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Law in Everyday Japan

Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes

Lawsuits are rare events in most people’s lives. High-stakes cases are even less commonplace. Why is it, then, that scholarship about the Japanese legal system has focused almost exclusively on epic court battles, large-scale social issues, and corporate governance? Mark D. West’s Law in Everyday Japan fills a void in our understanding of the relationship between law and social life in Japan by shifting the focus to cases more representative of everyday Japanese life.

Compiling case studies based on seven fascinating themes—karaoke-based noise complaints, sumo wrestling, love hotels, post-Kobe earthquake condominium reconstruction, lost-and-found outcomes, working hours, and debt-induced suicide—Law in Everyday Japan offers a vibrant portrait of the way law intermingles with social norms, historically ingrained ideas, and cultural mores in Japan. Each example is informed by extensive fieldwork. West interviews all of the participants-from judges and lawyers to defendants, plaintiffs, and their families-to uncover an everyday Japan where law matters, albeit in very surprising ways.

256 pages | 19 line drawings, 20 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: East Asia, General Asian Studies

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies, International Law, Law and Economics, Law and Society, Legal History, Legal Thought


"This book is a potential blockbuster in the field of Japanese law. Mark West attacks several obscure but sexy topics to help explain the many ways that culture and society mix with law in Japan. The result of a massive amount of original research, it is also written in an entertaining and engaging way."

Frank K. Upham | Frank K. Upham

"Mark West has made a name for himself by applying economic analysis to a wide range of Japanese phenomena. In this book, he argues that law structures everyday Japanese interactions in a variety of unanticipated ways. Through several non-obvious but delightfully juicy case studies, he reveals the many colorful ways that law affects day-to-day life in Japan."

J. Mark Ramseyer | J. Mark Ramseyer

“A blend of fieldwork, rational-choice theory, and statistical analysis, [West] traces the interplay of law, norms, and behavior through quirky case studies of rent-by-the-hour ‘love hotels;’ the business hierarchies of sumo wrestling; Japan’s high rates of debt-related suicide; complaints by the karaoke-deafened against neighboring residents or bars; repair disputes among condominium owners before and after the 1995 Kobe earthquake; and, indeed, Japanese-style lost and found.”

Nina C. Ayoub | Chronicle of Higher Education

"[West] shows how Japanese are as rational as anyone in responding to carrots and sticks. This is a stimulating book on how the law influences everyday life in subtle and unexpected ways. His lucid explanations of the complex interplay between law and social norms playfully takes readers on a tour of love hotels, sumo stables and karaoke pubs, while also shedding light on Japanese traits such as honesty and diligence. . . . It is a fun read and where else can you find the history of love hotels?"

Donal Richie | Japan Times

“This is a superb book that explores the interaction of law society and culture over a range of intriguing topics. In seven captivating case studies, Mark West shows how law influences people’s behavior and perceptions in everyday situations. Rather than trumping law, social norms are powerfully shaped by it. We learn that Japanese respond to incentives and penalties in ways very similar to people in other societies. Readers who savor a unique and mystified Japan steeped in timeless customs are in from a jarring shock to their assumptions. . . . By choosing themes off the beaten track of legal analysis, West demonstrates that even the quirkiest phenomena can be analyzed. . . . And he does so in a delightfully engaging manner.”

Jeff Kingston | Japan Times

"West possesses an uncommonly inquisitive curiosity, and his intrepid, in-depth investigations make him a consistently captivating guide. . . . This is a fine book and a stimulating read. . . . [West] possesses one of the most interesting minds in Japanese legal studies."

David T. Johnson | Journal of Japanese Studies

"The book is very skillfully written. The author addresses sometimes technical legal issues in a vernacular language that nonspecialists can readily understand. . . . A skillfull, astute, and fascinating book that should be of great value to many scholars, lawyers, laymen, and others."

Gary D. Allinson | The Historian

"Law in Everday Japan is a study of the interaction between legal structures and individual behavior that fills important gaps in our understanding of how conflict is managed in Japanese society. . . . A fine book, a good read, a downright useful piece of social science. It is a marvelously sane reminder of the value of being painstaking and rigorous and the silliness of hewing too closely to any methodological or theoretical dogmas."

Robin M. Le Blanc | Monumenta Nipponica

"As a book that touches the concretes of a seemingly formidable institution such as law, Law in Everyday Japan delivers a unique accomplishment—notably giving Japanese law a human face."

Sonia Ryang | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This book contains an extremely well researched and presented series of case studies. It is highly recommended for legal anthropologists and essential reading for those in Japanese studies."

Paul J. Magnarella | Anthropos

"West provokes, entertains and challenges his readers to rethink the relationship between social norms and law and the multiple says in which legal rules shape behavior. In so doing he provides jhis readers new and interesting insights into aspects of law where no one else has venuted. He demonstrates above all that in everyday as well as not-so-everyday Japan, law matters."

John O. Haley | American Journal of Comparative Law

"This is without doubt a creative, informative, and conscientiously argued book from which anthropologists and other students of Japan will have much to learn."

Cristoph Brumann | Current Anthropology

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Author’s Note
1. Introduction
2. Lost and Found
3. Sumo
4. Karaoke
5. Earthquakes and Condominiums
6. Love Hotels
7. Working Hours
8. Debt-Suicide
9. Conclusions and Implications

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