This week marks the end of the academic year 2020 and the beginning of the new academic year 2021 in Japan. I thought that this a good moment in time to recap the last 12 months.
In early attempts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Japan decided close its public elementary, junior high, and high schools in early March 2020. Waseda University cancelled its graduation and entrance ceremony usually taking place in late March and early April respectively, and pushed back the starting date of spring semester classes from April 6 to May 11. In the end of March 2020, Japan effectively closed its borders to all foreigners on one day’s notice. On April 6, 2020, faculty members at Waseda received an email about an upcoming campus closure. Our campus shut its doors on April 8, and for about two months campus access was restricted to a skeleton staff of pre-approved faculty members and administrators, and faculty was asked to prepare for online teaching from home.
To be honest, those days did not feel great. An important part of my responsibilities at Waseda has been to promote international academic exchange, including hosting and participating in international conference programs. With in-person events cancelled all around the world, borders closed, and intercontinental travel on an indefinite hold, all kind of conference-like activities were gone. Also, all the sudden Waseda’s initiatives to increase the number of international students on our campus seemed to be a lot more elusive; after all, who would want to go and start a new life as an exchange student in an exotic country like Japan far away from home in the middle of a global pandemic? Would I still be able to contribute to our university in these unstable and challenging times?
These days, it sometimes seems that much more than one year has passed since early April of 2020. Online teaching worked a lot better than we had initially anticipated, especially given that we were welcoming a really enthusiastic cohort of students to our online classes in May (see https://youtu.be/q0h8xYexmPQ for a broader impression of how online classes developed for the Asian LLM program in the spring semester). And while we were still in the process of embracing the functionality of online meetings for our regular classes, we stumbled across a new translation tool that Zoom had rolled out for its webinars. Running a web-based conference with prominent judges, professors, and lawyers from multiple countries, supported by simultaneous interpretation and attended by hundreds of participants would have almost felt like science-fiction in March 2020. In October of 2020, it became reality for us when we were able to co-host our 10th Annual Global Patent Law Conference with our friends and partners from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Federal Circuit Bar Association. In the following months, we continued to offer online lectures and seminars to the RCLIP community in Japan and beyond, featuring speakers from multiple countries. We will continue to do so in the upcoming semester.
Meanwhile, the academic year progressed almost as smoothly as one could imagine in light of the circumstances. Our advanced degree candidates completed and submitted their respective theses in the middle of January and defended them in late January and early February. My colleagues and I were more than happy to acknowledge that the quality of the submitted student work was just as good or maybe even better than what students had submitted in previous “pre-corona” years, a really impressive accomplishment given the multitude of restrictions and limitations imposed on students during the last 12 months. Two students from the IP LLM program went on and presented their work in this year’s iteration of the Junior IP Scholars in Japan Workshop hosted on March 16, 2021, by Hokkaido University, Nagoya University, Tokyo University, and Waseda, and we expect numerous students to be publishing their interesting theses or to otherwise remain in touch with the academic community.
On March 25, 2021, our law faculty and our graduate school of law were able to celebrate the graduation of this year’s classes. It was the first time to meet some of the students with whom we spent dozens of hours in online classrooms in person, and a very welcome occasion to conclude the academic year on a so much more positive and upbeat tone than what we had when we entered this year twelve months ago.
Figure 1: IP LLM Class Graduating on March 25, 2021
Figure 2: Asian LLM Class Graduating on March 25, 2021