In his bestselling essay “The Wall of Fools,” Takeshi Yourou says that Japanese politicians, businessmen and Japanese people in general do not seem to be keeping their promises any more. Powelson however claims that the laws of the shoguns during the Muromachi period were proclaimed repeatedly because they were ignored. It is argued that in the past, Japanese law was only an “ethical guideline” (Takahashi) or “moral plea” (Powelson) and people did not obey the laws.
Whether or not this is a Japanese tradition is not clear. But certainly today there is a wide margin of interpretation in the case of many Japanese laws. For example:
Red Traffic Lights: Many Japanese go through red traffic lights, most Japanese go through yellow traffic lights, even though it is against the law.
Drink driving - Many Japanese drink drive, especially on bicycles.
Speeding - Many Japanese Busses and Taxis (i.e. even public transport) routinely break speed limits.
Proceed with caution: Literally, the “take care of what is ahead” road traffic rule means that when you must drive at a speed such that you can stop, even if a child jumps out in front of you! But if everyone drove at that speed –- perhaps 15khm -- then the whole of Japan would be a giant traffic jam.
The Pension System. People are supposed to pay but many do not. The Japanese prime minister is still the Japanese prime minister even though he broke this law.
Corruption. Many Japanese politicians have used public money for personal reasons and remain politicians even afterwards. E.g. Shizuka Kamei remains a member of parliament even though the spent public money on his private accommodation.
Fraud. Junichiro Koga, the MP for Fukuoka, claimed that he had graduate from an American University even though he had not, and yet he still remains a politician.
Copyright abuse. It is stealing to copy music from a CD to a MD but in Japan alone there are rental CD shops openly selling MDs and tapes alongside rental CDs.
Prostitution. Prostitution is illegal in Japan but there are many "private massage rooms" and "delivery health" services advertised openly even in some national papers demonstrating that prostitution is carried out semi-legally.
Pornography. It is illegal to show pubic hair in Japanese pornography but recently pubic hair is shown in many Japanese men's weekly magazines.
Rape. Rape is of course illegal in Japan, but there remains a relatively tolerant attitude to rape in the form of molestation. For example, trains in Nagoya have a "women only car" to allow women that do not like being raped to avoid it. This suggests that in other cars on the same train rape still goes on.
Organised Crime. Organised criminals that use violence are strictly illegal in the US and even Italy but in Japan they are registered with the government and display signs advertising the fact that they are "violent groups" on Japanese streets.
Murder. The Japanese murderer, Issei Sagawa, who killed and ate a Parisian woman was soon set free in Japan. Sada Abe spent only 5 years in jail for killing and dismembering her lover.
Peace Constitution. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution forbids the use of force or the formation of an army. The "Self Defence Force" is however, one of the largest armies in the world, and currently the Self Defence Force is armed and in an occupied country.
Human Rights and Racial Discrimination. The Japanese constitution and at least one of the treaties that the Japanese government has ratified forbids discrimination. However there are many business establishments in Japan that openly bar their doors to non-Japanese.
Human Rights and Sexual Discrimination. Japan has laws against sexual discrimination in the workplace but has the most un-equal levels of pay, managerial responsibility, promotion, and length of service of any nation of similar Gross National Product.
Free Trade. Japan subscribes to the world free trade agreement but maintains regulatory policies against many of the (soft) industries such as insurance in which its competitors excel and has the largest positive balance of trade of any other nation.
Freedom of Religion. The Japanese constitution maintains that politics and religion should be separate but the prime minister of Japan prays at Shinto Shrine.
Age limits for the consumption of Tobacco and Alcohol. The smoking of tobacco and drinking of alcohol is forbidden to by minors below the age of 20 years by Japanese law but university students regularly break these laws, and the existence of vending machines for both tobacco and alcohol means that these laws can not be enforced. In the US one cannot buy alcohol without an ID card.
Freedom of Speech. The Japanese constitution maintains the right to criticise the government but the main newspapers of Japan are said to suppress controversial criticism of the main political parties.
Alimony payments. Japan has laws regarding the payment of alimony to divorced home workers but has one of the highest records of non-payment by divorced wage earners.
Immigration. Japan has strict laws regarding the employment of non-Japanese but one of the highest rates of illegal immigration and employment of "illegal" immigrants with an estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants in Japan at the present time.