In contemporary Japan, police and law enforcement are often reluctant to assist in family conflicts. In practice, law enforcement and the family law system offer little assistance for people struggling with family conflicts in particular, following the logic that “law does not belong in families.” This article examines the informal, familial, financial, and social means people use to solve what might be called “family problems” when formal legal assistance is foreclosed. Operating as alternatives to the legal system, these strategies nevertheless are structured directly in response to the formal legal system, what it supports and allows. The article uses theorizations of legal consciousness, law's “shadows,” and “order without law” to compare strategies and reactions of Japanese citizens and foreigners engaging the legal system in Japan. It argues that the written and unwritten rules surrounding Japanese family law reward those who seek solutions outside of formal channels, thereby co-constructing the legal system as unable to solve family conflicts. Linking individual strategies with outcomes, it concludes that family members who expect less assistance from the formal legal system often end up winning more.

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