When I first came to Japan in 1990, I was astonished that the Statute of Limitations for murder was fifteen years in this country. That meant that if the police didn’t arrest a murderer within that time, it would be impossible to charge him with the crime…even if he publicly confessed.
I was surprised that this fact wasn’t a concern to the people of Japan.
But, it turned out that it was a concern because the law was finally amended…two years ago.
As of 2010, there is no longer a Statute of Limitations on murder in Japan.
One case in particular was significant in getting this law changed. It was the death of Satoru Kobayashi.
On April 11th, 1996, Satoru Kobayashi was twenty-one years old when he got into a heated argument late at night outside one of downtown Tokyo’s biggest train stations.
The other man hit young Mr. Kobayashi in the head hard enough to cause internal bleeding and, ultimately, his death five days later.
The man who caused Mr. Kobayashi’s death was wanted by the police for charges of “Accidental Manslaughter”.
He was a fugitive and the police had seven years until the Statute of Limitations for those charges would expire.
This case became big news in the Japanese media back then because it’s considered “normal” behavior that someone who gets caught up in a heated (possibly drunken) argument and (hopefully) unintentionally causes injury (or worse) to another person would confess to the police and apologize to the family of the victim.
In Japan, sincere remorse for a crime is vital and has a big effect on a judge’s sentencing.
So, the fact that this man didn’t come forward to apologize and accept his punishment was a concern to the public in Japan.
If the man didn’t apologize and feel remorse, than maybe it wasn’t accidental. Maybe he was dangerous.
The accidental tragic outcome of two people over-reacting in an argument is one thing…but a person attacking (and killing) other people in crowded train stations was quite another.
Japan has a very low crime rate. One factor in this is the Japanese mindset…Japanese people are taught from an early age to consider other people’s feelings before their own.
It makes for a very polite society…even in densely populated areas such as Tokyo.
Due to this case being in the media spotlight and a concern to the public, there was pressure on the police to catch the man who caused Satoru Kobayashi’s death before April 2003 (when the Statute of Limitations would end).
In early 2003, just before the Statute of Limitations would expire, the charges against the fugitive wanted in Mr. Kobayashi’s death were moved up to “Murder”.
The rationale for this was, officially, that since the man was hiding from the police, he must have killed Mr. Kobayashi intentionally…but it might have simply been done to “buy time” for the police to finally catch the man.
As I mentioned, at that time murder had a 15 year Statute…so that gave the police another eight years (until April 2011) to continue their hunt.
In 2010, as the new “deadline” approached, the Japanese government removed the Statute of Limitations on charges of “Murder” completely.
Now, the search for Satoru Kobayashi’s killer can go on indefinitely.
Well, the father of the late Satoru Kobayashi publicly announced yesterday (the 16 year anniversary of his son’s death) that he would like the police to end the search for his son’s killer.
I can’t imagine a parent doing that in another country.
But this is part of the selfless way of thinking here that makes Japan a comfortable place to live.
The elder Mr. Kobayashi said that he has resigned himself to the fact that the man who hit his son will never be found…and it wouldn’t be right for any more police resources to be spent on the search when they could be focused on other cases.
The police replied that since the charges are for murder, which no longer has a Statute of Limitations, they cannot officially end the search…but after the father’s made his wish known, the ¥3 million bounty for the fugitive was withdrawn.