Prospective Students

Law in Transnational East Asia

About the lecturer

Kentaro Matsubara (LL.B., Tokyo 1992, D.Phil. Oxford, 2004)
Research Associate in Comparative Law, University of Tokyo, 1992-1997
Lecturer in Legal History, University of Tokyo, 1997-1999
Associate Professor of Legal History, 1999-2011
Exchange Professor, Columbia Law School, 2002/2003/2005-2006/2011/2014/2016/2018
Visiting Fellow, Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2004-2005
Visiting Fellow, Yale University, 2011-2012
Professor of Law, University of Tokyo, 2011-present
Visiting Research Professor, National University of Singapore, 2019
Prof. Kentaro Matsubara

Introduction video

Writings About Japan


1 Subject Law in Transnational East Asia
2 Field East Asian History, Comparative Law
3 Key words Transnational Law, International Relations in East Asia, Legal History, Historiography
4 Unit 1
5 Lecturer Kentaro Matsubara
6 Period July 4-8, 2022
7 Time 5:00-8:30pm (Japan Standard Time)
8 Lecture style Online (live virtual class)
9 Evaluation Criteria Excellent (S) 90 –100%; Very good (A) 80–89%; Good (B) 70–79%; Pass (C) 60–69%; Fail (D) 0–59%
10 Evaluation methods Attendance and participation 40%, term paper 40%, oral examination 20%.
11 Prerequisites N/A
12 Contents Purpose:

This course aims to give the student an overarching perspective of the historical dynamics that formed the East Asian world of today, with its primary focus on the formation of a transnational socio-legal order.

For students beginning their studies on East Asian societies, it will provide a foundational narrative on East Asian history that integrates the diversity and intricacies of traditional East Asian societies on one hand, and the dynamics of change brought about by war, revolution, and decolonisation on the other. Versing themselves in such a foundational narrative should facilitate further studies, in that it will serve as a framework into which they could integrate their deeper inquiries, and create their own context of understanding that is relevant to the present-day world.

For students already familiar with some of the subject matter, this course will offer an opportunity to reformulate their knowledge in accordance with some new perspectives, as well as familiarising themselves with developments in different strands of scholarship conducted in languages other than English, including Japanese and Chinese.  

Finally, this course is designed to be a part of, or a preparation for, serious studies into law. By focusing on the formation and operation of a transnational legal environment in East Asia, it aims to deepen the student’s understanding of the relationship between legal systems and different social cultures.


In the first instance, this course will trace the historical processes of modernisation and change in East Asian societies from the 19th century to the present day. In the earliest stages, this involved how the diverse domestic socio-legal orders of the pre-19th century underwent changes responding both to internal social tensions and the external forces of imperial expansion, colonisation, and westernisation. Moreover, this was a process whereby the relations between these diverse societies were reformulated and re-configurated, giving rise to a new transnational order that was integrated in a wider, global order.  The following stages of historical development saw Japan’s rise as a local imperial power and its failed attempt to create an east Asian “Co-Prosperity Sphere”, revolutions and the internalisation of the Cold War in the area, followed by the ascension of local economies as a global economic force. The focus of this course will be the institutional changes and developments, both at domestic and international levels, that underpinned such a dynamic historical process.

At a deeper level, this course is an enquiry into how legal systems with Western origins could or could not take root in societies with very different sociolegal traditions. Such attempts at introducing and operating a Western legal system would have at least three separate yet interrelated aspects. Firstly, while these societies are transformed through such a reception, this interaction causes these societies to redefine and reformulate what their traditions might be, with an incentive to preserve and integrate such traditions in the newly created legal system. Secondly, the different East Asian societies each undergoing such transformation would formulate a new type of relationship with each other, based on the notion of sovereignty, which in turn newly integrated these societies into a wider global order. Thirdly, through the operation of these legal systems, and the interaction between these societies and others, the notion of Law itself is changed, signifying how the involvement with East Asian societies changes the world.

The course will be taught in an interactive online format this year, with lectures and cross-cultural group discussions, as well as group and individual presentations. It is hoped that these interactions will provide a basis for further exchange in the future.


1.    Introduction: The Dynamics of East Asian History and the Modern Formulation of Traditions
2.    East Asian Ancien Regimes 1: Domestic Organisation
3.    East Asian Ancien Regimes 2: the International Order
4.    The Opium Wars, the Perry Expeditions, and Unequal Treaties
5.    The Meiji Restoration and Japan as a Regional Power
6.    East Asian Nationalism and the Chinese Republican Revolution
7.    World War II, East-Asian Regionalism, and the Foundations of Post-WWII Society
8.    Decolonisation, the Formation of the PRC, and the Not-So-Cold War in East Asia
9.    Economic Ascent and the “Asian Century”
10.    East Asian Societies and the Transnational Legal Order


Students will be assigned a reading-list, and asked to write a term paper on a topic agreed with the instructor. Evaluation will be based on participation, the term paper, and a final (online) oral examination.
13 Required readings N/A
14 Reference readings -
15 Notes on Taking the Course -


UTokyo Global Unit Courses
International Exchange Group, Education and Student Support Department,
The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8652 JAPAN

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