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Working as a Lawyer at the Base of Mount Fuji

Mitsuo Okamura

1. Introduction

I was a member of the first graduating class of the Chuo Law School. Afterwards, I served my legal apprenticeship as a member of the 60th class. I then spent about ten years working at a law office in Tokyo, where I mainly specialized in corporate law.

The next step in my career was to independently open a law office in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture. Currently, my law office is in its third year of operation.

2. Circumstances at north foot of Mount Fuji

I would like to begin with a brief explanation of legal circumstances in Yamanashi Prefecture. I will also touch on the environment in Fujiyoshida City.

Chureito Pagoda

The Yamanashi Prefectural Office is located in the Kofu City, which is also home to the Kofu District Court and Kofu Family Court (central court). The only branch of the court is the Tsuru Branch Court located in the Tsuru City. Additionally, summary courts are operated in the cities of Kofu, Tsuru, Kajikazawa, and Fujiyoshida.

I operate my law office in Fujiyoshida City, which is under the jurisdiction of the Tsuru Branch Court. The Tsuru Branch Court has jurisdiction over 11 municipalities in a long area stretching north to south on the eastern side of Yamanashi Prefecture. Fujiyoshida City, Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanakako Village, and some other municipalities are located at the northern foot of Mount Fuji. These municipalities are blessed with rich nature, and some are located at an altitude of over 1,000 meters. This means that winters are extremely cold. It is not unusual for the temperature to stay below freezing for days on end. Actually, I once experienced great trouble when the water pipes at my law office froze. On the other hand, summers are very comfortable and I do not have to run my air conditioning very often. The area is also very popular as a summer retreat for escaping from the oppressive summer heat at lower altitudes.

In 2013, Mount Fuji was registered as a World Heritage Cultural Site. As a result, the surrounding area bustles with Japanese and international tourists on a daily basis. Popular tourist attractions include the Fuji Five Lakes and Oshino Hakkai (an area with eight mystical springs and ponds). Recently, another popular spot is Arakurayama Sengen Park, where tourists can simultaneously enjoy views of Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, and the five-story Chureito Pagoda.

By the way, I can see Mount Fuji from my law office. Although seeing Mount Fuji has become an ordinary part of my life, it is still an inspiring presence, sometimes making me feel relaxed and sometimes providing me with energy as the mountain scenery changes together with the seasons.

3. Business circumstances

Approximately 190,000 people live under the jurisdiction of the Tsuru Branch Court. However, there are only five lawyers in the entire area, including myself. Although there are about 130 lawyers in Yamanashi Prefecture, the majority operate offices in Kofu City where the central court is located. Actually, five lawyers are the highest number ever in the Tsuru area. Compared to before, the depopulation of lawyers has improved greatly. Nevertheless, when considering the size of the population, there is still a shortage of lawyers.

I have handled an extremely wide range of cases such as labor issues, debt consolidation (voluntary liquidation, bankruptcy, etc.), debt collection, real estate disputes, neighborhood disputes, dispossession claims for land and buildings, traffic accidents, divorce, inheritance, and criminal cases. I have many opportunities to be court-appointed to positions including bankruptcy trustee, adult guardian, inheritance administrator, liquidator, and provisional director. I am also appointed as a judicial commissioner at the Fujiyoshida Summary Court. I have also been appointed as a member of local government committees, councils, and other organizations. Overall, my work activities are slightly different from that of a normal lawyer.

Amidst my diverse business activities, I also serve as an advisor to corporations from various industries throughout Yamanashi Prefecture. This role enables me to draw upon my experience in corporate law, which was my specialty when I worked as a lawyer in Tokyo.

4. Lawyers as a more familiar part of daily life

Upon relocating my legal career from Tokyo to the foot of Mount Fuji, I was struck by how people in rural areas are almost completely unfamiliar with lawyers.

In the first place, many people in rural areas lack sufficient awareness that lawyers are active in their region. There are still many people who would be surprised to learn that there are lawyers in Fujiyoshida City!

In an ideal situation, lawyers in rural regions would be like small-town doctors; e.g., someone whom residents can see immediately regarding any concern. However, this is not possible in regions where lawyers are distributed unevenly. As a result, most people only consult with a lawyer after a problem has escalated significantly. Often, the dispute has become severe at that point and is difficult to resolve.

I strongly feel that we must first increase awareness towards lawyers and make lawyers a more familiar part of daily life, and then to work to fulfill the role of preventing legal trouble in advance.

Frequently, lawyers complain that there are now too many lawyers and not enough work to go around. However, there are still not enough lawyers in rural areas (particularly areas where lawyers are distributed unevenly). This is my strong advice to aspiring lawyers and lawyers who are considering leaving urban areas to open offices in rural areas--please consider coming to rural areas where you can alleviate uneven distribution of lawyers. An appealing and fulfilling life and career await you.

Moving forward, I will continue to work my hardest to become a trusted small-town lawyer who is rooted in the community.

Mitsuo Okamura

2001: Mitsuo Okamura graduated from the Department of Business in the College of Business, Rikkyo University.
2006: He graduated from Chuo Law School.
2007: He completed training at the Legal Training and Research Institute of Japan (60th class); registered as a lawyer (Dai-Ichi Tokyo Bar Association) and entered employment at the Anzai Law Office (Director: Masaru Anzai, Esq.).
2017: He opened the Okamura Law Office (Yamanashi Bar Association).
Currently, he handles corporate law, general civil and family law (divorce, wills and inheritances, real estate transactions, leasing of land and housing, traffic accidents, labor issues, bankruptcy, etc.), and criminal law.
Main Written Works (Co-Written)
Working Hour Management–100 Questions & Answers (2014, Sankyo Hoki Publishing)
Legal Issues for Fixed-Term Employment and Employment of the Elderly (2014, Rodo Shinbun)
Compendium of Personnel Laws (2016, Rodo Shinbun)
Business Law Systems: Labor Law (2018, Dai-Ichi Hoki)
Case Studies: Practical Explanation and Q&A for Preventing/Responding to Power Harassment (2019, Rodo Shinbun), and more.