Each society that consumes alcohol has its own unique drinking culture, and each society deals with the drunken products of that culture in particular ways.
As Mark D. West shows in Drunk Japan, the distinctive features of Japanese drinking culture and its intoxication-related laws are not simply interesting in and of themselves, but offer a unique window into Japanese society more broadly. Drawing upon close readings of over 5,000 published Japanese court opinions on drunkenness-related cases, he provides a rich description of Japanese alcohol consumption, drinking culture, and intoxication. West reveals that the opinions not only show patterns in what, where, and why people drink in Japan, but they also focus to a surprising extent on characteristics (including occupation, wealth, gender, and education) of individual litigants. By examining the consistencies and contradictions that emerge from the cases, West finds that, at its most extreme, the Japanese legal system is hyper-individualized. Focusing on individual people sometimes leads courts to ignore forensic evidence, to rely on post-arrest drinking tests, and to calculate prison sentences based on factors such as a mother's promise to help her adult child abstain.
Cumulatively, the colorful and often tragic cases West uses not only illuminate the complexity of the culture, but they also reveal an entirely new vision of Japanese law and a comprehensive picture of alcohol use in Japanese society writ large.
Mark D. West is the Nippon Life Professor of Law and Dean of the University of Michigan Law School.