Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law

By Shinohara, Chika | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law


Shinohara, Chika, Law & Society Review


Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law. By Mark D. West. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011. 259 pp. $29.95 cloth.

Expressions of love matter greatly in our lives. But how do love and emotions shape the processes of trials and legal decisions by professional judges once our relationships face serious problems and turn into tragedies? In Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law, Mark D. West introduces us to a new side of the judiciary. Comparing and contrasting equivalent cases and situations in the United States with his careful analyses of 2,700 Japanese court opinions in the 1990s and 2000s, West reveals judges' particular world views of love, sex, and marriage, and ultimately of law and society in Japan (p. 7). The book also presents demographic data and public opinions from the government's national statistics, studies by Japan scholars, and the author's interviews with Japanese legal specialists. Drawing on these sources, West contributes not simply to our understanding of an official legal perspective on love, sex, and marriage, or of the judicial world in Japan; his work also guides us to consider how cultural conceptualizations of intimacy and the institutional arrangements of judiciaries influence the ways cases play out in the legal arena.

West argues that the concept of "love," which we typically do not associate with legal decision making, plays a striking role in judicial verdicts and judges' reasoning in Japan. He recognizes that many Japanese are relatively reserved in expressing the feelings of "love" verbally in their personal interactions, let alone in public. The study starts with the assumption that Japanese judges do not concern themselves with legally trivial matters of the heart (p. 10). Yet, in his analysis of legal reports and interviews with lawyers and judges, West demonstrates that love-related expressions often appear unexpectedly and shape the outcomes of cases; and surprisingly, love matters most in criminal cases rather than in cases about marriage and divorce. West conceptualizes his rather astonishing findings on judicial commentaries with an introduction and analysis of the judicial system and, in particular, the judge's career path in Japan-an extremely homogeneous, age-graded, and elitist structure. West also provides a valuable description of popular and gendered understandings of "love" as pain and suffering in Japan, in marked contrast to American conceptions of love as warm and caring, a positive necessity in life.

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