Date of Award

Winter 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Sharon G. Goto

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jonathan M. Hall

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Hiroko Goto

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Rights Information

Copyright Yoshie Udagawa, 2020. All Rights Reserved


Japan, Juvenile Delinquency, Law, Media Representation, Public Perception, Social Control


Childhood presents various images associated with words such as ephemerality, vulnerability, innocence, extraordinariness, immaturity, growth, energy, and hopefulness; yet childhood is an invented concept, which does not provide concrete or fixed implications of what a child is or what the being of a child is. Age is set as a rough standard for the adult- child distinction in legal systems. In Japan, the idea of childhood has been discussed with the age of adulthood in the civil code and juvenile law after 2000. The legal age of adulthood had been 20 for almost 150 years. In the civil code, the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 in 2015. In 2018, the legal age of adulthood was also decided to be lowered from 20 to 18, and that change will take effect in 2022. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility has been discussed in the juvenile law, called the Juvenile Act in Japan, and it is an ongoing area of debate in the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice.

Discussions in Japan relating to juveniles under the legal system intensified in the 1990s after two juvenile-related events and one phenomenon took place. Since then, several laws have been amended in response to public reaction. Some amendments of juvenile law led to a more penal stance, because punitive intervention is thought to be a criminal deterrence and appropriate treatment for juvenile delinquents. Although there was no

scientific evidence to confirm that more severe punishment functions as criminal deterrence, the public positively supported the legal changes to juvenile law, and the media, where the term “self-responsibility” repeatedly resounded, contributed significantly to this atmosphere. The idea of “self-responsibility” emerged after 2000 in Japan, and it became a popular term often heard in discussions of social problems. “Self-effort” also became heavily assessed in parallel; poverty is assumed to be the result of a lack of self-effort, for instance. Japanese author and ex-diplomat Masaru Satō (2020) considered this logic to be a characteristic of neoliberalism and a core reason why social problems, such as poverty, have been unsolved or even intensified.

This neoliberal trend has also been observed in juvenile justice systems globally. The neoliberal stance toward offenders has appeared in European nations and the United States since the late 1960s, illustrated by the assumption that juveniles are rational enough to choose to commit crime, weigh the benefits and costs, and predict the consequences (Bell 2011). Crime came to be considered a private problem, including the result of a psychological disorder or familial inheritance, rather than a public issue, and as a result, juvenile offenders are represented in the media to the public as anarchists or psychopaths rather than vulnerable objects in need of protection; therefore, they are required to take responsibility for their acts as rational individuals (Turner 2014). Hall et al. ([1978] 2013) investigated mugging from the 1960s and 1970s and analyzed how it became the bilateral phenomenon between the United Kingdom and the United States, how “moral panic” was intentionally and unintentionally set up in the dynamics among the media, judiciary, law enforcement, and the general public in the United Kingdom, and what consequences resulted from this moral panic. Sensational and excessive media coverage on muggings contributed to the gap between the actual statistics and the public perception of juvenile crime, deluding the general public, judiciary, and law enforcement into the belief that heinous juvenile crime drastically increased and that,

accordingly, law and order should be maintained by reinforcing police authority. Hall et al. ([1978] 2013) suggested that the problems of juvenile delinquency have been attributed to racial discrimination.

Following the work by Hall et al., this research interrogates the relationship between the media and public opinion regarding juvenile law in Japan during and after the 1990s. The discussion demonstrates how the media constructed the image of juvenile crime, how such an image influenced the perception of the public and the judiciary, and what the dynamics among the media, the public, and the judiciary brought into society, considering a historical concept of the juvenile delinquent as a dependent “child” (not responsible for his/her actions) before the recent amendments of juvenile law.

This research explores interdisciplinary discussions between areas of law, sociology, cultural studies, and media studies and employs discourse analysis and a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches of official statistical data and secondary data, the voices surrounding juvenile crime, including the juvenile offenders, victims, and their families, the media, and the general public.