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Penn Law Study Abroad: A Dispatch from Tokyo

January 24, 2019

By: Peter Jones L’20

Editorial note: This content was originally submitted as part of the student’s post-program reporting.

My primary goal for studying at Waseda Law School was to engage in a comparative Environmental Law curriculum in a country that has a unique history of environmental regulations, challenges, and agreements. I conducted research with some of the preeminent environmental law scholars around the world and expanded my understanding of the space in which international, environmental agreements are formed, such as the Kyoto Protocol. I arrived in Japan in the Fall of 2019, immediately after finishing my work as a Summer Law Clerk at the EPA headquarters in Washington D.C. The contrast has been immensely enriching. Our government approaches both foreign and domestic environmental policies completely differently (especially now) compared with Japan’s forward-thinking, technocratic approach.

Recently America has initiated a temporary phase of deregulation, but according to the OECD, Japan continues an aggressive expansion of environmental regulations and policies. These initiatives, paired with the third-largest economy in the world, positions Japan to become the leader in environmental protection. I studied the successes and drawbacks of Japan’s aggressive strategy and now carry with me ideas to help integrate the beneficial aspects into what will hopefully be my future work. That work being American environmental policy, contingent upon the US re-entering a period of responsible environmental stewardship.

In addition to Japan’s successes, I also focused on the lessons learned from the 3/11 disasters. Although there have been close calls in America, including Three Mile Island, there has never been a true nuclear disaster. There are renewed arguments for nuclear energy from a mixed coalition in America, but not much talk of who bears the brunt of the risk from new power plants, aside from localized “not in my back-yard” sentiments. Also, in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown, community leaders, organizers, and lawyers came together to fight for tougher environmental standards and accountability from the energy companies that affected their lives. In many ways this coordinated and emotional organization of communities may provide a powerful blueprint for pursuing environmental justice for communities in the U.S. Though the damage is comparatively less centralized, petrochemical plants and refiners can take a massive toll on the health and economic prosperity of local communities. I have gained a better understanding of what arguments led to the lasting coordinated action, which could provide immense relief for our own, often-impoverished communities.

It has also been a complete pleasure to realize my objectives of absorbing the culture, refining my Japanese language proficiency, and making life-defining friendships. Not to mention three and a half months of enjoying the best food on Earth. Academic and personal goals, Accomplished!

Penn Law’s educational objectives for studying abroad are deepening knowledge of foreign law and developing comparative strength. Students who choose to spend a semester or year at an elite overseas institution build global peer networks, push their language and cross-cultural skills to the next level, and distinguish their resumes with demonstrated connections to an important country or region.