Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

A Review of Who Rules Japan?: Popular Participation in the Japanese Legal Process

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

A Review of Who Rules Japan?: Popular Participation in the Japanese Legal Process

Article excerpt

Who Rules Japan? is a valuable addition to the literature on Japanese law. Seven substantive chapters explore important recent developments in a wide range of fields. The ten authors-including leading experts in criminal justice, labor law and other fields-all are highly qualified and all have undertaken extensive research. Each of the chapters breaks new ground; and collectively they provide a wealth of new information, new methodological approaches, and new theoretical insights.

To summarize briefly, Leon Wolff, Luke Nottage, and Kent Anderson (who also served as editors for the entire volume) begin the book with a thoughtful Preface and Introduction (Chapter 1), in which they set out the overall framework and identify certain unifying themes. Those themes include the impact of reforms that grew out of the 2001 recommendations of the Justice System Reform Council (JSRC), with a special focus on "the extent to which the 2001 reform program has transformed the Japanese state-from an administrative state in which powerful elites 'ruled' over the economy, to a judicial state in which citizens participate more freely in public life and the law 'rules' over clashes of interests."1

Turning to the substantive chapters, the second, by David T. Johnson and Satoru Shinomiya, discusses the lay judge (saiban'in) system-a lay participation system for serious criminal cases with mixed panels of professional and lay judges-that went into effect in 2009. In order, the successive chapters consist of: an examination of the new labor dispute resolution tribunal system, by Takashi Araki and Wolff; a detailed study of skomu kenji (the lawyers who represent the government in civil and administrative litigation), by Stephen Green and Nottage; a consideration of changing approaches to regulation in the field of welfare law, placing regulation of childcare and retirement pensions in a broader theoretical framework, by Trevor Ryan; an examination of prison reform, by Carol Lawson; an examination of the rise of private enforcement of competition law by litigious reformers, by Souichirou Kozuka; and an exploration of the interconnections between law and popular culture, by Wolff.

While Johnson and Shinomiya provide important insights regarding the lay judge system, by now that system has been the subject of numerous books and articles both within and outside Japan. All the other chapters address topics that have not received much attention outside Japan. Indeed, I would submit that topics such as skomu kenji, prison reform, and the interconnections between law and popular culture have not received sufficient attention even within Japan.

Each of the chapters highlights recent changes to the Japanese legal system. Collectively the essays provide a striking picture of the broad range of reforms the Japanese justice system has undergone over the past decade or two. As mentioned above, the Introduction frames the book in part as an examination of the impact of the 2001 reform program announced by the JSRC. Many of the reforms discussed in the individual chapters-including the lay judge system, the Labor Tribunal system, and the elimination of a statutory prohibition that prevented licensed lawyers (bengoski) from assuming full-time employment in governmental bodies- arose directly out of JSRC recommendations. Others were not directly tied to those recommendations. Thus, for example, the debate over prison reform has deep historical roots, but the actual trigger for the recent reforms was a scandal that came to light in late 2002. While the process of competition law reform occurred contemporaneously with the JSRC deliberations, that topic was not part of the Reform Council's agenda. As those and other chapters discuss, however, whether directly rooted in the JSRC recommendations or not, many of the reforms reflect common threads, including a shift in attitudes toward how law is produced in Japan.

Notably, these essays do not find an "Americanization" of Japanese law. …

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