This article is English version of ”新任さんいらっしゃい 法学 松田浩道先生 前半”, introducing new professor at ICU.
The general education course for the spring semester was listed as a Japanese-language course. However, students were expected to give presentations and reports and engage in discussions in English. I expect there were mixed views about this among the students. Why did you decide to adopt this style?
Last year’s “Constitution I” course had the same style conducting presentations and discussions in English and some of the students had remained unhappy about this throughout the course. In the “Comments by Instructor” section of ICU’s Teaching Effectiveness Survey, you can read about some interesting exchanges between students and myself concerning language issues. I was questioned about this during the first class of this year’s spring semester. The students wanted to know why they had to give reports in English, and why I hadn’t listed the course as an English-language course. Therefore, I took some time to explain the rationale to them. I mentioned the rapidly increasing ubiquity of the English language around the world, and made the point that in order to protect cultural heritage and diversity, including the Japanese language. It is essential to foster individuals who can accurately explain Japanese culture, thought, and legal systems in English. Then, I mentioned that the ICU is the only educational institution in the world that is committed to this objective. It seems that this explanation was convincing to many of the students.
The ICU has a mission to explain the current status of Japan to the world. It would be great if people around the world could read about Japan in Japanese; people should ideally learn about a country in the language of that country. It is an unfortunate fact, that very few non-Japanese people are proficient in Japanese. Against this backdrop, we desperately need individuals with a bilingual education at the ICU to thoroughly read up on these matters in Japanese and then accurately explain them in English.
English has become excessively dominant throughout the world. Some researchers in Japan try to draw attention to this issue by referring to Western-centrism and English linguistic imperialism, but as long as they argue in Japanese, they make little impact. The reason is that few outside Japan can read Japanese. A Japanese-language critique of English linguistic imperialism will never stem the excessive shift toward English. English linguistic imperialism must be challenged, paradoxically, in English.
There is immensely rich and universal value to be found in Japan’s culture, thought, and legal systems. When I was a high school student, I enjoyed reading the essays of Professor Iwai Katsuhito (currently a distinguished professor at ICU). Professor Iwai’s works, and those of his wife, the novelist Mizumura Minae, present an astute analysis of this issue. As an example, I highly recommend Mizumura’s essay The Fall of the Japanese Language in the Age of English (2008, translated into English in 2015).
To explore the matter further, in this Western-centric world, is there any meaning in conducting social science research in Japan? This question has challenged Japan ever since the Meiji era. Many feel that Japanese academic research has a marginal position in global academia. However, this is an oversimplification. Japan possessed an invaluable history in that it was the first non-Western country to really confronted Western civilization.
Japan in Meiji era rapidly modernized its nation by adopting many aspects of Western civilization. Following the example of Western countries, Japan enacted the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (the Meiji Constitution) and established a constitutional state, at least formally. By rapidly strengthening its military under the slogan of “enrich the country, strengthen the military,” Japan pushed itself to the forefront of world affairs and gained an equal standing to Western powers. Subsequently, however, Japan, under the grip of militarists, invaded Asian countries, resulting in untold damage and deep wounds both domestically and overseas, and sounding the death knell of Japan as a military power. After the Second World War, Japan embarked on a historic project of rebuilding itself from the ashes of war. Both the present Constitution of Japan and the ICU can be regarded as the core parts of this historical project.
The monumental success and failure that Japan experienced in its confrontation with the West are one of the most intriguing phenomena in world history. Even to this day, there persists a dichotomous framework of Western countries and non-Western countries, and of English-speaking countries and non-English-speaking countries. Accordingly, many people around the world who do not speak English as their first language are effectively forced to learn and use English. Recognizing this issue, we need to consider the thoughts of the leading thinkers in Japan at the time; Natsume Soseki, Mori Ogai, Fukuzawa Yukichi, and Nitobe Inazo. Providing an accurate account in English of the history of Japan’s rivalry with the West, and the lessons to be learned from Japan’s achievements and failure, will offer outstanding universal value to future generations around the world.
Based on this perspective, I have incorporated Japanese-to-English translation work so that students learn in Japanese and express in English. Making English translations of Japanese-language texts concerning Japan’s legal system is a daunting task even for experts. One frequently encounters Japanese legal concepts for which there is no equivalent English expression. Therefore, you will not find a class such as this outside ICU. Put the other way around, those globally fluent individuals who studied at ICU have a duty to lead the way in this challenging work. With this in mind, I plan to further enforce this policy in the next semester, and I will design this year’s “Constitution I” course so that lectures are in Japanese and students’ presentations and essays are in English.
In addition, from the next semester onward, I want to create a mixed environment of students enrolled in April and those enrolled in September / international students. The vast majority of the students taking “General Education: Japanese Constitutional Law” are students enrolled in April; this is because the course is stated as a Japanese-language course. As a result, the learning environment could hardly be described as international. For next semester, I want to see a much more balanced class, with half the students being September students / international students and the other half being April students. I am aware that September students / international students struggle with kanji characters, so I will try to eliminate the barriers to learning as much as possible.
Is the course listed as a Japanese-language course?
Ideally, the course should be listed as a “J→E (Japanese-to-English)” course or as a “J/E (Japanese and English) course. However, owing to a change in the university’s rules, I had to list the course as either Japanese-language or English-language. This situation is problematic because when September students / international students see that a course is listed as Japanese-language, they reportedly don’t bother reading any of the syllabus descriptions for that course.
I am trying hard for addressing this problem. One idea is to include a clear statement at the very top of the syllabus description, something along the lines of “Although this course is a Japanese language course, the content is bilingual. September / international students are most welcome.” Another idea is to get September / international students to come to the class and promote it by word of mouth.
Don’t some lecturers who teach English-language courses allow the use of Japanese in the class?
The language situation varies significantly depending on the subject, so one can’t give a blanket assessment. That said, when it comes to the courses on Japanese law, re-listing the courses as English-language courses would entail serious issues that must be handled with care. First, by listing the courses as English-language courses, we might end up sending the wrong message to ICU students that learning in English is synonymous with global fluency. We must avoid falling into the habit of assuming that everything should be in English, if only because it runs counter to the trend of multilingualism and plurilingualism prevalent among international organizations. Second, because they find it difficult to use a foreign language, many students employ a hodgepodge of Japanese and a foreign language, which is problematic from a language education perspective. To learn a foreign language, you must fully immerse yourself in the environment of that language, even though you will fail to understand certain things. Accordingly, the courses on Japanese law should give students enough time to read Japanese-language academic literature and to study the formulation of legal discourse exclusively in Japanese.
A legal system is closely linked with language, so you cannot neglect Japanese when studying Japan’s legal system. Legal concepts are not easy to translate, so to understand them properly, you must carefully read Japanese-language legal texts, including legal provisions, judicial precedents, and commentaries. In my class, the first step is to ensure that Japanese legal concepts are properly understood in Japanese. Based on such a foundation, you can learn how to translate these concepts into English. In this sense, the course should ideally be listed as a Japanese-to-English rather than an English-language. If this is unfeasible, it should stay listed as a Japanese-language.
ICU students are said to be relatively good at English, but they struggle to write academic texts in Japanese. If this is the case, then it is very concerning indeed, especially for those whose first language is Japanese. Students must first master the ability to read and write academic prose in their own language before they attempt to do so in another language
There is a plan to set up new English-language courses like “Introduction to Japanese Law.” These courses will primarily target students who have spent much of their lives overseas. I agree that such courses would be beneficial, and I would be delighted to teach such a course. However, they can never replace the Japanese law courses that deal with high-level legal interpretations. Similarly to how a formula-free introductory mathematics course might be provided for those who struggle with mathematics, providing an English-language introductory course in Japanese law for those who struggle with Japanese would be important for expanding horizons. However, the nature of such a course would be completely different from a specialized course, and the academic bar would become certainly lower. While it is important to improve the introductory courses, we must be careful to maintain the academic standards of the specialized courses. The reason being that the liberal arts are grounded in the highest academic skills.
I could save lots of time and effort if I left aside the matter of translating Japanese to English and just conducted a monolingual class, using existing English-language texts as learning materials. The Japanese-to-English aspect takes up much of my time; I have to carefully check students’ reports, which they write in English while referring to Japanese-language sources, and add to these reports various comments, many of which concern translation issues. Despite this work being so time- consuming, I recognize that the ability to learn in Japanese and express in English will be essential in the world of tomorrow, and that ICU is the only university in the world that is seriously committed to this task. Therefore, no matter how much time it takes, I strive for a Japanese-language class that incorporates elements of Japanese-to-English translation. Increasing the number of English-language courses that lower the academic bar and abandon the challenge of plurilingual learning would clearly be at odds with the international mission that ICU should be aiming for.
On the other hand, I do acknowledge that the scarcity of English-language courses in the law major is a serious problem. To address this problem, we are trying seriously to invite non-Japanese lecturers to deliver courses on overseas legal systems, like U.S. law or European law. In the future, we should introduce more content on Islamic law, Chinese law, and Korean law, which will help ICU pursue internationalization in the true sense.
Looking at the actual feedback of students regarding the general education course “Japanese Constitution,” it seems that the hurdles were very high, and the interim report was somewhat unfavorable…
On the whole, I felt that the English-language essays were well written. Given that many students in other universities can scarcely write a thing in English, ICU’s language education is undoubtedly at the top level nationally. In terms of English, students should thoroughly engage in ELP programs and boldly take on as many opportunities as they can to use English.
In fact, I think that ICU students should be more willing to train themselves in writing academic essays in Japanese or ther languages. Many people around the world can speak English, so English proficiency does not in itself offer any added value. Everyone born in the Anglosphere speaks English, but this does not necessarily mean they are all globally fluent. Everyone, no matter where they are born, should make an earnest effort to learn languages. In this way, we can move beyond a narrow English-centrist perspective and see the world in a more balanced and multifaceted manner.
Relatedly, those born outside the Anglosphere have a stronger incentive to learn English, so when it comes to achieving bilingual competence, they are arguably in a better position than their Anglosphere counterparts. Moreover, given that Japanese has a completely different grammatical structure to European languages, being bilingual in Japanese and English offers much more value, in terms of gaining a multifaceted worldview, than being bilingual in English and French, or English and German, say. I suggest you read Mizumura Minae’s essay and consider what she says about the value of being able to read Natsume Soseki in Japanese. Also, in addition to Japanese and English, I would like all ICU students to try and learn a third language and achieve plurilingual competence. Having command of multiple languages will be truly important in tomorrow’s world.