42 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 38: 1 2018]
still retain the parens patriae spirit, shared during the trans-Pacific legal exchange. As we will
explore in Part III, this retained concept has undoubtedly impacted family court dispositions. 33
III. A Comparison - The United States’ and Japan’s juvenile pre-disposition phase and
Both Japan and the United States have struggled to shape proper dispositions that balance
rehabilitation with the appropriate degree of punishment. Japanese family courts, like courts in the
United States, have faced criticism from the public that they are too lenient on juveniles and
punishment should be more severe. 34 In both countries, the media’s persistent coverage of high-profile juvenile crimes leads to calls for harsher penalties and further incapacitation of juveniles. 35
As culture puts external pressure on dispositions, the courts of both countries face internal
pressures from a lack of resources and the difficult intersection of rehabilitation and punishment. 36
In the United States and Japan, after a finding of “delinquency” or need for “protective
disposition,” both courts receive a form of “pre-disposition reports” from probation officers. 37
These pre-disposition reports contain similar information across both countries with the United
States’ reports generally looking at “the circumstances of the current offense, the youth’s past
offense(s), family history, educational progress, and community involvement.” 38 Japanese reports,
called “social investigations,” have their requirements set out in Article 9 of Japanese Juvenile
Law. 39 The law states that the social investigation should look to the juvenile’s behavior; entire
life history; characteristics and environment of the juvenile, of his parent(s) or other persons
concerned; and that they should make use of every medical, psychological, pedagogical, and
sociological tool available. 40 Some Japanese courts even look to a juvenile’s leisure/recreational
activities and health conditions to round out the picture of the juvenile and shape appropriate
The extensive nature of Japanese pre-disposition reports is one area that the United States
could find helpful when looking to improve its juvenile court system. Scholars, such as Jessica
Hardung, noted that Japanese family court judges rely on expert advice and have flexibility in
33 Jessica Hardung, The Proposed Revisions to Japan’s Juvenile Law: If Punishment Is Their Answer, They Are Asking
The Wrong Question, 9 PAC. RIM. L. POL’Y. J. 139, 144 (2000) (noting that “the majority of cases are dismissed and
the juvenile is immediately reintegrated into society”).
34 U.N. Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI), Annual
Report for 2007 and Resource Material Series No. 75 at 137 (Aug. 2008),
35 Masami Ito, Shifting the Scales of Juvenile Justice, JAPAN TIMES (May 23, 2015),
36 UNAFEI, supra note 35, at 136; see also PRESTON ELROD & R. SCOTT RYDER, JUVENILE JUSTICE: A SOCIAL,
HISTORICAL, AND LEGAL PERSPECTIVE 376 (3d ed. 2011).
37 Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 6; see also OFFICE OF JUV. JUST. & DELINQUENCY PREVENTION (OJJDP) Statistical
Briefing Book (Apr. 17, 2015), https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/court/JCSCF_Display.asp.
38NAT’L JUV. DEFENDER CTR., Juvenile Court Terminology, http://njdc.info/juvenile-court-terminology/ (last visited
Apr. 21, 2017).
39 Shonen ho [Juvenile Law] (adopted July 15, 1948) Law No. 168, art. 9, translated in
40 Hiroyuki, supra note 1, at 6.
41 UNAFEI, supra note 35, at 141.