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Samurai to Father Confessor: A History of the Japanese Police Force

NCJ Number
Police Journal Volume: 66 Issue: 3 Dated: (July-September 1993) Pages: 316- 321
R Lamont-Brown
Date Published
6 pages
This article reviews the structure and tasks of Japanese police from the feudal period to the present.
In Japan's feudal society, which lasted until 1868, there was a tight class system. At the top was the Tenno- Heika, emperor, deemed the direct descendent of the Sun goddess; next, came the Shogun, who dominated imperial rule, the daimyo (feudal lords), and then the samurai. The samurai enjoyed a wide range of privileges, including the right to wear two swords. Before the adoption of western practices after 1868, police came from the lower ranks of the samurai. When the feudal clans and domains were finally abolished in 1871, the Japanese government decided to appoint personnel in Tokyo and 72 new prefectures to take responsibility for the control of crime and the maintenance of public order. The range of police duties up to the end of World War II included the enforcement of dominant cultural values and obedience to the sovereign. A new Police Act was enacted in 1947 (after World War II); its major reforms included the re-defining of police duties as "engaging in protecting the life and property of people, investigating crimes, arresting suspects, and maintaining public peace and order in the country." On June 8, 1954, a new Police Law was enacted to address contemporary needs and this law (still in force) effected three reforms. The dual system of police forces (rural/municipal) were integrated into a prefectural police system. The National Police Agency was established to coordinate the activities of the prefectural police. A Minister of State was assigned to the chairmanship of the national Public Safety Commission. Today's police system in Japan is a mixture of pre-World War II centralization and authoritarian force and the post-World War II trend of decentralized local police.