Max Planck Society

Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law

Media Information
Online version Handwörterbuch des Europäischen Privatrechts

Project Leader

Harald Baum


Project Staff

Anna Katharina Suzuki-Klasen






Comparative Law in Respect of Japan - Tasks

Individuals interested in Japanese law are confronted with a significant language barrier. It is this reality which serves to define an initial and central focal point of the Institute’s comparative law work in respect of Japan: As a first step, a platform needs to be created which facilitates the dissemination of reliable information on Japanese law in western languages. This has been achieved with the establishment and international anchoring of the Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht/Journal of Japanese Law, edited at the Hamburg Institute. An in-depth analysis of Japanese law as encountered in practice requires, however, more than the creation of a textual resource which allows access to primary sources of Japanese law and provides generally accepted transcriptions and translations of complex source materials. On account of its specific contextuality and its diverse facets, such an analysis demands also the formation of an international network of experts drawn from competing legal traditions who can serve as authors (Cooperation). This as well has been realised and the network has demonstrated its scope and worth at the many comparative symposiums considering the triad of Europe, Japan and the USA (Presentations and Conferences). Additionally, both scholars and practitioners seeking information on Japanese law are equally dependent on the availability of a concise, western-language compilation of this law or at least of its significant parts. Such access is provided by the nearly 2,000-page long Handbuch Japanisches Handels- und Wirtschaftsrecht (Encyclopedia of Japanese Commercial and Business Law), prepared at the Institute and published in 2011.


Alongside making Japanese law accessible, a second fundamental step consists in ensuring that an appreciation of its substance may benefit comparative inquiries. This is achieved, for instance, by increasingly considering the Japanese law perspective in the drafting of comparative law analyses prepared for the German legislator. A prime example is the comprehensive discussion of Japanese law that was included in the Institute’s expert opinion on mediation, as the historically rich experience of Japan with various forms of extra-judicial dispute resolution allowed the section on Japan to assume a prominent role.


Comparative law research with regards to non-European nations is filled with peril. Notably, it demands allowance for the culture-specific footprint as well as the social-institutional dynamic of the country respectively under consideration. Engagement with Japanese law stands as a prime example. It requires – to a degree even more pronounced than that of earnestly undertaken comparative law efforts – the inclusion of cultural anthropological, sociological, economical and political aspects; in short, comparative law as envisioned by Ernst Rabel in its truest sense. Of particular importance is that the discrepancy gap between the law and the extra-legal mechanisms of regulation is recognized and made clear. Thus, where in fact true differences shape the legal reality one must resist falling sway to the alleged attractiveness and deceptive security of a comparative law inquiry and its assertions of black letter law-based parallels. An example in this regard is the widely held but nonetheless inaccurate belief in a persisting congruity between original European – or American – law and its configuration upon transfer into and its ensuing development as Japanese law.