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Law and Society in Japan


Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in law, social sciences (e.g. anthropology, sociology, development studies, public administration), and humanities (history, area studies, arts). Non-law students should be willing to acquire a basic understanding of legal scholarship, whereas law students should be willing to engage in subjects beyond the rules of black letter law. For this course a sufficient command of English is required (IELTS 6.5 or higher).


Japan is often considered ‘unique’. It is the third largest economy in the world and it was the first country in Asia to adopt a modern, Western legal system. Yet, the Japanese economy seems to work in a different way than other developed capitalist economies do and so does its legal system, seem to have a logic of its own. Japanese are said to be non-litigious, to value harmony over anything else, and to be critical of rights-based discourses. Contracts are not spelled out, the government uses typical administrative means of ‘guiding’ firms into particular behaviour and before one can get a divorce one first needs to get past elderly mediators who try to convince one to stick to the marriage.

The question is how much of this is true. This course ventures beyond the stereotypes, asking what the particularities of Japan’s legal system are and how this system operates in practice. It explores the relationship between law and society, looking at the constitution, family law, labour law, company law, civil law, criminal law, and international law. Particular attention is devoted to law ‘in action’ and ‘informal’ procedures and practices relevant to the functioning of national laws and policies. As will become clear, ‘informal’ procedures and practices – that is: procedures and practices not strictly governed by formal legal rules – have been an important, institutionalized part of the practical functioning of these laws and mechanisms. This ‘institutionalization of informality’ can be understood against the government’s historical efforts to prevent ‘over-juridification’ of society as well as a ‘rule by law’ approach to governance. Besides examining socio-cultural contexts in which the Japan’s legal system operates, the impact of recent rule of law-oriented (and at times politically motivated) reforms will be addressed.

This course has two aims. First, it will provide students with a toolkit to understand the relationship between law and society from a theoretical perspective. It will thus help students to reflect on their own legal systems and to view these as the result of particular historical processes instead of something ‘given’. Second, it will provide a comprehensive introduction to Japanese law and society and distinguish the stereotypes from reality.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
After having taken this course, students will have become familiar with theories concerning the interaction between law and society, which enable them to apply the theories to other case studies. They also will gain a basic knowledge about socio-cultural and political environment of Japan's governance structure, distinguishing the stereotypes from reality.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • Student is able to explain the main features of Japan’s law and policy and identify the relevant socio-cultural and political context.

  • Student is able to identify and explain the key theoretical aspects of interaction between law and society.

  • Student is able to evaluate case studies in the light of the above two points.

  • Student is able to critically reflect on the relevant concepts such as ‘society’, ‘culture’ and ‘governance’.

  • Student is able to effectively present the legal questions concerning a specific case to audience, and thereby contribute to the debate.

  • Student is able to independently use English language materials to critically evaluate the abovementioned subjects, and to clearly formulate his/her arguments in short written assignments.


Zie MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

The course uses a variety of teaching methods, including lecturing, student group presentations and debate. Students are expected to prepare well and participate actively in class.


Number of lectures (2 hour): 10
Name(s) of lecturer(s): Guus Heerma van Voss and Hoko Horii
Required preparation by students: t.b.a.

Following subject matters will be discussed:

  • Legal history of Japan and theories of legal transplant

  • Labour law and organizations

  • Citizenship and civil registration system

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution

  • The prosecution of crime and the jury system

  • Criminals and victim participation

  • The Hague convention and child abduction cases

  • Death penalty: legal system and public opinion

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Reading response on Forum and participation in the class (25%)

  • Group project (25%)

  • Essay (50%)

If the overall grade is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam. If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, the scores on the assignments, the presentation and the (re-)exam are no longer valid.

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide, the contents of the lectures, and the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Syllabus will be made available via Brightspace

  • All the course materials will be accessible via Leiden University Catalogue or Brightspace

Recommended course materials:

  • May be announced during the course.


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.

Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.


  • Co-ordinator: Hoko Horii

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Telephone number: +31 (0) 71 527 7260

  • Email:


  • Institute: Metajuridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B1.14

  • Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.00 - 12.30 and 13.30 - 16.00 h.

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0)71 527 7260

  • Email: