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Monday, June 20, 2016

True Crime Japan - A Book Review

Last week, Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked which books I would like to have and prepare a review on. I chose a few, noting what I liked subject matter-wise.

A few days ago, I received a package of four great books... two of which I read fairly quickly (you'll see why soon enough), and began the third: True Crime Japan written by Paul Murphy a journalist who has a Japanese family and who spent 12 months sitting in on the trials of 119 cases at the Matsumoto-shi courts in Nagano-ken.

While it is quite possible one could have simply found the most gory and violent cases and written up those to titillate the reader, Murphy has instead chosen a cross-section of cases involving real Japanese people to kind of explore how the Japanese mind co-exists with Japanese society...

Murphy begins (you have to read the Introduction of Prologue of any book!) by stating that pretty much everyone who goes before a judge admits to their guilt immediately... citing two cases where that did not occur... and then revealing that the two cases involved gaijin/foreigners who would say anything to avoid a prison term, including lying.

But not the Japanese.

According to True Crime Japan--a book that famed Japanese crime reporter and novelist (Tokyo Vice is a fantastic book!) Jake Adelstein says he wishes he had written it--there is a predictability to Japanese criminal court cases.
  1. The defendant pleads guilty;
  2. The defendant is found guilty.
True Crime Japan is about what happens between those inevitable facts.

Without going into particulars of any of the cases in the book, Murphy reveals that the lawyers and judges all pretty much have a go at the defendants... asking questions to reveal not only why they committed the crime, but what was it in their background that would allow them to think that doing something criminal was the right thing to do.

It's based on that old Japanese nugget:
出る釘は打たれる (deru kugi wa utareru) - "A nail that sticks out will be hammered"

While Murphy does not state this fact (at least not yet - I'm still reading it), it is at the crux of Japanese society.

Actually, that adage isn't the original form of it. This is:

出る杭は打たれる (deru kui wa utareru) - "A stake that sticks out will be hammered"

A slightly different version of the adage does allow for people to stand up in the crowd (say an athlete or actor)...

True Crime Japan's writing at first glance appears to be a bit dry... and it is... but that is because Murphy is accurately depicting how defendants at a criminal proceeding alter their manner of speech to become even more deferential, if that is at all possible, to the judicial officials.

>While the cover proudly states on the cover that cases contained within True Crime Japan will involve thieves, rascals, killers and dope heads, we are also treated to the yakuza, as well as family members trying to kill family members who make a case that the murder was for the good of the family.

>True Crime Japan by Paul Murphy is available from Tuttle Publishing for US$16.95 (paperback), and can be found at and at better book stores.

It's a fascinating book because it allows us to read about real Japanese crime and what really happens in court, because as Murphy states within, Japanese media rarely, if ever, provides the full details of a case.

This book does.

It is a rare look at Japan's shame-based culture.

>Yes... shame-based... look, I said that pretty much everyone provides a guilty verdict to start... and is almost universally always found guilty.

The trials are, essentially, a way for Japanese society to hammer at those nails for their inability to sit properly withing the wood.

A fascinating look inside Japanese criminal justice system and society as a whole.

Thanks Tuttle Publishing!
Andrew Joseph
PS: On the inside back cover of the book, are nine images depicting other great Tuttle books... and I am proud to say that I have previously provided book reviews on five of them.

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