The Changing Role of Law in Japan
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The Changing Role of Law in Japan

Empirical Studies in Culture, Society and Policy Making

Edited by Dimitri Vanoverbeke, Jeroen Maesschalck, David Nelken and Stephan Parmentier

The Changing Role of Law in Japan offers a comparative perspective on the changing role of law in East Asia, discussing issues such as society, cultural values, access to the legal system and judicial reform. This innovative book places Japan in the wider context, juxtaposed with Europe, rather than the US, for the first time.
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Chapter 2: Legal culture and social change

David Nelken


The chapters in this volume show us that Japanese law has recently been undergoing an important social transformation. For many years scholars treated Japan as a case study of a society where lawyers, judges and litigation were relatively marginal. For some writers the best explanation of this was a 'culturalist' one that referred to specific features of how law and formal dispute processing were perceived and lived in Japan (and Asia more generally); for others the explanation depended more on politically shaped institutional impediments to relying on the courts. The literature on this point is now enormous. But the debate is by no means exhausted. There are some authors (from Japan or from elsewhere) who still see culture as important. Others prefer to use approaches derived from 'economics and law' so as to make 'culture' disappear. What is special about this collection, however, is the way the scholars represented here, especially those from Japan, just seek to apply socio-legal theories and methodologies about the use of law that are used elsewhere. If any differences are to be found, they suggest, this can only be shown through careful documentation of the same kinds of variation that are examined by socio-legal scholars everywhere. As this suggests, convergence can be seen in the approaches to explaining law being taken by these younger scholars just as much as evidencing increased resort to law by Japanese citizens.

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