A retrospective view of the "Law & Business in Japan" Module in Tokyo

Sep 26 2019
Written by Fiona Wallace-Mason

After a sensational Shanghai module, many of the group and a few joiners moved on towards the next Asia module, “Law and Business in Japan”, from 26th to 30th August 2019. After a slight delay from Shanghai airport due to the seasonal bumpy weather conditions, landing eventually in the early hours of Sunday morning in Tokyo was very exciting. Amongst a buzz of Japanese chatter at the immigration queue and waiting alongside some very cute and tired Japanese children, we walked rather bleary-eyed and orderly through the airport. As our taxi from Haneda airport whizzed onwards through the rainy streets towards our hotel, we blinked and marveled at the tall, shiny buildings and the dazzle of the bright neon lights. Tokyo is one of the most populous metropolitian areas in the world and is the seat of the Emperor of Japan, of the Japanese government and of the National Diet (Japan’s seat of bicameral legislature comprising of the lower house and the upper house). Shortly to be hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and then next year the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, it is of course also famous for the iconic and beautifully screened Hollywood Oscar winning film “Lost In Translation”. It was a super time to be here in Tokyo and we were excited to see what this next module would bring and to enable ourselves to become deeply acquainted with those important cultural distinctions and the Japanese legal system, the values and behaviours which run parallel to protocol. Ultimately, on this far-eastern part of our global modular academic journey, our objective was to acquire an appreciation and understanding of law and business in Japan, in order that we might be able to impart a respectful impression of ourselves and our businesses when working or collaborating with business partners from this fascinating country.   

Day 1:

The module began with a very professional and courteous introduction by Professors Akio Shimizu, Associate Dean and Professor of Law at Waseda University and Law School in Tokyo and Professor Takao Suami, Professor of Law at Waseda University Law School and Director of Waseda Law School and Legal Clinic L.P.C. in Tokyo. The Waseda Law School academic team was also nicely introduced and the Executive M.B.L.-HSG group was excited to begin learning all about doing business in Japan. The pleasant and respectful tone set the scene for what was to be a highly fascinating insight into Japanese law, culture and business practice.

The first session was a highly enjoyable opening on the European Perspective of Doing Business in Japan. It was led by the very experienced Mr. Michael Mroczek who is President of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and a Partner and Attorney at Law at Okuno&Partners. Mr. Mroczek provided the group with a wonderful insight into “Doing Business in Japan”.  This session provided a valuable introduction into the history of Japan, its social structure, context and understanding and the unique business features of the modern Japanese business environment. We were quickly beginning to learn the importance of trust and the Japanese legal mentality, as well as modern-day ‘Abenomics`, monetary easing, the Japanese love of branding and some of the challenges of doing business in Japan. 

This was followed by a session on “Doing Business in Japan from a CEO’s perspective” which enlightened the group to such critical matters as the incorporation of a company, employment issues, crisis management, private equity and legal mentalities. Led by Mr. Michael Loefflad who is the Representative Director and President of DKSH Japan K.K, his vast experience and time spent in Japan provided a highly interesting perspective of the opportunities for business and the deep importance of cultural appreciation. The group learned about clear strategies for sustainable and profitable growth within specialised business units and it was very interesting to understand the comparisons between the details of typical Japanese project timelines in comparison to Western project timelines and the important aspects to be considered.

The third session after lunch was led by Professor Ichiro Nakayama of the Graduate School of Law at Hokkaido University as an introduction to Intellectual Property law. Having a vast experience not only in academia but also having spent many years working in the Government of Japan as Deputy Councilor, Secretariat of Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters, as well as Cabinet Secretariat, Professor Nakayama provided the group with a very informative session on the IP Rights system in Japan. Covering Patent Law, Copyright Law and the process of obtaining patents in Japan and the technicalities of patent eligibility, the session concluded with a very interesting consideration of feature of the Japanese IP High Court.

The afternoon continued with Intellectual Property (“IP”) law part II, in a very interesting Japanese Perspective, led by Mr. Takamitsu Shigetomi. Partner at OH-Ebashi LPC & Partners in Osaka. This final session of the first day delved into the Japanese perspective in respect of protecting Intellectual Property Rights including the “Pro-Patent National Policy”, an overview of Japanese Patent Litigation and covered Substantive Japanese Patent Law in relation to Patent Litigation. The second part of the session moved on to cover Japanese Patent Litigation Proceedings and some of the practical considerations of Japanese Patent Litigation. Finally, Mr. Shigetomi discussed an overview of the Unfair Competition Prevention Act and covered the aspect of experiencing real JP IP Litigation.

After the day’s wrap-up, the Professors and the academic team very kindly led the group to a campus onsite reception where we were provided with a delicious evening meal and drinks. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on our first impressions of the module and to chat with the Professor and the academic team who were all very kind and welcoming to our group. Everyone in our group very much appreciated this evening and valued the opportunities to experience Waseda University campus first hand.

Day 2:

Day 2 began with two sessions on IP R&D strategies as led by Professor Makoto Ogino, of Tokyo University of Science. After an introductory session on IP Strategy as part of a Business Model and IP Management Options, the group was given the task of analysing a case study to be presented back to the groups. The case study was very effective in focusing the group consider the legal and management decisions and the most appropriate option and argumentation thereof. In a lively session, all respective discussion groups presented their cases and the debate was very engaged and convincing from all sides.

After a short break with some delicious Japanese green tea, coffee and sweet delicacies, the next session began promptly with Dr. Tetsushi Inada, an experienced Pharmacist at the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Centre in Osaka and other hospitals for 14 years.  Dr. Inada provided a very interesting session on IP & R&D Strategy in the Pharma industry in Japan. The group learned details about the specific drivers for growth of the industry and the global market as well as current trends in the US / EU drug market in comparison to the Japanese drug market.

The next session was on “Maritime Disputes and the Rule of Law in Asia” led by Professor Mariko Kawano from Waseda University School of Law. This was a fascinating session on a highly interesting subject and underpinned the importance of the sea in respect of physical assets and business. The group learned how after the technological developments of the post-war period, fisherman could venture further into maritime areas which could be used and thus many states started to propose exclusive territory on areas. The session continued to dive deeper into details about Japan and the Maritime Areas in accordance with UNCLOS, maintenance of International Peace and Security and the Obligation to Settle International disputes by Peaceful means under the Charter of the United Nations. Professor Kawano continued to cover very interesting case disputes in respect of Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia) and the sovereignty over Petra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore). After discussion of the need for mechanisms to manage international maritime disputes, the group was led through provisional arrangements of paragraph 3 of Articles 74 and 83 of UNCLOS. Finally, Professor Kawano explained the international process and private entities issues in the proceedings of the Courts and Tribunals in accordance with Part VII of UNCLOS before wrapping up with closing remarks and answering questions. 

Getting to grips with a local Japanese lunch menu

Wonderful Japanese cuisine


After lunch, Professor Katsuichi Uchida covered a very technical and interesting session on importance aspects of Contract Law in Japan. This session really covered a lot of detail and taught the group all essential considerations to consider when drawing up legal contracts in Japan. The group learned about the details of the structure of the Japanese Civil Code and its revision, the freedom of contract, good faith and fair dealing and elements of law and practice. Together with a walk-through of the decision-making process of Japanese organisations and pre-contractual liabilities, the group gained much knowledge from the discussion of numerous cases discussed by Professor Uchida. Non-performance of obligation and termination of contracts were also covered in detail and this was a very useful and tightly-packed lecture.

The rest of the afternoon and into early evening covered an excellent double session on Corporate and Law and Mergers & Acquisitions in Japan. This was led by Takayuki Kihira who is a Partner at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto in Tokyo. Mr. Kihira managed to keep a very technical and heavy session to be very fun, interesting and highly engaging by really bringing to life the detail and practical considerations of M&A work in Japan. He exuded much enthusiasm for the subject which was evident from the presentation. Furthermore, the group were provided with a grounded and contextual understanding of M&A business in Japan on a broader level and its place within global business. This session provided a thoroughly enjoyable session on Corporate Activities in Japan, Corporate Laws in Japan and M&A Rules, taking us into the final wrap up session in the evening before heading out for some local Japanese delicious and healthy food after an intense day, brimming with information.

Day 3:

Already at day 3 in the middle of the week and Wednesday began briskly with the topic of Japanese Competition Law. This was led by Mr. Kimitoshi Yabuki, Managing Partner at Yabuki Law Offices where he specializes in international antitrust and litigation practice. Mr. Yabuki provided a very useful session on the role of competition law in the market, its theory and protection of customers. Then the session focused on competition policy and a very interesting comparable viewpoint was made with the US and EU. The group learned about the basic structure of the Japan Antimonopoly Act and cartel enforcement in Japan.

The next session moved swiftly onto Taxation in Japan as led by Professor Yasuyuki Kawabata who is Professor of International and Business law at the Graduate School of International Social Sciences, Yokohama National University in Kanagawa. The group learned about the main taxes of National Level for Japan, International Taxation and Double Taxation conventions and some of the major issues around income taxation of individual non-residents and foreign corporations. This was contextualised and nicely concluded with an interesting broader discussion considering the international development of Japanese multi-national entities and the aging society with its low birthrate.

After a short lunch, it was time for the group to travel to the company visit at Hitachi. Accompanied by the course Professors, the group was excited to be able to make this visit and to really experience a Japanese business environment! After travelling on the Japanese underground and rail system, the group surfaced at Shinagawa station and headed towards the “Harmonious Centre of Competency” at the towering building of Hitachi Ltd.

After a very nice welcome by the Hitachi team, the group was split into two and sessions were held whereby we learned about the remarkable growth of the company and its history and culture. This was followed by fascinating sessions which explained via an interpreter, the various products which Hitachi has developed. The group was very engaged in this session and it was highly enjoyable and very well presented. The final section of the afternoon consisted of some of the Hitachi lawyers presenting their respective career histories to our group. These presentations were truly wonderful to listen to and really brought to life, what it is like to be a lawyer in Japan and working for such a prestigious company as Hitachi. In the evening, the group enjoyed the local cuisine in Tokyo.

Day 4:

Dr. Shoraro Hamamoto, Professor of Law of International Organisations at Kyoto University led the two morning sessions on International Investment Law (Investment Treaty). 

The next session after lunch moved to the interesting area of Investment Arbitration. Dr. Tomoko Ishikawa, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of International Development in Nagoya, provided a very interesting and detailed outline of international dispute settlements, investment arbitration, conciliation and mediation as well as the applicable law in such cases. The second half expanded to examine respective remedies in investment arbitration in the form of compensation, restitution and then enforcement considerations. The final part of the session addressed the topic of state immunity and the form of building in effective alternative dispute resolution via mediation.

Straight after a short coffee break, it was time for the modular examination to test all that we had learned on Law and Business in Japan during the week and our preparatory readings. It had been an intense and interesting day of learning.

Day 5:

The final day had arrived and it started with a very enjoyable account of the WTO and East Asia as led by Professor Akio Shimizu. The group really enjoyed hearing about the trade disputes and this was particularly interesting in view of the current discussions between Japan and South Korea so the topic was very live and very relevant. The session wrapped up with some interesting Q&As on the subject.

After a nice local lunch on the university campus, it was time to finalise our Group presentations. Each of the groups presented their cases in the afternoon, with each presentation followed by questions by the module leaders and the group on the respective subjects. At the end of a packed week, it was a highly valuable session to bring together all the knowledge that had been accumulated on the range of topics covered.

After the closing remarks by the course Professors, we were all rather sad to be leaving this very nice academic team and as a lovely surprise, each of our group received a small and special momento of our visit to the Waseda Law School. Waving goodbye to the well-known Waseda University Bear, we all certainly had a very positive impression of the university law school and its academic staff who had looked after us all week. Armed with a deeper appreciation of Japanese business law and culture, we had learned so much this week, both technically and culturally and it was time to say “Arigato” and “Sayonara” to this wonderful place. Whilst some flew back home, others took the opportunity to explore this beautiful land further.


Japan is a fascinating country in which to study law and business. Every one of the sessions during the week had not only provided highly useful technical details but had also been underpinned with strategies in which to approach law and business with Japanese partners. In true Japanese fashion, the course was diligently presented in perfect order, it was detail- oriented and the group collective was highly catered for to make this a successful week. We learned the exciting world of Abenomics and with Japan’s aim to reach GDP of Yen 600 trillion by 2020, we came away with a deeper appreciation of what is aiming to be achieved in the coming years in Japan. What is clear is that Japan does matter and with the eyes of the world on it in the coming year as host to World sports events such as the World Rugby Cup and the 2020 Olympics, we are most grateful to Waseda Law School for helping us to garner a deeper appreciation of all this country has to offer and we will follow its journey with deep interest as it moves onwards on the global platform. Certainly, in its strong desire to expand business abroad, there has never been a more important time for Japan to open its doors and for those entering to respectfully engage to do business.