Rediscovering KyotoU

Rediscovering KyotoU law Law: A liaison with society and the worldRediscovering KyotoU law Law: A liaison with society and the world

The spirit of “scholarly pursuit” at the core of our culture of academic freedom

The study of law at Kyoto University has a long history, beginning with the opening of the university's College of Law in 1899. As the second law school founded in Japan after Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo), one of its goals was undoubtedly to train bureaucrats who would play a central role in Japan’s government, but the school is known to have employed a unique teaching style. Professor Jun Shiomi, Dean of Kyoto University Graduate School of Law and Faculty of Law, said that the school's style was distinguished by “an emphasis on legal training through free discussion.” This, he says, is what gave rise to its ingenious way of engaging in “deep pursuit of academic principles without conforming to the political movements and trends of the time.”

One well known story involving Kyoto University’s law programs is the “Takigawa Incident” of 1933, in which 39 members of the Faculty of Law resigned from their positions to protest the government's decision to place Professor Yukitoki Takigawa on administrative leave in an effort to suppress his legal theories. “This event put a spotlight on academic freedom and university autonomy, and ‘responsibility for one’s research’ is a prerequisite for such freedom. Responsible scholarly pursuit could be considered the core principle of the culture of Kyoto University’s law programs.”

Jun Shiomi, Dean of the Graduate School of Law

Establishment of the Law School Program brought major changes

One event that impacted legal education and research at Kyoto University was the establishment of the Law School Program in 2004. When the Japanese justice system was reformed, many different aspects of the legal profession were re-examined, and completion of law school was made a requirement for sitting the new bar examination in most cases. Legal research and professional training had once been separated, but were now merged within the university.

The Law School Program helps students who have studied theory at the undergraduate level transition smoothly to practical training, and then plunge into actual legal practice in a legal apprenticeship. Dean Shiomi believes that as a result of the establishment of this program, “faculty members are now expected to have a stronger understanding of and interest in real-life legal practice, and have the opportunity to gain new perspectives on their research by engaging with newly hired practitioner faculty.”

He also notes that the gap between practice and research has narrowed even further now that law school graduates who have become licensed to practice law are joining as faculty members. In addition, the Law School Program accepts students from different academic and intellectual backgrounds who have not taken undergraduate courses in law. This has also been an important change that has expanded the diversity of the faculty to include Graduate School of Law alumni who entered the school from another field of study.

Taking on the challenge of real-world application of law and political science at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law and Policy

A new Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law and Policy (CISLP) was established in April 2021. As our entire social system undergoes a paradigm shift, including scientific and technological advances, rapid globalization, and global environmental changes, policies that bridge the gap between law and reality are becoming increasingly important. These policies must also be backed by meticulously constructed theories to ensure they yield results. The aim of the CISLP is to respond to these needs by conducting interdisciplinary and international research on cutting-edge legal policy issues through collaboration between theorists and practitioners, and to have policies enacted by taking a more proactive approach to making policy proposals.

Dean Shiomi made the following remarks.

“In the past, the approach at our Graduate School of Law was to discuss the interpretation and application of laws that already existed, and we made little effort to make policy recommendations as an organization. However, many events in today's society have raised troubling questions about whether what is written in our laws is actually just. The purpose of the CISLP is to explore and recommend how to implement laws and policies to address current social problems.”

The Center has three units: an “Artificial Intelligence and Law Unit,” “Medical Care and Law Unit,” and “Environment and Law Unit.” Professor Tatsuhiko Inatani of Kyoto University Graduate School of Law leads the Artificial Intelligence and Law Unit. Prof. Inatani is exploring the legal approaches needed to regulate artificial intelligence (AI), a technology that could completely change the structure of society. One such approach is legal governance of science and technology. Prof. Inatani and his colleagues are rethinking the assignment of responsibility in human-AI collaboration, studying risk control in complex systems, and conducting experiments to demonstrate effects that humans experience when collaborating on tasks with autonomous robots. They found that working alongside advanced AI may unintentionally make humans more prone to accidents. Prof. Inatani says, “We hope to devise optimal ways to assign responsibility and propose laws to improve human-machine interfaces to help prevent accidents.” This research is trailblazing even by global standards, and Prof. Inatani is eager to see if it can help transform the legal system.

Professor Tatsuhiko Inatani

Further boosting international research collaboration

Like legal policy research, international research is another research field that responds to the demands of today's society. Kyoto University's law programs have long been promoting collaboration with foreign research institutions. An academic exchange agreement with the world-renowned Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Germany was signed in 2008, and has produced many accomplishments. The only other universities with which the Institute has signed academic exchange agreements are Oxford University and Cambridge University, indicating their recognition of the high caliber of Kyoto University’s law programs. Kyoto University has also signed academic exchange agreements with 11 law and political science departments and international organizations, thus establishing a foundation for international joint research.

When the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law and Policy (CILSP) was established, a specialized section was created within the CILSP to further advance international research across all of Kyoto University’s law programs. The faculty member appointed as International Research Promotion Manager was Professor Yuko Nishitani of Kyoto University Graduate School of Law, who specializes in international trade law and private international law.

Prof. Nishitani researches implementation of the Hague Convention (Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction) in Japan from a comparative law perspective. More recently, she has been conducting joint research with comparative law institutes in Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom on corporate social responsibility and social restructuring in the post-COVID era.

“Discussions in private international law have recently begun evolving into topics such as shared global values and international standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the SDGs. I am also interested in collaborating with colleagues in other areas of law, such as constitutional law and civil law, as well as those in other disciplines, to realize shared values such as human rights and environmental conservation at the global level," said Prof. Nishitani.

In the summer of 2020, Kyoto University's law programs hosted a symposium on legal responses to COVID-19, in partnership with the Max Planck Institute. Going forward, there will be a need to conduct joint research on issues shared with global partners and communicate those results from Japan. “By promoting international joint research, we hope to pioneer new fields that incorporate global issues, and foster the development of creative young researchers who will lead those fields,” said Prof. Nishitani.

Professor Yuko Nishitani

A tradition of creating an environment where young researchers can devote themselves to their work

Kyoto University's law programs are systematically working to foster young researchers and provide them with comprehensive support. There are around 20 assistant professor positions allocated for graduates of the doctoral program at the Graduate School of Law. The university also provides financial and educational support to Law School alumni who wish to pursue a career as a researcher rather than a practitioner.

The Graduate School of Law has traditionally provided an environment where associate professors can devote themselves to research, by minimizing their teaching workload and administrative work. Faculty members are granted two years to conduct research overseas at the destination of their choice at any time while they are an associate professor. One young researcher, Associate Professor Azusa Uji of Kyoto University Graduate School of Law, feels that, "There is a great spirit of respect for young people.”

Prof. Uji, who specializes in international political and economic analysis, primarily studies the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which was passed under Japan's leadership to prevent environmental pollution by mercury. By identifying the factors that led to a legally binding agreement on targets for reducing mercury pollution, she explored how treaties can strike a balance between the political aim of aligning the interests of nations, companies, and individuals and the functional aim of providing an effective solution to a problem. In the future, Prof. Uji would like to explore various research interests such as pollution and resource recycling-oriented society, and climate change and energy policy, but would particularly like to focus on the movement to create a new international treaty called the Treaty on Plastics Pollution. “I appreciate that I am allowed time to challenge myself and make mistakes through trial and error while I am young, to give me the opportunity for greater growth,” she said.

Associate Professor Azusa Uji

Dean Shiomi made the following remarks about the future goals of Kyoto University’s law programs.

“Now, we need to strengthen our capabilities not only in the area of law, but also in the humanities and social sciences. Although up until now our law programs have had weak ties to other fields, we hope to create an interdisciplinary environment that will enhance both our research and our ability to communicate our findings to society.”

Law works as a liaison with society and the world. The future of Kyoto University's law programs promises to be interesting, as they pursue answers about how to structure society while getting back to human ideals, and further enhance their presence by sharing impactful research findings.

KyotoU law: key points
  1. Launching the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law and Policy, a hub for advanced legal policy research
  2. Stimulating international research in order to disseminate knowledge that will help address global challenges
  3. Continuing the tradition of supporting young researchers to undertake challenging research early in their careers
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