Japan’s Legal Education Assistance in Asia: Building a Cohort of Jurists for Transition Reforms

Published date01 January 2021
Date01 January 2021
Subject MatterArticles
03ALE965608_ncx.indd Article
Japan’s Legal Education Assistance in
Asian Journal of Legal Education
8(1) 19–33, 2021
Asia: Building a Cohort of Jurists for
© 2020 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Transition Reforms
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DOI: 10.1177/2322005820965608
Aziz Ismatov1 and Emi Makino1
For about three decades, Japan has been providing legal assistance to select countries in Asia in their
transition endeavours from socialism to market economy. Whereas historically, international legal
assistance traditions and their philosophies were designed by Western donors, Japan intends to
demonstrate a shift from such traditional settings by offering its own ideas and approaches towards legal
development in Asia. Among features such as request-based approach, prioritization of local culture and
society in legal assistance, and supreme national interests in providing Official Development Assistance
(ODA), Japan places a particular focus on human recourses development in Asia. This research article
on the concrete example of Nagoya University will focus on Japan’s legal education assistance initiative
to foster human resources in Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar
and Laos. By focusing on educational projects of Nagoya University, which many refer to as the Asian
hub for legal education, this article will shed light on the nature, primary objectives and challenges of
nurturing future legal specialists as proposed by Japan’s broader legal assistance initiative in Asia. This
article asserts that the goal of the Japanese legal education project is not necessarily to export Japanese
law and theory to Asian recipient countries but to enable future Asian jurists to understand own law or
the foreign legal systems in comparative perspective and teach skills to independently and adequately
address future legal challenges arising in own country.
Introduction: Positioning Human Resources Development Within the
Frames of Japan’s Legal Assistance Philosophy
In the late 1980s and early1990s, after the fall of the socialist system in Eastern Europe, the former
Soviet Union and some Southeast Asian countries, the international financial institutions and individual
donor countries had initiated wide-scale legal assistance programmes to help these countries in their
transition from socialism to a market economy. Along with many developed countries, Japan had
1 Centre for Asian Legal Exchange, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan.
Corresponding author:
Aziz Ismatov, Centre for Asian Legal Exchange, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Aichi 464-8601, Japan.
E-mail: ismatov@law.nagoya-u.ac.jp

Asian Journal of Legal Education 8(1)
initiated, in the early 1990s, knowledge-based assistance projects in Asia with regard to establishing a
well-functioning legal system that would promote a fair market economy, the rule of law and democracy.
Within the last three decades, Japan has elaborated its unique philosophy of legal cooperation in Asia,
which, apart from assistance in drafting new laws, additionally places efforts in fostering human
resources for drafting and application of such new laws. Various Japanese legal assistance actors utilize
such elements while working with various Asian recipient countries.2 The present research will refer to
the example of Nagoya University’s legal educational assistance to cultivate local human resources in
select jurisdictions in Asia: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. In the
academic literature, scholars3 often tend to refer to these countries as transition economies or countries
in transition.4
Since the 1990s, the above-mentioned countries have been facing complex challenges of reorganizing
their socialist systems and reception of foreign law, and thus, required assistance from developed
countries; for example, in their legal assistance approach, Western donors have demonstrated some
aggressiveness towards the unconditional implementation of universal democratic and human rights
standards. These strategies have eventually produced in transitional countries ‘mixed results at best’.5 On
the other hand, Japanese legal assistance in Asian recipient countries has taken different approaches,
with less or no conditionality clauses. Some scholars say that Japanese legal assistance might be
convenient to engage with legal reforms in authoritarian countries like, Myanmar, as Japan does not
always have genuine, overarching concerns with human rights norms.6 In this regard, scholars point to
Japan’s low international profile democracy and human rights assistance.7 Indeed, by taking a closer
look at its legal assistance philosophy, one may observe that Japanese legal assistance does not apply a
strict conditionality clause that may be observed in Western approaches.
A closer look reveals that Japan’s philosophy of legal assistance in Asian countries suggests that
rapidly globalizing economies result in new laws bringing domestic legal systems into conformity with
international standards.8 Whereas Western donors offer support in creating advanced laws, Japan’s
2 For example, International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Justice carries out legal assistance activities in Kazakhstan,
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and East Timor. Recently, assistance is initiated in Sri Lanka. http://
www.moj.go.jp/housouken/houso_lta_lta.html (accessed 15 September 2020).
3 Refer for example to; TimoThy Lindsey, Law RefoRm in deveLoping and TRansiTionaL sTaTes (Taylor & Francis 2007).
4 Such notion presupposes a transition from one order to another, or simply speaking, a transition from the socialism to capitalism.
However, this notion is far broader as, for example, countries like Vietnam and Laos still remain as socialist, with some principles
like democratic centralism and socialist party rule empowered. On the other hand, these countries had initiated a gradual shift from
a planned to a market economy at the end of 1980s.
5 Although donor agencies and countries have scored some achievements in Eastern and Central Europe, in the areas of electoral
assistance, civil society capacity building and other areas, the democracy assistance has been ineffective in other ex-communist
countries. Refer for details to; 1 maRiya omeLicheva, democRacy in cenTRaL asia: compeTing peRspecTives and aLTeRnaTive
sTRaTegies (University Press of Kentucky 2015).
6 Veronica Taylor, Japan’s Legal Technical Assistance: A Different Modernization Narrative? In LegiTimacy, LegaL deveLopmenT
and change: Law and modeRnizaTion ReconsideRed 235–49 (d. Linnann, ed., Ashgate Publishing 2013).
7 See maiko ichihaRa, Japan’s inTeRnaTionaL democRacy assisTance as sofT poweR: neocLassicaL ReaLisT anaLysis
(Routledge 2017).
8 In 1992, Japan adopted the Official Development Assistance Charter (hereinafter, ODA) as the primary roadmap for structuring
its multi-layered and multisectoral foreign aid. This ODA has resulted in partial shift from hard infrastructure development projects
towards knowledge-based support that also included promoting democratization, market-oriented economy, and basic rights.
https://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/oda/summary/1999/ref1.html (accessed 13 September 2020).
Since 2003 revised ODA emphasised on supporting the self-help efforts of developing countries through fair distribution of
resources, good governance, and developing a wide range of human resources and socioeconomic infrastructure. https://www.
mofa.go.jp/policy/oda/reform/revision0308.pdf (accessed 13 September 2020).

Ismatov and Makino 21
particular focus on developing human resources suggests that the operation of such laws will eventually
fall within the authority of legal scholars and practitioners in the recipient countries. In other words, local
human resources bear the ultimate responsibility for the successful operation of the legal system,
including legal transplants or laws drafted in cooperation with foreign legal experts. Furthermore, every
international legal assistance project has its logical endpoint, following which local practitioners will
have to independently operate and deal with the emerging challenges of new laws. Following such logic,
Japanese international legal assistance philosophy places particular attention on nurturing local legal
human recourses capable of drafting and applying new laws. Additionally, Japan’s legal assistance
intends to train such human recourses, so that they can understand the legal challenges occurring in the
transition period and formulate adequate solutions.
According to the Basic Policies on Legal Technical Assistance, Japan’s legal technical assistance is
characterized by the following aspects:
It is not limited to the drafting and amending of laws, but it is further extended to the development of foundations
for operating and enforcing the legal institutions properly, to the training of legal professionals and legal
education, and to the capacity-building in legal practices for appropriate legal operations.9
Notably, this document mentions about ‘human resource(s)’ abroad more than 12 times. Thus, it makes
an emphasis that the training of legal specialists continues to remain as a unique feature of Japan’s
foreign legal assistance. Specific legal development projects demonstrate that Japan enhances its support...

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