Friday, November 21, 2008

Chances Are Very High

There was a story recently in the Japanese news about a 15-year old girl who stabbed her father to death. The papers reported that she was scolded by her mother for poor grades and then stabbed her father "in the chest and other places". The girl was sentenced to 4 years in a reform school for her crime.

In response to this news, a few foreign commenters speculated that there was more to the story than was being offered. One person noted that it didn't make sense for a girl to commit murder over being yelled at for bad grades. Personally, I think it's also odd that it was the mother who reportedly yelled at her but the father who was killed. Also, the vague wording of the details of the crime, particularly the "other places", got someone speculating that those places might be indicative of something inappropriate going on between the father and daughter. In essence, he speculated that the motive for the murder may have been molestation. This speculation caused an uproar among other commenters who felt that this way off base and came out of thin air.

The speculation that she may have been molested and it was not reported is not out of line for Japan. People who disagreed with the proponents of the theory that this dark bit of data was hidden said that it would have come out because he was dead and there was no reason to hide it. This is Western thinking. In Japan, the opposite is often true. The thinking is usually that, if the person is dead, there is no reason to reveal it.

I asked some students about this to get their opinions and they all told me that Japanese papers do not like to speak ill of the dead. One of my older, more experienced students told me that he felt that chances were very high that newspapers "self-censored" frequently and that many facts were missing in cases where it'd be embarrassing to the family of the deceased or appear that the memory of the dead person was being disrespected.

The way death affects criminal cases is very different in Japan than in the U.S. as well. Often, crimes committed by a person who commits suicide will end an investigation into a particular crime. That is, if a man embezzles money and he had associates involved in that crime, his death by his own hand will end all investigation. The feeling is that justice is satisfied when he chooses to take the ultimate responsibility. In other words, he liberates his compatriots from paying for their crimes with his actions and spares his family further embarrassment.

So, between a desire not to speak ill of the dead and the crimes of the deceased ceasing to be an issue, it wouldn't be a huge shock if the girl who murdered her father was molested, but the fact remained hidden by the press. His death closed the book on any crime he committed and not speaking ill of him would keep the lid on anything that smacked of speaking poorly of him. I don't know if the girl was molested, had a family problem which was not revealed, or was mentally ill. However, I do know that the truth is unlikely to ever be known and that you can't apply Western thought processes to how the information is offered. This is part of how people come to misunderstand Japan and Japanese culture. You can view it through Western eyes using Western logic, but you're going to see a distortion.

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