Who Rules Japan?

Who Rules Japan?

Popular Participation in the Japanese Legal Process

Edited by Leon Wolff, Luke Nottage and Kent Anderson

The dramatic growth of the Japanese economy in the postwar period, and its meltdown in the 1990s, has attracted sustained interest in the power dynamics underlying the management of Japan’s administrative state. Scholars and commentators have long debated over who wields power in Japan, asking the fundamental question: who really governs Japan? This important volume revisits this question by turning its attention to the regulation and design of the Japanese legal system. With essays covering the new lay-judge system in Japanese criminal trials, labour dispute resolution panels, prison policy, gendered justice, government lawyers, welfare administration and administrative transparency, this comprehensive book explores the players and processes in Japan’s administration of justice.

Chapter 1: Introduction: who rules Japan?

Leon Wolff, Luke Nottage and Kent Anderson

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law, politics and public policy, public policy


‘The first thing we do,’ wrote Shakespeare in Henry VI, ‘let’s kill all the lawyers’. Four hundred years later, Japan embarked on a decidedly anti-Shakespearian strategy – the reinvention of Japan from a bureaucratic-led administrative state (eg, Upham, 1987) to a law-led judicial state. A central plank of this strategy, according to the 2001 report by the Justice System Reform Council (‘Recommendations of the Justice System Reform Council – For a Justice System to Support Japan in the 21st Century, the Justice System Reform Council’), was tripling the population of lawyers (bengoshi), judges and public prosecutors. But the Council’s reform blueprint went further than this. Aimed at bringing the legal system closer to the people (Foote, 2007), the Council proposed reconceiving legal education from generalist undergraduate degrees to specialist legal training at dedicated postgraduate law schools. Ex ante administrative action would give way to ex post judicial relief. Ordinary citizens would be involved in judging cases. The court system would receive capacity-boosting investment in technical research expertise to support the speedy resolution of intellectual property disputes. Access to justice would be widened; execution of judgments and legal remedies strengthened and expanded. Ostensibly, the rationale for this reform effort was to invest greater democratic legitimacy in the justice system. The overhaul of legal education and increase in lawyer numbers, for example, was aimed at promoting wider access to legal advice, including specialist, globally relevant commercial advice to Japanese industry.