Mark D West, Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law (Cornell University Press, Ithaca/London, 2011, viii + 259pp, hardcover US$29, e-version $18.44 via http://www.amazon.com/Lovesick-Japan-Sex-Marriage-Romance/dp/0801449472
[Published in 33 Journal of Japanese Law 253-8 (2012), with a shorter version also in 32(2) Japanese Studies 299-301 (2012).]
This is the third book with “sex” in the title that has been written since 2005 by the Nippon Life Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. Although it is beautifully written in a conversational style, opens up some intriguing insights, and reflects very extensive research, this work is probably the least successful of the three. This reviewer, at least, hopes that Mark West will now divert his formidable talents to examining other areas of Japanese law and society, including further research in the field that initially established his career – namely, “Economic Organizations and Corporate Governance in Japan” (Oxford University, 2004, co-edited with Curtis Milhaupt).
West’s book on “Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes” (University of Chicago Press, 2005) actually did not focus much on sex. But it showed convincingly how law has played important roles in the development of the “love hotel” industry, as in many other areas of everyday life in Japan. His book on “Secrets, Sex and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States” (University of Chicago Press, 2005) contained more sex. But this arose as part of detailed analysis of important differences – and some similarities – in the two countries’ societies and legal systems relevant to scandals, including corporate fraud, baseball cheaters and political corruption. By contrast, West’s latest book on “Lovesick Japan” is full of sex – caveat emptor (buyer beware)!
In this book West pursues the argument that “law matters” in Japan, but in unusual as well as more mundane life situations. Indeed, he argues that “Japanese judges, who have significant discretion, play a surprisingly direct role of arbiters of emotions in intimate relationships” (p9). Further, unlike his earlier works, West focuses predominantly on how Japanese judges write and reason about sex, marriage and “love” more generally, in their publically-available judgments covering a broad array of legal and social topics. He argues that a “state-endorsed judicial view” (p9) emerges not just from the way the legally relevant facts (and sometimes seemingly irrelevant facts) are presented, but also from the legal analysis – with the combination often suggesting broad problems: a “lovesick Japan”. Specifically (p8):
Love, for instance, is highly valued in Japan, but in judges’ opinions, it usually appears as a tragic, overwhelming emotion associated with jealousy, suffering, heartache, and death. Other less debilitating emotions and conditions, including “feelings”, “earnestness” and “mutual affection” appear in unexpected areas of the law such as cases of underage sex and adultery. Sex in the opinions presents a choice among (a) private “normal” sex, which is male-dominated, conservative, dispassionate, or nonexistent; (b) commercial sex, which caters to every fetish but is said to lead to rape, murder, and general social depravity; and (c) a hybrid of the two in which courts commodify private sexual relationships. Marriage usually has neither love nor sex; judges raise the ideal of love in marriage and proclaim its importance, but virtually no one in the cases achieves it. Instead, married life is best conceptualized as the fulfillment of a contract.