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 6: Reforming Japanese corrections: catalysts and conundrums

Carol Lawson

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


This chapter examines the recent reforms of the Japanese corrections system. The aim is to shed light on the production of law in Japan in the new millennium. The conceptual birth of the modern prison in around 1760 in Europe was accompanied by the express intention that it would be a place of ‘correction of the soul’ more than ‘punishment of the body’ (Foucalt, 1975, p._16). However, all societies have since faced the gap between the promise of prisons and reality – the chilling suspicion that they cause rather than prevent recidivism (Foucalt, 1975, pp._265–8). And as long as there have been penal institutions there have also been efforts to reform them (Foucalt, 1975, pp._234–5). For some, the prison is an irredeemable institution, ‘inherently corrupt and cruel’ (Robert Johnson, 2002, p._265). For nearly a hundred years from late in the Meiji Era (1868–1912), Japanese prisons were governed by the Prison Act (Act No. 28 of 1908). In 2003 the Prison Administration Reform Committee (PARC) noted that this legislation was comprehensive and progressive when enacted (Prison Administration Reform Committee, 2003, p._2). Botsman (2005, ch. 7, Conclusion) describes in meticulous detail how the new Japanese vision for prisons early in the twentieth century accorded with the ideals of ‘civilization and enlightenment’ that allowed Japan to take its position on the world stage. But the Prison Act lay practically static for a century despite obvious changes in Japanese law and society, including the establishment of constitutional democracy in 1946.

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