昨年１２月に時効が成立した札幌市西区の信金職員女性殺害事件が、米有力紙ニューヨーク・タイムズに大きく取り上げられた。見出しは「Ｉｎ Ｊａｐａｎ， Ｊｕｓｔｉｃｅ Ｉｓ Ｎｏｔ Ｏｎｌｙ Ｂｌｉｎｄ， Ｉｔ Ｈｏｌｄｓ ａ Ｓｔｏｐｗａｔｃｈ（日本の正義は不平等なだけでなく、ストップウオッチまで備えている）」。米国、英国には殺人事件には時効がないことを挙げ、日本の時効制度に疑問を投げかけた。
In Japan, Justice Is Not Only Blind, It Holds a Stopwatch
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: February 12, 2006
SAPPORO, Japan — As the clock ticked toward the 15th anniversary of her daughter's murder last year, Sumiko Namai offered a $20,000 reward to find the killer. She appeared on television with a clairvoyant; the police posted the suspect's photo on a popular Web sites; and newspapers carried articles on the countdown.
And yet the date — Dec. 19 — came and went with no new development here in Japan's largest, northern city. The next morning, short newspaper articles reported dutifully that the 15-year statute of limitations had expired on the murder of Ms. Namai's 24-year-old daughter, Michie. The man who had buried her body in the snow after stabbing her repeatedly in the neck in 1990 was now beyond the law's reach. If he were still alive, he could confess and resume a normal life.
Other nations may have a statute of limitations on homicide, particularly in Continental Europe, the source of modern Japan's laws. Few nations, though, match Japan in its ritualized focus on the countdown to its expiration, as well as the infinite twists and turns of a system that sets a precise time limit on crime, punishment and guilt.
According to Japanese law, prosecutors had 15 years — the limit was extended to 25 years last year, but only for murders committed after the law passed — to charge murder suspects. The instant the clock ticked past midnight to usher in the 16th year, suspects could no longer be arraigned. If a suspect was on the run outside Japan, the period was extended by the length of time abroad. In 2004, the limit expired on 37 cases.
Not surprisingly, newspapers, movies and mystery novels have found the limit to be an endless source of material. In recent weeks, a major television network even began broadcasting a new series, "The Statute of Limitations Police," about an officer who solves murder cases after time has run out.
Who needs fiction, though, with the case of Kazuko Fukuda, a bar hostess who killed a co-worker in 1982, then went on the lam for nearly 15 years by using aliases and getting plastic surgery on her eyelids and nose? She was arrested with a mere 11 hours to go. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Or consider Ken Ishikawa, 54, in Otaru, a city an hour's drive west of Sapporo. His older sister, Chikako, who had left Otaru to teach music at an elementary school in Tokyo, vanished in 1978. Sitting in his living room in Otaru, surrounded by framed photos of his sister wearing the clothes and hairstyle of the 1970's, Mr. Ishikawa said the family believed she had been kidnapped, perhaps even taken to North Korea.
It was only 26 years later, in 2004, that the family learned the truth. A school security guard, with a grudge against the teachers, choked his sister to death one afternoon and buried her nude body in a hole under his living room. He continued to work at the school and live in the same house for years, until city road expansion plans forced him to move in 2004.
Fearing that construction workers would find the body, the guard, Shinya Wada, now almost 70, confessed, and went free. Television reports have shown him walking his dog around his new home in Chiba, next to Tokyo, blurring his face to protect his privacy.
"They say that after 15 years the victims' feelings calm down and evidence disappears, but there's no way that the family of the victim will ever forget," Mr. Ishikawa said. "Well, if he'd been put in jail for some years, I might have accepted it to some extent. But that wasn't the case. Far from it, I think he kept on working until retirement, received benefits. Now he's getting his pension and walking his dog."
"It's madness. He's a murderer, but we can't do anything. Isn't Japan a country governed by law?"
Japan adopted the statute of limitations on murder during the Meiji Restoration when it was desperately trying to catch up with the West in the late 19th century. Convinced that it could not become a modern nation without Western laws, Japan first adopted France's legal system, then switched to the German model because France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War, said Morikazu Taguchi, a professor at Waseda University's law school in Tokyo.
"If it was said that advanced countries had it," Mr. Taguchi said, "it became an absolute must."