I do hope it is indeed "idiosyncratic" to Japan and nowhere else, but I could be negatively surprised.
I thought it was a joke of some kind when I saw tweets with the link to the article, like the Japanese version of Onion News Network (which is less funny these days as the reality becomes more hilarious by the day). It wasn't.
The focus of people in Japan was on the fact that the remaining family members - 85-year-old wife and her son - was deemed responsible at all times for the man who suffered from severe dementia.
My focus was, what the hell did the train operator - JR Tokai - sue the family for?
Here's how Mr. Tetsu Ueda, chief justice of the Nagoya district court in Aichi Prefecture decided, according to Nikkei Shinbun (8/10/2013):
The court orders the wife of the man and their eldest son to pay full 7,200,000 yen to JR Tokai for damages demanded by JR Tokai for train delay stemming from the fatal accident in which the man, 91 years old at the time of the accident, entered the railroad track and was hit by a train in December 2007.
The man had been diagnosed with the severe dementia that required care at all times.
The man slipped outside when the wife, then 85 years old, was not looking. Judge Ueda decided that the wife was negligent in performing her duties as caregiver. Judge Ueda also accused the eldest son who didn't live with the parents for not providing the appropriate measures to prevent roaming.
The family argued that it was impossible for the then-85-year-old wife to monitor her husband all the time. But Judge Ueda said the family could have hired a helper, and said "The prerequisite for the care of the man was that a caregiver keep an eye on him at all times. Therefore the family was negligent."
And so they will be made to pay 7.2 million yen to a large train operator because the man had dementia and roamed into the railroad track and hit by a train, causing some delay in train schedule and supposedly some loss of revenue for the operator.
The same Japanese justice system is NOT going to prosecute anyone from TEPCO's former top management and DPJ's politicians under the Kan administration over the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident. But it has no problem indicting the now 91-year-old woman and ordering her to pay damages arising from her negligence, of not taking care of her husband.
The system goes after easier targets, and that's unfortunately universal.