Empirical Studies in Culture, Society and Policy Making
Edited by Dimitri Vanoverbeke, Jeroen Maesschalck, David Nelken and Stephan Parmentier
Chapter 1: The changing role of law in Japan: empirical studies in culture, society and policy making: an introduction
Parallel to Japan's rise to economic prominence on the world scene in the 1960s, law and legal thinking in the country have become the focus for academic research in various respects. One recurring question has been why Japan managed to become one of the most important economic actors in the world without the legal infrastructure usually associated with complex economic activities. Many authors (e.g. Kawashima 1959, 1963; Noda 1966; Chiba 1989) have referred to culture and tradition to explain why the role of law is less formalized compared with other major economies. The limited number of lawyers and magistrates, the low crime rate, the absence of contracts and the prominence of informal dispute resolution are just some aspects that surprise legal scholars from outside Japan, particularly when taking its highly advanced global economy into consideration. The role of law in Japan, according to the mainstream scholarly interpretations, remains limited and more state-oriented than citizen- (or client-) oriented for cultural and historical reasons, combined with institutional constraints. Even authors denying the importance of culture in understanding the role of law in Japan were, in doing so, contributing to the prominence of culture in the discourse on the role of law (e.g. Haley 1978; Ramseyer 1988). However, the widely shared view of the importance of culture is increasingly challenged in the literature and this book aims to offer a contribution to this debate. The book specifically focuses on two important challenges to that classical view.