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It's not an accident that a lot of jurists pay careful attention to modern Japanese law system: you can’t help but wonder how Japan has succeeded in maintaining both high percentage of law-abiding citizens and low crime rate. We can find the reasons for that in Japanese history. The foundations of the Japanese law were established in Kamakura period (1185-1333) and Muromachi period (1336-1573), the times when samurai were in power. At those times the basic principles of the Japanese law were established. Those principles, with small changes, are still relevant in modern Japan.
Tradition in the Japanese law system is the preservation of the old standards and institutes with the addition of something new. For example, when in the end of the XII century samurai came to power, they decided not to kill the emperor and his family and not to destroy aristocracy. In this sense Japanese revolutionists are different from most of the European ones. Quite the contrary, samurai did acknowledge the necessity of the social balance and adopted some laws regulating the relations between new and old upper classes. Despite all the advantages for the Japan’s military in the legal field, new laws were rather fair for both sides. The principle of “not breaking the old in the name of the new” has helped the development of the Japanese legal system and its steady enhancement.
2) Mutual responsibility and «kenka ryouseibai»
One of the peculiar features of the Japanese attitude is the comprehension of one’s identity and those around oneself in the context of a social group the member of which one is. Long story short, a student represents his class, a worker represents his company, and a soldier – the whole army. Thus a delinquent brings shame upon his whole group, and this, in moral sense, makes the guilt heavier.
The roots of this principle are also found in Kamakura and Muromachi periods. The Medieval Japanese law system was established in such a way that not only the delinquent but also his relatives or co-villagers were to be punished. This was rather violent way for a shogun to establish control over permanently growing population which was suffering from famine and civil wars.
There were many legal standards devoted to the resolution of the cases concerning fights and murders in the Medieval Japan. According to them, the responsibility for the deed was on the both parties. Together those standards form the legal principle of “kenka ryouseibai” which literally means “the punishment of both parties”. Those harsh measures prevented a lot of armed conflicts among the samurai at the time.
There is neither joint punishment nor “kenka ryouseibai” in modern Japan. However, Japanese still feel strong responsibility for the actions that are connected to their group’s well-being.
«Giri» has no direct translation in European languages. It has similar meaning to honor, duty, and is crucial in samurai ideology. It can be the duty of a vassal to his overlord, a wife to her man, children to their parents, a citizen to the whole society or the law.
Japanese Medieval codes encouraged voluntary settlements. It was pointed out that going to a law-court was the last resort that made things difficult both for litigants and the arm of law. If one filed a claim in court and the authorities thought that the lawsuit was meaningless, then one could be banished or divested of his land. This formed an idea that every Japanese citizen’s duty was to solve their problem without any conflict, and this idea has been becoming stronger throughout centuries.
The principles of the Japanese law listed above have had a noticeable impact on the nation's attitude to life and made the existence of Japanese law-abiding possible.