Interviews TOP

no.015 [Nov. 2010]
Jusen ASUKA (Director, IGES Climate Change Group)
no.014 [Aug. 2010]
Magnus BENGTSSON (Director, IGES Sustainable Consumption and Production Group)
no.013 [Feb. 2010]
Masanori KOBAYASHI (Coordinator, IGES Programme Management Office)
no.012 [Sep. 2009]
Charmine KODA (Journalist & IGES Board Director)
no.011 [Feb. 2009]
Peter KING (Senior Policy Advisor, IGES Bangkok Office)
no.010 [Nov. 2008]
Rajendra PACHAURI (Director-General, TERI) & Dr. Rabinder MALIK (Coordinator, TERI-Japan)
no.009 [Aug. 2008]
Hideaki KOYANAGI (Director, IGES Beijing Office)
no.008 [Feb.2008]
Taka HIRAISHI (Member of the Board of Directors & Senior Consultant, IGES)
no.007 [Jul.2007]
(Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES)
no.006 [Mar.2007]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.005 [Jul.2006]
ANCHA Srinivasan
(Principal Research Fellow, IGES)
no.004 [Mar.2006]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.003 [Nov.2005]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.002 [Jun.2005]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
(Former Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES)

E-alert Interviews No.001
The Power of Society-Changing Theories: Environmental Law and Strategic Research

Prof. Akio Morishima
Former Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES

Professor Akio Morishima, Chair of the Board of Directors at IGES (at the time), is an academic who has witnessed times of great upheaval, and with this as our starting point, we asked him for his thoughts on the law, and for his message to the young generation of researchers.
image: Prof. Morishima
Former president of the Central Environmental Council, Japan. A graduate of the University of Tokyo School of Law and of the Harvard Law School. He also served as a professor at Nagoya University and Sophia University, Japan. Since 1998, he served as Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES for nine years. He is currently serving as the Special Research Advisor for IGES.

---- In the course of your career, you have carried out research and been involved with several legal cases among other things, but what is it that made you think of becoming an academic and a researcher?
I'll have to go back quite a way to explain, but perhaps I should start with my childhood. I was born in 1934, the 9th year of the Showa era. At the end of the Second World War, I was a 5th year student in Pyongyang, in North Korea. My father was a tradesman and he lost everything in the war. Our house was taken over by Russian troops, so my mother worked as a maid for a Russian officer's family who moved into the house, and we lived there for one year after the war. When we were returning to Japan, we were made to get off the Russian truck which we had paid to travel in and walk for two days to the 38th parallel. After that, we were put onto an American navy ship and reached home after two months. I remember watching from the deck of the ship the bodies of those who had died being thrown overboard.

Fallen values
In 1946 (Showa 21) I returned to my mother's hometown in Gunma Prefecture in Japan, and then moved to Tokyo, but it had all been reduced to rubble. At that time everybody was poor, and we too lived in poverty. It was a time when even our nation's history was repainted, where values and everything else changed; a time when things which had been right the day before were now denounced as wrong, where all was chaotic and people didn't know what to believe.

Doubts about society, and idealised views of 'the law'
When I returned to Japan and started attending junior school, my teacher told me I should become a lawyer. Still a child and not really knowing what was what, I went on to Kaisei Junior High School. This time, my new teacher told me I should become a prosecutor. I couldn't afford to pay the school fees, and from the third year of junior high school I was studying on a scholarship, but I often felt that poorer people were treated coldly. I remember my resentment of those social mechanisms. I suppose it was from around that time that I began to have a sense of equity that "lawyers are there to right the inequalities in society". When I think back on it now, I probably had an idealised view of the law. It was with this idea that I went to university and thought of sitting the bar exam.

Encountering the law as a science

At university I came to know the fascination of the law as a science, from the influence my civil law teacher, Professor Takeyoshi Kawashima. The approach of cutting up complicated matters into clearly understandable pieces was a stirring inspiration for me as a student. When I first thought of becoming an academic, I was in my third year of university. I could essentially have taken the bar exam, but thinking back on it now I probably didn't want to fail! So, I told everybody I would become an academic, and instead of sitting the bar exam I started working as an assistant at the university.

In fact, while doing my research at the university, I began to have doubts about whether the judges whose ranks I had aimed to join were really working towards social justice. However, I still remembered the freshness of looking at the law scientifically. From then, my direction changed towards exploring the knowledge of the law as a social science. This is how I finally decided to become an academic.

This is a slight digression, but there is an important reason for having 3-year phases in IGES research. I believe it is important to have a limited period to produce output and evaluate it, whether you think 3-year or 5-year periods are better. Assistants at my university had to write their thesis in three years, and by setting such a limit, one can grasp a certain meaning and achieve good things. If I too had had more time, perhaps I would not have written a good thesis. It's because of that that I think setting a time period is a good motivation.

Helping the underdog - the power of society-changing theories

Returning to the story, I started teaching at Nagoya University, and I was influenced enormously by Professor Kawashima's methodology. In 1966, having spent about five years teaching at university, I went to Harvard Law School as an international student on a Fulbright scholarship in order to study the law in earnest. In the debating chamber I was called on relentlessly for my opinions, so it was quite an education! At that time I believed that the law as knowledge had no meaning unless it played a useful role in society.

When I returned to Japan in 1968, pollution from unknown sources had become a major issue. It was exactly the time that the Yokkaichi pollution lawsuit began. I was specialising in torts, and went once a month to sit in on such trials. As I came to know the facts, it was obvious that the plaintiffs, some fishermen who had become ill, had no hope of winning in this case whose causal association was not clear from a medical point of view. I thought this was disgraceful, wondering if the law was really right here, and, thinking that I had to do something, I began to get involved on the plaintiffs' side. I was 31 at that time. So I became the advisor on the plaintiffs' legal team and developed the joint tort liability, with the result that we were able to win in a large air pollution lawsuit in Japan.

The law is a double-edged sword
Through these experiences, I realised that the law is a double-edged sword. The law, left as it is, is liable to be used by powerful people to their advantage. However, it can also become a source of power for the underdog depending on how it's used. Without sounding too self-righteous, I wouldn't want to become the blade that points to the powerless people! At the same time, I don't think you can simply stand on the side of the underdog. Barking away on the outside changes nothing. For example, participating in government councils and other such gatherings of powerful people, and thinking how you can strengthen the position of the less powerful, is one way to change things. I was also able to play a part in the construction of a support system for victims. I don't tend to compromise, and I believe if you look at things from the position of the underdog, and you do anything you can at that point in time to the fullest possible extent, you will spread some good throughout society.
---- You have strong convictions in the law as a science and in campaigning for the less powerful, but from your position today as the President of a strategic research institute, IGES, what influence do those convictions have? What is 'strategic research' in your opinion?
Policy decisions involve deciding which course is the best when various merits come into conflict, or when different options are available. Showing the logic for those decisions, based on precise, scientific data - that, I believe, is strategic research. Without logic based on firm foundations, one cannot make policy proposals, let alone policy proposals for the benefit of the less powerful. Whatever you are intending to do, and whatever method you intend to use for it, it is vital to show the basis for your decisions.

---- Do you think the researchers are ever unsure about the process of their research? Have you felt unsure about yours before?
Have I felt unsure before? I've felt all sorts of uncertainties! Still, I think having been through the period during and after the war when values changed enormously, and seen people killed with my own eyes, those kinds of experiences were to blame for my coming to feel that there was nothing that could be believed in dependably. But, if I had been unsure in the face of all the things I saw happening, I could not have done anything. I therefore think it's important to live not by holding on to one set of values, but by always thinking independently and taking individual responsibility.

To the young researchers
---- We were very impressed hearing your ideas on making the law work for less powerful people. Japan's young generation have not had to cope with such difficult and potentially deadly experiences, and their motivation towards research and other such activities is weaker, so do you think that in such an environment they can accomplish great achievements?
Being in a blessed environment, I think Japan is an absolute exception. Because of this, I would like young people to think about whether they can somehow help people who have been put in difficult conditions, while they appreciate the fact that they have been placed in fortunate conditions. Asking them to experience exactly the same things as I did would be unnecessary and unreasonable. I think it would be good if they considered what they could do within the conditions they find themselves in, and acted on that. In this sense, even if they haven't experienced the same things as me, they can get involved to the extent that their own circumstances allows.

The future for IGES
---- Will IGES researchers also be able to produce outputs that can be counted as achievements?
Well, I would first like to establish recognition of common strategic research within IGES. For the next two years or so, I want us to be not merely a research institute, but an organisation that carries out strategic studies and shows concrete policies based on data, to "approach problem-solving with appropriate methods". It's important to have such common recognition, and for everyone to carry out research as a team.

---- What is the 'relish' for you as an academic and researcher?
I think it's my curiosity that is particularly strong. After I've been worrying about something and not understanding it, the instant when I sit up with a start and think "Aha!", that's the instant I cannot give up. Cutting through a particular viewpoint and finding something is certainly exciting. Of course, to experience moments when you think "Aha!", fundamental study is necessary. One always needs to have an observant attitude.

---- Thank you very much.
Interviewers: Reiko Koyama, Megumi Kido (Information Dissemination and Outreach Programme)

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