Law enforcement in Japan

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Law enforcement in Japan is provided mainly by the Prefectural Police Departments under the oversight of the National Police Agency, but there are various other law enforcement officials in Japan.[1] The National Police Agency is administered by the National Public Safety Commission, thus ensuring that Japan's police are an apolitical body and free of direct central government executive control. They are checked by an independent judiciary and monitored by a free and active press.

There are two types of law enforcement officials in Japan, depending on the underlying provision: Police officers of Prefectural Police Departments (prescribed as Judicial police officials (司法警察職員) under Article 189 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法, Keiji-soshōhō)), and Special judicial police officials (特別司法警察職員) (prescribed in Article 190 of the same law), dealing with specialized fields with high expertise.[2]


The Japanese government established a European-style civil police system in 1874, under the centralized control of the Police Bureau within the Home Ministry, to put down internal disturbances and maintain order during the Meiji Restoration. By the 1880s, the police had developed into a nationwide instrument of government control, providing support for local leaders and enforcing public morality. They acted as general civil administrators, implementing official policies and thereby facilitating unification and modernization. In rural areas especially, the police had great authority and were accorded the same mixture of fear and respect as the village head. Their increasing involvement in political affairs was one of the foundations of the authoritarian state in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century.

The centralized police system steadily acquired responsibilities, until it controlled almost all aspects of daily life, including fire prevention and mediation of labor disputes. The system regulated public health, business, factories, and construction, and it issued permits and licenses. The Peace Preservation Law of 1925 gave police the authority to arrest people for "wrong thoughts". Special Higher Police (Tokko) were created to regulate the content of motion pictures, political meetings, and election campaigns. The Imperial Japanese Army's military police (Kempeitai) and the Imperial Japanese Navy's Tokkeitai, operating under their respective services and the justice and home ministries aided the civilian police in limiting proscribed political activity. After the Manchurian Incident of 1931, military police assumed greater authority, leading to friction with their civilian counterparts. After 1937 police directed business activities for the war effort, mobilized labor, and controlled transportation.

After Japan's surrender in 1945, occupation authorities in World War II retained the prewar police structure until a new system was implemented and the Diet passed the 1947 Police Law. Contrary to Japanese proposals for a strong, centralized force to deal with postwar unrest, the police system was decentralized. About 1,600 independent municipal forces were established in cities, towns, and villages with 5,000 inhabitants or more, and a National Rural Police was organized by prefecture. Civilian control was to be ensured by placing the police under the jurisdiction of public safety commissions controlled by the National Public Safety Commission in the Office of the Prime Minister. The Home Ministry was abolished and replaced by the less powerful Ministry of Home Affairs, and the police were stripped of their responsibility for fire protection, public health, and other administrative duties.

When most of the occupation forces were transferred to Korea in 1950–51 with the Korean War, the 75,000 strong National Police Reserve (predecessor of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force) was formed outside the Regular police organizations to back up the ordinary police during civil disturbances. And pressure mounted for a centralized system more compatible with Japanese political preferences. The 1947 Police Law was amended in 1951 to allow the municipal police of smaller communities to merge with the National Rural Police. Most chose this arrangement, and by 1954 only about 400 cities, towns, and villages still had their own police forces. Under the 1954 amended Police Law, a final restructuring created an even more centralized system in which local forces were organized by prefectures under a National Police Agency.

The revised Police Law of 1954, still in effect in the 1990s, preserves some strong points of the postwar system, particularly measures ensuring civilian control and political neutrality, while allowing for increased centralization. The National Public Safety Commission system has been retained. State responsibility for maintaining public order has been clarified to include coordination of national and local efforts; centralization of police information, communications, and record keeping facilities; and national standards for training, uniforms, pay, rank, and promotion. Rural and municipal forces were abolished and integrated into prefectural forces, which handled basic police matters. Officials and inspectors in various ministries and agencies continue to exercise special police functions assigned to them in the 1947 Police Law.

Regular police organizations[edit]

Prefectural Police Departments are established for each Prefectures and have full responsibility for regular police duties for their area of responsibility. These Prefectural Police Departments are primarily municipal police with their own police authority, but their activities are coordinated by National Police Agency and National Public Safety Commission.[3]

National Police Agency[edit]

As the central coordinating body for the entire police system, the National Police Agency determines general standards and policies; detailed direction of operations is left to the lower echelons.[4] In a national emergency or large-scale disaster, the agency is authorized to take command of prefectural police forces. In 1989, the agency was composed of about 1,100 national civil servants, empowered to collect information and to formulate and execute national policies. The agency is headed by a Commissioner General who is appointed by the National Public Safety Commission with the approval of the Prime Minister.[4]

The Central Office includes the Secretariat, with divisions for general operations, planning, information, finance, management, and procurement and distribution of police equipment, and five bureaus. The citizen oversight is provided by the National Public Safety Commission.

As of 2016, the NPA has a strength of 7,800 officers: 2,100 police officers, 900 Imperial guards and 4,800 police staff.[5] The total strength of the prefectural police is approximately 287,900 officers: 259,500 police officers and 28,400 police staff.[5] Nationwide, there are approximately 22,000 female police officers and 12,700 female police staff.[5]

Prefectural Police Departments[edit]

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Office in Kasumigaseki

All operational police units are organized into Prefectural Police Headquarters for each Prefectures. Each Prefectural Police Departments are composed of Prefectural Public Safety Commission, police authority, and Police Headquarters, operational units.[3]

Prefectural Police Department of Tokyo are specifically referred to as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (警視庁, Keishi-chō). Also, in Japanese, Hokkaido Prefectural Police Departments are Dō-keisatsu (道警察), those in Ōsaka and Kyōto are Fu-keisatsu (府警察) and are distinguished from other Prefectural Police Departments (県警察, Ken-keisatsu). There are some 289,000 police officers nationwide, about 97 percent of whom were affiliated with Prefectural Police Departments.[6]


Police officers are divided into nine ranks:[7]

Status Police ranks[7] Comparable military ranks[8] Representative job titles
Commissioner General (警察庁長官, Keisatsu-chō Chōkan) No counterpart (outside normal ranking) The Chief of the National Police Agency
Superintendent General (警視総監, Keishi-sōkan) General The Chief of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department
Senior Commissioner (警視監, Keishi-kan) Lieutenant general Deputy Commissioner General, Deputy Superintendent General, The Chief of Regional Police Bureau, The Chief of Prefectural Police Headquarters
Commissioner (警視長, Keishi-chō) Major general The Chief of Prefectural Police Headquarters
Assistant Commissioner (警視正, Keishi-sei) Colonel The Chief of Police Station
Local police personnel Superintendent (警視, Keishi) Lieutenant colonel The Chief of Police Station (small or middle), The Vice Commanding Officer of Police Station, Commander of Riot Police Unit
Chief Inspector (警部, Keibu) Major or Captain Squad Commander of Police Station, Leader of Riot Company
Inspector (警部補, Keibu-ho) Captain or Lieutenant Squad Sub-Commander of Police Station, Leader of Riot Platoon
Police Sergeant (巡査部長, Junsa-buchō) Warrant officer or Sergeant Field supervisor, Leader of Police box
Senior Police Officer (巡査長, Junsa-chō) Corporal (Honorary rank of Police Officers)
Police officer (巡査, Junsa) Private Prefectural Police Officers' careers start from this rank.

The NPA Commissioner General holds the highest position of the Japanese police.[9] His title is not a rank, but rather denotes his position as head of the NPA. On the other hand, the MPD Superintendent General represents not only the highest rank in the system but also assignment as head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.[9]

Police officers whose rank are higher than Assistant Commissioner (警視正, Keishi-sei) are salaried by the National budget even if they belong to local police departments. Designation and dismissal of these high-rank officers are delegated to National Public Safety Commission.[10]

Public security officials except for Police Officers[edit]

There are several thousands of Public security officials attached to various agencies. They are responsible for such matters as forest preservation, narcotics control, fishery inspection, and enforcement of regulations on maritime, labor, and mine safety. In the Act on Remuneration of Officials in the Regular Service (一般職の職員の給与に関する法律), a salary table for Public security officials (公安職, Kōan-shoku) including Judicial police officials is stipulated.

Special judicial police officials[edit]

National Police Agency[edit]

Ministry of Justice[edit]

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare[edit]

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries[edit]

  • Authorized Fisheries Supervisor (漁業監督官)
  • Officers of Regional Forest Office, under Forestry Agency (林野庁森林管理局職員)

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry[edit]

  • (鉱務監督官)

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism[edit]

Coast Guard Officer (海上保安官)[edit]

The largest and most important of these ministry-supervised public safety agencies is the Japan Coast Guard, an external agency of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism that deals with crime in coastal waters and maintains facilities for safeguarding navigation. The agency operates a fleet of patrol and rescue craft in addition to a few aircraft used primarily for anti-smuggling patrols and rescue activities. In 1990 there were 2,846 incidents in and on the waters. In those incidents, 1,479 people drowned or were lost and 1,347 people were rescued.

Ministry of Defense[edit]

Officials working for public safety, except for Special judicial police officials[edit]

There are other officers having limited public safety functions.

The National Diet[edit]

Ministry of Justice[edit]

Public security intelligence officer (公安調査官)[edit]

They handle national security matters both inside and outside the country. Their activities are not generally known to the public.

Ministry of Finance[edit]

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare[edit]

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries[edit]


Officers working for public safety
Officer are Special judicial police officials (特別司法警察職員) can arrest suspects with arrest warrant can carry firearms Salary schedule which is applied
Imperial guard (皇宮護衛官) Green tickY Green tickY Green tickY Public Security Service
Prison guard (刑務官) Green tickY Green tickY Green tickY Public Security Service
Narcotics agent (麻薬取締官) Green tickY Green tickY Green tickY Administrative Service
Labor Standards Inspector (労働基準監督官) Green tickY Green tickY Red XN Administrative Service
Authorized Fisheries Supervisor (漁業監督官) Green tickY Green tickY Red XN Administrative Service
Coast Guard Officer (海上保安官) Green tickY Green tickY Green tickY Public Security Service
Military police officer (警務官) Green tickY Green tickY Green tickY Officials of Ministry of Defense
Diet guard (衛視) Red XN Red XN Red XN (議院警察職)
Immigration control officer (入国警備官) Red XN Red XN Green tickY Public Security Service
Immigration inspector (入国審査官) Red XN Red XN Green tickY Administrative Service
Public security intelligence officer (公安調査官) Red XN Red XN Red XN Public Security Service
Public prosecutor (検察官) Red XN Green tickY Red XN Public Prosecutor
Public prosecutor's assistant officer (検察事務官) Red XN Green tickY Red XN Public Security Service
Customs official (税関職員) Red XN Red XN Green tickY Administrative Service
cf. Police officer (judicial police official) Green tickY Green tickY Public Security Service

Historical secret police organizations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Supreme Court of Japan (2005). "Who will conduct the investigation?". Retrieved 2018-11-01.
  2. ^ Japanese Law Translation (2011-12-01). "日本法令外国語訳データベースシステム-刑事訴訟法" [Code of Criminal Procedure]. Ministry of Justice. p. 1. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
  3. ^ a b National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee 1977, pp. 442-448.
  4. ^ a b "Interpol Japan Page". Interpol. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  5. ^ a b c https://www.npa.go.jp/english/kokusai/pdf/Police_of_Japan_2017_5.pdf
  6. ^ "Public Safety Commission System and Police Activity Support" (PDF). Japanese National Police Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  7. ^ a b "4. Human Resources" (PDF). (警察庁) National Police Agency. National Police Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-25. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  8. ^ "Insignia of the JSDF personnel". JSDF Kumamoto Provincial Cooperation office. Japan Self Defense Force. Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Description of the Japanese Police Organization". Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2012-02-15.
  10. ^ "Outline of the police system" (PDF). Union of Kansan Gavernments. Retrieved 28 December 2016.


  • Yoshino, Jun. (2004). "Law Enforcement in the Edo Period". In: Japan Echo, vol. 31 n. 3, June 2004. p. 59-62.
  • National Police Agency Police History Compilation Committee, ed. (1977). Japan post-war police history (in Japanese). Japan Police Support Association.

External links[edit]

Regional Bureaus

Police communications Bureaus