Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan

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University of Hawaii Press, 1992 - History - 235 pages
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In his study of the treatment of political criminal suspects and prisoners from 1868 to 1945, Richard H. Mitchell makes a major contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Japan's criminal justice system at a most critical juncture in that country's history. Through careful research and sensitive evaluation of the source materials, Mitchell identifies two contrasting themes--a high degree of state repression and a concern for human rights--and shows how a system that clearly involved considerable brutality, torture, and illegal detention also exhibited elements of humanity and fairness. He argues that this contradiction is best understood by viewing prewar Japan as a "paternalistic police state," in which brutality was the other side of benevolence.
The scope of inquiry of this study encompasses a broad range of issues. It assays laws for control of political dissent as well as the origins of the movement for human rights of criminal suspects and convicts, giving special attention to the behavior of defense lawyers. It sorts out the actors and their roles in upholding or violating individual rights and does a superb job of conveying the subtle difficulties faced by judges as well as the markedly "un-American" legal context of political trials. It describes and makes critical distinctions between conditions in prisons and facilities for special detention and surveillance, and it challenges a number of common assumptions, including long-cherished views about the differences between the 1920s and 1930s. Numerous cases of alleged police brutality are evaluated and police actions analyzed. Tenko (conversion), a novel method of dealing with political criminal suspects and convicts, is explored together with the little-known Criminal Compensation Law. Throughout, the yardstick by which treatment of accused and convicted criminals is judged is the state's own laws and regulations. In addition to evaluation by these internal standards, Mitchell devotes his final chapter to a very useful comparison with the situation in Europe during the same period.
There is no other work in English on precisely this subject and no other related work of this scope. Although Mitchell's focus is on political offenders, there is enough material on the overall system to make this volume easily the best available resource on prewar Japanese criminal justice.

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About the author (1992)

Mitchell is Curator's Professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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