A Comparative Analysis of Juvenile Pre-Disposition in Japan and The United States 41
response to Japan’s own “get-tough” movement. 20 Coming two decades after America’s
toughening movement, 21 Japan’s new laws lowered the age for transfer from sixteen to fourteen,
mandated transfer in cases of homicide or offenses resulting in death, and allowed for victim
impact statements. 22 While Japan’s development of juvenile justice may roughly trace the
trajectory of American juvenile justice, it is important to disentangle the common threads to see
the lessons in their deviations.
A. Structure of Japanese Juvenile Justice
In order to frame our discussion of juvenile justice in Japan, it is necessary to briefly outline
the structure of Japanese Juvenile Justice. In Japan, the age of criminal responsibility begins at
fourteen years old, and cases are referred to adult criminal courts after the age of twenty. 23
Juveniles between the ages of fourteen and twenty who have committed an offense are referred by
police, public prosecutors, or Child Guidance Centers to family court or adult criminal court. 24
Juveniles under the age of fourteen may be referred to child guidance centers for advice or
counseling, and these centers may still refer the cases to family court. 25
Juveniles up to the age of twenty may also receive informal “guidance,” the equivalent of
a “station adjustment,” 26 and many cases never go further. 27 Of the 108,312 cases that the police
cleared in 2013, only 2,590, or 0.02%, were referred to criminal court. 28 Those juveniles may
receive a fine, a suspended prison sentence, or a determinate sentence. 29 Once a juvenile is in the
family court, 42.2% of cases are disposed with no further action, 41.1% of juveniles are placed on
probation, and the remaining 16.7% are spread across referrals to social welfare agencies and
institutions or referrals to adult criminal court. 30 Similar to the United States, Japan’s family courts
have “closed and informal” 31 hearings, with “an emphasis on kindness.” 32 Japanese family court’s
20 Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 11.
21 Jeffrey A. Butts & Daniel P. Mears, Reviving Juvenile Justice in a Get-Tough Era, 33 YOUTH & SOC’Y 169, 180
22 Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 11; see also NAT’L INS. OF JUST., Victim Impact Statements (Dec. 4, 2017),
(defining victim impact statements, or VIS’s as a victim’s description of how the crime affected their life and the lives
of their loved ones).
23 Ellis & Kyo, supra note 2, at 18.
24 SECRETARIAT OF THE JUD. REFORM COUNCIL, The Japanese Judicial System, KANTEI [Prime Minister’s Office],
(July 1999), http://japan.kantei.go.jp/judiciary/0620system.html.
25 Id.; see also Ellis & Kyo, supra note 2, at 17.
26 LINDSAY BOSTWICK, ILL. CRIM. JUST. INFO. AUTHORITY, POLICIES AND PROCEDURES OF THE ILLINOIS JUVENILE
JUSTICE SYSTEM 6 (2010) (offering a definition of station adjustment as an “informal handling of a juvenile offender
avoiding further juvenile justice involvement . . . [youth] are released to a parent or guardian under specified
conditions, such as obeying curfew, attending school, performing community service, and/or participating in social
services”); see also Mari Sakiyama, Reintegrative Shaming and Juvenile Delinquency in Japan at 30 (2011) (noting
that: Japanese police also frequently set free guilty offenders without charging a fine as long as they show genuine
regret and contrition for their criminal violation).
27 SECRETARIAT OF THE JUD. REFORM COUNCIL, supra note 25.
28 Id.; see also Ellis, supra note 2, at 18.
29 SECRETARIAT OF THE JUD. REFORM COUNCIL, supra note 25; see also Ellis & Kyo, supra note 2, at 19.
30 SECRETARIAT OF THE JUD. REFORM COUNCIL, supra note 25; see also Ellis, supra note 2, at 27.
31 Trevor Ryan, Creating ‘Problem Kids’: Juvenile Crime in Japan and Revisions to the Juvenile Act, 19 J. OF
JAPANESE L. 153, 156 (2005).
32 Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 7–8.