Who Rules Japan?
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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.
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Chapter 8: When Japanese law goes pop

Leon Wolff


Japanese law is going ‘pop’. Since the turn of the century, Japanese popular culture, especially prime-time television, has dedicated more time to legal themes, characters and settings. Lawyers, overwhelmingly women, are the heroes in both dramatic and comedic television series (Nakamura, 2007). Courtroom battles are the scene for plot developments (Ishikawa, 2004). Practising lawyers are the new celebrities, joining actors and singers on the light entertainment talk show circuit. To be sure, law is not a new thematic preoccupation on Japanese network television. Nor is it one that has become so dominant that it overshadows more traditional genres such as workplace romantic comedies, coming-of-age dramas or family soap operas (eg, Dissanayake, 2012, p._194). But, its growing presence on the silver screen in twenty-first-century Japan is a trend that merits analysis. The purpose of this chapter is to explore that socio-legal significance. This presents theoretical and empirical challenges. Theoretically, is there explanatory potential in the link between law and popular culture in Japan? Empirically, does the greater embrace of law-related characters, plots and scenes in prime-time television series since 2001 provide compelling evidence of changing popular attitudes to law and legal process among Japanese viewers? The inspiration for both the title and theme of this chapter comes from Sherwin’s When Law Goes Pop (2000). But it departs from Sherwin in how it defines and analyses the issues. For Sherwin, ‘pop’ means ‘implosion’.

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