The New DPJ Government in Japan: Implications for Law Reform

Mainstream Australian media provided distressingly meager coverage of Japan’s exciting general election for the more powerful lower House of Representatives last Sunday, which saw a remarkable about-face. The centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) went from 115 to 308 seats, with allies SDP (the small leftover of the once-powerful Social Democratic Party) and the New Party Nippon taking another 7 and 3 seats respectively. Overall, these and other former Opposition parties took 340 seats, whereas the conservative ruling coalition suffered a massive defeat. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dropped to 119 seats, from 300 before the election (and 296 in 2005, the previous election called by Junichiro Kozumi who then retired as Prime Minister). The Komeito dropped from 31 to 21 seats, meaning that the former ruling coalition now only has 140 seats. In short, the tables have turned almost completely since 2005, in a country (in)famous for its aversion to abrupt changes in direction.
This blog posting is the first of several thinking through this result and some implications for policy and law reform in Japan.

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Law, Public Policy and Economics in Japan and Australia: Reviewing Bilateral Relations and Commercial Regulation in 2009

This is the grand title of a modest Sydney Law School Research Paper (No 09/71) updating and editing another collection of my blog postings both here and on the East Asia Forum. Freely downloadable via http://ssrn.com/abstract=1446523, it is based mainly on developments from the end of 2008 through to mid-2009.
Many topics are important not only within Australia and Japan, but also potentially for bilateral relations (for example, as novel dimensions to the FTA or ‘Economic Partnership Agreement’ already under negotiation between these two countries). Several topics (for example, the state of economics as a discipline after the GFC, neo-communitarian perspectives on comparative law and society, the legacy of the post-War Occupation of Japan) also address more broadly how we should (re)conceptualise law, economics and public policy particularly in the Asia-Pacific context.

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Taniguchi Talk – Does the WTO Really Settle International Trade Disputes?

Professor Yasuhei Taniguchi presented a public lecture on this topic on 30 July at Sydney Law School, as part of the 2009 Distinguished Speakers series commemorating the inauguration of its new building in February. Drawing on his experience as a world-renowned civil law professor, arbitrator and WTO adjudicator, Taniguchi-sensei focused mainly on points of similarity and difference between the WTO dispute resolution system and national courts. His conclusion was a qualified “yes”, despite the main challenges still afflicting trade law litigation among states through the WTO system – the topic of a one-day symposium on 14 August, also at Sydney Law School.

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Multicultural Japan? Policy, Law and Society

A recent lecture in Sydney by Meiji University Professor Keizo Yamawaki reminded me that every country has its myths or somewhat warped perspectives concerning its own national identity. Australia’s include the idea that it was traditionally English at its core, even though many of its organising principles – egalitarianism, respect for the state, yet a certain larrikanism – were arguably Irish (Patrick O’Farrell, The Irish in Australia, 3rd ed 2000, UNSW Press, Sydney, p 21). Another was that Australia centres on rural communities and ‘the bush’, even in the case of its greatest sporting hero (Brett Hutchins, Don Bradman: Challenging the Myth, 2001, Cambridge UP). A related but debatable motif is that Australia can and should enlighten the world – be “better than the British”. Such thinking underpinned the Chifley government’s push to entrench human rights in Europe and the fledgling United Nations, and to promote a politically radical labour movement in Occupation Japan. Yet the latter policy also involved deeply pragmatic assumptions (Christine de Matos, Imposing Peace and Prosperity, 2008, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne). And the former push has failed to result, even now, in an enforceable Bill of Rights throughout Australia itself (Geoffrey Robertson, The Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights, 2009, Vintage, North Sydney).
In Japan, one of the most persistent myths or over-exaggerations has been that of national homogeneity. Yet this is being increasingly undermined by new initiatives to bolster long-term immigration into Japan, building off a significant rise in foreign residents since the 1990s.

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Birth (and Transfiguration?) of an Anti-Whaling Discourse

[Forthcoming (May 2009) in the Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law]
Every Australian summer, relations with Japan heat up over whaling. This New Year of the Ox is no exception. On 8 January 2009, a Japanese official reportedly called on Australia to deny port access to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s protest ship, which has begun impeding the lethal research underway again by the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. But there is uncertainty over whether the ship’s activities amount to the alleged ‘sabotage’, and about the implications under national and international law. The editor of The Australian has also argued that Sea Shepherd is ‘On the wrong course’, and that Captain ‘Paul Watson’s zealotry at sea will not stop Japanese whaling’.
On the other hand, as a practical matter, it is hard for Australia to refuse entry to the ship. Sea Shepherd renamed it the Steve Irwin, after the nation’s recently-deceased iconic figure for conservationism – still (in)famous for his own larrikin image. Such symbolism, and the public photo of Paul Watson ‘standing resolute beneath a skull-and-crossbones flag’ highlighted by the editorialist, illustrates the impact of images and wider discourse in framing the contested issue of whaling. And that is the main thesis of USydney’s Dr Charlotte Epstein, in her new book on The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse (MIT Press, 2008, Cambridge, Mass. /
London, England (distributed in Australia by Footprint Books), ISBN 978-0-262-55069-7, xii + 333 pages). Her book should be required reading for government officials and others interested in this issue in Australia, Japan and beyond, because the work also helps explain the irony of each country adopting mutually contradictory positions when it comes to whaling. Economic and political interests do partly explain such internally inconsistent positions, but they also seem more likely to prevail when such material interests interact with a broader ‘discourse’, which can persist in different forms in different countries at different times.

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Traffic rules and alcohol regulation in Japan

[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]
If you are one of those many more short-term visitors to Japan nowadays, and even if you are an old hand, watch out for signs setting out various rules that may be unexpected or new. Like these two signs:
http://eastasiaforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/download.jpg?w=225
The bigger one to the bottom left is one of many signs we see increasingly around Japan in English (and sometimes now Chinese or Korean). The text is small but reads: “In the Beautification Enforcement Areas you will be fined up to 30,000 yen for littering regardless of your nationality or status”. The kind of prohibition and penalty you might expect in Singapore. Not in Japan, where local communities have long taken pride in being tidy – although that has not excluded individuals or dodgy firms from dumping their rubbish in distant communities! But what is meant by the round blue sign up on the right?

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