Quarterly TOP gj

Message from Former JSPS Fellow (2)


JSPS fellowship begins a long-lasting encounter with Japan

Prof. Dr. Heinrich Menkhaus
Prof. Dr. Heinrich Menkhaus
JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow, 1987-1989
Professor of Japanese Law, Faculty of Law,
Philipps-University Marburg, Germany
Executive Director, Japan Center,
Philipps-University Marburg, Germany
Chair of "Deutsche Gesellschaft der
JSPS-Stipendiaten e.V." (JSPS-Club)

In November 1986, I finished my legal education in Germany with the second state exam in law and immediately flew to Japan to start my studies of Japanese law at the Legal Faculty of Chuo University in Tokyo with a postdoctoral fellowship provided by JSPS. As a former assistant at the Institute for International Commercial Law at the University of Muenster, I always wanted to study a foreign legal system after finishing my German education. At the institute, I met and befriended a Japanese law professor who was himself studying German law. He asked me to come to Japan and accepted me as a guest at his alma mater. That is how it all started. My collaboration with my host, Prof. Dr. Koresuke Yamauchi, is still very close. In fact, I write this article sitting in my study at Chuo University, whereto he invited me during my current sabbatical as a guest professor.

With former host Prof. Dr. Yamauchi
With former host Prof. Dr. Yamauchi

But let's return to the beginnings. After the end of the JSPS fellowship I did not return to Germany as I still had the impression that my Japanese language abilities were not sufficient for doing deeper research on Japanese law and my Japanese legal knowledge was still not enough to call myself what I wanted to become, a specialist on Japanese law. Therefore, in 1989 I took a position as scientific researcher in the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, which the German government had just established in 1988. After five years spent there, I began looking for a teaching position in Germany. But there was no professorial chair to be found in Japanese law, as German research activities on Japanese law had only started in the late 1970s when the overwhelming Japanese economic success was felt there.

As I wanted to use my Japanese language and law knowledge, I settled for the post of director of the Permanent Office of the European Association for Japanese Studies, which at that time had its seat in Leiden, the Netherlands. The office was located there because the University of Leiden is said to house the oldest chair for Japanese studies in Europe, being established in 1855. Some time later, I took the position of director of the Law and Tax Department of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Tokyo so that I could continue improving my Japanese language and legal knowledge. When in 1999 the first professorship on Japanese law in the German-speaking area was offered at the University of Marburg, I applied and was happy to be accepted. Since 2001, I have been teaching Japanese law there in Germany.

As the first step to this career was taken with substantial help from JSPS, I have always felt grateful. Together with some other JSPS fellows from Germany, I therefore in 1995 set up an association of former German JSPS fellows in Bonn, which due to its quite long official German name is simply called "JSPS-Club." This club, being the first alumni organization of JSPS fellows worldwide, has enjoyed the strong support of the JSPS Bonn office and JSPS headquarters since its foundation. It features a number of activities, among which the annual jointly organized scientific symposium in Germany is the most important. In September this year, the club again in close cooperation with JSPS held its first symposium in Tokyo to commemorate not only the 10th anniversary of its foundation but also to show active German-Japanese scientific cooperation in the Year of Germany in Japan, which started in April 2005.

Having been a member of the board of the club since its foundation, in 2002 I took over the chairmanship from my dear colleague Prof. Dr. Uwe Czarnetzki, a physicist, who had run the organization successfully from its beginning. My involvement in Japanese-German bilateral scientific relations has also given me the opportunity to head the German-Japanese Society for Labor Law and the German Association for Japanese Studies. All this might, however, not be enough as Germany is due to financial restraints cutting back funding for university institutions doing Japanese studies. As these institutions are the natural corridor for bilateral communications, every opportunity—also in Japan—should be taken to point out and resolve this dilemma. Thus, I strongly support every help that JSPS is willing to provide in sustaining a prosperous German-Japanese scientific exchange.

Prof. Lett with students in her lab   University Louis Pasteur, Institute of Botany
Booklet commemorating
10th anniversary of JSPS Club
Board members of JSPS Club with Prof. Dr. Menkhaus
sitting between JSPS executive director and president