Who put ice cream in the post-box? A scoop of Japanese laws.

The whole time I was reading those comments, all I thought was how lucky we are to have our justice system and our police force in Europe/UK. But how are we lucky? Am I saying you won't be lucky if you end up in the Japanese justice system?

Who put ice cream in the post-box? A scoop of Japanese laws.

I had been thinking about doing this blog because no one really talks about the Japanese Justice system. After mentioning the Japanese police force multiple times in past blogs, I decided to do this because I saw a tweet of a video of an individual being arrested by 6 police officers a few weeks ago. So pull a seat as we go into the journey that will make you wonder who would put ice cream in a post-box!

So the tweet in question is this video. I came across it because some of the amazing members of the infosec community retweeted it.   ‌

Now me being the curious soul that I am, I looked further into the video to find out more about it and most of the comments I saw about the video was along the lines of the British police have gone downhill, etc. The whole time I was reading those comments, all I thought was how lucky we are to have our justice system and our police force in Europe/UK (I am not including America in this because that's a completely different story). But how are we lucky? Am I saying you won't be lucky if you end up in the Japanese justice system? Well, I hope you have pulled up a seat by now as we about to dive into the belly of the beast.

Japanese Justice system

If you do get arrested, the police will put you in custody for 72 hours. During these 72 hours, they have to decide if they detain you or not. Then the prosecutor will file a request and if a judge approves it, then you will be detained for 10 days. Now that might not seem too bad but those 10 days can be expanded for another 10 more days. So in theory, you can be detained for 23 days without being officially charged for a crime. I want to make something clear, you can be detained for 23 days for one crime, if you are arrested for a second crime, you can be detained for another 23 days. So let's quickly compare the UK's custody times:

Minor crime: up to 24 hours before they must charge you with a crime or release you.

Serious crime: up to 36 or 96 hours if you’re suspected of a serious crime, eg murder.

Suspected of Terrorism: You can be held without charge for up to 14 days If you’re arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Well, what stops you from being bailed out though?

Well, the bail system in Japan is different compared to most countries like the UK and USA. In the UK, after you have been charged, you can be granted bail while you are waiting for your court hearing. And in the USA, for less serious crimes, you are allowed to post bail immediately after being booked or you will have to wait (usually less than 48 hours) for a bail hearing where a judge will determine if the accused is eligible for bail and at what cost. But in Japan, you can only request bail after you are indicted.

If you are foolish enough to commit a minor crime in Japan as a tourist, you will be in custody for 23 days. So am I saying you just have to wait the 23 days out? Well only if you can last that long because the other major things about these 23 days are the interrogations. Japan does have the right to remain silent and consult with an attorney without the presence of prosecutors or the police. And the suspect doesn’t speak Japanese, they also have the right to have an interpreter present during interrogation. But unlike other countries, you are forced to be in the room for an interrogation even if you use your right to remain silent and top of that, the Japanese justice system doesn't allow a suspect has the right to have a lawyer present during interrogation. This is because they believe the presence of a lawyer can hinder the interrogation process and therefore makes it harder to obtain sufficient statements from a suspect. To be clear, a lawyer can speak to their client but can't be in the room for interrogation and can't access the suspect’s written testimony. So what does this mean? It means whenever the police want to question you, they can. And it is common for them to throw questions at you and to force a confession by saying something like "it is better for you to confess". So all of this means you would be questioned constantly for 23 days with police officers putting constant pressure on you to plead guilty even if you are innocent. This is where the problem starts.

The Police Box at Mansei Bridge

Hostage Justice

Because of the prolonged and high pressured interrogations, a lot of people confess to crimes even when they are innocent. This is why Japan has a conviction rate of 99% (99.4% to be exact). Now, this is where the first major flaw in the system comes to light, for the one who is innocent but doesn't confess, they get normally get indicted and will detain for even longer until they get a confession or they give up (we are talking about months or even years in detainment if you are unlucky. But for the one who is innocent and confesses to a minor crime like shoplifting, they might get out with a warning or a charge. Well what about an embassy, surely they can help? Well, they can come and visit you, make sure you are alive and well. They might be able to pass a message onto your family but that's all they can do really.

There is one question that I have seen float around the internet about this which is "should I confess even though I haven't done it?" To quote a Yugo Ishibashi who is a Japanese trial lawyer, "As a lawyer, I would say no, but it's a difficult decision." Two other big issues with the system are the language barrier and xenophobia. If anyone doesn't know what xenophobia is, it is the fear of foreigners and it is a big problem in Japan. So how does that affect the system? Well, xenophobia can cause prejudice against foreigners and with the language barrier on top of that, it leads to a lot of situations where the police are more like to listen to and believe a Japanese individual over a foreigner. I have heard too many stories about xenophobia in Japan. (I might do a blog talking about xenophobia in future.)

So what should you do if you ever end up in a situation where you are arrested? Well ask the police for a lawyer, and they will have to call for one. There is also a service provided by the bar association where you can get some free advice. The best thing I can say is to get a lawyer.

Death is sitting around the corner

I should really put a PG warning on some of these blogs, like "It's the season to be wrapping! The mystery of the plastic wrapping." and "Excuse me, where do I put my trash?". Every once in a while, someone says something like "I bet you think Japan is perfect" but anyone knows me well, can tell you that there are many parts that I dislike and hate. The xenophobia, how they deal with rape cases, how they still have the death penalty, etc. Japan isn't perfect, it is flawed in many ways and I plan to talk about most of these flaws as most people don't know about them.

But the one I am going to talk about is the death penalty, I remember when I found out Japan still had it as at the time, I was in an American styled dinner in Yokohama, listening to the news about hijacking by pirates when the announcement that the final 6 members of AUM, who were the group that conducted the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995, had been executed. I was in shock that a seemly peaceful country like Japan still had the death penalty. But it wasn't the only thing that has shocked me, for example, the age of consent in japan is 13 years old. But before you pick up your pitchforks and start charging, let me explain.

The first 7 executed Aum Shinrikyo cult members of July 2018. (Kyodo News via AP, File)


Modern Japanese law is made up of the roppo (six codes) which is six major codes that were influenced by Western countries after the Meiji period and Japan's constitution. There are many other statutes enacted by the Diet as well.

  1. The Civil Code
  2. The Commercial Code
  3. The Criminal Code
  4. The Constitution of Japan
  5. The Code of Criminal Procedure
  6. The Code of Civil Procedure

Japan's age of consent and statutory rape law: As much as the age of consent in japan is 13 years old, it is more like a baseline for statutory rape. Even though it is the lowest of any developed country, there are many local "corruption of minors" or "obscenity statutes" which raise the age of consent to 16-18, unless they are in a "sincere romantic relationship" with parental consent. For example, the effective age of consent in Tokyo by local statute is 18. In terms of marriage, it is 16 for girls and 18 for boys with parental permission, and 20 without parental permission as it is stated in the Child Welfare Act of Japan. Additional note for any Americans reading this, there is no Romeo and Juliet laws in Japan so there is no close-in-age exemption.

Alien Registration Law: This is a key law to know if you ever plan to live in Japan. This law falls under Alien Registration Act allows for fair control established over aliens residing in Japan by clarifying matters about their residence and status and through the enforcement of the registration of such aliens. Aliens, in this case, are not the one we look for up in space but a person who does not have Japanese nationality. This is why you might hear of something called the Zairyu Kado (Gaijin) card or you might be called a Gaijin (Foreigner/Alien). As you might be able to guess, you have to register with the mayor or head of the city, town, or village (or ward if you are in Tokyo). But this law is also key to tourists as Article 13, Clause 2 of the law states “The alien shall present his registration certificate to the Immigration Inspector, Immigration Control Officer, Police Official, Maritime Safety Official or any other official of the state or local public entity prescribed by the Ministry of Justice Ordinance, if such official requests the presentation of the registration certificate in the performance of his duties." So only specific officials like a police officer can demand to see your passport or Gaijin Card.

But there is a trick to this, due to Police Execution of Duties Act, Section 2, Clause Two: “A police officer is able to ask for a person’s ID, but only if based on a reasonable judgment of a situation, where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect that a person will commit or has committed a crime, or else when it has been officially determined that a particular person knows a crime will be committed." So it means they can't ask for ID without reason. But this is the xenophobia problem can pop it's ugly head up as they might try to force you to show your ID. In this case, then show them. As I said before in other blogs, carry your passport around all the time because of this law. But you can take back some of the power by asking them for his ID. As in The Alien Registration Law, Section 13, Clause 3:

“In case the official mentioned in the preceding paragraph requests the presentation of the registration certificate in a place other than his office, he shall carry with him the identification card showing his official status and present it upon request.”

Which means a police officer must be able to prove they are a police officer and allows you to write down their details. But there is a loophole, they only have to show their ID if they stop you on the street, or anywhere other than the police box. So they might try to take you back to one, now they can't force you to one unless they formally arrest you. But they might ask you to accompany them to a nearby police station, police box, or any police administration area for questioning if it is determined that this place is unsuitable for questioning because it obstructs traffic or is disadvantageous to the questionee. So you have the right to refuse, and they have no right to restrict your movements without a formal charge or arrest. But don't push your luck.

Smoking regulations: It is illegal to smoke and buying tobacco under the age of 20. Even though it might seem easy to get cigarettes in Japan with the fact that there are Cigarette vending machines, they are limited to the locals only as a special card called “Taspo” are needed to buy from them. In terms of where you can smoke, you must have done it at designated smoking areas as public spaces, restaurants, offices, etc are usually non-smoking areas. Any smokers who plan to go to Japan, you have to be super careful as there are regulations that state cigarette butt littering will incur fines and smoking while walking is illegal. So either learn to stop smoking or buy a portable ashtray (you can get one from a 100-yen store or somewhere).

Gambling law: Most forms of gambling in Japan is illegal under chapter 23, articles 185 and 186 of the Criminal (Penal) code but there are some exceptions to it, in the form of Pachinko, horse racing and certain motor sports (Kyōtei - boat racing). Japanese laws prohibit anyone younger than 20 from entering a pachinko parlour. I will do a blog on Pachinko Parlour in the future as they are an interesting part of Japanese culture.

The legal driving age in Japan is 18 so even if you have an international driver’s license, you won’t be able to drive in Japan if you are under 18.

Metabo Law: This law is designed to counter obesity where every man and woman between the ages 45 and 74 years old are required by law to have their waistlines measured every year - They cannot have a waist measuring more than 90 cm (35 in). Now the only "punishment" from this law for individuals is they might be required to seek medical attention by their company or their local government office as companies and government offices can face fines and penalties for having overweight staff.

Now for some quick-fire laws:

  • You must report any explosive to the police or you can be fined up to ¥10,000. (it used to be only ¥100.)
  • It is illegal to damage or throw away money because if you do, you could be fined up to ¥200,000 or spend a year in prison.
  • If you die in a duel, the national insurance companies won’t pay out to your next of kin.
  • It’s illegal to make a clone of someone as it is against the law to experiment with human cloning. Therefore you could be sentenced to 10 years in prison or fined ¥10,000,000.
  • Putting ice cream in mailboxes can lead to you being imprisoned for up to 5 years or fined a maximum of ¥500,000 as Article 78 of the Postal Law protects all postal property against damage. If you think no one would ever put ice cream into a mailbox, think again as in 2006, a 42-year-old postman from Saitama Prefecture was arrested for putting chocolate ice cream inside a mailbox.
  • Driving by and splashing pedestrians with water in rainy weather is illegal and can carry fines up to ¥7000. it is referred to as "mudding".
  • To cook fugu (blowfish), you require a licence as the fish' organs contain a deadly poison that will shut down basic body functions such as breathing. Statistics from the Tokyo bureau of social welfare and public health indicate 20 to 44 incidents between 1996 and 2006 in Japan. Between 34 and 64 people were hospitalized and zero to six died.
  • Exposure of thighs by mistake carries a prison term of up to 1 year. Exposure of the butt lip is also subject to regulation - minor criminal act, article 1 2o: exposure of thighs by mistake carries a prison term of up to 29 days and exposing buttocks is also subject to it.
  • It is illegal to lie when a delivery service work/courier service work asks you for directions. imprisoned for less than 3 years or a fine of up to ¥500,000.
  • It's illegal to cut in lines, disturbing the peace and causing a ruckus while people are in queue as stated in Article 1, section 13 of Japan's minor offense act. It can lead to fines and even jail time in some cases.

So before I end this blog, I thought I would take a look at a few laws that might relate to infosec/Confidentiality:

It’s illegal to hand your neighbour’s misaddressed mail to them due to Article 42 of the Postal Law which is in place to protect the privacy of both the sender and recipient. So if you get any misaddressed mail in your mailbox, you should send it back and let the post office handle it. On top of that, only you or someone of your choice can open your letters due to Article 133 of the Criminal (penal) code also known as the law of Unlawful Opening of Letters. This law states a person who, without justifiable grounds, opens a sealed letter shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than ¥200,000.

It is illegal to own non-Japanese walkie-talkies. This is because Japan relies heavily on radios as a form of community announcement to relay important information about things like earthquakes. So there is the risk that a foreign walkie-talkie could potentially throw things into disarray if interference occurs. Failure to comply can result in 1-year imprisonment or fines of up to ¥1,000,000.

It is illegal to possess, sell or transfer lockpicks in Japan. This is because of the Prohibition of Possession of Special Unlocking Tools Law. That states it is illegal to carry any item that could be used to break into a building either by picking a lock or breaking a window. So let me be clear, it is illegal to carry anything that could be used to break into a building, so don't think you won't be stopped and arrested for the intent of breaking into a house with a rubber ducky. Jokes aside, this law is quite broad and there was a case where a member Hokkaido Ground Self-Defense Force was arrested for possession of two flathead screwdrivers. No one knows if he was planning to break into somewhere or not but it is a good example of how Japanese laws can be misused. So be careful, because if you are found with lock picks on you, you will be subject to a fine of 500,000 yen and a year in prison.


I have been wanting to write a blog about this topic for a while as it is a topic that isn't often spoken about. Let me clear up some things, firstly the Japanese Police are usually quite friendly and the police boxes around the place are a good place to go for help. Secondly, don't mess with the police. It might seem like I shouldn't need to tell you this but I want to emphasis how you could go from messing around with an officer to being detained for 23 days quite quickly, which leads me onto my next point: cooperate with them and don't do anything stupid. The last point is as much as xenophobia is a problem, it is a hidden one most of the time. As a tourist, you might only come across it once in terms of a shop or something refuse to service you but 99% of the time, you will be fine. It only comes up more often when you are spending long periods of time e.g. business or live in Japan and even then it isn't super common as it is slowly growing out of the population. The one thing that is missing from this blog is the cybersecurity laws and regulations but I want to do a separate blog on them as it is a good chance for me to sit down and explain the situation out in Japan even more. Plus my projects have led me into looking into them even more so keep an eye out for them.

So, it is time to say a big thank you to everyone reading this week's blog. In terms of next week, I am not sure yet but we will see what I have in mind soon. I know this might be a bit annoying but here is the link to the google form for my Q&A blog: https://forms.gle/oXEeLHD1XzfY5gkc6 So, until next week, arigatou gozaimasu and sayōnara!