1st Edition

Justice and International Law in Meiji Japan The María Luz Incident and the Dawn of Modernity

By Giorgio Fabio Colombo Copyright 2023
    134 Pages
    by Routledge

    134 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book carries out a comprehensive analysis of the María Luz incident, a truly significant episode in Japanese and world history, from a legal perspective. In July 1872, the María Luz, a barque flying the Peruvian flag, carried Chinese indentured servants from Macau to Peru. After the ship stopped for repairs in Kanagawa Bay, a number of legal issues arose that were destined to change the perception and use of the law in Japan forever. The case had a tremendous impact on the collective imagination, both Japanese and international: it is one of the first occurrences in which an Asian country decided to resist the pressure of a Western nation, and responded using the most refined tools of domestic and international law. Moreover, the final outcome of the case (arbitration in front of the Czar of Russia) marks the debut of Japan on the stage of international arbitration. While historians have written widely on the subject, the legal importance of this event has been relatively neglected. This book uses the case to explore the technical legal issues Japan was facing in its transition from pre-modernity to modernity. These include unequal treaties, extraterritoriality clauses, the need to establish an updated judicial system, and a delicate balance between asserting sovereignty and resorting to diplomacy in solving disputes involving foreigners. Based on original documents, this book is an invaluable resource for researchers and academics in the fields of legal history, dispute resolution, international law, Japanese history and Asian studies.

    Acknowledgement;  1. Introduction;  2. Background;  3. Criminal Proceedings;  4. Civil Proceedings;  5. International Dispute Resolution and Arbitration;  6. Conclusions – The legacy of the María Luz incident;  Index


    Giorgio Fabio Colombo is Professor of Law at the Graduate School of Law, Nagoya University, where he is the Director of the Research Unit "Decolonizing Arbitration." He is also Visiting Professor of Japanese Law at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, and Resident Research fellow of the Italian School of East Asian Studies (ISEAS).

    'This important volume’s legal analysis of the Maria Luz Incident at a turning point in Japan’s (legal) history offers a rare and detailed window on the legal complexities at the dawn of modernity. A unique, nuanced and sophisticated study that will greatly contribute to understanding early Meiji Japan’s struggle with the practice of modern law and international image.'

    Professor Dimitri Vanoverbeke, The University of Tokyo


    'A unique and fascinating book on a founding stage of the Japanese legal system, largely forgotten nowadays. Giorgio Colombo brings to life in a picturesque way the event in which the Meiji government for the first time demonstrated its choice to turn to a legal system with the most advanced human values in the world.'

    Béatrice Jaluzot, Sciences-po Lyon, l’Institut d’Asie Orientale

    “Giorgio Fabio Colombo’s meticulously-researched monograph, Justice and International Law in Meiji Japan: The María Luz Incident and the Dawn of Modernity, masterfully chronicles a little-known yet momentous legal case that both reflected and advanced the dramatic transformations underway in Japan in the early 1870s. As Colombo cogently demonstrates through his lucid synthesis of archival materials and secondary analyses, the criminal prosecution and civil litigation sparked by the fate of Chinese laborers aboard the Peruvian ship “María Luz” warrant recognition as a seminal episode in Japanese and global legal history.”

     Shisong Jiang in African and Asian Studies, 2024, pp.1-3

    “Justice and International Law in in Meiji Japan by Giorgio Fabio Colombo is the first comprehensive legal analysis of the María Luz Incident (1872), a colourful episode in the history of early Meiji Japan. It offers a fresh look at the technical issues Japan faced as it embarked on transforming its legal system, in which rulers combined the functions of legislator and judge. This concise, understated book will appeal to students and scholars of Meiji Japan, comparative law and international dispute resolution….[it] is a valuable addition to scholarship dealing with the transformation of Japan’s legal system during the Meiji period.”

    Bill Mihalopoulos, International Journal of Asian Studies (2023), 1–3 doi:10.1017/S1479591423000414

     “Colombo’s book is a wonderful reference to study cultural exper[1]tise in the history and the evolution of international law. It is also an interesting work to understand the evolution of the culture of international law in Japan. The author must be congratulated for the thick narrative.”

    Nizamuddin Ahmad Siddiqui and Diya Rajput, Jindal Global Law Review https://doi.org/10.1007/s41020-023-00207-x

    “This book deserves to be a standard treatise on the María Luz Incident. The trajectory of the book’s discussion of primary sources vividly depicts the transition from the traditional to a modern legal system in Meiji Japan, which turns the volume into an invaluable contribution to the literature on Japanese law and legal development.”

    Nobumichi Teramura, Journal of Japanese Law/Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht, n. 56, 2023, pp. 289-295