Case Center Japan: Ten Years On
School of Human Life Sciences
Tokushima Bunri University
This article looks back on the past 10 years of Case Center Japan, established within the Institute for International Studies and Training in April 2006, reaffirming its significance and examining its future landscape.
People may differently understand the social role which the Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST) has historically played, but in my eyes, it is the education institution that provided a one-year international business management program in an era when “oversea” and “international” were more familiar words than the term “global.” Around the time when the IIST was moving away from that role and starting to explore new roles, the subject of this article began to appear in the Institute’s field of vision—the case method of instruction.
Thanks to my—albeit slight—knowledge of this method, I was one of the people tasked with assisting the IIST’s new venture. Ten years have passed under the bridge since then, and Case Center Japan (CCJ), established within the IIST in April 2006, has developed into a reliable educational support institution known to Japan’s entire community of case method practitioners. This article reflects on the CCJ’s past 10 years, reaffirming its significance while also examining its future landscapes.
The case method
I should preface my remarks with an explanation of the case method of instruction. I could define it as a discussion-based teaching method often used in business schools and law schools—but “teaching method” is probably an inadequate description of what should really be viewed as “pedagogy.” What I want to say is that when I use the term “case method,” I am referring not just to a formulaic teaching system, but rather to the whole deeper world of “Bildung” via case method of “instruction.” According to Professor David A. Garvin from the Harvard Business School, the prototype of the case method was developed in around 1870 by the then-dean of Harvard Law School, Christopher C. Langdell. The origin of the case method of instruction as the form of teaching studied by the CCJ and myself—instruction through case-based discussion—also originated in Harvard, this time in the Harvard Business School, in the 1920s, with the “cases” comprising educational materials that present in story form instances of people confronting management problems. According to early materials, this teaching method was initially called the “case system” but later became known as the “case method.”
CCJ and the CCJ’s “godmother”
While there were a number of factors pushing the IIST in the direction of setting up the CCJ, one of the most important may have been business management education’s need for a case center. You can’t use the case method without cases. However, although it might seem counter-intuitive, in most instances educators do not have any good cases on hand, so if there is no social infrastructure for providing educators with cases, the method stalls. Those countries which engage in case method education have case clearing houses and other institutions to serve this function, but back in 2006, Japan had no such institution, which made establishing one extremely significant in terms of meeting a social need. But why did the IIST take on this role, and why was it able to do so? The most persuasive answer is the presence of Etsu Inaba, who was then in charge of the IIST’s Human Resource Development Department. In my personal view, Ms. Inaba is the godmother of the case method of instruction in Japan. After taking an MBA at the Asian Institute of Management, Ms. Inaba also taught there, so in addition to her own experience of teaching using the case method, she also built a strong network with other case method educators around the world. When it came to overseeing the process of creating new social value in the form of the CCJ, there was no one more resourceful than her. I would like to think that she viewed me at the time as another key resource, but anyway, in 50 or 100 years when people look back on the history of case method education in Japan, they will have to make sure to give sufficient weight to the contribution of this “godmother.”
Ten years of CCJ
The year 2006, when the CCJ was established, could be described as the starting point for case method instruction in the Japanese professional education community. Many educators read works by Professor Haruo Takagi from Keio University (now a professor at Hosei University and a professor emeritus of Keio University), a Harvard Business School graduate who has been working tirelessly to educate people about the case method back in Japan, and Keio Business School too, where I worked until last spring, its case method teaching seminars, with many participants going on to learn this teaching method at graduate level. In the world of higher education, a number of law schools and management of technology (MOT) schools established during this period that grounded their curricula in the case method, while the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) held a national symposium on teaching methods for practical education. At a time when the term “case method” was still new to society’s ears, the CCJ began work as an enlightened guide to ensure that the case method would be no mere fad, maintaining quality of knowledge and operational integrity that had Ms. Inaba’s fingerprints all over it. I remember Ms. Inaba being a presence at every case method event and every case method educational research conference during those early years. While society was taking the case method for a whirl around the stage, the godmother was there in the wings molding and shaping the CCJ’s path with a view to the long haul.
The CCJ plays two social roles—supplying case materials and holding seminars. To contribute to the latter, I currently serve as a moderator for case method study seminars held four times a year. In the early years, Ms. Inaba acted as the moderator, but when she retired, the task fell to me. These events are attended by Japan’s leading case method practitioners, and these days they always fill up as soon as they are announced. The study group itself is probably improving in terms of quality, but as moderator, my focus is on respecting the intentions of my predecessors. I’m particularly interested in the views of Takato Ojimi, who was IIST Vice President and Managing Director in the early days, as well as Keio University Professor Emeritus Hideo Ishida (involved for many years as a board member of IIST), Professor Emeritus Haruo Takagi, who was my former academic supervisor at Keio, and of course the CCJ “godmother” Etsu Inaba. My aim is to preserve CCJ’s basic spirit as developed by these mighty forerunners—one of transparency, selflessness, and perseverance, moving straight ahead, never swayed from its course.
Prospects for the future
Japan’s case method education resembles that of the West in beginning with business management education, but in recent years it has been spreading faster in areas such as medicine, nursing, social welfare, and teacher education. Because IIST, the CCJ’s host, is a general incorporated foundation that aims to improve the quality of personnel engaged in international economic activities, it may be somewhat difficult to respond to demands from areas of education outside economics and management, but I want to deepen discussion on this challenge of matching supply and demand in the coming years. Advancing the CCJ’s social functions and passing them on to the next generation is a great challenge, but it is also an infinitely worthy one.
(original article : Japanese)