Japan Focus: Lawrence Repeta on DPJ and Ministry of Justice: fundamental reforms at last?


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Hi Blog.  For those of you who think that the DPJ is just warmed-over LDP, or that the election last August will result in few changes, the author of this piece for the academic website Japan Focus would beg to differ.  Excerpt follows.  Again, the DPJ keeps surprising me with just how ambitious its policy proposals are.  Be skeptical, of course, since politics in Japan is the art of the stupefying, but having this sort of thing on the drawing board at last is nothing short of remarkable.  Ganbatte Chiba Daijin!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Transfer of Power at Japan’s Justice Ministry

Lawrence Repeta

Japan Focus.org, downloaded November 4, 2009

It may take a little while to get used to this. Longtime observers of the approach to criminal justice sponsored by LDP governments have grown accustomed to several disturbing aspects, including harassment and prosecution of political dissidents on trivial charges (see, e.g., David McNeill), repeated efforts to expand police power through legislation such as the wiretapping law, the long-proposed criminal conspiracy law and others, and total disregard of criticisms and recommendations from international human rights treaty organizations. (Link)

The landslide victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in parliamentary elections held on August 30, 2009 is likely to result in policy change in many areas. There seems little doubt that we will see a very different approach to calibrating the balance between police power and individual rights.

One of the more startling appointments to the new Cabinet is that of Yokohama lawyer Chiba Keiko to be Minister of Justice. The authority of the Ministry is great, with responsibility to enforce criminal laws, protect individual rights, manage the immigration system, and generally oversee the legal system itself, including preparation and review of draft legislation. Ms. Chiba’s appointment should result in a sharp change in policy. She brings with her a history of more than two decades in the Diet in which she opposed nearly all LDP initiatives related to Ministry operations.

Chiba at work

Ms. Chiba’s opposition to the death penalty has made headlines, but this is only one example of her progressive agenda. Among other things, she has supported local voting rights for non-citizen permanent residents, clear recognition of the injuries suffered by so-called “comfort women” and other victims of Japan’s past aggressions, and expanding the admission of refugees to Japan. Chiba’s track record should provide strong clues to the kind of attitude she brings to her new post.

If there was any doubt on this score, she wiped it away in formal comments released on September 16, the day the new Cabinet took office. In her first message to the nation as Minister, Chiba declared that her mission is to help build a society that respects human rights and a judicial system that is “close to the people” (kokumin ni mijika na shiho). To achieve this, she listed three specific steps. First is the establishment of a new human rights agency. Second is ratification of so-called “Optional Protocols” to human rights treaties. Third is creating transparency in criminal interrogations.

The baton passed from LDP Minister of Justice Mori Eisuke to DPJ Minister Chiba Keiko on September 17

Her selection of these particular measures for the spotlight displays ambition to make significant institutional reform. They strike at the heart of an established regime that allows arbitrary power to police and other officials. All three measures have been recommended many times by United Nations human rights bodies and other international organizations, but were categorically rejected by LDP governments.

An Independent Human Rights Commission for Japan?

The proposals to establish an independent human rights commission and to ratify “Optional Protocols” to several human rights treaties are each directed toward providing individuals with avenues to bring complaints of abuse to bodies outside the control of the Ministry of Justice and the courts…

Rest of the article at


12 comments on “Japan Focus: Lawrence Repeta on DPJ and Ministry of Justice: fundamental reforms at last?

  • YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A breath of fresh air this is!!!! Any NJ and naturalized citizen that has lived here a good amount of time can relate to what Debito has posted here….. Quite remarkable really…… Cautious optimism is the order of the day.

  • After reading this article I finally got some hope for this country, for the first time !

    Chiba Daijin ganbatte kudasai !! Ouen shite imasu !

    I do really hope they will able to realize the projects that they have.
    But I also fear the return of the bigot, corrupt, old wing of Ldp politicians…
    I guess that, to remain in power, the Djp has to impress the country, first,
    with very good economical reforms…..if not….

  • looks like she will change the same married surname nonsense rule as well asap.
    first bill submitted in 1996 so only took 14yrs

  • It seems we are making progress, but that progress must be measured to ensure its real and will bring about the necessary reforms we have been calling for.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    In the could be sooner than later department:

    “DPJ exec eyes suffrage bill this term”


    “The Democratic Party of Japan may submit a bill during the current extraordinary Diet session that would grant permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local-level elections, DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka told reporters Friday, noting the session may also have to be extended.”

  • I don’t understand Ozawa’s point. How is Christianity exclusive? Any shleep off the street can become a Christian.

    Before I came to Japan I thought that Japan was a Buddhist country. Imagine my surprise when, as a vegetarian, I couldn’t find any place to eat that didn’t have dead animals in every dish. I don’t know a lot about Buddhism, but I’m pretty sure that not killing animals is one of the tenets. It’s as bad as all the Christians, Muslims and Jews starting wars. “Thou shall not kill” anyone?

    Why the hell would any leader say crap like this anyway? Is he looking for trouble?

    — We’re getting off topic. Bring it back.

  • Ozawa is an old style LDP hack. He was just trying to suck up to the Buddhists much in the way Mori proclaimed that Japan was the land of the Gods to a Shinto group (though less sinister in nature).

    We just be thankful that the religious lobby in Japan is generally pretty weak…

  • I dont see what is wrong with his statement:
    “Christianity “is an exclusive, self-righteous religion. Western society, whose background is Christianity, has been stuck in a dead end,”..”

    As an example, just look at the Bible belt of the US and its affects. Preaching creationism, citing ‘scriptures’ to ban abortion and prevent the use of stem cell technology, not allowing same sex marriages etc etc….all driven by Bush, in his Faith-based crusade, for starters. The Pope says don’t wear condoms….and on it goes!

    Explain how these positions, taken by religion, is progressive?

    I think Ozawa is fairly spot on.

  • I had little or no expectations of the new government when the came to power. I was pleasantly surprised when I started to hear about the things they were trying to do. I find this story disturbing though and I hope it doesn’t reflect on the other leaders in the party.

    It is unfortunate when one of the leaders of the party goes and bashes one religion and promotes another. As a private citizen I feel it’s my duty to tell people what I think about their stupid religion, but the secretary general of the ruling party shouldn’t. If they do, they shouldn’t promote one over another. This will lead to discrimination. Also, arguing about religion is pointless, because you have to have “faith”. Sigh. Maybe Mr. Ozawa said more than what was reported but from the story it just sounds like pointless bashing of another religion and culture and pandering to “Buddhists” (I put that in quotes because after 10 years I am still childishly bitter about how difficult it is to find a vegetarian meal in this “Buddhist” country (Sorry)).

    John K, I certainly agree that in the U.S.A. fundamentalist Christianity is a scourge, but I still don’t get the “exclusive” bit. However, Ozawa also goes on to say:
    “Modern society has forgotten or lost sight of the sprit[sic] of the Japanese people. Buddhism teaches you how humans should live and how the conditions of the mind should be from a fundamental standpoint.”
    I think the “sprit[sic] of the Japanese people” bit is dangerous and reminds me a little of State Shintoism. For the second part, I kind of agree with him, but I don’t think many people actually follow or even know the tenets so it’s a bit disingenuous. Or maybe I’m just misreading the whole thing?

    Anyway, I hope that someone makes him apologize and the government can move on to doing good things like getting rid of the same name marriage requirements and what not.


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