Political Bribery in Japan

By Richard H. Mitchell | Go to book overview
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7. Conclusion

FROM ANTIQUITY, the Japanese state promulgated statutes aimed at political bribery. Article 5 of the so-called Seventeen-Article Constitution (604), for example, commanded officials to handle law suits impartially and not to accept bribes. By 645, the central government's antibribery regulations promised punishment for those who disobeyed. Concern with political bribery reflected, in part, the effect of various Chinese legal compilations, including the T'ang Penal Code, which spelled out in detail sanctions for those who offered and those who received bribes. Penal provisions to deter bribery and to punish offenders were maintained by later regimes; the Ashikaga shogunate, for example, specified removal from office of officials taking small bribes and execution of those receiving large bribes. Bribery as a legal concept was maintained during the Tokugawa, with punishments ranging from deportation to execution. The Meiji state followed this tradition, and after basing antibribery laws on Chinese law, switched to a Western-style penal code, which contained a detailed section on official corruption. According to the Penal Code of 1908, any government employee convicted of taking a bribe in connection with official duties could be imprisoned for up to three years (Article 197); any person convicted of giving a bribe to an official could be imprisoned for up to three years (Article 198).

There was also an antibribery ethic outside legal boundaries. Tokugawa Confucianists stigmatized political bribery as an immoral act. The continuation of this ethic into the era of the modern state is exemplified by Hiranuma Kiichirō, who dedicated his life to upholding the Meiji legal structure and to promoting traditional morality (i.e., mainly Confucian morality). Reflecting on the case of Home Minister Ōura Kanetake, whom he drove from office in 1915, Hiranuma noted that not only did Ōura break laws but also that "his


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