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From a JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) Legal Officer

– A surface officer who graduated from a graduate school of law –

Nobuyuki Miyahara/Captain; Commander, MSDF Criminal Investigation Command (former Legal Affairs General, Joint Staff)


It was in the spring of 1995, when I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade, that I received an order to undergo training at Chuo University. Formally, this order was to train for one year as an auditor in the Faculty of Law, but it also included the intention of the MSDF that I should prepare and take the graduate school entrance exam during that time.

"Take the graduate school entrance exam" meant "get into the graduate school," and, having received the order, I had to pass the exam at any cost. Nowadays, there is an entrance examination system for working adults to enter graduate schools, but at the time, there was no such system, and the only way of getting into graduate school (as an organization that trains researchers) was to pass the standard entrance exam.

So, six years after joining the MSDF, I began to study law by order.

1. From Sea Duties to Graduate School

I joined the MSDF in the spring of 1989. Upon graduating from university, I entered the MSDF Officer Candidate School in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture. At Officer Candidate School, the abilities required as a young officer, i.e., discipline, basics, and various tactical skills, etc., are thoroughly drilled into the students over a year. On graduating, I received a commission as an ensign, joined a training squadron, and departed for around six months of oversea training navigation.

In the training squadron, through practical training on the open ocean, I acquired that familiarity with the sea as a maritime military personnel. In addition, I developed global awareness by visiting ports around the world and interacting with personnel from the navies of other countries. Hence, compared to my time at Candidate School, I had undergone a great deal of personal development when I returned to Japan. After returning and doing unit training in the Fleet Air Force, I was assigned to sea duty for my first actual mission.

I was posted to the crew of three ships, starting with my time as assistant gunnery officer on Flagship MURAKUMO, Fleet Escort Force, followed by time as operation officer on Minesweeper YURISHIMA, and as damage control officer on Destroyer MAKIGUMO. After that, I worked in Fleet Development Command. It was then that I was ordered to undergo training at Chuo University, i.e., to take the entrance exams for graduate school. After receiving this order, I checked and discovered that the graduate school entrance exam was in the fall, so I was shocked that my remaining time to prepare for it, which I had thought would be a year, was, in fact, only six months. However, I quickly made a plan to study for the exam, and got down to work. Even though my college major was in administrative law, studying for an entrance exam for the first time in six years was quite a tough challenge for a sailor steeped in the salt breezes of the sea. I guess that, hoping for the two years of freedom I'd get if I got into graduate school, I just single-mindedly did what had to be done.

2. Chuo University Graduate School of Law

Whether it was my six months of hard work that paid off, or the tenacious pursuit of victory I had learned as a Self-Defense Force officer, I somehow managed to pass for a place on a master's degree course in public law at the Graduate School of Law. Consequently, in the spring of 1996, I entered the Graduate School of Chuo University as the first graduate school trainee from the MSDF taking public law.

The Maritime Staff Office, Ministry of Defense instructed me to study both administrative law and public international law, so I chose a corresponding graduate school curriculum, and devoted myself to research with an eye on serving in the MSDF after completing my studies. During advanced, rigorous seminar discussions, I received enthusiastic guidance from my professors, and realized how superficial was the legal knowledge I had hitherto thought I possessed. In addition, throughout the day, I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation fostered by my fellow graduate students, and was completely immersed in an academic world very different from that of my sea duties.

The two years I spent at the Graduate School of Chuo University proved to be a valuable period that was indispensable to my subsequent role as an MSDF legal officer. This was not only in the sense of acquiring the knowledge of administrative law and public international law necessary for my work, but also in that of being able to gain irreplaceable mentors and friends.

3. The Path to Becoming a Legal Officer

After completing graduate school, I hoped to be assigned to a legal-related post in order to utilize my acquired legal knowledge and give back to the MSDF. However, instead of that, after completing the Tactical Action Officer Course at the MSDF 1st Service School in Etajima, I was assigned to Escort Flotilla 1, Fleet Escort Force as the gunnery officer of the HARUSAME, which was a state-of-the-art destroyer at the time.

It was just after the suspicious vessel incident off NOTO peninsula, and the fleet escort force was working on a new method of engagement that was completely different to the type of naval gunfire used hitherto. Instead of the conventional fire that aims to destroy the enemy ship, this new method involved firing a "warning shot" close to the target ship, without hitting it, in order to urge it to stop. Furthermore, if the ship fails to stop, then a "disabling shot" is fired which accurately hits a specific point such as the bow or stern in order to render the ship incapable of sailing, but without causing human casualties.

Recognizing that this was the time to fully demonstrate the gunnery capabilities inherited from the Imperial Japanese Navy, Commander Fleet Escort Force ordered thorough training of the gunnery officers of each ship, so that, as a gunfire control officer, I expended lots of sweat undergoing gunfiring exercise seven days a week. After one year of college lectures and studying for entrance exams, two years of graduate school, and one year on the Tactical Action Officer Course, i.e., a total of four years on land, my familiarity with the sea had completely disappeared. However, despite my uncertainties, I think I somehow managed to fulfill my duties as a gunnery officer.

After being a gunnery officer on Destroyer HARUSAME, I was appointed as Military Staff, International Peace Cooperation Headquarters, Prime Minister's Office (afterwards Cabinet Office). During my two-year appointment, I was dispatched: three times to Damascus in the Syrian Arab Republic, etc., as a liaison officer for UNDOF as part of UN peacekeeping operations (where I lived for a total of 12 months); twice to Karachi in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for relief operations for Afghan victims on the basis of the Act on Special Measures against Terrorism; and once to the Autonomous Province of Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia for international election observation operations. Through these postings, I was allowed to perform valuable service that I could not have experienced as a general MSDF officer. However, I was not particularly assigned to these duties because I had completed graduate law school. Although they were very special, they were performed purely in the role of a self-defense officer.

After working in the Cabinet Office, I completed a Command and Staff Course at the MSDF Command and Staff College, and was assigned to the Operations Division, Operations and Plans Department of the Ministry of Defense Maritime Staff Office as a member of the Operation Staff for Regulations. At that time, the Operations Division was the operation center for the MSDF, and seemed like a division that had nothing to do with the law. However, the division actually performs work that is directly related to MSDF unit operations, such as developing laws and regulations related to defense, drafting operation orders, and managing related orders during/after their delivery. Therefore, with this assignment, I was finally able to use part of my knowledge of administrative and international law in practical working situations. However, the assignment also made me keenly aware that merely having knowledge of the law was of no use. That is to say, in order to perform your work, you have to have both knowledge as an MSDF officer and knowledge about maritime unit operations. Therefore, the experience of serving in units before and after graduate school was not a detour, but a positive aid.

In addition, at the end of this assignment, I went to the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, a United Nations advisory body located in San Remo, Italy, as a student on an International Military Course on the Law of Armed Conflict. Beyond the framework of the MSDF, I studied international law concerning armed conflicts together with army, navy, air force and legal officers from around 30 countries. In addition to my training at graduate school, I think this experience of studying abroad was also a step towards me becoming an MSDF legal officer.

4. Working in the Maritime Staff Office's Legal Staff Office

After working in the Operations Division, I was assigned to the Maritime Staff Office's Legal Staff Office, and thereby finally became an official member of the MSDF's legal organization. It was seven years after I completed graduate school.

The legal organization of the Maritime Staff Office has a Legal Staff Office that falls under the control of the Legal Affairs General, who acts as the organization's head. In addition, three Senior Legal Staffs are assigned jurisdiction over legal matters relating to administration (administrative litigation, legal review), civil suits (civil litigation, compensation), and operations. I was assigned to the Legal Staff Office as a member who dealt with legal affairs relating to operations. With respect to individual, specific legal affairs, I worked under the direction of the Senior Legal Staff for Operations.

The duties of the Senior Legal Staff for Operations and Legal Staff Office members dealing with operations include investigation and research on: the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is the international law of the sea in peacetime; the law of naval warfare and Geneva Conventions, which constitute the international laws concerning war; and laws and regulations related to defense, centered on the Self-Defense Forces Act, which stipulates the actions and powers of the MSDF. These duties correspond to the field known as operational law within the MSDF.

In addition to unit operations, we also provided legal support and advice to the Maritime Staff Office and MSDF as a whole. As a legal officer, I was able to see the work of the MSDF from a comprehensive perspective.

At this time, I was also dispatched as an allied nation instructor to the International Law of Military Operation Course held jointly by the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, U.S. Naval War College, and the U.S. Naval Justice School. There, I explained about the MSDF's approach to international law, and about the laws and regulations related to defense, etc., to the students on the course, these being U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel, and legal officers of other nations' armed forces. In this way, I was able to provide the training necessary for understanding the legal aspects of the MSDF.

One year later, I was assigned to be the Senior Legal Staff for Operations, and, combined with my time hitherto as a member of the Legal Staff Office, dealt with operational law for the Maritime Staff Office for around six years. The biggest events during that period were enactment of the Act on Punishment of Acts of Piracy and Measures against Acts of Piracy and the dispatch of a naval force to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. I was well versed in the exercise of powers regarding maritime safety operations hitherto stipulated in the Self-Defense Forces Act, and so, prior to enactment of the Act on Punishment of Acts of Piracy and Measures against Acts of Piracy, I served as a legal officer in the First Deployment Surface Force Counter-Piracy Enforcement, which was dispatched within the framework of maritime safety operations.

After the Surface Force Counter-Piracy Enforcement left port, I began by providing basic training so that, based on relevant orders and rules of engagement, personnel could properly exercise the police powers stipulated for maritime safety operations. Practical training with live fire was then conducted, together with comprehensive training involving the judgments of commanding officer of each class. By the time of arrival at the Gulf of Aden, the unit had built up a state of proficiency that would enable it to respond immediately to the requirements of the mission. After arriving at the designated sea area and starting escort missions for ships related to Japan, a series of tense situations occurred. Six incidents had to be dealt with, and we had to remain vigilant the whole time. However, we were able to successfully get through the mission period of around four months and return safely to Japan.

5. Joint Staff, then Military Police

Shortly after returning to Japan, I was promoted to Captain, and, after completing the Advanced Command and Staff Course at the MSDF Command and Staff College and the Joint Advanced Course at the Joint Staff College, I was appointed as the Senior Legal Staff of the Joint Staff, Ministry of Defense. The Joint Staff is the operation center for the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, and plays the role of the general headquarters of these three forces. There are three Senior Legal Staffs under the Legal Affairs General of the Joint Staff. As the Senior Legal Staff for international law, I was responsible for international law and maritime operations. In addition, amongst the three legal officers, I was the Deputy Legal Affairs General, and was therefore responsible for assisting the Legal Affairs General and organizing the work of the legal office.

If we exclude disaster relief operations and measures against violations of airspace, then the actual operations of the Self-Defense Forces, for which the Joint Staff is responsible, are inevitably focused on maritime operations due to the geographical characteristics of Japan, which is surrounded by sea. In addition, because I was responsible for overseas deployment activities such as counter-piracy operations, my work as a legal officer in charge of international law and maritime operations was the busiest, most demanding, and most rewarding legal work I had ever experienced. Furthermore, through close working interaction with Ground and Air Self-Defense Force personnel, with whom I would normally have few opportunities to interact, I was able to get first-hand experience of the operational characteristics of each SDF unit, corresponding staff duties, ways of thinking, and organizational culture.

After my time as Senior Legal Staff, I completed the Military Police Officer Course at GSDF Kodaira School, and was appointed as a Ministry of Defense Judicial Police Officer, and was assigned to the Maritime Staff Office as Inspector. An Inspector's duties relate to those of the Criminal Investigation Command, the MSDF's criminal investigation unit. My new duties were completely different from the previous legal work I had done, especially operational law, but I was chosen because it was judged that a legal officer familiar with administrative and international law could also become readily familiar with Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Although I received basic training in the Military Police Officer Course, police work, especially criminal investigation, is not something you easily get used to. However, with the help of extremely veteran police officers who had devoted themselves to investigation for 30 years, I worked hard in my new role, all whilst presenting a face that said, "I've been doing this for 20 years." Through my experience on this assignment, I believe I was able to gain a clear understanding of the best practices for MSDF's judicial police work and the aspects to be desired in the Criminal Investigation Command.

6. The Cornerstone of Operational Law

After completing my posting as an Inspector, I was finally appointed as Director of the Operational Law Office at the MSDF Command and Staff College, which acts as the cornerstone of the MSDF's operational law. The MSDF Command and Staff College is the highest educational institution of the MSDF, equivalent to a naval war college in other countries. In addition to providing education to top personnel, it conducts--as an MSDF think tank--practical research relevant to military operations. Among its departments, the Operational Law Office is responsible for education and research on laws and regulations related to defense, etc., focusing on international law and the Self-Defense Forces Act. Relevant international law includes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the law of naval warfare (international wartime law concerning maritime armed conflict), and the Geneva Conventions. As part of this education and research, the Office conducts extensive exchange with the international law departments of naval war colleges serving the navies of other countries. Among these, it cooperates closely with the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, U.S. Naval War College.

During my tenure, we significantly deepened cooperation, through the U.S. Naval War College and MSDF Command and Staff College holding joint workshops on international law on a regular basis, and by dispatching members of the Operational Law Office to the U.S. Naval War College as instructors. We were also able to further promote cooperation with the legal officers of actual operational units, such as those at U.S. Pacific Fleet and 7th Fleet. In addition, we were able to involve members of the Operational Law Office in revision of the "San Remo Manual," an authoritative manual on laws concerning maritime armed conflict, and were also able to conduct classes on such laws at Harvard Law School.

After serving as Director of the Operational Law Office, I became the Legal Affairs General, Joint Staff, making me the legal officer that directly assists the Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, who is the highest-ranking officer in the Self-Defense Forces. I had already had experience as Senior Legal Staff two placements before, and so was familiar with the relevant work, but I still felt the weight of the heavy responsibility involved. After taking up my post, my work included: providing legal guidance relating to the daily activities of the Self-Defense Force; investigation and research on operational law for future operations; legal support for large-scale Japan-U.S. joint exercises involving the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military; and coordinating with the Force Judge Advocate, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Staff Judge Advocate, U.S. Force, Japan; etc. As a legal officer in this post, I was favored with the opportunity of doing extremely rewarding work. And with that assignment, my career as a legal officer drew to a close.


I am currently serving as Commander, MSDF Criminal Investigation Command. The Criminal Investigation Command is dedicated to maintaining order in the MSDF, and constitutes a criminal investigation unit with judicial police powers. As a legal officer, I retired on leaving my post as Legal Affairs General, Joint Staff. However, due to the need for the largest unit reorganization since the Criminal Investigation Command began, I remain as a current SDF officer actively performing command duties.

My service history is extremely unusual for a surface officer, but every assignment was important from the viewpoint of the Self-Defense Forces, and also beneficial to me as an individual. I am sure that the reasons for me being assigned to such positions had their origin in my being allowed to study at the Graduate School of Chuo University when I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade. When I was in college, I wanted to try naval gunfire, so I applied for the MSDF Officer Candidate Exam. During that time, a submarine accident occurred near Yokosuka. I'd still like to give back just a little more to the MSDF, the organization I originally plunged into thinking that, maybe, I could use the knowledge of law I acquired at college.

Nobuyuki Miyahara/Captain; Commander, MSDF Criminal Investigation Command (former Legal Affairs General, Joint Staff)

Nobuyuki Miyahara was born in Nichinan City, Miyazaki Prefecture in 1965.
He graduated from Waseda University in 1989 and joined MSDF same year.
After sea duties, he completed master’s degree in public law at Graduate School of Law, Chuo University in 1998.
Subsequent positions: Gunnery officer on destroyer; Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters, Cabinet Office; Maritime Staff Office; Surface Force Counter-Piracy Enforcement; Senior Legal Staff, MSO & JS; Inspector, MSO; Director of Operational Law Office, MSDF Command and Staff College; 6th Legal Affairs General, JS; current position.
He is also Chairman of Iaido (Art of drawing the Japanese sword) Club, Ichigaya, Ministry of Defense.