In Memoriam: Erik Herber (1969-2020)
The Japanese Studies community at Leiden University is deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our colleague, Erik Herber. He was not only an esteemed scholar and teacher, but also, to many of us, a dear friend.
Erik's career in Japanese Studies began here at Leiden, where he earned his first MA degree in 1996. Following graduation he was awarded a two-year scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education, which was extended for another five years and resulted in an MA degree and a PhD in Sociology from Tsukuba University (Japan). His dissertation, titled The Commonsensical Construction of Culpability, was an in-depth study of a triple murder, focusing on the role non-juridical knowledge played in the behavior of police officers, public prosecutors and judges involved in the case. It formed a basis for Erik's contribution to an ongoing international debate on 'rationalizing' the process of determining defendants' punishment by means of sentencing guidelines.
The struggle to find an academic job that would ultimately allow him to develop his own, very innovative approach to studying Japanese society through crime was not easy. After a few years of freelancing as translator and interpreter, Erik was hired by the Leiden University Institute of Area Studies as a language teacher, a position without any research time. Despite a very heavy teaching load, Erik did not give up and gradually managed to establish himself as a leading European expert on Japanese Law. In 2008 his position at LIAS was adjusted to that of University Lecturer. Since then, Erik worked in affiliation with Van Vollenhoven Institute, Faculty of Law, and in close collaboration with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and the Japanese Prosecutors' Office. He was registered as an expert on Japanese Law and Criminology in the Dutch National Police experts' database and regularly provided advice to the members of the Dutch National Criminal Investigation Unit.
Erik was very proud of his monograph, Lay and Expert Contributions to Japanese Criminal Justice, which was published in 2019, when he was already fighting the disease that proved fatal for him. More details about his other publications can be found on his university profile page.
Erik was a true Renaissance man, excelling at everything he did, whether it was interpreting, teaching, chairing committees or giving TV interviews. The Work Experience section of his Curriculum Vitae includes the following entry:
August 1989-1990: Au Pair in Florence, Italy. Studying, in addition, Italian, classical languages (Universita degli Studi di Firenze) and classical violin (Scuola di Musica di Fiesole)
We will miss him.