Interview: Professor Masaharu Yanagihara



Professor Yanagihara is president of the Japanese Society of International Law and Professor of International Law at Kyushu University. He is currently lecturing at The Hague Academy of International Law on “The Significance of the History of the Law of Nations in Europe and Asia”.The auditorium is fully packed as students listen to his course on the history of reception of international law, with an emphasis on China, Korea and Japan.

Interview by Ingrid Kost and Candice Alihusain

It was during his third year at Tokyo University (in 1971), that Prof. Yanagihara took an interest in international law, seeing it as a middle way between domestic law and politics. Inspired by the book of  Shigerjro Tabata on International Law, he developed a special interest in the history of international law.  During his studies he became acquainted with Hugo Grotius when he participated in a research group of his University. They studied Grotius in English, and later on with another research group he read Grotius’De Iure Belli Ac Pacis”in Latin. He devoted a small chapter on Grotius in his thesis on  Christian Wolff.

Professor Yanagihara explained to us Japan’s first contact with the law of the sea in 1870. At this time, Europe was involved in the Franco-Prussian war. With French and German warships in the Sea of Japan, the Prussian government demanded a Declaration of Neutrality from Japan. 

When we talked about famous international legal experts from Japan, Judge Mineichiro  Adatci (1869-1934) was probably the most important one, said Professor Yanagihara. He was President of the Permanent Court of International justice in The Hague in 1931-1934 and had a profound knowledge of the founding fathers of international law, such as James Kent  (1763-1847), Johann Caspar Bluntschli  (1808-1881), August-Wilhelm Heffter (1796-1880), Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767) and  Alessandro Paternostro (1853-1899). Another important international lawyer from Japan is Judge Shigeru Oda ( 1924-), who was a judge at the International Court of Justice from 1976 to 2003. He was an expert on the Law of the Sea.

Japanese international law experts used translations of textbooks and advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ministry of Justice. In the 1930’s and 40’s Japan developed its own “Idea of Großraum”, in East Asia under Japanese influence. It failed. This changed after WO II, especially after the end of the Cold War. “Scholars stay away from government policy, but feel free to discuss topics of international law”, said professor Yanagihara.

Professor Yanagihara considers the current attempt to establish an Asian Human Rights Charters to further friendly cooperation and reconciliation between Asian nations. Even though this is an extremely difficult challenge, which will probably will take many years, it is a sign that the Asian countries come to terms with their past and are making an attempt to “Forgive, but not to Forget”. Prof. Yanagihara compared this with the European Union, consisting of countries which were at war with each other not so long ago.

Finally, Professor Yanagihara mentioned The Peace Palace Library as the “best library in the world for international law”. Furthermore, unlike what most people think, the library does not only have an excellent contemporary collection, but also a very impressive and extraordinary large collection of old books on international law.

Arigato Professor Yanagihara!