True Crime: True Crime Japan by Paul Murphy
Tuttle Publishing, €13.99
We are familiar with a justice system predicated on the presumption of innocence. The bar is set very high for the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty as charged. No doubt, it is infuriating for a crime victim to witness an acquittal where inculpatory evidence is lacking. But a heavy burden of proof lies with the prosecution to minimise the risk of wrong convictions.
The cultural contrast between our legal system and that of Japan makes this book a surreal read. In Japan, 90pc of defendants confess and apologise for their crimes. Regardless of their plea, they are virtually all found guilty. Defendants swear an oath to obey their conscience and not to lie or embellish their testimony. Without religion in the courtroom, an honour system prevails.
In the chapter 'House Proud' a family suicide was considered the only solution. Mr Hara was ashamed that he had defaulted on mortgage payments and his house was to be repossessed. Instead of restructuring the loan, he and his wife planned to kill their daughter and themselves after they burnt down the house. The courtroom scene is evoked like a Chekhov play. Each case reads like a captivating short story.
Murphy points to further contrast between our courts' hearings for petty crime, when a middle-aged Mr Aiba, after lengthy questioning and his mother's shaming testimony, was sentenced to 18 months for stealing a bicycle and selling a stolen DVD player for $2.
After a year of interviews with defendants, families and lawyers, observing the Yazuka (Japanese mafia) and 119 cases, Murphy has produced a vivid insight to crime and punishment in Japan.
Sunday Indo Living