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Public Law, Private Practice

Public Law, Private Practice

Politics, Profit, and the Legal Profession in Nineteenth-Century Japan

Darryl E. Flaherty

ISBN 9780674066779

Publication date: 08/19/2013

Long ignored by historians and repudiated in their time, practitioners of private law opened the way toward Japan’s legal modernity. From the seventeenth to the turn of the twentieth century, lawyers and their predecessors changed society in ways that first samurai and then the state could not. During the Edo period (1600–1868), they worked from the shadows to bend the shogun’s law to suit the market needs of merchants and the justice concerns of peasants. Over the course of the nineteenth century, legal practitioners changed law from a tool for rule into a new epistemology and laid the foundation for parliamentary politics during the Meiji era (1868–1912).

This social and political history argues that legal modernity sprouted from indigenous roots and helped delineate a budding nation’s public and private spheres. Tracing the transition of law regimes from Edo to Meiji, Darryl E. Flaherty shows how the legal profession emerged as a force for change in modern Japan and highlights its lasting contributions in founding private universities, political parties, and a national association of lawyers that contributed to legal reform during the twentieth century.


  • Flaherty’s work is ground-breaking…Flaherty’s book offers readers an overarching description of both legal practices and the activities of legal practitioners in Japan from the 1600s (the Edo era) to the 1890s (the middle of the Meiji era)…Flaherty’s dynamic book on the Japanese legal profession has opened the door to many new areas of scholarship, and will no doubt become standard reading for both legal and political historians.

    —Makiko Hayashi, Japan Review


  • Darryl E. Flaherty is Associate Professor of History at the University of Delaware.

Book Details

  • 334 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center