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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • NY1 News: Japanese Courts Make It Hard To Prove Innocence

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 27th, 2007

    Hi Blog. Word is getting out on what’s going on over here… Debito in Hirakata, Osaka.

    NY1 News, October 13, 2007
    Courtesy of John Blade

    In part four of her five-part series Tokyo Justice, NY1 Criminal Justice reporter Solana Pyne looks into the story of a man who finds himself swallowed up in the Japanese criminal justice system even though he’s done nothing wrong, bullied by police who want him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. The story became the basis for an eye-opening movie in Japan.

    The film “I Just Didn’t Do It” tells the story of a young Japanese man wrongly convicted of groping a woman on the subway. Director Misayaki Suo says the idea for the movie came from a newspaper story about a man who went through that ordeal.

    “In theory, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, but in Japan the defendant has to earn his innocence by proving that he is not guilty. It appears to be that way to me,” says Suo through a translator.

    He discovered Japanese courts convict close to 99 percent of those who come before them. It’s one of the many things about the movie that those who watch it think is fiction.

    “Many people are surprised and they ask, ‘Is this a true story?’” says Suo.

    It was no surprise to Takashi Yatabe, pictured above, and his wife. It was his story that inspired Suo. Yatabe’s ordeal began in December of 2000, during his routine commute to work.

    “A lady was pinching my sleeve. I turned around and she began jumping and to her girlfriend. Her friend came over and suddenly called me a groper,” says Yatabe through a translator.

    He says he went willingly to the local police box to tell his side of the story. Already he says there were holes in the woman’s account: he wasn’t where she said he was, and she said he unzipped his pants, but his pants only had buttons. Still, over the next few weeks he was interrogated some four times. And he had no lawyer in the room with him because Japanese law doesn’t allow it.

    “One detective suddenly pounded on the table and said, ‘you must have done it, you must have done it,’” recalls Yatabe.

    But he refused. After three months he was finally released on bail. While out, he made videos, and diagrams to show the woman was not telling the truth. After a series of proceedings that took almost a year, a judge eventually heard his case. There are no juries in Japan.

    “Guilty. The sentence was a year and two months in prison,” says Yatabe.

    He was able to stay out of prison on appeal, finally changing his strategy to say something bad must in fact have happened to his accuser, but he was not to blame. After more than a year, his conviction was overturned – something that happens just a few percent of the time.

    “Before this, I thought the court was the place that protected human rights. I never doubted it. I believed in police and prosecutors too,” says Yatabe’s wife Atsuko Yatabe through a translator.

    Some might ask what it will take to prevent what happened to Yatabe from happening to others. He says the system needs to be completely overhauled.

    “If the entire judicial system changes, then police and prosecutors might improve,” says Yatabe.

    – Solana Pyne

    One Response to “NY1 News: Japanese Courts Make It Hard To Prove Innocence”

    1. Daniel j. Says:

      So how long until something actually changes in the Japanese criminal justice system? (The UN has known about these problems for quite some time.)

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