JIN-253 -- Visit in a Vacuum -- The Blackmans Return to Japan

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 253
Thursday, November 27, 2003

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>> VIEWPOINT: Visit in a Vacuum -- The Blackmans Return to Japan

** READERS RESPOND: The Nick Baker Letters (Part 1 of 2)
>> "Is Mr. Baker innocent? Not by many standards ..."

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>> VIEWPOINT: Visit in a Vacuum -- The Blackmans Return to Japan

Two years ago, Tim Blackman came to Japan to carry back to the UK
the mutilated body of his daughter, Lucie. Her disappearance from a
Roppongi hostess club, the desperate search for her launched by the
Blackman family, the grim discovery of her corpse and the eventual
charging of Joji Obara with rape and a string of other crimes brought
the world痴 cameras and pens to Japan en masse in 2001.

Tim had not been back to Japan since then, nor had he ever set eyes
on Obara himself. But this week, the Blackmans decided to return
and face their ghosts.

Hardly anyone noticed.

We were among the three media groups who followed the family -- Tim had
brought Lucie痴 younger sister Sophie along with him ・ down to the
beachside cave where Lucie's body was first unearthed. In 2001, the rocks
and sand around the cave had been packed with hundreds of Japanese
TV station crews, magazine snappers and journalists. Yesterday, it was
once again just a tiny deserted cove in a sleepy corner of the Kanagawa

The poorly represented media kept a discreet distance from the family
as they clambered over to the small shrine tucked away in the rocks.
Later, they took a short stroll past the small fishing boats lining
the jetty and the village. A few cats came out to have a look, and a
Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) owner peered out of her window.

When we talked to the family, it was clear to us that they preferred
things this way. They had come to remember Lucie in their own manner,
and we quickly realized that they are easily irritated by media

But it is important to remember something else. The Blackmans may have
been grateful for the solitude, but they were not half as delighted
by the media desertion of Miura beach as were the Japanese police and
the authorities in general. The Lucie Blackman case blew open a vile
can of worms. Her murder will be an even greater tragedy if the
lengthy Japanese legal process and the human capacity to forget manage
to slam the lid back onto it.

Two horrors of Japan were exposed by Lucie's killing: the profound
incompetence of the Japanese police ・ who badly bungled their
investigation and revealed their childlike reliance on full confessions
from the accused, and the very real dangers inherent in the domestic
hostess industry.

Both of those will be unaffected if the media backs away. What we
found ourselves wondering, as we watched the family lighting incense
around Lucie痴 shrine, was whether Lucie's vicious murder was the sort
of crime that could happen again. The answer seems a sad but resounding

-- The Editors


"Father of Lucie Blackman flies to Tokyo," from The Independent,
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** READERS RESPOND: The Nick Baker Letters (Part 1 of 2)
>> "Is Mr. Baker innocent? Not by many standards ..."

To The Editors:

Regarding your feature story on the imprisonment of Nick Baker (J@pan
Inc, November 2003): Who said that Japanese criminal proceedings
were "democratic?"

Perhaps only those who have never witnessed them, or those who swallow
whole all kinds of myths about Japan. How naive. Japan is a reluctant
member of the world club of leading nations with respect to laws designed
to protect individual rights. And for foreigners, Japan offers
virtually no protections whatsoever.

Are Japanese jails and prisons world class? Well, they are better than a
whole lot of places, but anyone incarcerated in one for any length of time
will come out with horror stories, and they would have every right to
complain of food, physical abuse and more. Remember: the Japanese
jails of today are direct descendants of the Japanese military prison
camps of not all that long ago. The people are different, but their
behavior isn't.

Is Mr. Baker innocent? Not by many standards. Was he duped? It makes no
difference. The Law does not differentiate between a violation intended
or one that is not intended. The "penalty" may be mitigated by "intent,"
but guilt or innocence is not affected.

How many times in this era of airline flight have we been asked at check-in
counters whether we have packed our own bag? Has anyone given us anything
to carry aboard? Are we carrying anything in our bag that is prohibited?
How many times have announcements been made at all airports warning us
NOT to accept anything to carry on or off an airplane that is not our own?

Mr. Baker comes from England, from which Pan Am Flight 103 left on a
rendevous with destiny over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. It has been
established that the bomb on board that flight was handed to a female
passenger by her terrorist boyfriend. That is WHY those questions are
asked. Mr. Baker violated common sense Rule #1 when flying on an airplane.

What was Baker's state of mind when he passed through customs with the
ill-fated bag? Was he drunk or hungover? Was he doing it deliberately?
Was he merely doing a favor, as he claims? None of that is germaine to
a legal case, only to the penalty phase.

According to legal practice in Japan, all the descriptions I have read of
the access given attorneys and family to Mr. Baker, all the habits of
courtrooms in allowing access by media, and all the descriptions of what
happened in the courtroom and in the police investigation are more than
likely accurate.

Are these the way things are done in the UK or other Western countries?
Not always (though one must recall what is happening in the US these days
in Guantanamo, Cuba for a parallel in a "modern" country). Ought Mr. Baker,
his family, friends, associates and the Western media have expected
anything else? Not at all. The reactions of all these well-intentioned
and outraged foreign citizens is based more on their ignorance of what
Japan is really like than on any specific penalty that has been, and
most certainly will be, visited on Mr. Baker in the near future.

Arrested suspects in Japan are not automatically given access to attorneys,
nor does anyone have the "right" to visit them. Charges may be held in
abeyance for days, weeks and even months while an investigation is
undertaken. The nature of that investigation is determined exclusively
by the local authorities, not by "outside" parties.

In this country, "justice" is determined by factors that may be quite
outside the anticipations of foreigners, and as everyone in the process --
police, prosecuters and judges -- are all paid from the same budgets,
what THEY decide will happen ... happens.

(To Be Continued ...)

-- Thomas T. Winant

**For More:

On foreigners' Pension Rights in Japan:
"The Pension Problem" from J@pan Inc magazine,
December 2003:

"And Justice For All ..." from J@pan Inc magazine,
November 2003:

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Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
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