Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Supreme Court seats

"The true purpose of judicial reform, of which the citizen judge system to be introduced this May is a key pillar, is to open the administration of justice to the public eye. In that sense, there is still one phase of reform that must not be overlooked. Namely, bringing the appointments of the 15 justices on the Supreme Court out from behind closed doors.

"Under the Constitution, the chief justice of the Supreme Court is designated by the Cabinet and then officially appointed by the emperor. The other 14 justices are appointed directly by the Cabinet. Despite this provision, however, no stipulations are made regarding the specific method of selection.

"In November, Hironobu Takesaki was appointed to serve as the Supreme Court's 17th chief justice. Again, however, insufficient explanation was given on how he was chosen. Takesaki is the ninth consecutive court judge to be named chief justice over the past 30 years. By all appearances, therefore, some sort of pecking order is at work. Prior to that, judges, scholars, attorneys and public prosecutors were chosen to fill that post.

"The chief justice is not the only post decided in closed-door sessions. The current members of the Supreme Court consist of six who served as judges, four as attorneys, two as prosecutors, two as bureaucrats, and an individual from legal academia. For all practical purposes, these quotas have become fixed.

"In principle, the Cabinet pares down the candidate list when appointing bureaucrats to these judicial positions. With those from the legal profession, however, the actual practice is to ratify candidates named by the presiding chief justice.

"In the United States, the president nominates Supreme Court justices. The power to approve the appointments lies with the Senate, which holds nomination hearings to review each candidate.

"This approach stands in sharp contrast to Japan, where the public remains in the dark about the selection procedures.

"The Judicial System Reform Council addressed this problem in 2001 by calling for more transparency in the appointment process so as to raise the trust of ordinary citizens in Supreme Court justices. However, the judicial system reform promotion headquarters, the government body in charge of bringing such concepts to fruition at the time, failed to compile a proposal for action.

"The citizen judge system, law schools, the Japan Legal Support Center and a steady stream of other institutional reforms have been introduced to better familiarize citizens with the nuts and bolts of how justice is administered.

"The appointment credentials for Supreme Court justices are stated as being persons age 40 or above possessing high principles and knowledge of the law. Clearly, candidates should be selected from a more diversified personnel pool, using methods clearly visible to the public eye.

"Throughout the postwar era, there have been only eight instances in which the Supreme Court declared laws unconstitutional. In view of this, more detailed selection criteria could also be expected to help transform the Supreme Court into a body characterized by a more aggressive stance toward constitutional rulings.

"Four times in the past, revisions have been proposed to the Diet to establish an appointment advisory council for the Cabinet comprised of persons from legal circles, Diet members, experts and others. Such a body would select multiple numbers of Supreme Court justice candidates and submit the list to the Cabinet.

"With the start of the citizen judge system, this is a year in which judicial reform is moving into full swing. The time is thus truly ripe for lawmakers to embark on serious examinations of the issues at hand, including reconsideration of this legal revision. "

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 1/14/2009), Link to article (last visited 1/20/2009)

"Gender-equal society

"Ten years have passed since the basic law for a gender-equal society was enacted. This landmark legislation was aimed at creating a society in which both women and men can demonstrate their full potential. To what extent has the law's ideal become a reality?

"According to the Cabinet Office, women account for a mere 9.4 percent of Lower House members. Compared with other nations, the figure is abysmally low. As far as policymaking is concerned, Japan is nowhere near to being a gender-equal society.

"The awareness of men is slowly changing, however. The number of men who believe women should not give up their careers to raise children or for other reasons is rising. Still, when it comes to pitching in with housework and childcare, regardless of whether their partners work or not, on average, men spend only about 30 to 40 minutes performing such chores daily.

"Apparently, they understand the general principles of washing dishes or changing diapers, but find it hard to get their hands wet.

"Meantime, the percentage of nonregular employees, including part-time and temporary workers, is now higher among women in their 30s and older--exactly the time of life when many of them must care for their children. In fact, among women in their 40s and older, a higher percentage of women are nonregular workers than are full-time workers.

"The truth is, it is hard for any middle-aged or older women to find stable employment.

"So it is obvious that Japan has a long way to go before it can be called a gender-equal society under the law.

"But that doesn't mean we should give up.

"The law aims to eliminate gender gaps in various areas of life, thus resulting in equality. But that is not all it can do. The nation's trend toward having fewer children could in fact be reversed, for example. It is a fact that birthrates are proportionately higher in countries that provide good working environments for women and where men actively take on housework.

"Following the spirit of the law, local governments run centers to promote gender equality and women's centers, places that have served both as education centers and counseling bases for residents.

"Last fall, the government's Council for Gender Equality called for a re-examination of the roles of such centers and requested local governments to work on solutions to the concrete problems that face residents. Few women have stepped up to take on roles as leaders in their local communities and there are few opportunities for them to fully demonstrate their abilities.

"In advanced approaches, some centers are organizing classes for single mothers to help them brush up computer skills, for example. Others hold cooking lessons for men to help them lessen their dependence on women performing such everyday tasks. Other centers are running successful programs that promote gender equality in cooperation with nonprofit organizations.

"Morioka Josei Center, in Morioka, started a lecture series for aspiring female entrepreneurs in December. Fourteen women in their 20s to 50s are attending.

"One, a homemaker in her 40s, wants to open a minshuku family-run inn serving organic foods in the city. "I want to make it an inn that only serves breakfast, similar to the kind I learned about when my husband was transferred overseas," she said. Another woman said she wants to start her own business using her qualifications as a certified social insurance and labor consultant, skills she gained while working as a dispatch worker.

"Their ambitions are an example of what power women can offer to energize communities. Although economic troubles have led some local governments to scale down such centers, we must not miss the opportunity to take advantage of the skills women possess. More than ever, the nation needs such centers for women to expand their presence and effectiveness in everyday life."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 1/15/2009), Link to article (last visited 1/20/2009)

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Lay Judge System and Religion

"Some religious organizations have expressed uncertainty about how to deal with the nation's lay judge system scheduled to begin in May.

"Under the system, ordinary citizens, along with professional judges, will have to pass judgment on defendants in criminal trials.

"Observers point out that religious leaders who seek to help people are unsure about whether they should play a role in bringing criminals to justice.

"They also note the lay judge system has stirred debate over the stance religions should take over participation in social processes such as the lay judge system, under which lay judges might have to become involved in death sentence decisions.

"The lay judge law stipulates that lay judge candidates cannot refuse to serve only because they do not want to bring people to justice. However, during the legislative process, it was noted that some people are unable to help bring others to justice due to religious beliefs. As a result, the law allows lay judge candidates to decline to serve only if the judge decides the candidate would suffer serious psychological harm by participating in a trial.

"In Britain and Germany, which have a long history of citizen participation in criminal trials, members of the clergy are legally prohibited from acting as lay judges or on juries.

"The Honganji sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, which has about 7 million adherents, held an assembly at Nishi Honganji temple in Kyoto in October. Many monks belonging to the organization serve as prison chaplains at prisons or detention houses.

""How's our sect going to handle the lay judge system?" one participant asked at the assembly. "Shouldn't we clarify our sect's stance to the public?"

"Jodo Shinshu's precepts state human beings are so weak that anyone is susceptible to committing crimes. Many of its monks and followers wonder if they, as weak humans, are in a position to bring someone else to justice, sect officials said.

"In response to the question, a senior official of the Honganji sect said, "We'll continue discussing the issue."

"The Shinshu Otani sect, another school of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, also discussed the lay judge system at its assembly in June. A senior official of the organization said the sect did not plan to issue an official opinion on the lay judge system.

""[Nonetheless] we believe it's important to Shinshu members [to choose] not to decide [to impose the] death sentence if he or she is chosen as a lay judge," the senior official said.

"A monk of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism said, "While I think we [as human beings] shouldn't bring others to justice, we believe we should clarify our opinion as religious professionals."

"The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has about 800 member churches nationwide. According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ said, "Do not judge, so you may not be judged."

""We can't approve of bringing anyone to justice in private, but we won't negate the trial system of a country ruled by law," an official of the Catholic organization said. "However, I believe it [the lay judge system] needs to pay enough consideration to the human rights of the defendants and to win the full understanding of the public."

"Haruo Yamaki, priest of the Protestant Shinsho Christ Church in Kita Ward, Tokyo, said he could not give a quick answer.

""There can be various opinions [about the lay judge system], but as it's a very serious matter, I can't think of an answer now," Yamaki said.

"Jinja-Honcho, or the Association of Shinto Shrines, administers about 80,000 Shinto shrines nationwide.

""[Our followers] will participate in [the trials] if they are chosen as lay judges," a Jinja-Honcho official said.

"Kokugakuin University Prof. Nobutaka Inoue said religious organizations' roles in society would be tested by the system.

""All religious organizations will need to explain how they will deal with the lay judge system," Inoue said. "It might be difficult to [solve the contradictions between] their doctrines and the death penalty, but it will give them the opportunity to review their position on social issues.""

By Yomiuri Shimbun (1/12/2009), Link to article (last visited 1/12/2009)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Benefits in offing for those allowed multiple citizenship

"Sunny Yasuda can only vaguely remember his father. By the time he was born in Tokyo in 1975, his parents' marriage was on the verge of collapse, and his Indian father soon returned to his homeland, leaving his Japanese mother on her own to raise their three children.

"Yasuda cannot speak English, Hindi or any Indian languages, and as far as upbringing is concerned, is Japanese in every single aspect except for his appearance — his tanned complexion and South Asian features reflect his mixed background, something he recalls has always forced him to be an outsider when he was growing up.

"And like so many other offspring of international relationships, Yasuda has experienced his share of dealing with Japan's Nationality Law, which forbids retention of multiple citizenships to those over 22 — a rule the government cannot enforce due to technical difficulties, and an ambiguity that affects the lives and identity of many with similar backgrounds to Yasuda.

""I was the unlucky one," Yasuda joked, when recalling how his older brother and sister both filed for Japanese nationality soon after Jan. 1, 1985, when the law was amended to allow Japanese nationality to children born in Japan to Japanese mothers.

"Inheritance of citizenship was previously based on paternal lineage, and Yasuda and his siblings were all registered as Indian nationals upon birth.

""They had a choice, I didn't," Yasuda said, referring to the difference between him and his older brother and sister.

"Those aged over 15 during the three years after the new law came into effect were considered eligible to apply without parental consent, and Yasuda's siblings satisfied the requirement.

"Yasuda, however, was 9 at the time, and needed both his father's and mother's written approval, which he could not obtain. His parents never officially filed for divorce — if they had, his mother's consent would have been enough. His father had long since left the country and had effectively ceased contact with the family.

""Even if I had dual nationalities, I think I'd still have opted to be Japanese. I was told that you had to decide on one before you turned 20 or 21, and that's what my brother and sister did," he said.

"Yasuda became a naturalized Japanese citizen when he was 17, soon after he attained permanent residency status. "We're all Japanese now."

""You know, you just ask yourself, 'What's the point?' " Yasuda said, recalling why he gave up his father's nationality.

""I'd never been to India, and I only met my father once or twice when I was a kid. I heard he's already passed away," he said.

"Still, Yasuda believes that people like himself, who were ignorant of the law or their cultural backgrounds due to the environment they grew up in, should be offered another chance.

""India's in my blood. Yeah, I grew up in Japan, but it's still a part of my roots. If I'd had the chance now, I would definitely want Indian nationality. It'll give me new chances, new potentials, whether it be work-related or not," he said, recalling how he had always been forced to be conscious of his racial heritage.

""Whatever job I took, wherever I went, I'd always start off as the 'gaijin' (foreigner)," said Yasuda, who has been working in bars and restaurants since finishing junior high school. He said that began to change when he was around 20.

""I think it was around then that I noticed a lot more foreigners in town. People began complimenting me for being a 'half' (of mixed descent), and I guess that sort of turned things around for me, changed my attitude, helped me feel positive," he said, adding that if he ever has children, he would be sure to educate them about the culture of their grandfather's country.

"The number of international marriages in Japan has steadily increased over the years, peaking in 2006 at 44,701, accounting for 6.5 percent of all marriages that year according to health ministry statistics. The number of children born with multiple nationalities is believed to have been increasing accordingly, with unofficial government estimates predicting that there were 530,000 as of 2006.

"Take the case of a 25-year-old Tokyo-based freelance Web and graphic designer born to a Japanese mother and British father. The man, who declined to be identified, decided to retain his dual nationality status even after he turned 22, when those with multiple nationalities are advised to officially give up one or the other.

"The man initially only had British citizenship until his parents filed for his Japanese nationality following the 1985 amendment. He grew up receiving a Japanese education until high school, when he decided to transfer to a school in the U.K., eventually attending university there before returning to Japan.

""I've got two passports under two separate names. One has my Japanese name, the other my English name. How could authorities determine if it's the same person?" the designer asked, adding that even if they did find out that he still kept both, there would be nothing they could do to force on him a decision — it would be tantamount to intervening in the internal affairs of the other nation.

"He noted, however, that if he were forced to renounce either one of his nationalities, he would keep his British citizenship.

""Practically speaking, I could probably file for permanent residency in Japan relatively easily, having lived here for so long," he said, adding that he felt being European would be more useful in his life.

""You know, I think this law is sort of like an urban legend," he added, referring to the ambiguity of the age limit that some comply with but many are said to ignore, and the public's lack of knowledge regarding the facts of the law.

""I've been paying my Japanese taxes, pension fees, I've got voting rights — I'd protest if authorities came to me now and took my Japanese nationality away," he said, adding that he didn't understand why Japan, with no mandatory military draft, disapproves of multiple nationalities.

"This sentiment was echoed by a 30-year-old woman born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother.

""I don't understand the downside for Japan to allow dual nationalities. With a shrinking population and workforce, I would think they would want to encourage as many people as possible to live and work in Japan," said the woman, a production specialist working for a Japanese game maker in San Francisco.

"She, like her U.S.-born twin brother and sister, is a U.S. citizen, with permanent resident status in Japan. Her youngest brother, however, was born after 1985 and retains both nationalities.

""The real discrepancy (in the family) is between (my youngest brother) and me. We were both born in Japan to the same parents, but I was born 10 years earlier than him," she said, explaining how her parents considered getting Japanese nationalities for their three older children after 1985, but in the end felt it was more hassle than it was worth.

"The woman said that because she doesn't have Japanese citizenship, she had to return to Nagoya, her home city, every few years to renew her re-entry permit, something her youngest brother doesn't have to do.

""Another thing that bothers me recently is the right to vote," she added. "As someone who's spent the great majority of her life in Japan and has every other privilege as a Japanese person, I think it makes sense that I should have a voice on the decisions being made in government that would affect my life."

"In Mika Yuki's case, however, it wasn't the 1985 amendment that prompted her family to file for her Japanese nationality.

"Her father originally came from Hong Kong. After marrying his Japanese wife and having fathered Yuki, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 1986, and on the same day, applied for her Japanese citizenship, passing on his newfound nationality to his daughter, who was born as a British national.

""I've never visited England in my life, and was never too conscious of my British nationality," said Yuki, 26, who spent her high school and college years in the United States before returning to Japan to work at her father's jewelry company in Tokyo.

"She said that although she does consider Japan her home, she never strongly felt Japanese. Spending part of her youth in the U.S., she recalls how she always felt slightly out of place in both Japan and the U.S.

""I've thought about nationality and about its significance many times," she said. "But in the end, it doesn't really matter where I was born. I belong where my family is."

"Yuki said she was not even sure if she still retained her British citizenship. "I was told that eventually I would have to decide on one nationality over the other, but with the 1997 (handover) of Hong Kong to China, I'm not sure what's happened to it," she said.

"The British Embassy in Tokyo said that those who haven't applied for a British National (Overseas) nationality — a tailor-made nationality for Hong Kong residents with British Dependent Territories citizen status — by 1997 would have automatically lost their former British nationality.

"Then there's the case of a 27-year-old Japanese woman. In 2006, she filed marriage papers with her British husband, and the couple had a daughter the following year. The mother currently juggles her career with raising her 1-year-old.

"The daughter is Japanese, something improbable before 1985. Her parents haven't applied for her to obtain British citizenship just yet, although they plan on doing so soon — it could be done any time since the U.K. recognizes dual nationality.

"It will be another 20 years before the girl might have to decide — if the current Nationality Law remains unchanged — on one nationality over the other. However, it is impossible to tell how she would perceive her identity when she reaches that age.

""In order for (my daughter) to embrace her international background as something to be proud of, I think it's necessary that she be able to permanently keep her dual nationalities," the mother said."

By Alex Martin (Japan Times, 1/3/2009), Link to article (last visited 1/4/2009)