Maintaining order has always been a primary goal of the Japanese police. Explain, with examples, what that meant and how the police sought to achieve it: 1) during the early Meiji period, 2) in the Taisho period, 3) during the Occupation and 4) in the postwar era (1952-1999)
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The Meiji Restoration was one of the most important periods in Japanese history, and its effects on law enforcement were profound. Prior to the ascendance of Prince Mutsuhito to emperor, which marked the beginning of Japan’s modernization, policing was performed for the most part by the shogunates. While centralized government ministries existed and were supposed to oversee policing, it was mainly performed by the military and by private militias that served under the shoguns.
The beginning of the Meiji era, with its emphasis on constitutionalism, presaged a dramatic transformation in policing. The new emperor, Komei (Mutsuhito) sought to modernize law enforcement. He dispatched a former samurai named Kawaji Toshiyoshi to Europe to study police departments in more technologically and politically advanced countries. Subsequently, Kawaji reorganized Japan's law enforcement establishment, creating a Home Ministry. This ministry centralized police and criminal justice functions in one agency, and ended the decentralized and ad hoc policing that preceded it under the regional warlords. Instead of the shoguns, regional police chiefs were appointed subordinate to Tokyo. In 1874, Kawaji established Japan’s first modern law enforcement agency, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
While Kawaji’s innovations professionalized and centralized policing, they excessively consolidated power. Abuses and repressive measures were the result. The emperor’s death in 1867 and his succession by Crown Prince Yoshihito marked another transformation in Japanese policing. During his reign, the new emperor, Taisho, introduced a period of liberalization. A new constitution in 1889 placed new limits on the police. Law enforcement was decentralized, with a greater role provided to regional police departments.
The next major transformation in policing occurred during the American occupation. During the occupation, Japanese police were subordinate to the U.S. military. The American governor for Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, was extremely influential in the restructuring and demilitarization of Japan. The “Police Law” of 1945 recentralized policing, but established a series of regional prefectures to provide a formal localized police presence. The 1947 Constitution, heavily influenced by U.S. advisers, placed strict limits on police. The powers of the Home Ministry were gradually stripped away until the ministry itself was officially abolished. The new Constitution broke up the former ministry’s monopoly on police and judicial authority. Previously, policing, prosecuting and trying cases was all handled by the one agency. Now, there would be separate agencies responsible for each function.
Policing in modern Japan involves a careful balance between central and regional authorities. There are seven regional police bureaus across Japan in addition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. At the top of the organizational pyramid today stands the National Police Agency, which ensures that law enforcement is consistent with the dictates of the federal government. While many Japanese remain politically and socially conservative, and continue to place a high priority on social order, the Japanese police operate consistent with the democratic values and within the constitutional restraints that were designed to prevent a resurgence of the kind of fascist influences that led to Imperial Japan’s destructive past.
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