Adding a Small Stone to the Achievements of those Who Went Before | UTOKYO VOICES 023

March 20, 2018

Adding a Small Stone to the Achievements of those Who Went Before

Okino never planned on being a jurist. Her image of law was limited to the Statute Books (compendium of Japan’s six codes) that she’d seen in television dramas. She joined the University of Tokyo’s Human Science I stream on the eve of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act for Men and Women, thinking that studying law would make her more marketable.

However, Okino’s enthusiasm for law grew the more she studied. The way both criminal and civil law is put together is extremely logical, and Okino found herself drawn to their puzzle-like nature. But it was civil law, which can be widely interpreted and can lead to any of many different outcomes, that Okino decided to focus on.

“The Criminal Code is a rigorously logical structure. The Civil Code, on the other hand, is not necessarily as consistent and is applied differently in different situations. Once I started to ask why, there was no looking back.”

Take the simple legal phrases “malicious third party” and “good-faith third party,” for example. While both phrases seem to have proper definitions, their meaning actually differs depending on the provisions that qualify them, leaving us wondering why the same phrases in the same law have different meanings and what is taken into consideration in such cases.

The Civil Code is a set of rules that govern our lives, in a wide variety of combinations in terms of both depth and breadth. Okino is currently involved in contract interpretation and fiduciary relationships.

Fiduciary relationships originate in Anglo-American law. The beneficiary of the trust and the trustee are considered to have a fiduciary relationship, and this characterizes a variety of relationships, such as between attorneys and their clients, doctors and their patients, and companies and their directors. Fiduciary relationships are talked about in contrast to contractual relationships. Although these concepts have received much attention in Japan, they are regarded as contractual relationships under Japanese law. So how should fiduciary relationships be positioned? Should they be located inside the principle of good faith in contract law or considered as distinct from that? This is an enormous topic.

Although Okino now considers the study of contract interpretation to be her life work, it took her some time to reach that point. As a student she took classes led by Professor Eiichi Hoshino, an authority on civil law. While Hoshino inspired her to be a researcher, she wondered if research was the right path for her. She took the plunge and shared her doubts with Hoshino, who said he believed she was suited to life as a researcher and encouraged her to follow that path. However, Okino found writing papers to be both hard and not much fun. A despondent Okino went back to Hoshino who once again relieved her of her anxiety by saying that, “We are adding one stone to the pile. You only need to add one stone to the pile already built up by those who have gone before.”

Even now Okino sometimes wonders how her research can contribute to Japanese law. She feels guided by Hoshino’s advice.

“Professor Hoshino passed away in 2012 but I still wonder, when writing papers, what he would say. So with this in mind, I hope to add a stone to the pile.”


Okino says, “Here are my three lifelines: 1) This diary is my ‘life’ lifeline that I use to manage my schedule, which is filled with classes, government council meetings, and board meetings for various institutes. 2) This portable hard disc is my ‘research’ lifeline filled with research and presentation data. 3) This nutritional supplement is a lifeline essential to my existence. I drink half a bottle when I’m tired, before teaching and before presenting the results of my research.”



[Text: Sei-ippai (Giving it my all)]: “I perform everything with all my might and give it my all. To be honest, I really want a change of pace in order to write and manage my time, but I always end up ‘giving it my all.’”

Masami Okino
Okino enrolled at the University of Tokyo in 1983 and passed the national bar examination in 1986. After graduating from the Faculty of Law in 1987, Okino remained at the Faculty, working as an assistant. Okino took up a post as a full-time lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Tsukuba in 1990, before taking up posts as associate professor at Gakushuin University’s Faculty of Law in 1993, professor at the same faculty in 1999, and professor at Hitotsubashi University’s Graduate School of Law in 2007. Okino was appointed to her current post as a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate Schools for Law and Politics in 2010. Okino studied for an LLM at the University of Virginia’s School of Law between 1995 and 1996. From 2002 to 2004, Okino was seconded to the Ministry of Justice where she worked as a legal specialist and was predominantly involved in revising bankruptcy legislation. Okino specializes in the Civil Code, the Trust Act, and consumer law.

Interview date: December 8, 2017
Interview/text: Tsutomu Sahara. Photos: Takuma Imamura.

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