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Implementation of International Human Rights by Japanese Courts

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Judging International Human Rights


Focusing on a specific state may seem to be of limited significance in research on the implementation of human rights treaties because this topic should be a general agenda, in view of the universal character of human rights. However, the case study of Japan, which has the traditions of civil law and common law through its history, provides a number of universalizable suggestions by its sincere response to the difficulties common to other States in realizing international human rights.

The present author appreciates the comments by the members of the ILA Human Rights Law Committee, especially Stefan Kadelbach, to the earlier draft. In researching laws in Japan, the problem is that there is no official translation of judgments, decisions and laws in Japan. Unless otherwise noted, all the translations of Japan’s laws are from (last access 10 Apr 2017), which is furnished by the Ministry of Justice, though the translation is not official. The translations of judgments and decisions are made by the present author, if so indicated.

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  1. 1.

    See generally Onuma (1998, 2009).

  2. 2.

    International Law Association – International Human Rights Law Committee (2016), paras 40–91.

  3. 3.

    The concept of “good practice” still allows room to theoretical investigation to identify the nature between minimum legal requirement and recommendable “best practice” with policy-oriented nuance, but, as ILA Johannesburg Report rightly (ibid, para 38) notes, the usefulness of the concept itself has been largely recognized.

  4. 4.

    Onuma (1998), especially 144, 295.

  5. 5.

    Global constitutionalism now looks not only a specific perspective but also a wide range of academic field. See, for instance, a journal named after this concept and also a similar concept publication of International Journal of Constitutional Law in the same trend, Accessed 11 Oct 2017. Generally, see, Peters (2015) and Laughlin (2010).

  6. 6.

    The word “good practice” was certainly the key concept of the project of the ILA Human Rights Law Committee. As for the concept, see supra n 3.

  7. 7.

    As for the pre-modern days, see, for instance, Oda (1999), pp. 12–21.

  8. 8.

    For instance, Art 28: Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.

  9. 9.

    The Public Peace Preservation Act (1925, amended 1941) is a notorious indication.

  10. 10.

    This does not mean that German influence disappeared. Art 25 provides that “[a]ll people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health.” This is certainly foreign to US law.

  11. 11.

    A theoretical issue arose how the new Constitution can be legitimate and what the relation to the 1889 Constitution is. Some even go on to say that it was coerced to Japan and actually this is the main motives that the present ruling Liberal Democratic Party upholds that they aim to establish a new Constitution (New platform updated in 2005 and 2010 Accessed 11 Oct 2017). In academic literature, Miyazawa’s doctrine of “Revolution in August”—asserting that there was a revolution in the end of War in August 1945 (Miyazawa 1955, pp. 1–19; see also Koseki 1998, pp. 124–129)—has been frequently cited.

  12. 12.

    This position was especially expressed in the debate over Art 9 of the Constitution (renunciation of war), but human rights has been understood to be strongly connected with peace and the idea of human rights itself has also been highly appreciated.

  13. 13.

    For instance, Yamamoto (2011) p. 2011; Ejima (2013). Naturally, Japanese academics majoring in EU Law come to participate in this lively discussion, using their rich knowledge. See Suami (2013) and Ito (2014).

  14. 14.

    See ILA Johannesburg Report (2016), paras 5, 33–35.

  15. 15.

    See also Economides (2010), pp. 374–381; Crawford (2013), pp. 220–226.

  16. 16.

    Representatively, Yokota (1960), p. 33; Tabata (1973), p. 164. The former is a monist and the latter a dualist, though the latter committed the claims of theory of coordination.

  17. 17.

    Fitzmaurice (1958), chapters III and IV; Rousseau (1958, 1970, 1984), Crawford (2008), p. 50. See also Ipsen (1990), pp. 1076–1077; Malanczuk (1997), pp. 63–64; Shaw (2008), pp. 132–133; Harris (2010), pp. 61–62; Dupuy (2012), p. 840.

  18. 18.

    Yamamoto (1994), pp. 85–86. The introduction of the theory in Japan was accompanied by some modification. See, in detail, Teraya (2015), pp. 105–122.

  19. 19.

    The terms are difficult to differentiate. Here the present author does not define them strictly.

  20. 20.

    Roughly speaking, the Japanese system belongs to the civil law tradition or monism in textbooks (see Crawford (2008), pp. 88–110; Aust (2007), pp. 183–187), but those terms are imprecise and require to examine the concrete systems.

  21. 21.

    This is parallel to the indeterminacy of the dichotomy of monism and dualism, found in ILA Johannesburg Report (2016), para 86.

  22. 22.

    See, ILA Johannesburg Report (2016), para 90.

  23. 23.

    Itoh (1990), pp. 10–11.

  24. 24.

    International law is not a compulsory subject for the bar exam, but it is one of the compulsory optional subjects, with other subjects: insolvency law, tax law, economic law, intellectual property law, labor law, environmental law, international relations law (public) and international relations law (private). The number of examinees choosing international relations law (public) is the smallest among them. Most of law schools in Japan do not make international law compulsory with some exceptions. In 2013, the authority even tried to abolish the category of optional compulsory subjects including, international relations law (public), though strong objection prevented this reformation. At present, it seems difficult to promulgate the importance of international law through bar exams. The curriculum in legal training center is dominated by domestic law practice All accessed 11 Oct 2017.

  25. 25.

    See, ILA Johannesburg Report (2016), para 90. As for the importance of academic writings introducing foreign and international jurisprudence, see, Izumi (2014), pp. 16–17.

  26. 26.

    Not clearly claimed, this is the logical consequence, which needs discussion. See Uchino (2000), p. 8.

  27. 27.

    For instance, Sato (2011), p. 89. The Political background was that constitutional lawyers take up this issue especially in relation to the Japan-US security treaty and, in the spirit of goken, they avoid the conclusion that this military treaty enjoy predominance over the peaceful constitution of Japan. See Saito (2002), pp. 38–47.

  28. 28.

    For instance, in the context of foreigners’ rights, Shin (2011), p. 13; Teraya (2016).

  29. 29.

    Munesue (2006), p. 262.

  30. 30.

    In this relation, Masaaki Saito tries to give “an indirect constitutional status” to international human rights treaties without changing the constitutional supremacy theory (Saito 2002, pp. 363–440). In spite of the term “status,” this claim is the same as the emphasis on the importance of the international friendly interpretation discussed later, but it is notable that he takes up international human rights treaty alone. Saito (2002), pp. 38–47.

  31. 31.

    Iwasawa (1985). For the most recent version, see Iwasawa (2016).

  32. 32.

    Iwasawa (2010), p. 114; Hakamoto (2011), pp. 386–388.

  33. 33.

    Tokushima District Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1597, judgment 15 Mar 1996, 123; Takamatsu High Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1653, judgment 25 Nov 1997, 120.

  34. 34.

    US SCt, Medellín v Texas, 552 US 491(2008), 9, fn 2.

  35. 35.

    Iwasawa (1985), p. 115.

  36. 36.

    Tokyo High Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1466, judgment 5 Mar 1993, 40.

  37. 37.

    Ibid; translated in (1994) JAIL 37:139.

  38. 38.

    PCIJ, Jurisdiction of the Courts of Danzig (advisory opinion), 3 Mar 1928, Series B, No 15, 17–18.

  39. 39.

    Abe (2001), p. 269. Without sticking to the concept of direct applicability, the fruitful use of human rights treaties is possible in Japanese jurisprudence. See, for instance, Yakushiji (2006).

  40. 40.

    Iwasawa (1985), p. 301; Iwasawa (2010), p. 116; Though avoiding the concept of direct applicability, see Abe (2001), p. 280.

  41. 41.

    CEDAW/C/JPN/CO/7-8, 7 Mar 2016, para 8.

  42. 42.

    Matsuda (2016), p. 123; see also Matsuda (2010).

  43. 43.

    This is not a local usage in Japan, but some literature outside Japan also uses this expression. See, for example, Simma et al. (1997), p. 94; Shelton (2011), pp. 18–20. This chapter uses the term international law-friendly interpretation. One of the reasons is that the expression of indirect application is inaccurate. Indirect application itself can hardly be an “application” in terms of legal syllogism. See, as an example in Japanese literature, Matsuda (2010). So-called “indirect application” can be application when one understands that international legal instruments are the norms incorporated as domestic law, but in any case, “reference” or “interpretation” is more appropriate than “application.” Another reason is that the term is confusing. Constitutional lawyers use the similar name “doctrine of indirect application” in a different but overlapping context, as discussed later.

  44. 44.

    CCPR/C/21/Re.1/Add. 13, 26 May 2004 (General Comment No 31), para 15.

  45. 45.

    Generally, Abe et al. (2002), pp. 30–39; Sakamoto, in: Serita et al. (2008), pp. 205–208. The present author’s critique to this dichotomy is found in Teraya (2009).

  46. 46.

    As for the power-balance especially with regard to the concept of self-execution in the context of Japan, see Matsuda (2016).

  47. 47.

    A more detailed introduction is found in Milhaupt et al. (2012), pp. 317–322.

  48. 48.

    Sapporo District Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1598, judgment of 27 Mar 1997, 43.

  49. 49.

    Ibid, 44; translated in (1998) JAIL 41:93 with minor changes by the present author.

  50. 50.

    Iwasawa (2006), p. 367. The expression “direct application in essence” must be perplexing, because direct application is recognized in a totally formalistic manner.

  51. 51.

    Supreme Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2002, judgment o4 June 2008, 3.

  52. 52.

    Translation (2009) JYIL 52:648, fn 2.

  53. 53.

    Details are discussed, inter alia, by Sano (2008).

  54. 54.

    Art 14: “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin […].”

  55. 55.

    See, for the HRCtee: CCPR/C/JPN/CO/5, 2008, para 28; and for CEDAW: A/58/38 (Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Japan [fourth and fifth periodic reports]), 2003, para 371. The HRCtee Concluding Observations were delivered on 5 Dec 2008, after the judgment of 4 June in the same year.

  56. 56.

    Supreme Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2002, judgment of 4 June 2008, 14, translated in (2009) JYIL 52: 653.

  57. 57.

    See e.g. HRCtee, CCPR/C/JPN/CO/6, 2014, para 3; and CEDAW/C/JPN/CO/6, 2009, para. 6.

  58. 58.

    Supreme Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1540, judgment of 5 July 1995, 3. In the prior decision of the Tokyo District Court (Hanrei Times, No 823, judgment of 23 June 1993, 122), the provision was held unconstitutional with a reference to the spirit of Art 24 (1) ICCPR and of Art 2 (2) CRC. Milhaupt et al. (2012), p. 587.

  59. 59.

    Supra n 55.

  60. 60.

    Supreme Court, Case on Statutory Share in Inheritance of Children Born out of Wedlock, judgment of 4 Sept 2013.

  61. 61.

    Translation by the present author.

  62. 62.

    CCPR/C/JPN/CO/6, 20 Aug 2014, 1–2.

  63. 63.

    Iwasawa (1997), p. 254. See also the comments and investigations by the former judges of the Supreme Court: Itoh (1990), Sonobe (2000) and Izumi (2014).

  64. 64.

    In international law literature, notably, Ruggie (2011).

  65. 65.

    Generally, for instance, Michelman (2012) and Oliver and Fedtke (2007).

  66. 66.

    As for the analysis of recent arguments, Shishido (2010) and Matsumoto (2011).

  67. 67.

    The expression “non-effect doctrine” is also common and the same is true of the following two theories. The terms “application” and “effect” is certainly different, but the usage largely depends on what each author emphasize in their arguments. Interchangeable use, or simply confusing use, of “effect (validation) ” and “application” is found here as well as the use of “direct-applicability” in the first sense (see Sect. 3.2).

  68. 68.

    “Indirect application doctrine” regarding the issue in the private sphere is similar to “indirect application,” or international law-friendly interpretation, regarding the implementation of international law in domestic legal order. Both ideas relating to interpretation are confusing, but should be distinguished. See, also supra n 43.

  69. 69.

    Ashibe (2002), p. 107; Ashibe (1995), pp. 294–313.

  70. 70.

    Supreme Court, judgment of 12 December 1973, Minshū 27:1536.

  71. 71.

    Ashibe (1995), especially 287–290.

  72. 72.

    As for this pacifist interpretation regarding an army of self-defense see, for instance, Ashibe (2002), pp. 54–70.

  73. 73.

    Literally, it should be translated to “states’ obligation of basic rights,” but it is also expressed “the protective function of the state.” See Grimm (2005), p. 137.

  74. 74.

    Translation by the author; Koyama (1998), p. 1. As for the background of this idea, see Grimm (2005).

  75. 75.

    The German Constitutional Court argued in its judgments that “[t]he obligation of the state to furnish protection is comprehensive. This orders the state not only the prohibition of direct violation of unborn life but also the protection and promotion of this life.” See also Kommers and Miller (2012), pp. 374–383.

  76. 76.

    As for this curious collaboration of different philosophies, see Teraya (2012).

  77. 77.

    Sapporo District Court, Hanrei Jihō No 1806, judgment of 11 November 2002, 84. More detailed introduction and analysis are found in Milhaupt et al. (2012), pp. 317–322; Teraya (2011), pp. 19–39.

  78. 78.

    In this case, there are two respondents. In addition to the manager of the Bathhouse, Yunohana, another respondent is, interestingly, the Otaru City, which, according to the plaintiff, is responsible for the discriminatory act. This raises another important issue on implementations by local authority. See Teraya (2011), pp. 28–30.

  79. 79.

    Relevant parts of the Civil Code (Act No 89 of 27 Apr 1896) read as follows: Art 1 (Fundamental Principles): “(1) Private rights must conform to the public welfare. (2) The exercise of rights and performance of duties must be done in good faith. (3) No abuse of rights is permitted.” Art 90 (Public Policy): “A juristic act with any purpose which is against public policy is void.”

  80. 80.

    Tort law provisions in the Civil Code of Japan are follows: Art 709 (Damages in Torts): “A person who has intentionally or negligently infringed any right of others, or legally protected interest of others, shall be liable to compensate any damages resulting in consequence.” Art 710 (Compensation for Damages Other than Property): “Persons liable for damages under the provisions of the preceding Article must also compensate for damages other than those to property, regardless of whether the body, liberty or reputation of others have been infringed, or property rights of others have been infringed.”

  81. 81.

    Not clearly specified in this judgment, the relevant provisions must be Art 26 ICCPR, Arts 2 (1) and 6 CERD.

  82. 82.

    Translation in (2003) JAIL 46:156 (with minor changes by the present author).

  83. 83.

    At that time of the judgment, one million yen was about 8300 US dollars.

  84. 84.

    Art 22 provides that “[e]very person shall have freedom to choose and change his residence and to choose his occupation to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare.”

  85. 85.

    ICJ, Case Concerning the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Limited (Second Phase), judgment 5 Feb 1970, ICJ Reports 1970, 3, para 34.

  86. 86.

    Kyoto District Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2208, judgment of 7 Oct 2013, 74; Osaka High Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2232, judgment of 8 July 2014, 34.

  87. 87.

    My translation. Another translation is also found in (2014) JYIL 57:507.

  88. 88.

    Teraya (2014), p. 293.

  89. 89.

    Osaka High Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2232, supra n 86, 36.

  90. 90.

    Saito (2014), p. 113.

  91. 91.

    At the time of the judgment, the sum amounted to 123,400 US dollars.

  92. 92.

    Among literature on tort law in Japan see, for example, Hirai (1992), pp. 5–6.

  93. 93.

    Osaka High Court, Hanrei Jihō No 2232, supra n 86, 37.

  94. 94.

    At the same time, the difference of the protected area is not so simple. See Abe (2006), pp. 230–255.

  95. 95.

    In its accompanying resolution, the CERD is mentioned, which shows the impact of human rights treaties. There still exists a criticism that the Act does not provide punishment for offenders.

  96. 96.

    Judicial dialogue is coming to be a common term in Japanese academia. See, the papers in the special Issue “International Human Rights Law as a Global Process—‘Dialogue’ between the International Courts and the Domestic Courts as a Trigger for Discussion,” including Costa (2014).

  97. 97.

    Translation of titles in round brackets () are original, those in square brackets [] are by the present author.


Translation of titles in round brackets () are original, those in square brackets [] are by the present author.

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Teraya, K. (2019). Japan. In: Kadelbach, S., Rensmann, T., Rieter, E. (eds) Judging International Human Rights. Springer, Cham.

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