Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Restricted Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Asian Studies

First Advisor

Henry C.W. Laurence

Second Advisor

Vyjayanthi Selinger


The Japanese lay judge system heard its first case in May of 2009. Until that moment critics and proponents alike wondered about the system's potential to address structural issues within the Japanese justice system such as coercive police interrogations, a distant judiciary, and an extremely high conviction rate. Though their reasoning differs, Cultural Essentialists and Traditionalists both argue that the lay judge system will do little to change the current status of the Japanese justice system. Deliberative Democrats however argue that through meaningful deliberation, citizens will have a stronger desire to participate in civil society, therefore paving the way for internal oversight of judges and judicial decisions within the criminal trials. In this thesis, I find that the cultural essentialist argument erroneously sees Japanese society as an unchanging monolith and that Japanese historical legal traditions disprove it. On the other hand, records from the lay judge planning meetings, a textual analysis of the rhetoric used to promote the lay judge system, exit surveys regarding one's lay experience, and first hand accounts from lay judges on their experience validate both the traditionalist and the deliberative democratic arguments. I conclude that though Deliberative Democrats may have to concede that the lay judge system is not the bastion of change for the justice system they hope it to be, Traditionalists must too concede that the lay judge system is bringing important conversations on the state of the justice system into the national foreground and forcing those in the government to respond.


Available only to users on the Bowdoin campus.