Michigan Law recently welcomed two Japanese professors as part of an ongoing exchange program with the University of Tokyo. Each spent at least a week in Ann Arbor, participating in the intellectual community and sharing their specific areas of expertise.

“I was very glad to visit again,” said Professor Hishashi Harata, who manages the exchange program for the University of Tokyo. “This program provides both communities with opportunities to meet scholars abroad and to open eyes to the laws and the society of the counterpart country.” 

Harata has visited Michigan Law several times since 2013, including the March 2023 exchange. That was the first year the program resumed after a pandemic pause. 

Professor teaching to a well attended class
Professor Hisashi Harata’s presentation was titled “Why Can We Not Achieve a More Stable Peace in International Society? Historical Reflections on Japan’s Fascism in the 1930s.”

Professor Kentaro Matsubara, a legal historian who specializes in East Asia, also participated in the exchange, making his first visit to Michigan Law. He was drawn to the program after meeting Professor Rebecca Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and professor of law, at a conference in Germany last year.

“An exchange like this can be extremely beneficial at multiple levels,” Matsubara said. “If one had specific academic themes to discuss with particular members of this faculty, it provides a valuable opportunity for scholarly advancement. But even if such prior acquaintance with each other’s work did not exist, the experience of interacting with scholars and students is invaluable for those of us visiting.” 

Discussing their research


Professor teaching in front of a class
Professor Kentaro Matsubara spoke about “Abstract Land and Dead Owners: Socio-legal Fictions in Qing China and the Project of Comparative Legal History.” 

Matsubara drew on his research on the property regime and social structures in China for his presentation topic.

“This was partly due to reading some of Rebecca Scott’s work, which inspired me to look at some basic legal categories, such as family or property, as social constructs that involved some socio-legal fiction,” he said. “And this allowed me to frame some of the observations I made about historical Chinese society in this context.” 

Harata, who instructs both graduate and undergraduate students on the conflict of laws at the University of Tokyo, also elaborated on his research for his lunchtime presentation. 

“I do my own research on global value chains and multinational enterprise groups in our current globalized era and on the history of international society in the pre-World War II period, focusing on Manchuria from the 1920s to 1930s,” he said.

He presented a historical reflection on facism in Japan in the 1930s and also joined a workshop on international law organized by Kristina Daugirdas, the Francis A. Allen Collegiate Professor of Law and associate dean for academic programming. 

Teaching opportunities

Daugirdas herself has participated in the exchange program, visiting the University of Tokyo in May 2023. She said the program, which she manages for Michigan Law, contributes to the intellectual life of the Law School community.

“As somebody who writes about international law, it’s not good to interact with an exclusively American scholarly community,” she said. “I presented to the International Law Colloquium at the University of Tokyo and appreciated the opportunity to share my work with an audience from a quite different part of the world.”

This spring, Michigan Law Professors Nina Mendelson and Kimberly Thomas will travel to Tokyo. Additionally, Columbia Law School, the third partner in the program, will send one professor. 

“They will have an opportunity to teach to students who are trained in law in a different legal system, which is a rewarding but also informative experience,” said Daugirdas. “It can highlight some of the features of US law that are distinctive in a way that doesn’t come through when you are teaching exclusively or almost exclusively to a group of students whose only legal training is in the US legal system.”