Waltzing into bedrooms and brothels
A new book on love and the law in Japan
Jun 2nd 2011 | from the print edition
Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law. By Mark West. Cornell University Press; 259 pages; $29.95 and £19.95. Buy from Amazon.com
ON FEBRUARY 19th 2006 Kimiko and her married lover Tetsuo checked into an Osaka love-hotel, swallowed sedatives and slit their wrists. When they awoke at midnight and realised their suicides had failed, Tetsuo strangled Kimiko at her request, then tried to hang himself and cut his wrists again.
Unsuccessful, he called the police. At the trial, where an American court would consider questions of intent, the Japanese court based its ruling on whether Kimiko was in love. If she was, the court reasoned, she may have consented to her murder and Tetsuo would receive a lighter sentence.
Many facets of Japan seem mysterious to outsiders. Courts are sometimes obliged to seek answers to questions about love that may well be unanswerable. Yet in cases where love might indeed have a bearing, such as divorce, judges usually ignore the emotion entirely. Teasing out the mysteries of Japanese society by way of its statutes is the speciality of Mark West, a professor at Michigan Law School.
In “Lovesick Japan” he trolls through 2,700 court opinions to paint a picture of a country that treats marriage more as an economic contract than an emotional bond. As seen by the judiciary, a little adultery should not trump marriage as an institution. “Japanese courts have no problem waltzing into bedrooms and brothels in ways that are not essential to deciding the case at hand,” he writes. “What they find there rarely seems to please them.”