Environmental Legal Education as if Earth Really Mattered: A Brief Account from Japan

Date01 January 2021
DOI10.1177/2322005820959951
Published date01 January 2021
02ALE959951_ncx.indd Article
Environmental Legal Education as
Asian Journal of Legal Education
8(1) 7–18, 2021
if Earth Really Mattered: A Brief
© 2020 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Account from Japan
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DOI: 10.1177/2322005820959951
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Isabelle Giraudou1
Abstract
How can environmental legal education engage with the Anthropocene? Focusing on the Japanese higher
education context, this article interweaves the author’s own biographical experience (i.e., a recent
professional move from the Graduate School of Law to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)
with an analysis of how international non-monodisciplinary teaching frameworks can contribute to
the development of environmental legal studies beyond the School of Law and its disciplinary focus. In
this regard, what is considered is the extent to which a cross-listed course, Law and the Environment,
designed for a mixed body of Japanese and international undergraduate students enrolled in different
tracks (Environmental Sciences and Humanities & Social Sciences), may help both break down familiar
approaches to environmental problems and turn the classroom into a new ‘community of inquiry’.
Introductory Remarks: When Environmental Law Education Ventures
Beyond Monodisciplinary Teaching Frameworks
In Japan, as in most countries, environmental law education does not really seek, or cannot afford, to
challenge the overall assumptions of the discipline, and education in this field is still far from
acknowledging any ‘turn’ implied by the Anthropocene concept. But how do interdisciplinary pedagogical
frameworks—especially those set up as part of the internationalization of higher education in Japan—
engage with the Anthropocene? Since the early 2000s, a number of new university programmes, faculty
departments and graduate schools in Environmental Studies have been established across Japan, often in
relation to the ongoing internationalization of Japanese higher education: involving faculties from
different nationalities with diverse academic backgrounds and run entirely or partly in English, these
new frameworks seek to promote integrated learning and propose to study ‘environmental issues’ from
1 Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Organization for Programs on Environmental Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo,
Japan.
Corresponding author:
Isabelle Giraudou, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku,
Tokyo 153-8902, Japan.
E-mail: giraudou@g.ecc.u-tokyo.ac.jp

8
Asian Journal of Legal Education 8(1)
multiple viewpoints, including the legal perspective.2 Additionally, a number of existing programmes on
Environmental Sciences have sought to expand their reach: not limited to the so-called hard sciences
(physics, biology, chemistry, and so forth), these frameworks now often comprise a social sciences
dimension, for example, through courses offered in STS,3 history of sciences, sustainability studies,
environmental economics and (although to a lesser extent) environmental law and politics. Compared to
monodisciplinary frameworks, how do such interdisciplinary settings envision the teaching and learning
of environmental legal studies in Japan today? By mobilizing ‘different, hitherto dormant, sides’4 of
environmental law, could they help us rethink the role of this legal subfield in a time of unfolding
ecological crises?
Building on the discursive trope of the ‘Anthropocene’, as characterized later, this article interweaves
the author’s own biography (i.e., a recent professional move from the Graduate School of Law to the
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) with an analysis of how international non-monodisciplinary
teaching frameworks can contribute to the development of environmental legal studies in Japanese
higher education. Rather limited in scope, it focuses on a course, Law and the Environment, which the
author has been developing over the past 3 years at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the
University of Tokyo, Komaba campus. Delivered in English, this cross-listed course is designed for a
mixed classroom composed of Japanese and international (3rd- and 4th-year) students enrolled in either
the Environmental Sciences or the Humanities & Social Sciences track. Typically, this course questions
the standard distinction made between the natural and the human/artificial/technological and explores
how contemporary legal decision-making processes deal with the disintegration of such divides. The
present article focuses the attention on the theoretical conditions under which this course may help both
break down familiar legal approaches to so-called environmental problems and turn the classroom into
a forum for questions that cannot yet be resolved but can at least be given a more identifiable shape.
The Anthropocene: A Turning Point for Environmental Law
Education in Japan?
The ground-breaking proposition of the Anthropocene challenges the conception of nature on which law
(among other academic disciplines) has rested for two centuries: that of ‘an unresponsive external
backdrop to the drama of human affairs’.5 The underlying hypothesis of the Anthropocene is that, in view
2 Established in 2001, the Graduate School of Environmental Studies of Nagoya University provides the first interdisciplinary
postgraduate course for environmental studies and education in Japan ‘by integrating various disciplines fully ranging from natural
sciences to engineering to arts and social sciences’. Put in place the following year, the Graduate School of Global Environmental
Studies of Kyoto University seeks to pursue ‘environmental research and practical problem-solving with an interdisciplinary,
holistic approach’. Similarly, the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, established in 2005 by Sophia University
(Tokyo), has ‘designed a curriculum that offers a broad range of academic disciplines that transcend the conventional boundaries
of the humanities and sciences’.
3 ‘Science, Technology and Society’ studies or ‘Science and Technology Studies’.
4 Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Critical Environmental Law as Method in the Anthropocene, in Research Methods in
environMental law: a handbook 131 (andreas PhiliPPoPoulos-MihaloPoulos and victoria brooks eds., 2017).
5 Clive Hamilton et al., Thinking the Anthropocene, in the anthroPocene and the Global environMental crisis, rethinkinG
Modernity in a new ePoch 5 (clive haMilton, christoPhe bonneuil & François GeMenne eds., 2015). See also Will Steffen
et al., The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature? 36 aMbio 614 (2007); Paul J. Crutzen and
Eugene F. Stoermer, The Anthropocene 41 Global chanGe newsletter 17 (2000).

Giraudou 9
of the ‘increasingly inextricable interfusion of nature and human society’,6 any clear-cut divide between
subject and object, ecosystems and social systems, is no longer viable: it is not so much the categories
themselves that are obsolete but rather the perception of humans and non-human nature as neatly bounded
and distinct realms of reality. Initially delineated by various scientific disciplines (including atmospheric
chemistry, climatology, oceanography, geology),7 the Anthropocene has been progressively sparking a
wide range of interdisciplinary conversations on the state of the global environment and is now engaged
with across diverse academic fields. Although to a still-limited extent, law has been taking part in this
movement, with several academic works addressing the implications of the concept for either the legal
discipline in general or environmental law in particular.8 This, in turn, raises a number of crucial
challenges for academia—hence the recent call for ‘radical reorientations of curricula, practices of
engagement with communities outside the academy, re-conceptualizations of what knowledge itself is,
and a re-thinking of how this knowledge is being produced’ in the Anthropocene.9
In Japan, a few books (including several translations) and academic articles dealing with the Anthro-
pocene have been published recently, in particular in the disciplines of philosophy, history of thought and
political sciences.10 Several academic events have also taken place these past few years, which have been
contributing to disseminate the Anthropocene concept in Japan.11 The Japanese term 人新世 (jinshinsei),
which is often followed by the transcription in katakana アントロポセン (antoroposen), corresponds to
the literal translation of ‘Age of humankind’. Reflecting on the limits of such a translation, the Anthro-
pologist Asturô Morita contends that the term lacks cultural sense in Japan, where the nature–culture
dualism would hold no purchase.12 According to him, this raises some concern in the Japanese context,
whereas the ‘Anthropocene’ lenses might render invisible a variety of processes precisely because
they do not fit within the dual scheme of nature and culture. As it has been observed, however, ‘perhaps
6 Hamilton, Id. at 57.
7 See Will Steffen et al., The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives 369 Philos. trans. r. soc. a 842 (2011).
8 See in particular Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Critical Environmental Law in the Anthropocene, in environMental
law and Governance in the anthroPocene 117 (louis kotzé ed., 2017); Eric Biber, Law in...

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