Law in Everyday Japan

This book is a serious legal/anthropological study of the effects of the legal system on various aspects of Japanese society. It was very interesting, in part because I learned a few more details of what the law in Japan actually is. It made me think that I need to find a basic “introduction to Japanese law for people living here” book, but quick checks around bookshops and on Amazon didn’t yield anything particularly useful. I’ll have to have another look at some point.

Anyway, back to this book. It starts off with a chapter about the lost and found laws, and an experiment involving dropping wallets and cell phones in both Tokyo and New York. In Tokyo, he got 85% of the wallets back, all with the money inside. In New York, he got 40% back, and 25% of those (10% of the total) were missing the cash. His argument is that the Japanese system makes it easy to return lost goods, thanks to the ubiquitous police boxes, and specifies a reward for those who do so, and penalties for those who don’t (picking up and keeping lost property in Japan is embezzlement, and it is sometimes prosecuted). In this case, he says that the system and social expectations all work together smoothly to produce a very positive outcome.

Some of his other examples were less successful. The most spectacular example was that the law passed to regulate and restrict love hotels seems to have had the effect of massively expanding the business. (A love hotel is a hotel that rents rooms by the hour for the purposes of sex. At some hotels, married couples are the largest single group of customers; this, apparently, does not apply when the hotel is next door to a night club.) This, he argues, was because the law defined quite precisely what a love hotel was. It was therefore a relatively simple matter to avoid the definitions and not be a love hotel, while still serving that function. The presence of the definitions forced the hotels to be a bit less tacky, and the existence of regulation made them seem somewhat accepted. So their image improved, and they became more popular. Given the soundproofing of the typical Japanese apartment, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not what was intended.

He also discusses the structure of the governing body of sumo, changes to bankruptcy legislation, and other topics, making the book rather miscellaneous. As a result, it doesn’t really have an overall conclusion, beyond “the law makes a difference to the way Japanese people behave”. That would seem extremely obvious, were it not for the fact that some people have, apparently, denied it. The point is made very convincingly, however, and the case studies along the way are extremely informative. A recommended book.