Thursday, December 31, 2015

Curiouser and curiouser - the evolving laws of Japan

Japan is essentially a highly developed, law-abiding country despite the best efforts of the legal system itself. Total gun related deaths in 2014 - eight. Empowered to enact the laws of the land, the Diet (Japan's version of the House of Representatives), which struggled with the difference between a law and a constitution in 2015, will soon pass a seemingly innocuous requirement to address the question of passive smoking in public. Except, in deference to the voting community of Japan's tobacco farmers, it will avoid any mention of penalties.

A seeming contradiction in terms, a law without the option, or presumably desire, of enforcement, isn't something all that new in Japan though. The original sexual harassment (sekuhara) laws were effectively a request not to participate until as late as the 1990's. That the word 'sekuhara' is a contraction of the English rather than being a native Japanese word is interesting in its own right. And the new corporate governance law requiring companies to employ a certain percentage of female executives has not only had its targets reduced but also avoided the sticky question of penalties at all. 

Indeed product liability laws were only revised in the early 2000's when a faulty TV burnt some unfortunate consumer's house down and the manufacturer's response was to blame the individual for plugging it in. And when Japan finally implemented child pornography laws recently, the bill included a twelve month grace period for people to delete their existing collections. And so, if the passive smoking laws are being de-fanged to prevent disquiet amongst tobacco farmers, then it begs the obvious question, who exactly were they trying to avoid displeasing in the other examples.

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