Saturday, June 12, 2004

Greetings from J-List June 12, 2004

Hello again from J-List. Once again I've made the hop across the Pacific and am safely back in Japan. Of course between the dreary wetness of Japan's rainy season and the unending humidity that waits to greet me when the rain stops, part of me is wishing I were back in Texas...

Japan is making big changes to its legal system as a way of modernizing its institutions for the 21st century. Amazingly enough, Japan doesn't have enough lawyers, to the point where most people aren't able to perform some of the normal legal functions needed in their daily lives. They really are rare, too -- I've lived in Japan for thirteen years, and I've never met a single lawyer, and in the past the Japanese Bar Association has had to dispatch lawyers to provide legal services for citizens living in very rural prefectures. To help ease the problem, the Japanese government has encouraged the opening of several new law schools whose students started graduating this Spring. While I certainly don't want Japan to become a land of lawsuits like America can be, a functioning legal system is part of any healthy democracy. Unlike Western countries, where the legal system can be an important part of social progress, here the courts and social changes as a result of lawsuits are not a factor in society at all.

Another big change coming to Japan's courts is the introduction of a "lay judge" (i.e., jury) system. By 2009, the Japanese expect to have a six-member jury system in place for trying serious crimes, which will allow average citizens to sit in judgement against their peers. Currently, trials are conducted by three judges who hear arguments and render a verdict, but this system is very flawed -- there's a big difference between having one's fate decided by possibly jaded, cynical judges and a trial by one's peers, after all, and Japan's current judge-only system results in a shocking 98 per cent conviction rate. There are big risks with a trial-by-jury system, though, due to problems with the way the Japanese psyche works. Since Japan is a very group-oriented society, I am concerned that anyone sitting on a jury would feel pressure from the other members in the group to agree with them, despite personal doubts they may have. Also, too, there seem to be certain Japanese who are irrationally stubborn -- like the man who still refuses to sell his land so they can complete Narita Airport, even after 30 years -- and individuals like this would make a jury system difficult to execute. So any attempt at enabling individual Japanese citizens to make fair judgements of people accused of crimes would have to accompany a great amount of education, including explaining how jury systems work in other countries. I believe the system of having average Japanese citizens get involved in the legal process is a great idea -- maybe the experience will make them understand their own society better.

Near our house, we can see the Sphinx, the Statue of Liberty, and many other interesting wonders of world. These are pachinko parlors, a major source of entertainment for many Japanese men and women in Japan. An odd game which I don't pretend to understand, you basically buy a bucket of balls for $50, then sit for hours trying to hold a controller in just the right position to make most of the balls go into certain holes in the pachinko machine, which gets you more balls then you started out with. Since "gambling" is illegal in Japan, except for certain events like horse, boat and bicycle racing, you don't win money -- you get valuable prizes instead, which you redeem for cash at a shady building next to the pachinko parlor. Pachinko is quite a competitive business to be in, and operators (who always seem to be getting involved with some crime or another) work very hard to bring in the newest machines in -- with little video screens or cute anime-style characters printed on them, for example. They have interesting names to attract customers, like Win or Soar or Victory -- there's one near us called Al Pacino. Despite the efforts of the pachinko industry to make the activity seem like a friendly and family-oriented thing to do, pachinko always seems to go hand in hand both with the yakuza and shady North Korean Mafia figures.

The JMATE.com website has been updated again, with new reviews of various cool DVDs you can find here at J-List, as well as English interviews with top JAV idols, including the lovely Riho Nanase. The URL is http://www.jmate.com

Remember that J-List carries excellent magazine by our "reserve subscription." This means that you can get great anime, JPOP, fashion and other magazines sent to you as soon as the new issue is out in Japan -- a few days earlier than newsstands receive them here, in fact. We recommend great items like Young Magazine Uppers, a superb manga magazine that features Shirow Masamune's newest posters in special issues as well as great comic art from some of Japan's best manga-ka (manga artists). Payment through any method is fine (credit card, check or money order) and you can stop your subscription at any time.