In the spare lobby of the Supreme Court of Japan, an American lawyer notices a small statue. He draws near, sees the form holding what appears to be scales, and feels certain that it is a statue of the familiar Lady Justice that graces so many courthouses in the U.S. But he is wrong. It is a statue of the Buddha, and the expression on the face is one of serenity.
Hamada Kunio, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Japan, recently delivered a paper about the rule of law in his country. He had this to say about the role of Buddhism:
In Japanese, the term “law” is “ho-ritsu”. The term “ho” came from a Buddhism term dharma (damma in plural), meaning teachings (not necessarily commands) of Buddha, and “ritsu” from vinaya, meaning regulations for groups of Buddhism followers to comply with in their daily lives in their groups. In my view, Buddhism, which has been accepted in Japan for more than fourteen hundred years, is [the] least aggressive religion or teaching. It is kind to humans, other beings and the environment as well. Traditionally, there are said to be eight million (8,000,000) gods in Japan. Believers in monotheism (meaning a religion which holds that there is one and only supreme God in the world) represent a very small percentage of the nation. These traditions in Japan permit Japanese people to pursue quite flexible spiritual as well as secular lives. This may help explain the Japanese tendency for flexible (or convenient) interpretation of rules to fit the prevailing conditions rather than trying to comply with rules rigidly or otherwise changing rules immediately if it is not possible for many to comply with them.
For me it will be very interesting to see how these principles play out in the saiban-in system.