Nihon no shōnen no Seigi: A Comparative Analysis of Juvenile Pre-
Disposition in Japan and The United States
By: James Naughton
The close of World War II brought a new chapter in the saga of American and Japanese
juvenile justice. America’s post-war occupation of Japan had a lasting impact on Japan’s juvenile
justice system (“system”), but it is now time for America to look to Japan for lessons on responding
to youthful offenders. 1 As Japan’s system and law have diverged in spirit and letter, Japan has seen
a sharp decrease in juvenile crime peaking at 12.6% per 1,000 juveniles in 2003 and dropping to
6.77% in 2012.2 Japan’s juvenile crime rate in 2012 was the lowest the country had experienced
since 1966.3 Scholars, such as Kunzo Hiroyuki and the National Police Academy of Japan, credit
the system’s focus on “the Juveniles’ sound development,” 4 with attendant “protective measure[s]
for the delinquent minor for the purpose of correcting his/her deficient character and improving
his/her environment.” 5 As criminologists Tom Ellis and Akira Kyo stated, “In a key sense, Japan’s
juvenile justice system still reflects the original protective intentions of the founders of the US
juvenile justice system,” which is reflected in Japan’s focus on protective, rehabilitative
dispositions. 6 The term parens patriae and its connection to the juvenile justice system has a long
and complicated history, but we will use it for its general meaning as, the State acting in its capacity
as provider of protection for those unable to care for themselves.
Part II of this paper will lay out the structure of Japanese and American juvenile justice to
contextualize the discussion of the pre-disposition phase of these two similar, yet unique systems.
Part III will examine the possible dispositions of juveniles in both countries and examine their
relative effectiveness at rehabilitating youth. Part III also briefly touches on recommendations for
improving the juvenile justice pre-dispositions of both countries based on best practices. Part IV
concludes that America and Japan both have a shared history to draw from, and that a return to
that history would prove fruitful for both countries.
II. A Brief History of Japanese and American Juvenile Justice
Japan’s first recorded law on juvenile justice was the Juvenile Reformatory Law (“JRL”)
1 Kuzuno Hiroyuki, Juvenile Diversion and the Get-Tough Movement in Japan, 22 RITSUMEIKAN L. REV. 1, 1 (2005).
2 Tom Ellis & Akira Kyo, Youth Justice in Japan, Oxford Handbooks Online, 1313, (Jan. 2017),
65?print=pdf; see also Kyodo, Crime rate in Japan falls for the 11th straight year, JAPAN TIMES, (Jan. 10, 2014),
3 Ellis & Kyo, supra note 2, at 13.
4 Shonen ho [Juvenile Law], Law No. 168 of 1948, art. 1, translated in (Japanese Law Translation [JLT DS]),
5 Shinpei Nawa, Postwar Fourth Wave of Juvenile Delinquency and Tasks of Juvenile Police, 58 J. POLICE SCI. 1, 13
(2006); see also Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 21.
6 Ellis, supra note 2.