The Law of Japanese Subway Pushers

What are the legal consequences of this?

A reader in Quora has published an absolutely amazing answer to the question “What is it like to work as a “pusher” in Tokyo’s subway system?” If you have, or if you have not, been a part of the human toothpaste tube that is the Tokyo train system, read about it here.

For my purposes, it’s a brilliant contrast between Japanese and common law legal cultures. Imagine police officers in three countries are sent into the subways to check for criminal behavior, and they see the events in the video above.

That’s an assault in Canada.

A person commits an assault when (a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly …

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, the hypothetical police officer just watched an assault. No question. That’s not how Canadians treat people! Of course, a Canadian judge would be free to interpret how the Code applied to these circumstances.

That’s an assault in the United States.

New York Penal Law §120.00 A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when: 1. With intent to cause physical injury to another person, he causes such injury to such person or to a third person;  or 2. He recklessly causes physical injury to another person …

New Yorkers are tough, and apparently don’t mind getting harmlessly pushed. But if the police officer asked around to find some injuries and evidence of injurious intent or recklessness on the part of Japan Railways (JR) toward the passengers, there’d be a crime. JR policy seems to be to solve every platform overflow problem by crushing people, so … that seems intentional. The Quora author reports that, “every ride, you hear about a couple people fainting from the heat/ lack of oxygen.” So there’s your injuries. (Assault in the 3rd degree is the least serious assault in N.Y. – just a misdemeanor.) As in Canada, an American judge would be free to interpret how the Penal Law applied in these circumstances.

In Japan?

Penal Code of Japan Article 204. A person who causes another to suffer injury shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than 500,000 yen.
Penal Code of Japan Article 208.  When a person assaults another without injuring the other person, the person shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more than 300,000 yen, misdemeanor imprisonment without work or a petty fine.

In Japan, there’s just no specific definition of “assault” in the Penal Code, just penalties for whenever “assault” might happen. Is crushing passengers on a train an assault? Maybe? How is a police officer to know? Who’s to say? The law in Japan is “ambiguous and elastic … changed, shaped and sometimes distorted by policemen…”


I AM the law.

Tokyo police are far from corrupt in the sense that kind of ambiguous legal interpretation might suggest in other nations. But if Tokyo police don’t, as a rule, get in the way of train workers doing their job, the Penal Code of Japan isn’t the reason. The police are guided by different, non-semantic legal principles. They’re guided by giri, the particular Japanese ‘collective sense of decency.’ Here’s a short burst from Meryll Dean‘s fascinating book, The Japanese Legal System:

The essence of [the place of law in society] is caught by Takeyoshi Kawashima who likened law in Japan to an heirloom samurai sword: there to be treasured but not used.[19]

However, the presence of law as an object of interest, even reverence, rather than an instrument actively to be used, implies the existence of some other rules for the management of society and settlement of disputes. In broad terms these are the rules of giri. 

[19] Cited by Haley ‘Sheathing the Sword of Justice in Japan: An Essay on Law Without Sanctions’ (1982) Journal of Japanese Studies 265, n 15 and from which he takes inspiration for the title of that article.

In Japan the meaning of words used in legal principles or in statutes is taken for granted by Japanese people as being necessarily ambiguous and elastic. Here, the people would not be surprised to discover that the meaning of law sometimes is changed, shaped and sometimes distorted by policemen, prosecutors, lawyers and by judges during the legal process. It is inevitable, of course, in every society that lawyers and judges have to change the meaning of law in order to adjust the existing law to a new set of circumstances after the original legal norms have appeared. In European or Anglo-American societies, however, the scope and manner in which lawyers or judges can change or adapt the meaning of the law to a particular situation or set of circumstances is limited. However, in Japan it seems to me that the limit itself is not as clearly established.

Kawashima, T,’ Japanese Way of Legal Thinking’ (1979) 7 International Journal of Law Libraries 127-31

More from Dean’s book to come.


A Bit On the LSAT

This isn’t really a “How to Get Into Law School” Site, there are certainly plenty of those out there.

My LSAT pointers are fairly simple:

1) Study early, study often.  I knew when I was renewing for my third year of JET that, after my third year, I wanted to go to law school.  On the same day I renewed for my third year, I purchased and LSAT study book on Amazon, got onto LSAC – and figured out the registration deadlines and dates for the June LSAT.

2) Negotiate the time off with your boss so you can take the test – keep an eye on your available nenkyuu.

TempleUJapan.jpg3) There is currently one LSAT location in Japan.  I was under the impression when I started this post that there were two: one in Okinawa and one in Tokyo (Kawasaki-shi).  According to LSAC, the current testing location for Japan is at Temple University’s Tokyo Campus.

4) Depending on the amount of nenkyuu you have, I’d suggest getting to Tokyo at least one day early for the test, if not two, and making sure you give yourself time to go through a practice test while there, before you head in to take the real deal.

5) Take the LSAT seriously.  It’s going to determine both the schools that are open to you, as well as the potential amount of scholarship money you’ll be eligible for.  At the end of the day, it is just a test – but it’s a serious test, with serious implications.  My first LSAT was during my senior year of undergrad.  I studied poorly, I didn’t sleep well the night before, and I didn’t perform to my expectations.  I took the LSAT again, three years later, while on JET.  I studied hard, made a real effort to understand the problems, the test taking strategy, and to think out my plans for getting down to Tokyo/getting to the test site well ahead of time.  My LSAT score actually went up by 10 points.

As an aside, outfits like Kaplan do offer LSAT classes in Japan, but if you were in uber-Inaka Tohoku like I was, chances are these courses will be nothing more than an impractical tease.

There are plenty of potential law students willing to offer LSAT advice, though, and just a cursory Google search should produce all the guidance you’ve ever wanted to hear about taking the LSAT, whether from law school forums or from self-proclaimed LSAT gurus offering pointers over YouTube.

Here’s just a taste:

Top Law Schools Forum

Practicing in Tokyo (3): Know Your Firms

20061008-Shinjuku0093A short, simple post – if you want to practice somewhere like Tokyo, you need to know the firms that you want to practice with – and this post is designed to help you figure that out. No frills, bells or whistles – just a long, linked-up like crazy list of firms. A list of major multinational firms with Tokyo offices are listed below:

  1. Allen & Overy
  2. Arqis Foreign Law Office
  3. Ashurst
  4. Baker & McKenzie
  5. Bingham McCutchen
  6. Clifford Chance
  7. Cotty Vivant Marchiso & Lauzeral
  8. Davis Polk & Wardwell
  9. DLA Piper
  10. Finnegan Henderson
  11. Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer
  12. Herbert Smith
  13. Hogan & Hartson
  14. Hughes Hubbard & Reed
  15. Jones Day
  16. King & Wood
  17. Latham & Watkins
  18. Linklaters
  19. Lovells
  20. Milbank Tweed
  21. Morgan Lewis & Bockius
  22. Morrison Foerster (“MOFO”)
  23. Norton Rose
  24. O’Melveny & Myers
  25. Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe
  26. Paul Hastings
  27. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
  28. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  29. Quinn Emanuel
  30. Ropes & Gray
  31. Shearman & Sterling
  32. Sidley Austin
  33. Simmons & Simmons
  34. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
  35. Skadden Arps
  36. Sughrue Mion
  37. Squire Sanders
  38. Sullivan & Cromwell
  39. Vinson & Elkins
  40. Wakely Foreign Law Office
  41. White & Case
  42. Wikborg Rein
  43. Hayabusa Asuka
  44. TMI Associates

Practicing Law in Tokyo (1): Be There

There are lots of considerations and calculations that need to made if you want to take your JET background, snag a law degree, and return to Japan to practice law.   Chances are, moreover, that the Career Services office of you law school may not have the resources to help you search for such a job with ease.  I know that my law school – despite the fact that it claims to be a “national” law school – is only at its best when trying to guide students for jobs in-state.  Any inroads into Japan that I, or the students before me, have made, have been almost entirely of our own creation.  Unless your law school has a unique connection or strong alumni base in Japan, you will be facing the same challenge.

This is the first in a series on getting to what may be the ultimate goal for some: practicing law in a firm in Tokyo right out of law school.  We’re going to look at what it takes to get there, what you need to do, and what your odds are, generally, of finding yourself there after the three year commitment of life and money that is law school.

I start this series with what is, perhaps, the most consistent piece of advice I’ve received on trying to get an international law firm placement.  If you want to practice there, you have to be there.

As such, if you want to wake up one day working in Tokyo, you have to get yourself to Tokyo.  As one partner for a multinational firm put it to me:

The trick, then, is getting into the job market now, or, if you can’t get in to the job market, doing something productive with your time in the interim.  If you’re having difficulty finding a job for this summer, I would recommend offering your services for free just to get the experience.  If your goal is to practice in Tokyo, then you may want to consider contacting Tokyo law firms and offer to help them for ten weeks in the summer.  The experience will be good for you, and if they like you, they might even decide to start paying you or perhaps offer you a job in the future.

And a separate source, currently practicing in Tokyo…

As for HOW I got in contact with these firms, it was just being in Tokyo. If you want to work there, do the Temple program. That increases your chances of scoring a job in Tokyo by like 400%, especially if you are a former JET…

If you’re not willing to demonstrate to employers your willingness to be there, you’re just another resume in the pile.  Employers are interested in commitment, particularly legal employers where the costs of bringing in a new employee, training them, and turning them into an asset that the firm makes money from is a lengthy and expensive process.  A resume and cover letter from thousands of miles away doesn’t covey that in the same way as a face-to-face meeting and interview can.

This creates the problem, then, of getting to Japan.  A semester abroad program seems the most risk averse (and common) way of approaching this situation, particularly if the program allows the opportunity for an internship.

If you can’t get yourself to Japan– chances are much higher your request for employment will be greeted by the customary void of silence or, if you’re lucky, thin rejection letter that finds most law students.  Bottom line:  If you want to work in Japan right out of law school, you have to be willing to commit the money, time, and the risk of traveling the thousands of miles to Tokyo for a job that you may or may not get.