Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
As a counter to Satsuo Matsumoto accusation that The Japan Times contributes to Japan’s disgrace in his August 20, 2009 letter “Left keeps trying to disgrace Japan,” the September 4th editorial about Noriko Sakai, “Indictment of a pop idol” is just one example of how the paper channels Japanese values. The two articles are about two very different topics, but I look at the question of “disgrace” as a question of value, not of content.
Why must Ms. Sakai “honestly tell the court why she started using the amphetamine and how she obtained it”? Who cares or, more accurately, why should anyone care? Do suspects have an obligation to tell the truth, to confess, to admit anything, to cooperate? I don’t think so. Of course, cooperation and honesty are desirable, but they are really irrelevant so long as the police can prove the charges. As a Westerner I think that the collection of a preponderance of evidence is sufficient. Whether the defendant admits a crime, apologizes or shows regret or penitence for it or even explains their motives - although nice - are irrelevant, and I am thankful to live in a world where we have the freedom to be deviant. I want to live in a society that not only possesses, but protects that kind of freedom not because I want to be deviant, but because many other good things are rooted in it.
I understand that Japanese have a fetish about following rules and obeying laws, even unreasonable one. Japanese culture values obedience, and it values confession and displays of regret as steps towards a convict’s rehabilitation. But first, a suspect is not a convict. Second, under the Japanese constitution suspects are entitled to the presumption of innocence. And, third, the most that the state can reasonably demand of a convict is that the sentence be served, not that they feel regret or even gratitude for it.
In some ways - many ways, perhaps - “rehabilitation” is somewhat synonymous with“mind control,” and I think that some would say that is a Japanese value. But not me, of course.
I liked this letter so much that I was laughing as I wrote it. One point we might extrapolate form the idea that the freedom to be deviant is also the freedom to be creative is that chaos is the sea from which everything emerges, virtue as well as vice.
My point is that however Satsuo Matsukoto thought in his August letter that The Japan Times is a left-leaning paper that adds to the nation’s disgrace by publishing fraudulent histories/stories of the Pacific War, I think that the paper unavoidably transmits, or channels a lot of typical and traditional Japanese values.
What is scary about the justice system in Japan is that they are FAR less interested in truth and justice than they are in simply ending cases, i.e. the system here is happy if it prosecutes someone, anyone, and the case SEEMS to be solved. Having been here twenty years I know well that this is the primary goal of the system here.
I am sure that this is the primary reason for placing such a great emphasis on confession in this country. Surely a confession is the ultimate piece of evidence that the accused was the actual perpetrator! Of course not, since confession can be coerced, and I bet that in 99 cases out of a hundred in this country, confession has been coerced.
And to avoid any impression of coercion and unseemliness, the system encourages the idea/falsehood that people are sincere in their confession, sincere in their regret at having committed the crime. Why confess if not sincerely regretful? Or, to put it another way, sincerely is a good (outward) sign that the confession is genuine.
Without all the expression of“genuine” regret, the confession could easily be construed as suspect, and hence the need for, and the great emphasis placed upon, the expression of regret.
And perhaps this is why sentencing is lenient to those who express their regret like good boys and girls: it is a reward for having played the game, and, even more than this, perhaps, an admission of the fact that many of the confessors were not actually the perpetrators, and that sentencing must be light since the convicted are probably not in fact guilty.
So, here is the situation: a conviction is top priority, whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused confesses, and does it convincingly with sincerity so as to leave no doubt in the minds of the public that s/he is in fact the perp, he is rewarded with a lighter sentence.