun(12/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/3/2008)

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Govt to revise laws on family courts

"The central government is likely to revise the domestic relations law, which stipulates judicial procedures concerning mediation and arbitration by family courts, it was learned Saturday.

"The planned revision is expected to clarify the handling of cases by family courts, which has been largely left to their discretion, and aims to standardize procedures and enhance transparency.

"The justice minister will give a summary draft of the revision in February to the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the minister, to seek panel members' opinions.

"The law concerns issues handled by family courts, such as inheritance and guardianship, but excludes such cases as juvenile crimes and divorce lawsuits.

"The number of cases dealt with under the law is increasing yearly, and reached about 580,000 cases in 2007.

"The current law details what subjects are eligible for court trials, but many other procedural issues--such as whether to permit public access to or copying of family court trial records, and whether to allow trial testimony by all those concerned with a case--have been left to the discretion of each family court, which has raised criticism.

"In one case filed with a family court regarding the division of budgetary expenses by a married couple, the wife appealed to a higher court, but the court did not notify her husband of the appeal, leading the higher court to issue a decision against the husband's interest.

"The Supreme Court judged in May that the court should have notified the husband of his wife's appeal by sending a written letter and acknowledged a procedural problem in how the case was handled.

"The Legislative Council members are expected to discuss such issues as whether to ensure an occasion for the family courts to hear opinions of people involved in cases that tend to involve disputes, such as inheritance-related ones.

"The central government is also likely to revise a separate law on noncontentious cases since that law has rarely been updated since being enacted in 1898."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (11/23/2008), Link to article (last visited 11/24/2008)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Tokyo war crimes trial

"Wednesday marked the 60th anniversary of the verdicts handed down by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The Tokyo war crimes trial found 25 Japanese politicians and top military officers guilty. The convicted war criminals included wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and six others who were sentenced to death and hanged.

"Even though the trial was held long ago, it is still the subject of bitter controversy. In his controversial essay that justified Japan's past colonial rule and military aggression, Toshio Tamogami, who was ousted as Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff for going against the official government position on the issue, argued that the Tokyo trial's acknowledgment of Japan's war crimes still deludes Japanese people as if mind control is at work.

"How one views the Tokyo trial and its Nov. 12, 1948, verdicts has a direct bearing on the issue of whether a Japanese prime minister should refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto facility in Tokyo which honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with the nation's war dead. The controversy over the trial is inseparably linked to politics.

"Debate on the Tokyo trial tends to be charged with emotions. What we should understand first, though, is the indisputable fact that the Tokyo trial is an extremely complicated subject. Debate on the trial from the simple black-and-white viewpoint of whether it was "victors' justice" or "civilization's justice" never leads to an assessment that can convince everyone. Trying to settle the controversy on the complex topic by framing it as a simple question of right or wrong will resolve nothing.

"Let us clarify key issues. It is true that there were some serious problems with the Tokyo trial. Critics question the legitimacy of the trial by pointing out that the defendants were charged with crimes that didn't exist in international law in the period leading up to and including World War II, such as "crimes against peace" and "crimes against humanity." It was, the critics say, improper application of a retroactive law.

"The Tokyo war tribunal punished Japan's war crimes but didn't consider American acts of dubious legality, such as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bench was composed only of justices from the Allied powers. And the selection of the defendants was arbitrary and not based on clearly defined criteria.

"On the other hand, the important historical roles played by the trial should not be forgotten. It cast an illuminating light on how Japan embarked on the course of war and held Japanese leaders accountable for the national disaster. This helped the nation put its wartime past behind it and thus paved the way for postwar progress.

"By accepting the judgments of the tribunal as it regained sovereignty, Japan was able to return to the community of nations. Along with the Nuremberg Trials, which tried leaders of Nazi Germany for war crimes, the Tokyo trial contributed to the development of international law to address war crimes.

"It is necessary to acknowledge both the positive and negative aspects of the Tokyo war tribunal. The wise approach would be to try to derive the full benefit from the positive roles it played while paying attention to its flaws.

"Even if the trial process was imperfect, that doesn't negate the fact that Japan invaded its Asian neighbors and eventually plunged into a reckless war with the United States, causing immense human casualties. The trial's flaws do not diminish Japan's guilt or responsibility.

"There should be no more attempts to dredge up nationalistic sentiments by focusing only on elements of history that are favorable to nationalistic views. Globalization has made it impossible for Japanese to continue living in myths embraced only by a handful of their countrymen.

"How can Japan be respected by the international community if it keeps blaming others for its mistakes?"

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 2008/11/14), Link to article (last visited 2008/11/16)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Relax rules to allow more organ transplants

"How wide has the organ transplant brokerage business for Japanese spread abroad?

"The Japanese police have started investigating an organization that brokered organ transplants in China for Japanese recipients.

"Japan's Organ Transplant Law, which prohibits providing or brokering organs for profit, also can be enforced when Japanese are found to have violated the law abroad. The police must investigate thoroughly to determine the full extent of this case.

"However, the investigation into the organ transplant brokerage organization began under rather complicated circumstances.

"A Japanese man, who headed the organization, was arrested in China for allegedly violating provisions implemented last year to prohibit the selling and buying of organs. But a Chinese court did not prosecute the man for the illegality of his organ brokerage business. Instead, he was found guilty of falsely advertising his organ transplant business and was deported to Japan on Tuesday.


"Test of Japan-China cooperation

"It is said that more than 10,000 organ transplants are conducted annually in China, with most of the organs taken from death-row inmates. Since organ transplants there are not based on good-will donations from those who are designated as brain-dead following an accident or through natural causes, it is easy to imagine that money is paid under the table for the organs.

"Such circumstances in China might have played a part in the Japanese man not being prosecuted over his role in the organ transplant brokerage business. Since China did not prosecute him, the Japanese police now have good reason to investigate what he did in that country.

"Whether the police can charge him with a criminal offense essentially depends on the cooperation of Chinese investigative authorities. This will become the first case to test an agreement on criminal investigation cooperation between Japan and China that is set to go into force at the end of this month.


"Law doesn't fit situation

"Behind the brokering of organs abroad is the fact that it is very difficult to receive an organ transplant operation in Japan.

"Only 76 transplant operations have been carried out using organs from brain-dead donors since the Organ Transplant Law was implemented in 1997 because extremely strict regulations--not found in any other country--are imposed on such transplants in Japan.

"In addition to consent from donors made on special cards or in other forms of writing, permission is needed from the families of brain-dead people to have organs transplanted. Also, under the regulations, only those aged 15 or older are deemed capable of giving consent for donating their organs. This means it is almost impossible for babies and toddlers to receive heart and other organ transplants in Japan because the organs of people aged 15 or older are too big.

"This forces many people, including babies, toddlers and even adults, to travel abroad to receive organ transplants.

"Several bills to revise the Organ Transplant Law have been submitted to the Diet, including one that would allow organ transplants through the agreement of family members if consent of the brain-dead person cannot be obtained, which is similar to laws in many other countries.

"However, it is strange why lawmakers are not deliberating on these bills.

"While Japan restricts the transplant of organs from brain-dead donors in this country, the Japanese are going abroad to receive organs--essentially they are buying the organs. This situation should not last forever."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 11/14/2008), Link to article (last visited 11/15/2008)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Influencing immigration

"Has it happened again? Did politicians try to exert their influence over government offices, asking them for favors?

"This time, the story is about issuing visas to Filipinas entering Japan.

"In 2006, Leyte Island in the Philippines was hit by a massive landslide. Some Filipino women who had entered Japan without acquiring entertainment visas were allowed in on grounds that they were to appear in charity concerts to aid Leyte Island residents. But it turned out that they were actually working as bar hostesses. The Shizuoka prefectural police arrested a bar owner and others on suspicion that they had violated the immigration control law and the Adult Entertainment Business Regulation Law, and searched some places including the office of the private group that acted as guarantor for the women.

"According to investigations, the nonprofit group was being run, for all intents and purposes, by a former state-funded secretary for Masatoshi Kurata, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and senior vice minister for internal affairs and communications.

"Not only that, officials of both the Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministry have disclosed that Kurata and his former aide had approached the two ministries to expedite the issue of short-stay visas for the Filipinas.

"If Kurata and his aide did indeed try to exert influence, then this cannot be overlooked. Issuance of entertainment visas is strictly restricted. Their alleged actions are tantamount to assisting illegal activities.

"Kurata flatly denies the allegations, saying, "I have never tried to exert influence." But then, what about the charges that Kurata had said, "Please help out with the charity"?

"Kurata admits he knew that his former aide was involved in the organizing of the concerts. The former secretary had originally explained that the visas were issued because, "a supporter had asked Kurata for help, and Kurata had instructed me to look into it." However, this aide later backtracked and denied Kurata had given him any instructions.

"Where is the truth? We hope Kurata will provide a convincing explanation about his involvement with the private group, and how the visas were issued.

"Because Kurata is senior vice minister for internal affairs and communications, the government is required to look into the matter and determine the facts. Of course, law enforcement authorities also need to investigate the case.

"There is something else that has come to light.

"Japan has long been criticized here and abroad for "human trafficking," that is, for allowing foreign women to work as bar hostesses. This latest scandal has brought to light the reality that these things are still going on.

"Most of these women tended to come to Japan as dancers and singers, and enter with entertainment visas. That is why there has been a crackdown on such visas since 2005, with much stricter requirements. Since then, the number of women entering with these visas dropped drastically, but the latest incident shows that other types of visas are now being used as covers.

"If such loopholes are increasingly being used, then the matter is serious. If nothing is done, and such activities are allowed to continue, then it would seem as if the Japanese authorities are ignoring the problem. Japan's international credibility will plummet.

"Unless there is also something done about this situation, there will be no fundamental solution."

By Editorial (Asahi Shimbun, 10/20/2008), Link to article (last visited 10/22/2008)

"Law hinders press freedoms

"A revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure enacted in 2004 prohibits lawyers and defendants from showing or handing copies of evidence they have received from the prosecution to third parties. It also prohibits posting such copies on the Internet. When the revision bill was submitted to the Diet, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations opposed it, saying it would not only diminish the right of defendants to defend themselves but also run counter to the freedom of the press and the principle of a trial being open to the public. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association also criticized the bill, saying it could lead to restriction of reporters' news gathering activities.

"What these organizations feared is now happening. In the past, reporters were able to view materials such as an investigator's record of a suspect's oral statements if they established a relationship of trust with lawyers. But these days it is impossible for reporters to do so, because lawyers fear falling victim to the harsh penalties contained in the revision. Violators, including former lawyers and former defendants, face imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to ¥500,000.

"Under the revision, public prosecutors can present evidence to lawyers before the start of a trial and both parties can narrow down the points of contention — a system designed to shorten the time needed to complete a trial process, which will be necessary when a lay judge system is introduced next year. Along with the introduction of the system, penalties were introduced to prevent the passing of copies of evidence to third parties.

"The government said the penalties were necessary to prevent disclosures over the Internet that infringe on privacy and to dissuade profiteering from online sales of copies of evidence. But these copies help prevent false charges, ensuring accurate news reporting and informing law experts. The government should consider revising the law so that lawyers and defendants who pass copies of evidence to third parties for legitimate purposes are not punished."

By Editorial (Japan Times, 10/21/2008), Link to article (last visited 10/22/2008)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Miura's baffling suicide

"An investigation into a 27-year-old murder has come to a shocking and abrupt end.

"Kazuyoshi Miura, a former trading company president and the key figure in the 1981 shooting of his wife, Kazumi, in Los Angeles, killed himself in a Los Angeles Police Department holding cell on Friday.

"Miura was visiting the U.S. territory of Saipan in February when he was arrested by U.S. police for his alleged involvement in the fatal shooting of his wife 27 years ago. She died in Japan in 1982.

"Just before his suicide, Miura had been flown into Los Angeles, having failed to have the February arrest warrant revoked.

"When guards reportedly checked on Miura 10 minutes before he was found unconscious, they found nothing out of the ordinary. However, it is apparent that Miura was not being monitored closely enough.

"There is also the question of how far the LAPD was aware of Miura's state of mind at the time.

"The LAPD must disclose the circumstances immediately before and after Miura's suicide, and explain exactly how the chain of command worked at the holding center. The Japanese government should certainly insist on this.

"This has been an unusual case indeed.

"When Miura's wife was fatally shot in Los Angeles, Miura was at her side, and he, too, was injured. After his return to Japan, he was arrested by Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of murder. Miura protested his innocence, but the Tokyo District Court found him guilty in 1994.

"However, because the prosecution could not pinpoint Miura's "accomplice who actually pulled the trigger," the appellate court reversed the lower court decision and found him innocent in 1998. The Supreme Court acquitted him in 2003.

"Five years later, however, the LAPD reopened the case and arrested Miura for alleged conspiracy to murder. Miura protested in vain that the arrest did not stand up to the law, and he reportedly told his close acquaintances that he would "fight it out in Los Angeles."

"So why did he commit suicide? We are really baffled. Surely, he had the option of presenting his argument in a U.S. court of law. Did he suddenly lose his nerve after more than seven months in detention? Or was his suicide his ultimate act of protest against his arrest? We will never know, of course, but the outcome could not have been more shocking and distressing.

"At the time of his arrest in February, it was speculated that the LAPD had obtained some new, damning evidence against him. If that was true, what was this evidence? If not, on what grounds were the U.S. investigators going to make the prosecution stick?

"With Miura dead, there will be no trial in Los Angeles. But we truly hope U.S. authorities will reveal what they knew while ensuring that the rights of all surviving individuals involved in this case are protected.

"The case will always be remembered as a media circus rather than a criminal investigation proper. It became fodder for weekly gossip magazines and TV entertainment shows, where innuendoes and groundless rumors trumped hard facts. Miura himself fired away a string of libel suits, many of which he won.

"Actually, the whole sordid mess served to jolt the mass media into re-examining its brand of "journalism."

"We still do not know who pulled the trigger that killed Kazumi. At this point, all we can hope for is that U.S. investigators will get to the bottom of what really happened. And we certainly do not want the truth to remain buried forever."

By Editorial (Asahi Shimbun, 10/15/2008), Link to article (last visited 10/15/2008)

※Miura's acquittal:
Tokyo District Court, Decision of 31 March 1994, Hanrei Jihou 1502-48.
Tokyo High Court, Decision of 1 July 1998, Hanrei Jihou 1655-3.
Supreme Court, Third Petty Bench, Decision of 5 March 2003.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Surrogate baby readies for Japan

"Ten week old Majhi, a surrogate baby born in Gujarat and living with her grandmother with a family friend in Jaipur, is expected to get her travel documents to fly to her native country Japan very soon.

"On Monday, her caretakers in Jaipur submitted request for travel documents and regional passport officer Sharavan Kumar indicated willingness to release these soon.

"Majhi was made victim of media hype as questions were raised on how she could travel to Japan when her surrogate mother was an Indian. Passport agents as also doctors, who helped in surrogacy, had however told India Today two months ago that even in the past such babies had travelled abroad on travel documents.

"However, speculations and suggestions made were as weird as that the baby be made to stay in India forever to her being first adopted in India and then being allowed to go.

"Those knowing the facts well and in trade were shocked by such suggestions as her father, a surgeon is Japan, was known and alive and her surrogate mother had given consent for her release signing documents surrendering her rights altogether.

"Given that it was an anonymous Indian donor donating the egg, even the role of the girl's father's wife, who lived separately, was of no consequence. Media hype was further fuelled by refusal of the local passport office to consider her application for travel documents.

"Making things worse, an NGO moved Rajasthan High Court and sought stay on the baby's travel abroad besides demanding its custody, a move which later did not find favour with Supreme Court, which made it clear that there was no law stopping the baby from going abroad. The Supreme Court did not go into details over the issue.

"While everyone hopes little Majhi travels to her father as early as possible, the entire episode brings into light how a wrong media hype based on ignorance does not even spare a baby."

By Rohit Parihar (10/14/2008), India Today, Link to article (last visited 10/14/2008)

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The fatal flaw in trying to impose a new interpretation on Article 9

"PHILADELPHIA — The report of the "Panel on the Reconstruction of the National Security Legal Foundation," commonly known as the Yanai Report, argues that a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution is necessary to permit Japan to participate in collective self-defense and collective security operations. Both activities are currently understood to be prohibited by Article 9, Section 1. The report reveals, however, a fundamental flaw that entirely undermines the legitimacy of the panel's analysis.

"The panel was created in April 2007 by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider the need for a "reinterpretation" of the Constitution. The panel was composed of 13 prominent academics, former diplomats and government bureaucrats who were predominantly experts in international relations, politics and national security. It included only one constitutional scholar. The panel was criticized for being dominated by policy hawks who were on record as favoring constitutional revision. The chair, Yanai Shunji, a former ambassador to the U.S. and now a professor of Chuo University, submitted the panel's report to the Cabinet in June.

"Then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda showed little interest in the report or constitutional "reinterpretation." But Prime Minister Aso reiterated while at the United Nations that Article 9 should be "reinterpreted." Moreover, there is evidence that the Yanai Report has been well received within the bureaucracy, and is likely to exercise increasing influence within government. It should therefore be the subject of greater public scrutiny.

"The report argues that because the international security environment has changed since the end of the Cold War, with increased threats and more diverse threats to Japan and the international society, the established interpretation of the Constitution is no longer appropriate. Rather, Article 9 is preventing the fulfillment of important security objectives.

"Thus, it argues, the interpretation of Article 9 must be "revised" so as to permit the development of a more effective defense capability and more robust national security policies. This is necessary in order to implement the strategic imperatives of effectively defending Japan, supporting the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is key to Japanese security, and contributing to the international peace and security to which Japan's security is tied. Boiled down to its essence, the argument is this: Japan faces more threats; therefore, the meaning of Article 9 must be changed so that we can better meet those threats.

"The policy analysis is commendable, but as constitutional analysis, the argument is fallacious. The entire approach of beginning with an identification of the problems posed by current circumstances, moving to a determination of the policy responses necessary to resolve those problems, and then concluding with an interpretation of a constitutional provision so as to facilitate the adoption of such policies, is entirely illegitimate.

"Constitutional interpretation, under any accepted constitutional theory, cannot begin with the consequences and policy ramifications of a given provision and then proceed to reverse-engineer the meaning of the provision in a manner designed to enable the realization of the desired policy outcomes. Such result-oriented reasoning is simply invalid. And notwithstanding assertions within the report to the contrary, this is precisely what the panel has done.

"A constitution forms the fundamental legal framework of a democratic state. Its provisions commit future generations to operate within the confines of the system thus created, and according to the values and vision that it embodies. The meaning of a constitutional provision has to be determined by reference to the text of the provision itself, and an understanding of the purpose that it was designed to achieve. That process is assisted by reference to other parts of the constitution, and an examination of the history of the drafting and ratification of the constitution, informed by the legal principles that were drawn upon in the process.

"The subsequent interpretation of the provision by the courts and other government bodies with the requisite constitutional authority, and its operation over time, are also important guides to interpretation, as consistency, stability and predictability in the operation of fundamental legal principles are crucially important to the rule of law.

"There are different theories of constitutional interpretation, some more wedded to the text and the original intent of the framers than others. Some approaches emphasize that the constitution is a living institution that will evolve gradually over time through incremental developments in court interpretations, in accordance with the shifting values and realities of the nation. But none of them contemplate ad hoc and radical government reinterpretation of provisions to fit perceived policy needs.

"If there is such significant change to the nation's circumstances that the continued legitimacy of a constitutional provision is thrown into question, then the appropriate avenue is constitutional amendment. Changing circumstances and even changing values are obviously anticipated, and amending procedures are typically part of the constitutional system. The Constitution of Japan is no exception, and it has an amendment process that is less onerous than those of Germany and the United States.

"Ad hoc "reinterpretation," particularly by the executive, is just an end run around the legitimate amendment procedures of the Constitution.

"If the view is that the majority of the nation would not support such an amendment, then that simply highlights the illegitimacy of trying to impose a new meaning on the Constitution that the majority of the people would disagree with. At root, the argument that "the situation has changed, so we must change the Constitution" is perfectly valid; the argument that "the situation has changed, so the meaning of the Constitution must have changed" is not.

"If the government can simply "reinterpret" Article 9 due to changing circumstances, why not other provisions? As the number of immigrants in Japan increases in response to the challenges of an aging population, could the government not also "reinterpret" Article 14 as no longer prohibiting discrimination against foreigners? A "reinterpretation" of any one provision puts the entire constitutional framework at risk. Of course, the courts have the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution and could reject such "reinterpretations," but the Supreme Court of Japan has historically demonstrated such deference to the government that it cannot be relied upon in this context.

"Consider the issue of guns in the U.S. Many Americans, and probably most of the rest of the world, think it misguided to have a constitutional provision guaranteeing an individual right to possess firearms in a country that has the highest homicide and violent crime rates in the industrialized world. The provision itself, the Second Amendment, was ratified more than 200 years ago. It is considered by many to be anachronistic and a significant obstacle in efforts to reduce the modern scourge of gun violence in America.

"Yet it is utterly inconceivable that the president or Congress could announce that it was "reinterpreting" the Second Amendment so as to permit the legal prohibition of all firearms. And the Second Amendment is much more ambiguous and has a much more complex history than Article 9. It would be open to argue, as the District of Columbia did recently before the Supreme Court, that based on valid principles of constitutional construction, an alternate interpretation is more legitimate. But governments cannot simply claim that the Second Amendment now means something different because guns kill too many people in America.

"The Yanai Report provides an important analysis of the changing international security environment, and provides a concise articulation of Japan's strategic policy requirements. It asks important questions regarding whether it is possible for Japan to meet its national security objectives within the constraints of Article 9.

"It also offers significant arguments that could be legitimately advanced in favor of constitutional amendment. The report even provides fairly detailed and impressive recommendations on the legal limits that should be created to govern the exercise of military force that would be made possible by its recommended changes. The report has considerable value as a policy document.

"However, its conclusion that Article 9 must thus have a meaning different from the long-established interpretation is simply invalid. The panel makes errors in some of the details of its interpretive arguments, but these are dwarfed by the illegitimacy of the entire approach.

"As such, notwithstanding the potential value of its policy analysis, the report ought not to have any influence whatsoever on the meaning of the Constitution. And government attempts to follow it ought to be challenged."

By Craig Martin (10/5/2008), Japan Times, Link to article (last visited 10/13/2008)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Koizumi's misinterpretation of the Constitution leaves a sense of shame

"Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has announced his retirement from politics. I cannot quite figure out what his true intentions are -- does he want to have his son succeed him while his influence is still visible, or does he just sense that it is time to quit, or is it yet some other reason?

"In the upcoming general election, both ruling and opposition parties are expected to argue about the demerits of reforms led by Koizumi. Since he retained a long-term administration, it certainly had merits and demerits. But I want to talk about another disgraceful issue.

"As I was recently re-reading a book by journalist and Akutagawa Award laureate Yo Henmi titled "Ima Koko ni Arukoto no Haji" ("The Shame of Existing Here") published by the Mainichi Newspapers, it dawned on me that an offense against the Constitution had been committed.

"It was on Dec. 9, 2003. Koizumi, then prime minister, held a press conference to explain Japan's dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. He stressed that Japan is expected by the international community to perform activities that are in line with the principles of the Constitution.

"What Henmi is furious about most -- calling it "the biggest stigma after the war" -- is that Koizumi skipped an important paragraph in the preface of the Constitution and instead only read out the latter part that said, "We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society."

""He dared to tell the world the spirit of the pacifist Constitution with an inaccurate interpretation," Henmi fumes in his book.

"The author also directs his criticism at the media. "Was there any reporter who questioned Koizumi over his remarks?"

"If I were there at the press conference, I also would have let his remarks pass.

"Looking back now, it really strikes me that rather than destroying the old Liberal Democratic Party as he pledged, Koizumi actually destroyed the Constitution. In fact, the Nagoya High Court acknowledged in April this year that the aerial transportation activities of the Air Self-Defense Force in Iraq violated Article 9 of the Constitution.

"Watching Junichiro Koizumi leaving Japan's political hub of Nagatacho makes me realize my own shame."

By Chikahiro Hiroiwa (10/8/2008), Mainichi Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 10/9/2008)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Defamation Suit: Osaka Governor

"A Hiroshima court Thursday ordered Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto, who is known for his sharp tongue, to pay 8 million yen in damages for a comment he made on television when he was a practicing lawyer and TV personality. The ruling basically said he was unfit to be a lawyer.

"In May 2007, Hashimoto commented on a 1999 murder case in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hashimoto criticized the defense lawyers for the accused, who was a minor when he killed a mother and her infant daughter, and called on viewers to file complaints for disciplinary action against the team if they agreed with him that the defense arguments were absurd fabrication.

"The remark triggered a barrage of requests for punitive measures against the defense lawyers, who, in turn, sued Hashimoto for damages. The Hiroshima District Court on Thursday ruled in favor of the lawyers. It stated that Hashimoto "does not have a proper understanding of the mission and responsibilities of lawyers who protect the basic human rights of minorities."

"He should be ashamed of his behavior.

"The accused in the Hikari murder case initially admitted to the charges against him in the district and high courts and was sentenced to life in prison. However, the Supreme Court decided that the life sentence was too lenient and referred the case back to the Hiroshima High Court, where the accused, then 27, reversed his testimony and denied he intended to kill the victims or attacked the woman to rape her.

"Referring to the reversed testimony of the accused during his appearance on the TV show produced by Osaka-based Yomiuri Telecasting Corp., Hashimoto blasted the lawyers.

"He called on the pubic to demand local bar associations to take disciplinary action against the defense lawyers, adding that "if many people filed complaints, bar associations would have no choice but to punish them."

"With regard to Hashimoto's remarks, the Hiroshima District Court noted that it is not uncommon in criminal cases for the accused to change his or her testimony. Given that Hashimoto is a lawyer, it said he should have avoided jumping to conclusions on whether the testimony was fabricated by the defense team. It added that his remarks were groundless and constituted libel.

"We doubt Hashimoto really understands that it is the job of lawyers to defend the interests and rights of their clients. Just because methods of defense teams do not meet generally accepted common sense or Hashimoto's personal views, it is not right for a lawyer to incite the public to file requests for punitive measures against them.

"In the Hikari case, TV reports that one-sidedly blasted the accused and his defense for reversing testimony and denying his intent to kill were aired one after another. The Committee for the Investigation of Broadcasting Ethics of the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization (BPO) harshly criticized the making of such programs, saying they deviate from the principle of fairness.

"It is a matter of course that broadcasters are to blame for airing such biased programs. But the responsibility of Hashimoto, who appeared on TV as a legal expert, is even more serious. His controversial remark set off a move on the Internet to seek punitive action against the lawyers and led to an unusual situation in which a total of more than 8,000 complaints were filed across the nation.

"After the ruling, Hashimoto apologized to the defense lawyers but at the same time, he said he intended to appeal. If he seriously accepts the ruling, he should not appeal. Moreover, he should voluntarily surrender his qualification as a lawyer. If the public sees his apology only as a token gesture, they could also question his qualities as a governor."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 10/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 10/5/2008)

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Court surveys companies over lay judge system

"Ahead of next May's planned introduction of the lay judge system, the Tokyo District Court has begun surveying various companies on the possible impact of the system in the workplace and the type of obstacles likely to be faced by employees should they be chosen to act as citizen judges, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

"The move is aimed at gathering information needed to assess the extent to which people will be able to refuse serving as a citizen judge, officials from the court said.

"The accumulated data and information will be stored in a database for future reference.

"Citizen judges will be chosen from a list of potential candidates drawn from among eligible voters. However, people can refuse to serve as a lay judge if they cite serious disruption to their work or personal life. Professional judges will decide whether to accept the reasons for the refusal."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (9/25/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/29/2008)

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Supreme Court Justice

"Ryuko Sakurai, who was recently appointed as a Supreme Court justice, is as old as the Constitution, which she is obligated to uphold.

"Sakurai, 61, is the first top court justice born after World War II and the third woman appointed to the post.

"When she was a division chief at the Labor Ministry--a predecessor of today's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry--she participated in the creation of the now defunct Child-rearing Leave Law.

"She arranged compromises between employers and workers, and prepared the law comprising 17 articles after many struggles.

""[The creation of] any law is the result of the sweat and tears of people involved. I'll interpret laws from a humanistic point of view," she said.

"People who know Sakurai describe her as a policy expert with a strong character.

"When she was loaned to the Osaka prefectural government, Sakurai experienced the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. As chief of the citizens and culture division of the prefectural government, she worked for disaster relief. After resigning from the Labor Ministry, she worked as a member of the Cabinet Office's panel for information disclosure. At the time, she demanded the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry disclose the names of hospitals to which fibrinogen--a blood product including tainted units that caused hepatitis--was distributed.

"At her previous post, the ministry disagreed with her demands on the grounds medical institutions would suffer. Sakurai said, "Nothing is more important than people's lives."

"Sakurai lives with her husband and a cat one of her friends found on the street. Her motto is "do my best."

"Her hobbies include skiing, mushroom hunting and pottery. She made all of the cups and plates in her kitchen. When asked about her pottery, Sakurai laughed and said, "I never felt the pottery I made was good enough." She added she will use a potter's wheel to clear her mind if she has a hard time with courtroom trials."

Dai Adachi, Yomiuri Shimbun (9/20/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/22/2008)

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Court orders school to pay damages to lightning strike victim

"The Takamatsu High Court has ordered a high school and athletics association to pay about 307 million yen in damages to a 28-year-old man who was struck by lightning during a school soccer match in 1996, leaving him severely disabled.

"The man, Mitsutoshi Kitamura, and his family had sought about 646 million yen in damages from Tosa Senior High School and the Takatsuki city athletics association over the incident, which occurred when Kitamura was a student at the school.

"In handing down the ruling on Wednesday, which came after the Supreme Court sent the case back to the high court, Presiding Judge Masahira Yanobu said the accused parties could have avoided the accident.

""They neglected their duty to take care to predict an accident, and are at fault for exposing the victim to the accident without taking evasive measures," the judge said.

"The ruling was the first to accept a school's responsibility for an accident involving lightning, and is likely to affect schools significantly in their measures to ensure safety.

"According to the ruling, the accident occurred on Aug. 13, 1996, during a soccer tournament in Takatsuki in which 62 teams from across the country were taking part. The lightning struck during a match at about 4:35 p.m., and left Kitamura with severe disabilities affecting his eyes and limbs. After the accident he was unable to speak normally.

"Originally the high court dismissed the claims, but the Supreme Court decided that the lightning strike could have been foreseen, and sent the case back to the high court.

"There were 50 concrete pillars around the soccer field, and the plaintiffs claimed that the accident could have been prevented if the players had been ordered to crouch down at a distance of 2 to 4 meters away from the pillars. The school argued that there was no time to evacuate the students, but the high court dismissed the claim and said that the accident could have been avoided if the starting time of the matches had been delayed after having the players take shelter.

"School officials said they would take the ruling seriously.

""We will be careful about safety measures to make sure that this kind of unfortunate situation never occurs again," the school's headmaster said."

By Mainichi Shimbun (9/18/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/19/2008)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bar Examination 2008

"The rate of test-takers who passed this year's new national bar examination dropped by seven percentage points from last year, to 33 percent, marking the third consecutive year of decline since the exam was introduced in 2006, the Justice Ministry commission in charge of the issue said.

"Of the 6,261 candidates who took the new-format bar exam, for which the nation's law school graduates are eligible, 2,065 passed, fewer than the 2,100 to 2,500 the commission had projected. It was the first time the number of successful candidates was less than the commission expected.

"This year's pass rate was 32.98 percent--a 7.2 percentage point decrease from 2007 and a sharp fall from the 48.25 percent posted in 2006.

"The unexpected drop has put into doubt the government's original aim to increase the annual number of successful examinees to about 3,000 by about 2010.

"This year, students from all 74 law schools in the nation took the bar exam, with 36 percent more candidates than a year ago.

"It was the first time the exam was taken by candidates from all 74 schools, which have been established in response to the government's call to increase the number of the country's legal professionals.

"Tokyo University had the most successful candidates for the second year with 200, followed by Chuo University's 196 and Keio University's 165.

"No one from Aichi Gakuin University, Shinshu University or Himeji Dokkyo University passed the exam.

"Aside from those three, 31 schools had less than 10 examinees pass.

"The commission had set annual, phased goals to gradually increase the number of successful examinees to 3,000. For this year, the targeted number was set between 2,100 and 2,500.

"The average age of this year's successful examinees--1,501 men and 564 women--was 28.98, with the oldest at 59."

By Yomiuri Shimbun(9/13/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/13/2008)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mediation in Medical Malpractice Disputes

"An out-of-court settlement mechanism for legal conflicts concerning medical malpractice will be expanded nationwide, according to sources.

"The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has decided to open by next spring more than five medicolegal alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organizations, in the hope they will provide people with a viable alternative to the expense of filing a lawsuit.

"The new organizations will be similar to one jointly established by three Tokyo bar associations last year.

"Under an ADR system, mediators attempt to negotiate resolution of conflicts concerning accidents that occur during medical treatment in response to applications by parties concerned.

"According to the Supreme Court, 944 medical suits were filed last year, up 60 percent from 10 years ago.

"In court proceedings, assessing the legal responsibility of a medical institution or doctor generally takes a long time, due to the difficulty of proving a causal relationship between a course of treatment and an undesirable consequence.

"On average, the duration of such a case is about two years, according to the Supreme Court.

"In light of these factors, some local bar associations have already introduced ADR systems, which had been previously used mainly in disputes regarding traffic accidents and housing standards.

"Along with the Aichi Bar Association, which has a longstanding practice of utilizing ADR, three bar associations based in Tokyo established an ADR system in September 2007 with a specific focus on medicolegal cases, enlisting 30 lawyers with experience in medical lawsuits as registered mediators.

"The mediating process can be initiated at the request of either the patient or the medical institution.

"Each party is provided with a mediator as counsel, and another neutral mediator takes part in the negotiations.

"The system offers both legally binding arbitration, which has legal authority equal to that of the courts, and nonbinding mediation aimed at reaching a mutually agreed settlement.

"All negotiations during ADR are held in closed sessions to ensure privacy.

"The Tokyo organization received 45 applications for ADR as of July, seven of which were settled with either payments--ranging from a few hundred thousand yen to a few million yen--or apologies after two or three mediation sessions.

"Encouraged by these results, the JFBA's ADR center will begin offering ADR for malpractice-related disputes in seven of the eight cities where a High Court is located, the exception being Takamatsu.

"Another alternative to entering the court system is in the works, with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry planning to set up a committee for the prevention and investigation of malpractice."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (9/10/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/10/2008)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Kazuko Yokoo to Resign from Supreme Court

"Former Social Insurance Agency (SIA) head Kazuko Yokoo, 67, has decided to retire from the Supreme Court bench, the court said Thursday, citing her length of service.

"Yokoo is quitting amid mounting calls for current and former senior SIA officials to take responsibility for the agency's mishandling of pension records.

"Nine Supreme Court justices have stepped down before the retirement age of 70, but few cited reasons other than health problems.

"Yokoo is the longest-serving Supreme Court justice among the current 15 members and only the second woman appointed to the top court."

By Asahi (9/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/5/2008)

Pelosi and Hiroshima

"House speakers of Group of Eight countries, who were in Hiroshima for their annual summit, laid flowers Tuesday at the memorial monument for victims of the city's atomic bombing in 1945.

"As the G-8 legislative heads were about to leave the ceremony, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned to the monument again and made the sign of the cross on her chest.

"We wonder what went through her mind at that moment. Did she pray for the repose of the 140,000 people who perished in the nuclear blast? How did she feel about the fact that her own country dropped the atomic bomb?

"Pelosi's presence made her the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit Hiroshima since U.S. forces leveled the city, ushering in the nuclear age.

"There is a deep gulf between Japan and the United States as to how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be viewed.

"Japan and the United States, now bound by a bilateral security treaty, congratulate themselves on having an "alliance based on shared values."

"But unhealed wounds of war and history continue to haunt relations between the two countries.

"The U.S. government's position is that the atomic bombings hastened Japan's surrender, thereby saving many lives, both American and Japanese.

"But in this country, the general perception among the public is that Japan would have surrendered before long even if it had not suffered nuclear devastation. Also, Japanese people generally think it is unforgivable, from a humanitarian point of view, to use a weapon that indiscriminately kills civilians and causes serious radiation illnesses among survivors.

"The Japanese government, however, has deliberately adopted a vague position on the issue to avoid hurting the crucial alliance with Washington. It has argued that the use of nuclear weapons cannot be categorically defined as a violation of international law.

"The sensitive nature of the issue's implications for bilateral relations was highlighted last summer by then Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, who said the dropping of the atomic bombs by the United States in the closing days of World War II "could not be helped." Kyuma's remarks inaccurately represented the U.S. position and blatantly disregarded the sufferings of A-bomb victims.

"One year on, Japan's Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono chaired the annual meeting of his G-8 counterparts, which was held in Hiroshima at his initiative. By doing so, Kono didn't try to raise the question of who is to blame for the unprecedented disaster. Rather, he tried to set the stage for serious debate on nuclear arms reduction based on a clear and unflinching recognition of the fact that human beings used an inhuman weapon against their own kind.

"After the conference, Pelosi issued a brief statement to the effect that her visit to Hiroshima forcefully reminded her of the destructive power of a war and convinced her that it is an urgent challenge for all nations to promote peace and build a better world.

"She apparently attempted, from her own position, to respond to Kono's effort.

"There is inevitably a disappointment among A-bomb victims. The U.S. House speaker offered no apology for the bombings. Pelosi's visit raised no fresh hope for a major change in U.S. nuclear arms policy or for a new American initiative toward eliminating nuclear arms from the Earth.

"Still, we think Pelosi's visit to Hiroshima has huge significance, given that a great majority of Americans believe the atomic bombings were justified.

"Pelosi is regarded as particularly liberal among Democrats and keen to promote nuclear disarmament. But she visited Hiroshima as the representative of the U.S. House. Her visit to the city may cause her to be bitterly criticized by the U.S. public. We applaud her for showing great courage and integrity by going to Hiroshima.

"Debate on the meanings of historical events tends to degenerate into a fruitless argument, often because of nationalistic feelings on both sides. Instead of simplistic black-and-white arguments, we need serious efforts to understand the pain felt by the other side.

"We hope the sign of the cross Pelosi made in front of the A-bomb monument will be remembered as a sign of new U.S. willingness to do so."

By Editorial (Asahi Shimbun, 9/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/5/2008)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Egg Bank for Infertile Couples

"A nationwide group of fertility clinics will launch the nation's first "ova bank," a system into which registered women can donate ova at no cost to married couples seeking fertility treatment, it has been learned.

"The Japanese Institution for Standardizing Assisted Reproductive Technology (JISART), a group comprising 21 private fertility clinics, plans to begin asking for volunteer ova donors for the bank by the end of the year.

"The only way an infertile women--for reasons such as having had her ovaries removed on medical grounds--can get pregnant is through in vitro fertilization using eggs donated from another woman.

"But with the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) not permitting eggs to be used for IVF from anyone other than a married woman who would become the mother, IVF using donated ova has rarely been performed domestically.

"The United States has many commercial ova banks and several hundred Japanese couples are believed to have gone there to receive donated ova.

"Japan is moving to regulate ova donations, though slowly. In July, JISART formulated its own guidelines for carrying out IVF with sperm or ova provided by a third party.

"The ova bank is the next step on from this.

"Women donating ova to the bank would, in principle, be mothers aged younger than 35. JISART will set the condition that there must be no compensation for donating ova, except for medical fees and other accompanying costs.

"The personal information of the volunteer donor will be kept for 80 years after a child's birth so as to guarantee the child's right to know who his or her genetic mother is.

"Seven of the 21 JISART clinics have expressed their intention to perform IVF using donated ova and sperm.

"Four clinics have begun preparations to proceed with IVF treatment for nine infertile couples.

""We hope to recruit volunteers through the Internet and other media and establish a system--similar to a bone marrow bank--that would assist the infertile," JISART Chairman Katsuhiko Takahashi said.

"The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and JSOG are calling on JISART to show restraint before new laws are passed on the matter, but are basically taking a wait-and-see approach.

"However, Prof. Noriko Mizuno, a Civil Code expert at Tohoku University, is worried about the psychological effect on children when they find out that the mother that gave birth to them is not a blood relation.

""[The ova bank] gives priority to the wishes of patients being treated for infertility and doesn't take the children into account," Mizuno said."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (8/31/2008), Link to article (last visited 9/1/2008)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Japan defends steps to end discrimination

"OSAKA — In a new report to the United Nations, the government outlines the situation of ethnic minorities and foreign residents in Japan, claiming it has made "every conceivable" effort over the past several years to eliminate racial discrimination.

"Occasionally sounding on the defensive, the report, released Friday, sidesteps the issue of a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination between individuals.

"Human rights groups and Doudou Diene, the U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, have called for the passage of a law clearly against racism and xenophobia, as well as the establishment of an independent national human rights monitoring body.

"The government has long held that Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law, makes any antidiscrimination legislation superfluous, a point reiterated in the report.

""Japan has taken every conceivable measure to fight against racial discrimination," the report's introduction says, later adding that apartheid is unknown in Japan.

"The report covers the situation of the Ainu, Korean residents and other foreigners. The government noted that there were an estimated 23,782 Ainu in 2006.

"A Hokkaido Prefectural Government survey in 2006 showed 93.5 percent of Ainu youths go on to high school, and 17.4 percent go on to university, an improvement from recent years but below the national average, in which 98.3 percent of all youths enter high school. About 38 percent of all people who live in municipalities where Ainu reside go on to university, the survey noted.

"About 30 percent of Hokkaido's Ainu said they had experienced discrimination at school, in job interviews or when getting married, or that they knew of someone who had experienced such discrimination, the same survey indicated.

"The report to the U.N. notes the Diet's passage of a resolution in June recognizing the Ainu, and that the government has set up an advisory panel to discuss Ainu policies. "

By Eric Johnston (Japan Times, 8/26/2008), Link to Article (last visited 8/26/2008)

"Government liable for sailor's suicide

"FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Fukuoka High Court ordered the government Monday to pay ¥3.5 million in damages to the parents of a Maritime Self-Defense Force sailor who hanged himself in 1999, ruling his suicide resulted from a ranking officer's repeated browbeating.

"Overturning a lower court rejection of the parents' ¥20 million suit, presiding Judge Koji Maki ruled that the 21-year-old petty officer third class "killed himself as a result of depression, which was caused by stress from the superior's insulting remarks and actions."

""The superior's actions were intended to defame the (sailor) and led to the excessive accumulation of psychological burdens on him," Maki said. "It was beyond something that can be called an instruction."

"The ranking officer repeatedly told the victim: "You are not qualified to be a petty officer third class" and "Are you dumb?" from late August 1999 until the man hanged himself aboard the destroyer Sawagiri, home-ported at the MSDF's Sasebo base in Nagasaki Prefecture, during drills off Shikoku that Nov. 8, the high court said.

""I believe many other SDF members are in a situation similar to my son's," the sailor's father told reporters after the ruling. "To avoid repeating similar incidents, the government should not take the ruling to the Supreme Court."

"Other bullying cases resulting in suicide that are pending in district courts, such as in Yokohama and Shizuoka, may be affected by the Fukuoka ruling, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

""It is the first court ruling that recognizes the government's violation of its obligation of ensuring security for national public servants over their psychological burdens," said Ryuji Nishida, who headed the parents' legal team.

"In June 2005, the Nagasaki District Court's Sasebo branch ruled that "the superior's remarks and actions were within the scope of an instruction and the sailor killed himself because of mental fatigue as his frustration mounted against his own slow progress in training," while recognizing the officer's remarks were not appropriate."

By Japan Times (8/26/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/26/2008)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Surrogacy: 61-year-old Woman Gives Birth to Grandchild

"SHIMO-SUWA, Nagano Prefecture--A 61-year-old woman is likely the nation's oldest mother, after bearing a girl for her infertile daughter as a surrogate, the head of a maternity clinic here has announced.

"Suwa Maternity Clinic director and surrogacy advocate Yahiro Netsu will report the case at a meeting of the Japan Society of Fertilization and Implantation that starts next Thursday in Fukuoka.

"Mother and child are both doing well, Netsu wrote on the clinic's website, adding that he usually does not recommend childbearing at an advanced age.

"The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and the Gynecology and Science Council of Japan oppose surrogate births.

"The woman became pregnant at the age of 60 and delivered her granddaughter at 61, according to a statement on the clinic's website.

"The previous confirmed record was held by two women aged 60, who gave birth using donor eggs or fertilized ovum.

"It is believed that a woman's womb becomes less elastic and runs other risks with age.

""But with lack of social support for surrogate birth, we allow aged women to give birth to their daughter's child, because it is least likely to cause (relationship) troubles afterward," Netsu wrote.

"Earlier this year, Netsu reported helping 15 couples who tried surrogacy, including five involving the mother of the woman seeking to have a child.

"In an April report, the Science Council of Japan's exploratory council on surrogate births urged the in-principle banning of surrogacy, and said couples and doctors using the technique should be punished.

"But on his clinic's website, Netsu stressed that surrogacy often was the only option for many infertile women to have a child.

""I hope to start a positive public debate on surrogate births, and that this method will eventually be used in Japan in the least exploitative way," he wrote."

By Asahi Shimbun (8/22/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/22/2008)

Medical Malpractice and the Courts

"Medical circles breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday over the Fukushima District Court's decision to acquit the obstetrician at the center of a case involving professional negligence resulting in death.

""The ruling is reasonable because it shows the court understands the difficulties and risks involved in the treatment of patients who are in a critical condition," the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) said.

"In a statement, the society said it had made strong overtures to prosecutors not to appeal the ruling so as to avoid causing further confusion in the medical community over the trial.

"Doctors and others had been particularly critical of the decision by police to pursue criminal charges against Katsuhiko Kato, 40, whose patient died after he performed a Caesarean section in 2004.

""The ruling was what the medical community had been longing for," said an obstetrician and gynecologist at a university hospital.

"According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 54 women died in connection with child-bearing in 2006.

"During the trial, the central question facing the district court was this: How should doctors and other medical practitioners be held accountable when things go drastically wrong while they are trying to save their patients?

"Chizuko Kuwae, chief of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Tokyo Metropolitan Fuchu Hospital, said that on occasion it was inevitable that patients die--despite the best efforts by their doctors.

""We would be put in the position of not being able to do anything unless these risks are properly recognized," Kuwae said.

"The number of obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide fell by 12 percent during the decade through 2006, partly due to the higher risks in this area of medicine.

"Norio Higuchi, professor of British and American law at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy, said the ruling made it clear that a criminal court trial is not the appropriate venue for uncovering the truth behind medical accidents.

""A new system should be established to enable doctors and patients to work together in an investigation (into a medical accident) so as to prevent a recurrence," Higuchi said.

"The ruling will likely influence a bill the health ministry plans to submit to an extraordinary Diet session in autumn to formally establish a committee of third-party experts to investigate malpractice cases.

""(The obstetrician) would not have faced criminal charges if a third-party organization of experts had been tasked with the investigation (into the case)," said Takashi Okai, an executive director of the JSOG and professor of Showa University medical school.

"Hiroyuki Nagai, who heads a citizens group working to prevent medical accidents, said a third-party organization should be set as as soon as possible to secure impartial and expert investigative procedures into such matters."

By Asahi Shimbun (8/21/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/22/2008)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Govt to grant illegitimate kids citizenship

"The government plans to revise the Nationality Law to remove a provision requiring parents to be married for their children to obtain Japanese citizenship, according to government sources.

"The decision came after the Supreme Court ruled in June that denying Japanese citizenship to children born out of wedlock to Japanese fathers and foreign mothers is unconstitutional, the sources said.

"The revision bill is expected to center on the following two points:

"-- Japanese fathers' acknowledgement of paternity will be the sole requirement for children to obtain Japanese citizenship, removing the requirement for parents' marital status from the provision.

"-- Those who have falsely claimed paternity will face imprisonment or a fine of up to 200,000 yen.

"The government plans to submit a bill to revise the law in the next extraordinary Diet session after obtaining approval from the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, according to the sources.

"The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court ruling were born out of wedlock to foreign mothers and Japanese fathers.

"Though their fathers acknowledged paternity after the children were born, the children were not granted Japanese citizenship. Under the Nationality Law, children are not granted Japanese citizenship unless their parents are married or Japanese fathers acknowledge their paternity before birth.

"The Supreme Court ruling said denying a child citizenship because his or her parents were not married was unconstitutional, saying the provision irrationally discriminated against such children.

"The ruling also said the provision requiring marriage between the parents was already considered unconstitutional in 2003, when the plaintiffs submitted applications to obtain Japanese citizenship.

"In line with the decision, the government plans to include a supplementary provision to enable children born out of wedlock to obtain Japanese citizenship retroactively for those who filed applications in January 2003 and after.

"However, there is concern that the system could be abused if a child's citizenship is approved solely through a father's acknowledgement of paternity. For instance, foreign women living overseas might have Japanese men file false applications so that their children will be granted Japanese citizenship and the women would be able to obtain residence permits.

"Under the current law, even if those who are not a child's real parents submit an application for the child to obtain Japanese citizenship to the Justice Ministry's Legal Affairs Bureau, they will not be charged. The revised law is planned to establish a new clause to punish such actions, according to the sources."

By Yomiuri Shimbun(8/18/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/19/2008)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Justice Minister and the Death Penalty

"New Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka believes most Japanese approve of capital punishment because, he said, the country has a cultural background in which death is considered "gracious" for criminals.

""Capital punishment should continue to exist because we should respect people's sentiment that (the most heinous crimes) have to be compensated for only by death," Yasuoka, who was appointed to the post Aug. 1, told a group of journalists in his office Thursday.

"Yasuoka's stance suggests that the number of hangings may remain high: Yasuoka's predecessor, Kunio Hatoyama, signed 13 execution orders, the most by a single justice minister at least since 1993, during his 12 months in the post.

"As the head of the ministry that manages the Immigration Bureau, he said the foreign trainee system, which some employers have been accused of abusing by hiring cheap labor illegally, should be improved, adding he doesn't know yet whether the system should be abolished or revised.

"Yasuoka declined to comment on a proposal to increase the number of immigrants to 10 million in 50 years, submitted by a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers led by former LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, saying he has not read the plan thoroughly.

"In response to public opinion polls indicating many people are concerned about the lay judge system that will start next May, Yasuoka said he will continue to raise awareness of its social significance and try to eliminate public concern.

""What the system does is democratize the judicial system, which is really important. Many developed countries have similar systems," Yasuoka said.

"He added he is satisfied with the ministry's efforts to inform the public of the new system.

""It's unexpectedly good that 94 percent of people know about the system and 60 percent will become lay judges, equivalent to jurors in the United States, reluctantly or willingly," he said.

"On discussions of whether a new sentence — life in prison with no possibility of parole — should be added to the judicial system, Yasuoka said such a move is unnecessary. "Being in prison forever is too harsh," he said.

"Many legal experts are arguing that such a sentence is needed to fill a gap between the death penalty and life with a chance for parole. They argue that the difference between these two sentences is too wide for lay judges to decide the appropriate punishment."

By Minoru Matsutani (8/11/2008), Japan Times, Link to article (last visited 8/12/2008)

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Lawyers Want More Power to Combat Yakuza

"Sixteen years after the introduction of the much-vaunted anti-organized crime law, yakuza gangs continue to wield enormous influence in Japan.

"Yakuza involvement in almost every aspect of crime raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the 1992 legislation.

"When a mayor is shot dead, when profits are siphoned from conmen, or when major drug trafficking operations are carried out, the perpetrators almost invariably seem to have ties to underground crime syndicates.

"Gangs continue to brandish guns, threaten citizens and play a cat-and-mouse game with police, making a mockery of the supposed crackdown by providing false tips.

"They extort "protection" money from shop operators and are often involved in loan sharking, human trafficking and illegal land deals. They have even been linked to stock price manipulation and vote-buying attempts during elections.

"After a temporary drop in gang membership around 1995, their numbers increased again to 84,200 in 2007, including "associate members."

"Some lawyers are calling for stronger regulations to dismantle criminal organizations.

"Yoshihiro Mitsui, chairman of the Committee on Anti-Racketeering of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), is one who says anti-yakuza steps taken so far "have had no effect."

""Criminal organizations openly exist within civil society or business society. It's abnormal," said the lawyer, 56, who was once stabbed by a gangster during a yakuza-eviction campaign.

"Whether the crackdown has been tight enough or not, yakuza are at least increasingly strapped for money, leading to a pent-up frustration within their groups, according to police sources.

"A letter received by the National Police Agency and the Metropolitan Police Department in May was indicative of this frustration.

"Signed a "Whistle-blower in Yamaguchi-gumi," the letter pointed a finger at the group's No. 2 man, Kiyoji Takayama.

"Yamaguchi-gumi is the nation's largest crime syndicate with 39,000 members and associate members.

"The letter alleged Takayama "took hundreds of millions of yen from senior members by way of mah-jongg."

"It also said he was "lining his pockets by forcing affiliated groups to purchase daily necessities at exorbitant prices."

"If such acts are overlooked, the letter said, the organization would collapse.

"It remains unknown whether the allegations are true, but police sources believe the letter was written by someone who is genuinely connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Takayama, 60, is a right-hand man to Kenichi Shinoda, 66, who assumed the Yamaguchi-gumi's top post in July 2005.

"Known in the yakuza world as Shinobu Tsukasa, Shinoda has been serving a prison term since December 2005 for violations of the gun and sword control law.

"Takayama has since effectively taken the reins of the huge underground syndicate.

"It is said that subordinate groups are required to pay 500,000 yen to 1 million yen a month to higher ranking groups. In addition, the headquarters force them to buy mineral water, towels and other everyday items.

"Selling illegal drugs would rake in easy money, but the headquarters prohibit involvement for fear of a crackdown. Many gangs are, therefore, said to be facing a chronic lack of funds.

"One thrifty group has made all members subscribe to the same cellphone carrier so they can make free calls among themselves.

"Even if gangsters have a pent-up frustration, breaking ranks would invite "punishment." So they give vent to their discontent not within the group but outside.

""A typical example is the fatal shooting of the Nagasaki mayor in April last year," said a source close to the issue.

"Mayor Iccho Itoh was shot while campaigning for re-election by a senior member of a group directly affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Tetsuya Shiroo, who was sentenced to death in the Nagasaki District Court in May, is said to have had trouble paying dues to his gangland superiors.

"Nagasaki city's refusal to yield to his demand for money, as well as reforms to the city's tender system, added to his frustration.

"The case was one of 65 shooting incidents in 2007 that claimed 21 victims, including the mayor. Of the 65 cases, 41 involved gangsters.

"Investigators say it is difficult to prevent further incidents while efforts to rid gangs of guns remain stalled. Phone tapping

"Back in April 1997, the National Police Agency produced an in-house manual for investigating cases involving guns. It called for phone taps and the use of informants within gang groups.

"It was three years before the law on communications interception during criminal investigation took effect in 2000.

"The handbook advises investigators to sever ties with informants who show any signs of betrayal.

""If such ties come out to the fore, we will be a target of gang attacks along with our informants," a former investigator said.

"It is difficult, the investigator said, to produce results through such relations as there is no assurance police will "watch over" them and informants forever.

"At the same time, yakuza groups often use members posing as informants to send false tips to police.

""Imagine how stupid police look when they raid our offices (on a false tip) and find no gun at all," said a yakuza source.

"Last year, police nationwide confiscated 231 guns from gangs, only about 30 percent of the number seized in 1997.

"Police resorted to phone tapping in 29 cases from 2000 to 2007.

"Phone tapping is allowed under the law for four types of crime: drugs, organizational murder, guns and large-scale smuggling of illegal immigrants.

"Of the 29 cases, 28 were drug-related, and one involved murder. None involved guns.

"A senior police official said interception was difficult, both technically and legally, since the law imposes stringent conditions on allowing police to eavesdrop on communications.

"These and other difficulties have led lawyers' groups to argue in favor of revisions to give real teeth to anti-gang laws.

"A group within the Chiba Bar Association has proposed its own reform plan. It says the current anti-organized crime law, which "designated" organizations to regulate, has ironically given prestige to targeted yakuza groups.

"Rather, the group argues, it is "necessary to revise laws so that gangs will be forced to dissolve themselves."

"Under its plan, the law should clearly state gangs are illegal entities and enable the public safety commission to order their dissolution.

"Specifically, a gang will be given a certain number of points based on the criminal acts committed by its members. When the total reaches a given threshold, it will be ordered to dissolve itself.

"That would certainly drive such large syndicates as the Yamaguchi-gumi and its rivals, Inagawa-kai and Sumiyoshi-kai, swiftly into a corner.

"About 15,000 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi are arrested each year, while about 4,000 are caught from each of the other two organizations.

"But the National Police Agency is less than enthusiastic about the proposals.

""They would just pretend to dissolve themselves and go underground," a source said. Others are worried that such a provision would come under fire as infringing upon freedom of association.

"But Mitsui, the head of the JFBA anti-racketeering panel, is set to propose new steps for tougher control and investigations, taking the Chiba group's idea into consideration.

""We must think of measures to make it unprofitable to remain being a gang," he said."

By Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun (8/8/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/8/2008)