Re-Examinging Legal Transplants: The Director's Fiduciary Duty in Japanese Corporate Law

23 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2003

See all articles by Hideki Kanda

Hideki Kanda

University of Tokyo - Graduate School of Law and Politics

Curtis J. Milhaupt

Stanford Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute

Date Written: March 24, 2003


The transplantation of legal rules from one country to another is commonly observed around the world. Legal transplants can range from the wholesale adoption of entire systems of law to the copying of a single rule. Despite the importance of transplants to legal development around the world, scholarly understanding of this ubiquitous form of legal development is still fairly rudimentary. For example, there is little agreement among scholars on transplant feasibility and the conditions for successful transplants, or even how to define "success." Moreover, there is little analysis of how the success or failure of legal transplants relates to the achievement of larger goals, such as economic development.

Japanese law, particularly the legal rules governing economic organization, is a prime example of the transplant phenomenon, both in its systemic and single-rule variations. Japan imported its original Commercial Code (including legal rules on business corporations) from Germany in 1898 as part of a fundamental reform of its legal system, and made large-scale amendments to the corporate law in the immediate post-war period by importing many specific legal rules from the United States. This article attempts to shed light on the role of legal transplants in corporate law by examining Japan's transplantation of a single corporate rule: the director's duty of loyalty, which was added to the Commercial Code in 1950 as a direct import from the United States. For almost forty years after it was transplanted, however, the duty of loyalty was never separately applied by the Japanese courts, and played little role in Japanese corporate law and governance. It finally began to be used in the late 1980s, long after Japan had achieved high economic growth. Using a simple theory of legal transplants, we explain the initial non-use and subsequent use of the duty of loyalty transplant in Japanese corporate law.

Part I of the paper provides a simple analytical framework for determining the success or failure of a legal transplant. Part II takes up the specific case study of the transplantation of the duty of loyalty into Japanese corporate law. It begins with a brief examination of the central role of duty of loyalty doctrine in U.S. corporate law. We then contrast the situation under Japanese corporate law, tracing the duty of loyalty from its transplantation to its eventual application by the Japanese courts. Part III evaluates the transplantation of the duty of loyalty in Japan in light of our theoretical discussion.

Suggested Citation

Kanda, Hideki and Milhaupt, Curtis J., Re-Examinging Legal Transplants: The Director's Fiduciary Duty in Japanese Corporate Law (March 24, 2003). Available at SSRN: or

Hideki Kanda

University of Tokyo - Graduate School of Law and Politics ( email )

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Curtis J. Milhaupt (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

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Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute ( email )

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