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GPNorwich's picture
Civilian Law in Japan

Hi All this is my first post on the forum. Does anyone know where I can find a source for the Law regarding self defence in Japan? The only reference I can find is Military, such as: JSDF, JSF, SDF. No reference to civilian self defence law?

Allow me to explain why. I recently had a discussion via Face Book with a New Zealand gentleman JKA 6th Dan living in Japan. He blogged that “true karate” could only be practiced under the guidance of JKA Instruction and followed BUDO. That almost all westerners are not practicing true karate (whatever true karate is?) He also went on to say his true karate was an effective form of self defence. There were other comments and statements but I will not repeat all here. This got me thinking, what is the law in Japan regards self defence, how do they train for this?

The reply he gave me left me wondering if they approach this subject at all in training. And no he could not explain the Law to me. Can anyone help?

Regards GP

ky0han's picture

Hi GP,

I can't help you with the Japanese law but here are a few notes on A.B and Budo Karate.

He is certainly able to defend himself, from what I saw on youtube and knowing what teacher he was following long years, but I doubt that he is training for self defense in particular. So being not able to explain the law is a strong indication at least for me. And as he is always pointing out he is training Budo Karate.

I know of others who devide Karate into seperate kinds. Budo Karate is on top of the pyramid, then comes Goshin Karate (Karate for self defense) and at the bottom there is Sports Karate. In their opinion Budo Karate is the highest form of Karate. Being able to last against trained people enables you to last against untrained people. So they think.

So in my opinion over there in Japan most Karate practitioners train "true" Karate (meaning Sports Karate turning into Budo Karate after they stop competing in tournaments) doing the Kihon - Kata - Kumite thing and think they can defend themselves. While some are physically able to do so, most of them are not. A.B. is exceptional in the way he moves and technically brilliant. But when he has to defend himself he will be with one foot in jail I guess.

Regards Holger

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

With regard to the Japanese self defence laws, there is plenty of information but unfortunately most of it is in Japanese. The Japanese wikipedia entry has a good summary and quotes some of the key passages and my own translation of the given definition of "self defence" is as below:

"Self defence refers to actions taken unavoidably in order to defend the rights of oneself or others in response to impending and improper infringements" (Criminal law act edict 36, section 1)

This is relatively vague but does include important considerations such as that the actions must be unavoidable and that the "infringements" (probably kept extremely vague to cover as many situations as possible if I know legal documents) do not have to have occured yet.

There are many clarifications and other considerations of course. One particularly interesting nuance is the fact that it is illegal to carry weapons for the purpose of self protection but not neccesarily illegal to use them for such (also, it is not always illegal to sell those weapons that don't come under the guns and bladed weapons act). As far as I can tell, this basically means that if you carry a baton or knife for protection you will be charged under the carrying weapons act but if you have to protect yourself with it and can prove legitimate self defence then you will only be charged with that.

Another consideration is that the legal system in Japan relies on the individual interpretation of the letter and intent of the law by judges rather than on precedent so the application of these rules may vary considerably.

On the point of the "only true" karate being the brand promoted by the JKA, this is clearly self important rubbish. Karate was never created by one man and is not the property of one group. Even in Japan there are more karate organisations than you can shake a stick at, each with their own orthodoxy and interpretation. Tell this man to go and claim the same thing to Higaonna Morio or Uechi Kanei in Okinawa or Matsui Shokei of the Kyokushinkai and see what they have to say!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Gavin J Poffley wrote:
Another consideration is that the legal system in Japan relies on the individual interpretation of the letter and intent of the law by judges rather than on precedent so the application of these rules may vary considerably.

That’s obviously a very important difference between Japan and the UK. Here, common law and legal precedent try to ensure consistency in the application of the law between Judges. That’s obviously not how it always works in practise, but the overall idea of the system is solid enough.

With regards to the law on self-protection in England and Wales, the majority of common law was integrated into section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008:


The parts about not needing to weigh to a “nicety the level of force used”, being able to rely on an honestly held but mistaken view, etc. all originate from previous decision by judges (common law).

Personally, I prefer our system as leaving interpretation up to individual judges could see lots of inconsistency. Common law is a system we’ve had in England for over 850 years, but I’m assuming the Japanese have their reasons for doing things as they do and one has to assume they see merit in their system. It would be interesting to know why they have opted to go that way and if it does lead to greater inconstancy in decision making in practise?

Always difficult to see the exact nature of a culture when you are immersed in it, so it would be interesting to know what potential failings those who don’t employ common law / legal precedent see in that system?

All the best,


Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Hi guys,

Just to add a few things…

In relation to common law one of the key issues that is raised against is that it can only change the law “after the fact”. This is means that it takes criminal/civil charges to be brought forward to the court before a change in the law can occur.  A good example of this would be the case of RvR which was in relation to Marital Rape. I took until 1991 for Rape within marriage to be finally made illegal in the UK.

From my degree days, I can recall that a lot of criticism with common law relates to political and philosophical issues. Primarily, that we live in a democratic society where we elect politicians, however Judges (who are not elected) are able to make legal precedents and decisions. Judges may not necessarily make decisions that represent the society and they are pretty much unaccountable for their rulings.

However with that said, it is true that common law can be overruled by legislation whenever Parliament decides.



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Some very intresting insights Lee! Thanks for sharing.

GPNorwich's picture

Hi All, sorry for the delay in responding. Been away on holiday and internet conection was bad. Anyway, thank you all very much for the feedback and comments. Yes Holger and Gavin, I agree this man (AB) is very talented and well respected doing his karate in the "context" he is familar with. However, it kind of got to me when he was generalising about western karate. And how the karate he practice in Japan will automatically cross over to self defence for every one there! I supect its that saying again......being able to fight is not the same as self defence. And this man can obviously fight, but may not be the best advice for self defence?

thank again