The Universalistic Elements of Japan’s Criminal Code

I just arrived in the United States, flying from Narita on All Nippon Airways (ANA). In the bathroom on the airplane, I noticed this prominent warning sticker on the mirror.

smoke detector warning ANA

At the time I read this, we were flying over the United States, towards a city in the United States, and there was no reference to punishment under US law. I wondered if some people might read that and think that, under the circumstances, who cares? Japan can’t prosecute me here!

Actually, they can — just check out Article 1 of Japan’s Criminal Code:

Article 1 (Domestic Crime)
1. This law applies to all persons who commit crimes inside Japan.
2. The previous section shall also apply to all persons who commit crimes on Japanese boats and airplanes outside Japan.

There you have it — this is the general general rule for the application of criminal statutes in Japan. Also, although not specifically stated here, the criminal laws also apply at Japanese embassies and consulates overseas.

The first four articles of the Criminal Code deal with the different types of applicability. Moving on to the remaining provisions:
* Article 2 concerns acts covered by Japan’s criminal law no matter who commits them, anywhere outside Japan, and include aiding and abetting enemies of the state, the various classifications of treason, and conterfeiting currency, securities, credit cards, public documents, and seals.
* Article 3 concerns acts covered by Japan’s criminal law if carried out by citizens overseas, and include arson, forgery of private documents, rape, bigamy, murder, felony murder, abandonment of a child, kidnapping, human trafficking, robbery, criminal defamation, and larceny. There’s a reason not to natualize!
* Article 3, 2 (第3条の2) covers the applicability of Japanese criminal law to crimes committed against Japanese citizens outside Japan, and includes rape, murder, felony murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, robbery, and similar crimes against the life and body (but not property) of the Japanese citizen.
* Article 4 covers crimes that are committed by public servants overseas, and includes the crime of aiding a fugitives by a responsible guardian (i.e. a cop helping a prisoner escape), forging public documents, recieving bribes, felony murder (occuring while carrying out public duties), and violent abuse committed by a special public servant (i.e. being beaten by a cop).
* Article 4, 2 (第4条の2) covers crimes where Japanese criminal law applies under treaty.

SIDENOTE: Article 39 of Japan’s Constitution prohibits double jeapardy, i.e. being punished twice for the same crime. However, that only applies to the same court punishing someone for the same crime — so for example, a Japanese citizen could serve time in a US prison for, say, arson — and return to Japan only to be prosecuted again for the same crime.

27 thoughts on “The Universalistic Elements of Japan’s Criminal Code”

  1. This is actually a pretty normal rule of international law. A country generally has jurisdiction over ships and aircraft registered in that country, except (sometimes) when the vessel is parked/docked/on the ground in another country. One reason why many cruise ships are registered in Panama or Liberia.

    The rule for planes, in practice, seems to be that either country can exercise jurisdiction inside the plane once the plane is on the ground. This is why, for instance, you can use a cell phone on board a U.S. plane that has landed in the U.S., but not on board a Japanese plane that has landed in the U.S. or a U.S. plane that has landed in Japan. The U.S. allows cell phone use after landing but Japan does not, and the harsher rule always applies.

  2. Interesting. Does Article 3 also cover drug use, or is it just limited to those listed? I know a lot of Japanese citizens who’ve taken the opportunity to enjoy a toke in places where the local law is far more mellow on that count than Japan’s.

  3. Sublight: Good question. The Criminal Code, having been implemented in Meiji Year 40, only covers drug crimes concerning opium, and this is an Article 1 crime, i.e. only punished in Japan. Most drugs are punished under different laws, most stimulants falling under the 覚せい剤取締法 and pot under the 大麻取締法. There is no article designating applicability overseas, but the law does explicitly punish people who “import drugs to the homeland or foreign countries, or who export drugs to the homeland of foreign countries,” so at minimum the import/export provision applies to anywhere in the world.

  4. Japan does not allow cell phone use on their planes at all. The US also allows cell phone use before the main cabin door is closed. You can use a cell phone on a US carrier’s equipment at Narita before the door closes.

    At least on AA – I rarely fly other US carriers to between Japan and the US.

  5. I’m pretty sure that the cell phone restrictions, at least in the US, are due to FAA regulations and are not statutory.

  6. Same in Japan, I believe. Legislatures are not nearly competent or speedy enough to determine which electronic devices you should be allowed to use on an aircraft. That’s one area where bureaucrats have the upper hand.

  7. Stevicus, the moment I landed on a cross-country flight, the pilot said that we could use all portable electronic devices while we taxied, and half the people around me instantly started chatting on their phones and writing e-mails, so I think the rules are a little less strict. That was on a Continental Airlines flight.

  8. Curzon, yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that you cannot use phones once you land in the US. It seems to me that US planes follow US rules while on the ground in Japan. Next time I fly, I be sure to remember if we can use phones once we land in Japan.

  9. With regard to Sublight’s question, I would imagine that Japan cannot punish its citizens for actions abroad that were not illegal there but are in Japan. Does this open up the child sex in Thailand can o’ worms, for which if memory serves a special law was added?

    I’ve also seen similar warnings on US aircraft over Japan, and found it equally bemusing (though the reason is obvious enough).

    Curzon, I’m also flying to the US on ANA next month. Never flown ANA internationally (however I simply will not fly US carriers internationally anymore if I can help it). What’s the NRT-USA flight like?

  10. I’ve flown ANA transpac a couple of times in the back, and I’m trying it in business class for the first time next week.

    Advantages over US carriers:
    – The catering is much better. You get recognizable food, real silverware, and Haagen Dazs for dessert.
    – The alcohol is free.
    – The flight attendants clean the lavatories from time to time, so you don’t end up having to step in piss in order to relieve yourself.
    – The flight attendants aren’t old and grumpy.
    – The in-flight entertainment is much better in coach. The only US airline which comes close to matching ANA’s in-seat video system is Northwest on its A330s.

    – ANA is much stingier in giving out frequent flyer miles. A round trip transpac in coach on United or American is often almost enough mileage for a free domestic ticket. On ANA (or just about any other Asian airline) you’ll be lucky to get half of that.
    – US carriers often let you upgrade at the airport for a couple hundred bucks in cash, which is unheard of on ANA or JAL (though they’ll occasionally move you up for free if the plane is oversold in the back).
    – You can’t sleep through meals. They insist on waking you up to bring your seatback up so the person behind you has more room to eat.
    – Some people find the seating to be tighter. I’m 5’11” and don’t notice much of a disparity, though.
    – The cabin is generally much warmer and there are no individual air vents.
    – There are almost no pairs of seats (only threesomes), so if you are travelling as a couple you are usually forced to have a stranger as a seatmate.
    – As stated above, you can’t use electronic devices until you leave the plane in both directions (on US carriers, this only applies when flying to Japan).

  11. Jade, enjoy the flight! ANA is a dream compared to US carriers, the food is decent, the service is Japanese, and the entertainment is personal.

  12. Enjoy the lay-flat J seats on ANA. They’ve had them for awhile, but AA has only had them for about a year now. The problem with the AA J seats is that if your by the window, you’re literally trapped if the person next to you sleeps the whole way!

  13. Well, if I may exercise my airline otakuness for a moment, ANA is actually a bit behind in biz class these days. Their “lay-flat” seats actually lay flat at an angle to the floor, like an operating table, such that you fall out of the things if you try to sleep in fully flat mode. One of my colleagues calls them “wedgie seats,” which is the best name I can think of to describe them. These seats have been around for a while and they’re currently in use on Northwest, Asiana, JAL and a bunch of other airlines.

    A few airlines like Virgin, Singapore, Air New Zealand and BA have fully-flat seats in biz class now, so you can sleep parallel to the floor just like on a real bed. United put fully-flat biz seats on its 767s and 747s this year and Delta has put fully-flat biz seats on a smaller number of its international planes. There are several ways to get around the additional space requirements: some airlines angle their seats 45 degrees inward, others have both forward and rear-facing seats so that people are sharing foot space from a lateral perspective.

    The good news is that ANA will start using fully-flat biz seats next year, initially on its JFK route and then on other US and Europe routes (see here). They will be set up so that you always have direct access to an aisle without stepping over anyone — the seats are laid out in four columns instead of seven, but the rows are spaced closer together and your feet stretch out next to the person in front of you (underneath their side table).

  14. Thanks Curzon and Joe. You have outlined pretty well why I don’t fly US carriers if I can help it (I used to think NW was decent, but they have scaled down their service a lot). And not being US-based the awards of domestic free flights are not an issue. I was thinking of SQ out to LAX, but it seems SQ use the older 747s on trans-Pacific flights, and I can’t go back to those old tiny screens after their A380. I am a bit worried about the seating on ANA, being 6’1″ and pretty solid. But a good VOD system outweighs that…. I find it next to impossible to sleep on planes, so that’s not an issue. The 3-across is not great, but hopefully the flight won’t be too full (it’s to SFO).

    I admit my experiences with US carriers are limited to NW and UA*, as well as Continental (and Continental Micronesia), and I have never tried AA or Delta (though I’ll be doing a short hop SFO-LAS on SouthWest next month), but I have found that at best US carriers are flying buses, and at worst they are rude and condescending. It’s strange really – it’s not as if Americans are total strangers to politeness or service, after all. I think it might be as US carriers are primarily domestic shuttles in a country where taking the train is seldom an option, so they have constant demand, no real external competition, and flights in the US are generally short enough so that no real attention needs to be paid to customer service.

    *I’ve even flown US NRT-LAX in business class (free upgrade – why can’t SQ give me a free upgrade…?) and was not impressed that they didn’t have individual TVs even in business class.

    Also another minor advantage to ANA is that my wife (who speaks no English) will be able to understand the crew and the various instructions for VOD games etc…..

    Would sure like to try ANA Business Class, but that’s not likely to ever happen, as someone else would be needing to pick up the bill.

  15. I try and fly JAL and AA whenever possible, so that is who I have the most experience with. Well a bit with Delta too. NW imo is the worst for service. I flew with them between the US and Japan last year and the service was horrible. I’ve got no complaints with AA, but then again I’m usually in business 😉

  16. I’ve got no complaints with serfdom, but then I’m usually a lord of the manor…. 😛

    Second your comment about NW. They used to be decent, better than UA (back ten years go). But last year I left the overhead bin open by mistake and a snotty little (and he was: tiny. I could have shoved him in the bin and then shut it, and was tempted) steward didn’t shut it himself with a gentle reminder, or ask me to shut it politely, but treated me like a little kid by asking something like “…and what do you suppose would happen if we hit turbulence?” in a condescending voice. So I shall not fly them again as they treat their passengers like children. Instead I shall fly Asian carriers to as far as they go and then subject myself to the tender mercies of American carriers only for the short domestic hops I may need to take (that said, SouthWest gets a lot of really good reviews, so here’s hoping…).

  17. I think the big issue with US carriers is that they are inconsistent. It’s generally the same phenomenon you see across the broader service industry in the two countries. It’s exceedingly rare to get *really* good service in Japan; all you expect is that the person serving you will go through the script properly, address you in respectful language and apologize profusely if they do something wrong. In the US (and many other “Western” countries), a waiter, secretary or flight attendant might be outright grumpy, or they might be your best friend thirty seconds after meeting you, but they are never predictably one or the other. It all comes down to the individual and how they are feeling that day.

    I always get the feeling that ANA flight attendants are manufactured in a big plant somewhere in Kawasaki, and the slightly defective models are sold to department stores.

  18. “or they might be your best friend thirty seconds after meeting you”

    Sometimes I’m even more put off by the “Hi, my name is Sandy, I’ll be giving you super service today! How are you enjoying our wonderful city? Pity the weather isn’t better today but I hope you have a fantastic wonderful happy stay!” type. (The same type of person who ends up looking at you like you are a registered sex offender if you only tip 20%).

  19. I second M-Bone. I don’t want to be friends with my waiter, I want them to serve me. I’ve noticed that when in restaurants in the US, at a certain level (the more posh ones are not like this – I mean crap like Dennys, which I think technically qualifies as serving “food”). I _like_ my service personnel to be assembled in factories in Kawasaki. Let’s not confuse friendliness with good service.

    And as far as I can tell, the inconsistency in US carriers tends to be more like varying between crap and super crap, at least these days. Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but they’re not good. European ones can be risky at times too – I was not thrilled with Alitalia at all (aside from the fact they were flying a hand-me-down from Lufthansa with rust on the wing). All six of Skytrax’s 5-star airlines are Asian (including South Asia) or Middle-Eastern (Qatar). The major US carriers only make 3-star. My limit for long flights is 4-star. Europe and the Colonies (QANTAS, Air Noo Zild) get four stars as well, so it’s not a “western thing.” I think with Europe (not counting the recent low-cost ones like Ryanair (motto: “We’re probably not as bad as you’ve heard”) and EasyJet) the train has always been a more realistic way of getting around, and in Australia and NZ the focus of both major airlines is pretty international, thus open to competition. Taken to its logical extreme. that accounts for why SQ is so great – not a lot of domestic flights in Singapore….

  20. SQ is great because the country has weak employment laws. The flight attendants are not unionized and have a mandatory retirement age of 30 (or something like that), so you don’t see any old ones or crabby ones waddling around.

    SQ is also great because it is owned by Temasek and therefore subsidized heavily by the Singaporean government — probably a good investment overall considering the traveler interest it attracts to Singapore. The U.S. carriers are mainly subsidized by credit card companies who throw their mileage around like candy, which means that many passengers are riding for free and the airline has less incentive to actively attract or maintain their business.

    Anyway, I have never meet a cabin crew member on any Asian airline who went above and beyond the call of duty, but I have run into crew members on U.S. airlines who have done so — upgrading me to apologize for booking errors, giving me free booze after a delay, breaking re-ticketing rules to get me home on time. The two best flight attendants I ever encountered were on American and Northwest respectively; they were both older people, one male and one female, and they were like multilingual concierges, sommeliers and Benihana chefs rolled into one package.

    One more point against the grain. I noticed that the service level on ANA had gone down quite a bit during my trip to the US this summer. Meals took forever to serve and pick up, and the crew totally disappeared for much of the flight. Both ANA and JAL have gone through extensive personnel restructuring lately, including pay cuts, so their crew members are starting to get into the grumpy/lazy territory of their American brethren.

    I still take ANA most of the time because I generally know what I am going to get.

  21. “upgrading me to apologize for booking errors, giving me free booze after a delay, breaking re-ticketing rules to get me home on time.”

    I’ve never needed reticketing but I’ve gotten the first two from JAL.

    I shouldn’t generalize as I have not flown US carriers that often, but I had one experience so bad that I can’t hear “Chicago” without shuddering.

    Come to think of it, pretty much everything that you argued above could apply to seatmates on US carriers as well – I’ve had some of my best airplane conversations as well as my worst “this guy needs three seats to himself” and “sir that’s my shoulder, your pillow is over there” moments, a blood drenched restroom (turned out to be an exploding nosebleed), and one time someone stepped right over a woman who collapsed and was getting oxygen on the isle floor because he had to grab his laptop. Of course, I’ve also been on three planes where old Japanese dudes smoked in the washroom.

  22. Joe – I’m not really worried about WHY SQ is able to be good. It could be run by North Korea and I would still think it the best. Mandatory retirement ages, poor unions, massive subsidies (hmmm. “airline bailout” ring a bell?) are not issues that affect which airline I fly. Many arilines have govt subsidies and yet are shitty. Mandatory retirement age just means the stewardesses are prettier – it doesn’t enforce service standards. If lack of unions means it is easier to fire the crabby ones, then good – they are hired to be non-crabby, after all.

    This is getting into “my experiences are proof, yours are just anecdotes” areas, but one of the friendliest CAs (cabin attendant) I ever had was on JAL: she even gave me her phone number in Japan if I ever needed help (this was when I was arriving to start the undergrad Mombusho). On Thai Airways the CA asked around so my GF and I could sit together. On Air NZ I went back to the CA area and asked for a drink of water, and they gave me the whole bottle. Oh, and Korean Airlines gave me a free night in the Incheon Hilton on the way back to Japan as there was an overnight stop. That was damn nice. I’ve never had to suffer anything extreme in terms of seatmates, and that is pretty airline-independent as well. I’m just listing anything I can think of which was better than normal service, Asian or not. Looking at my travel journals, I see one incident on UA of the guy beside us being given a first class meal as his veggie one was not there (which merely showed how bad the sardine class meal was).

    I can’t really give much more than that level as I have never had a booking error. There have been delays, though. SQ had a short delay out of KIX, and gave us all free juice, Thai a delay out of Bangkok and gave us all sammies. NW had a delay out of DTW and gave us a long wait. The only time I ever got upgraded was on an American carrier (UA), but it was the Japanese counter agent who did it – does that count? Also we were Premium members at the time, which is why I think.

    In short, I have never had anything I would consider “extra” service from US carriers aside from an upgrade, and I can’t really compare that as I have never been a premiere member on any other airline (with UA it was as we flew about 25,000 miles from Japan to Hawaii to London to Minnesota to Montana in three weeks). I’m not trying to quash any US carrier events either. I don’t think putting me on an earlier domestic flight than booked as I arrived a bit early really counts.

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