Samurai versus Farmer

Samurai versus Letter to my son, Ryuichi, 31 July 2021

              Our ancestor, who was a low rank samurai, fought in the civil war of Komaki-Nagakute in 1584. His landlord lost in the battle. Our ancestor was alive. As a samurai, he could have committed hara-kiri when faced with defeat or humiliation. Our ancestor chose instead to abandon his samurai status, married a local peasant girl and raised his family as a farmer. I thought of this family history when I was fighting for my topic “Protection of the Atmosphere” at the UN International Law Commission (hereafter, ILC or the Commission) over these nine years since 2012, up to last week in 2021.

When I proposed this topic formally in 2013, the ILC members coming from P-5 countries (five Permanent members of the Security Council, namely, US, UK, France, Russia and China) opposed taking on this topic by the ILC, while the other members were in favor. The ILC is not Security Council and all 34 members of the Commission are on equal footing. The Commission finally decided to take on this topic as an active agenda, but agreed to impose certain conditions on myself as Special Rapporteur, listing up the legal principles that should not be touched on in my reports. This is called the “2013 Understanding”. I never experienced such a humiliation in my life. I said I would resign from ILC, like a samurai. Professor Peter Sand, a noted scholar in Germany once described my situation: “a struggle sometimes conjuring up the iconic image of a valiant lonely samurai battling powerful warlords”.[1]

My colleagues in the Commission, however, asked me not to resign, and they assured me of their support. On that point, I recalled that my ancestor was the one who chose to live on as a farmer. Farmer are those who live on, even under humiliation, by patience and perseverance. Patience and perseverance indeed led to the success of the project, which was finally completed last week. (You may recall that in the Kurosawa’s movie, Seven Samurais, it was ultimately the farmers who won.)

Some 60 years ago, I was a high school exchange student in the United States. We were all invited to the White House South Lawn, and President John F Kennedy spoke to us. That was 11 July 1962. We all became his passionate fans. One year later, on 10 June 1963, five months before his tragic death, he gave a famous speech at American University. President Kennedy said: “– let us direct attention to our common interests … in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.” This is the spirit that I stressed to my colleagues in pursuit of the topic, “Protection of the Atmosphere”. I am happy that this is finally accepted by the ILC. “All is well that ends well” (Shakespeare)!


[1] Peter H. Sand, “The Discourse on ‘Protection of the Atmosphere’ in the International Law Commission”, Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law, 26 (2017), p. 15.

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