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Japan's reputation for unusually strong emphasis on the avoidance of public conflict and therefore for de-emphasis of legal institutions suggests an arid, hostile environment for litigators, especially those who lack substantial resources. In a study of a quasi-class action lawsuit by Japanese air pollution victims, we find that litigation can be developed as a tool in the pursuit of a social movement's wider objectives despite the paucity of resources within the Japanese legal system. Our research documents the many ways in which the delays, obstacles, and costs that characterize the litigation environment in Japan have been either neutralized or turned to the advantage of a social movement because of its commitment to longer-term political objectives rather than short-term victories. The special role of professions in general, and the legal profession in particular, in such litigation combines with class-oriented social movements to produce a political/legal pattern that is neither traditionally harmonious nor a conflict "difficult to contain."

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Law and Socail Inquiry