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Japan and Restorative Practices

The emphasis on apology and forgiveness in Japanese society has led many commentators, such as John O. Haley, to point to Japan as an example of how restorative justice can affect crime and society. Despite this prominence of apology and forgiveness in explaining lower crime rates in Japan, these mechanisms have remained informal and tend to be offender focused. Recent activities seek to change this reality.

Japan’s Informal System 

Apology, forgiveness, and restitution all have an impact on the processing of criminal cases in Japan. Depending on the seriousness of the crime, an offender may be diverted from the court process if he/she apologizes for the offense and shows remorse. The attitude (forgiveness) of the victim and the community are taken into account as well.  This emphasis on apology and forgiveness is seen throughout the justice process.  Police officers, for example, are allowed to drop charges in minor offenses depending on the offender’s apology and displayed remorse.  

It is also possible for an offender or representative to approach the victim prior to going to court. This informal mediation, jidan, seeks to create a restitution agreement between the victim and the offender for material and emotional damages in either penal or civil cases. Although jidan is an informal mediation between the parties, the outcome may affect the formal court proceedings by either leading to the suspension of an indictment or more lenient sentencing for the offender. For this reason, many offenders seek a letter of forgiveness from their victims to present in court.

Formal Mechanisms 

Although he Japanese system has been held to be an example of restorative justice, there are questions about the restorativeness of the apology/forgiveness cycle. Commentators such as Yoko Hosoi and Haruo Nishimura interpret the cycle as leaving the victim out of the process as well as not allowing for true remorse on the part of the offender. One new program for juvenile offenders seeks to address this situation. 

In June 2001, 130 legal professionals from Chiba Prefecture opened a rehab center with the purpose of providing conferencing services to juvenile offenders and their victims. To participate, the offender must admit guilt. A conferencing coordinator will meet with each side in the case to ensure that both the offender and the victim are willing to discuss the crime and its impact. The conference will be open to interested parties such as teachers, coworkers, and family members of both the victim and the offender.  

During the conference, participants will be allowed to tell their own versions of the crime, while the coordinator attempts to ensure that neither side participates in personal criticisms. The parties will then turn to the task of designing a reparation agreement. Agreements may include the offender agreeing to undertake vocational training or volunteer work as well as restitution. The conference can be held before a court proceeding or during probation. The conference agreement will be referred to the court or detention center to be considered in the future treatment of the offender. 

This project is seen as providing a more balanced treatment for victims and offenders.

Resources used for this article: 

“Restorative Justice’ to tackle juvenile crime”. Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri. May 20, 2001 

Chiba legal professionals open youth rehab center.” Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri. June 25, 2001. 

Haley, John O. 1998. “Apology and pardon.” American Behavioral Scientist. 41(6): 842-867.  

Haley, John O.. (1994). A Spiral of Success: Community Support Is Key to Restorative Justice in Japan. The Ecology of Justice published by Context Institute, Bainbridge Island, WA. In Context. No. 38: 32.

Hosoi, Yoko and Haruo Nishimura.. (1999). "The Role of Apology in the Japanese Criminal Justice System.". Paper presented at the Restoration for Victims of Crime Conference. Australian Institute of Criminology and Victims Referral and Assistance Service. Melbourne



Lynette Parker

September 2002

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