Creative Norm Destruction: The Evolution of Nonlegal Rules in Japanese Corporate Governance

36 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2001

See all articles by Curtis J. Milhaupt

Curtis J. Milhaupt

Stanford Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute


This paper analyzes the origins, persistence, and current evolution of a series of non-legal rules (or "norms") that have played an important role in Japanese corporate governance. The four central features of the governance environment examined here include: 1) the main bank system, in which banks voluntarily restructure loans to some distressed borrowers, 2) a social distaste for hostile takeovers, 3) implicit promises of employment stability, and 4) belief systems about the proper role and structure of the board of directors. I show that, despite virtually ubiquitous claims to the contrary, these norms do not enjoy a long history of practice in Japan, but rather emerged only in the immediate postwar period. I hypothesize that they emerged for two reasons: First, they served as a low-cost substitute for a troubled formal institutional environment beset by the "transplant effect" that imperils legal reform in transition economies today. Second, they provided private benefits to the small number of interest groups that emerged intact from World War II. The flow of private benefits to norm adherents explains the persistence of the norms despite clear evidence of their inefficiency over the past decade.

I demonstrate that current models of norm reform, which emphasize the role of exogenous shocks, the workings of norm entrepreneurs, and increased information, explain why the norms of Japanese corporate governance are currently evolving.

Finally, extrapolating from Japan's experience, I suggest how norm analysis can contribute to the two most pressing questions in comparative corporate governance today: whether law matters to corporate governance, and whether diverse systems of corporate governance are converging toward the Anglo-American model. As to both questions, I suggest that closer attention to norms reveals shortcomings in the existing literature.

Suggested Citation

Milhaupt, Curtis J., Creative Norm Destruction: The Evolution of Nonlegal Rules in Japanese Corporate Governance. Available at SSRN: or

Curtis J. Milhaupt (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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