Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The tragic murder in Mitaka, Tokyo of 18-year-old aspiring actress Saaya Suzuki by the very stalker she complained about to police displays a degree of absurdity in Japanese law enforcement. The incident reported October 10 (“Girl slain after alerting police about stalker”) and followed by “Tougher stalking law failed to stir police,” and “Accused killer says he hid in victim’s home,” (October 11) exposes a flaw in the culture of law enforcement here. Similar incidents have happened before, but because the victim in this case voiced her fear so soon before her murder and identified the stalker to the police who then did nothing stronger than issue a warning exposes a degree of malfunction that is both noteworthy and far from unique.
The problem is that too often Japanese culture’s interpretation of the law is that it is less a prescription for mandatory behavior and more a mere recommendation. Why is that? Because it is insulting to command people how to behave, and unbecoming in a society pandering to the myth of “wa,” or harmony? If it must be admitted that the law coerces behavior then it betrays the fiction of harmony and exposes a streak of social behavior at odds with the mutual courtesy at the center of a society of wa. Habitually Japanese have been given more leeway by law enforcers in the form of warnings to voluntarily abide by the rules. Cultural observers praise it as a tradition of flexible, situational morality.
Critics of traditional Western religious morality - people like Professor Depak Basu - complain about the supposed patronizing duality and absolutism of Western morality while praising Asia’s perceived traditions of situational morality. But Ms. Suzuki’s murder makes this argument look silly and recommends a more inflexible rule of law as well as of simple right and wrong.