E-alert Interviews No.001
of Society-Changing Theories: Environmental Law and
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.
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.
Interviewers: Reiko Koyama,
Megumi Kido (Information Dissemination and Outreach Programme)
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.
||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.
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
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
||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
||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
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.