Big fish tale
In the night of February 20th I saw the television news story of a gutted shark carcass that was found in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. Then I read about it in the February 21, 2012 JapanTimes story “Shark left in Yoyogi has cops fishing for motive.” Mr. Riki Tamayama, who represents an area sushi restaurant that may or may not have purchased the same shark from Tsukiji fish market on February 14 only to decide against using it as food and instead giving it to an unidentified local artist, was quoted saying, “All I can do now is to hope that the person who illegally dumped the shark will come out and confess that he did it.” I am left wondering, Why? So what? What does it matter if any criminal - from an illegal fish dumper to a murderer - confesses his crime? What matters most is that the police gather sufficient evidence to convince a court of any charges that might result. I understand that Japanese culture considers confession the first step in rehabilitation, which might partially account for the high rate of confessions here, and the high rate of cases closed on the weight of a confession. But, really, people can say anything they want. People can say anything they want, and saying it doesn’t make it so. Icould confess to dumping the fish. I could even confess to the Kennedy assassination. Surely, what suspects say does not matter as much as what can be proven by evidence. People confess for many reasons. Sometimes their confessions are even true.
Maybe Mr. Tamayama’s hope is meant to deflect his own sense of guilt as a representative of the restaurant that introduced the carcass into the community in the first place first by purchasing it, then by giving it away with undue care. But in the newspaper report the connection between the restaurant and the fish was inconclusive leaving me to think that the craving for a confession from a perpetrator is a common underlying Japanese hunger almost independent of circumstances. Even though a confession is unnecessary people want it to help make better sense of the matter.
It has always surprised me how fast Japanese criminals confess. In that regard they strike me as incompetent felons who don’t even try to defend themselves but come right out and say, “Yeah, I did it.” From a crime control perspective that might be desirable, and it might even be admirable on the part of criminals: people taking full responsibility for themselves. But any such positive feeling is often compromised by a proliferation of the most stupid explanations of their own motives. “I killed him because I didn’t like his attitude.” “I had a grudge against society.” “After I killed his mother I felt sorry for him because he didn’t have a mother anymore. So I killed him, too.”
Japanese police are often little better at describing the suspects they are searching. For example, “The suspect is a man with black hair, about 170 cm tall, wearing a face mask.” (That pretty accurately describes 90% of the Japanese male population.) Or, “Police suspect a bad man was involved.” Hmm.