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English / Japanese

[Department of Japanese History and Culture, School of Japanese Studies]
Associate Professor KAWABATA Hiroaki

In Central and South America, constitutions vanish overnight. How might such ideas from other countries be applied to the various problems in Japan?

How a Coup D’État Opened My Eyes to the Constitutions of Central and South America

I am a graduate of Ken-Dai (a local abbreviation for Aichi Prefectural University), but my reason for enrolling here was simple: to study Spanish. The impetus for that came from studying abroad in America during high school, when I made some close Spanish-speaking friends and felt the strong desire to understand them more.

So during my college days, I only did three things: Spanish, part-time jobs, and club activities (volleyball). I had many part-time jobs, including interpreting, where I got practice speaking real Spanish, so I figured I could make up for what I missed in class on my own.

Then, at the end of my second year, a chance came around to take a leave of absence and work in the Japanese embassy in Peru. I was there from 1991 to 1993, during which time I witnessed the coup d’état of President Fujimori, a Nikkeijin. To carry out his own policies, the president dissolved the congress, shut the courts, and enacted a new constitution. What surprised me was that a majority of the people supported this. What on earth, I wondered, does it mean for a constitution—the rules of a country—to vanish overnight…? Until then, I had had no interest in the law whatsoever, but I immediately studied the constitution there. I encountered law first in Spanish and then relearned it in Japanese after my return to Japan. Those are the unconventional circumstances by which I came to study comparative constitutional law.

The Idea of Approaching Another Culture in Order to Understand One’s Own

What I am trying to do in comparative constitutional law is to ask how do we think about the situation in Japan from a comparison with countries such as Peru and Brazil. Following the individual histories of these countries, I ask how their constitutions took root and how people perceive them. Each of these countries has its own logic, so even if you discuss the same presidential system of government, the meanings will be completely different in an advanced country such as Japan and in underdeveloped countries such as those of Central and South America. In my research, I always keep in mind how to apply methods of ideas from other countries, including these differences, to the various problems in Japan.

The reason why I locate this research in the framework of the School of Japanese Studies, as opposed to other schools, is because it is possible to relativize events by studying foreign countries while keeping Japan in mind. By understanding others, people understand themselves. Another important idea or approach of this School is to understand one’s own culture, of course, but also to approach other cultures for that purpose. In that respect, not only do we balance and blend the domains of the humanities and the social sciences, we also have exchanges with the University of São Paulo and universities in South Korea, and more and more students from our two departments are dashing out of the country. In that sense, you might say it’s a fairly unique School. If there is anything I can do to help the local community from my own connections to constitutional law or the foreign community, I would be happy to cooperate.

At the Ken-Dai, there are many faculty members and people in the administration who have accepted my new ideas, so I really feel fortunate to have them as colleagues. I couldn’t do my job without them.

Profile

Department of Japanese History and Culture, School of Japanese Studies

Associate Professor KAWABATA Hiroaki

Areas of Specialty: Comparative Constitutional Law

While devoting himself to learning Spanish through his intense experience of a foreign culture in Peru, where he was living and working, he witnessed a presidential coup d’état and set his sights on the field of constitutional law. Currently, he is researching material on the so-called “southern barbarians” (Spanish and Portuguese) who traveled to Japan in the past and the Japanese emigrants (Nikkeijin) who settled in foreign countries. “I’m clumsy, so I can’t do a lot of things,” he says modestly, but his bright presence is full of new ideas, making him a dynamo in the School.

Interview: KASUGAI Takashi; Writer: MIYAMOTO Yumiko

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