World Law Group Mourns the Recent Loss of Two of its Own—Mikio Tanaka and Hitoshi Sakai

Published on Jun 22, 2022

Mikio & Hitoshi

The World Law Group family is mourning the recent loss of two of its own—Mikio Tanaka and Hitoshi Sakai, both of City-Yuwa Partners in Japan.


Mikio’s career began in Japan where he spent five years working for a local firm before departing for Europe to receive a diploma in International Law from the University of Cambridge. From there, Mikio worked for a major international firm in Brussels, for another in Frankfurt, and served as a lecturer of Japanese law at a German university. He then returned home to Japan and joined City-Yuwa Partners in 2004. His experience abroad gave him the skills and background necessary to help foreign clients and their Japanese subsidiaries navigate the Japanese market and its regulations. Not only was he fluent in English and German, but also spoke basic Russian and led City-Yuwa’s German Practice.

His primary practice was commercial and corporate work, including M&A, joint ventures, licensing agreements, distribution networks, and commercial disputes. In the past two years, Mikio was awarded Cross Border Transactions Lawyer of the Year in Japan by both the Lawyer Network and Corporate International. He was also recognized by the Asian Business Journal as one of Japan’s Top 100 Lawyers in 2020.

His background and his practice made participation in WLG quite natural; thus, he began his involvement with WLG in 2005, shortly after he joined the firm. He enjoyed traveling and became a regular fixture at WLG conferences representing City-Yuwa as one of its Key Contact Partners. Mikio served as Asia Regional Director from 2010 to 2012. He went to great lengths to attend as many of WLG’s virtual meetings and networking sessions as possible. His dependable appearances at late-night virtual meetings and his eagerness to learn about different countries and engage with other cultures at in-person meetings will be greatly missed.

Read what some of his fellow WLG member firm lawyers had to say about him:

Scott Guan - With deep sadness, we have lost a dear friend. It is hard to think of anyone that embodies the spirit of WLG more than Mikio. Mikio had a long-lasting interest in trams and trains and had taken the opportunities offered by WLG conferences to visit and write about historical sites around the world. Mikio and his smile will always be missed and remembered by all of us.
Christian Traichel - “I knew Mikio for almost twenty years. Having lived and worked in Germany for more than two years, he spoke fluent German. We often met at the occasion of his many trips to Germany and got to know each other well. Mikio has been a train enthusiast. He knew before his many trips abroad whether there was a special train somewhere with special features and then used his stay to travel on this train. Upon his initiative, we jointly published an article on German takeover law in a Japanese law journal in Japanese language in 2005. I still can’t read what it says but as Mikio took care of the translation into Japanese, I was in good and trustworthy hands. We have lost a wonderful person, a great lawyer and professional networker, and even more, we have lost a friend.”
Jean-Luc Soulier - I liked Mikio a lot! He visited us several times in Paris and I remember true moments of friendship sipping a beer on the Champs-Elysées. He spoke often of his passion for travels and trains (as you probably know, he wrote a lot of articles on trains from all over the world). His years in Germany left a strong imprint on him. All those having lived and worked for some time in a foreign country have the same feeling that it changed their life. I also remember negotiation meetings where his charisma and authority gave an incredible weight to the moments he opted to remain silent, capturing his audience and making the other party uneasy. A true lesson.
Vinay Vaish - This is really shocking news. One realizes that life is so uncertain. Mikio has been a close friend all these years. Cannot imagine not seeing him at our meetings. A person who was always so positive and warm. Condolences to his dear wife and family. We have lost a sincere friend and an important member. Will miss him dearly.
David Kay - I always looked forward to meeting Mikio at conferences and to hear about his latest journeys on trains in Japan and the countries he had visited. He had a great love of these machines and one could sense his passion. As well as being an excellent lawyer, he always recognized the importance of client service and nothing was ever too much trouble. He was an active and important member of WLG and the organization will not be the same without him. Rest In peace, Mikio, and our deepest condolences to your family.
Janet Pahima - Mikio was consistently polite and friendly. That was coupled with a good sense of humor that would come out when you spent time with him. I can't imagine not seeing him at our conferences.
David Barbour - I met Mikio at the Washington D.C. meeting in 2009, and have talked with him at just about every meeting since then. He always had a smile on his face and was easy to have a conversation with. And he was always so kind and gracious. When he was in New York in January 2020 just before the pandemic shutdown, he asked me to set up a meeting with some of my partners there. When I told him with whom he was meeting, including tying in via zoom a partner in London who had practiced in Japan, he stated he “felt more than honored to meet such a gorgeous team” and followed up after the meeting with a similar note thanking those he met with.
During the pandemic, it seemed like Mikio was on every zoom call, regardless of the time in Tokyo, and I think I was on three breakout calls with him where we kept each other apprised of pandemic and business developments. I saw him at the opening reception in Lisbon Thursday night across the patio and looked forward to continuing our discussions later at the conference, but didn’t see him again. I wish I would have gone across the patio and said hello to him Thursday.

Hitoshi Sakai spent 11 years at City-Yuwa. His practice was focused on M&A, corporate, litigation, dispute resolution, and finance.

Hitoshi started his professional journey at a law office in Japan. Five years into his practice, he traveled to the United States to obtain an LL.M. from the University of Virginia, after which he spent a year working for a large international law firm in California before transferring back to Japan. He then joined City-Yuwa in 2011.

The language skills he gained studying and working in the United States made him a formidable negotiator in English. His diverse background equipped him to provide clients with strategic advice and practical solutions that overcame cultural differences and barriers. He frequently represented foreign clients on acquisitions, investments, and litigation in Japan. He also represented domestic clients looking to invest abroad and on cross-border litigation matters. He was admitted to practice in Japan and New York.

Hitoshi began attending WLG conferences in 2013 and served as a Key Contact Partner for City-Yuwa. He served on the network’s Membership Committee from 2016 until his passing. We all feel the loss of Hitoshi’s warm spirit and easy-going conversational style which allowed him to quickly make new friends.

WLG colleagues reminisce on their memories of Hitoshi:

Janet Pahima - When Hitoshi would come to a conference, that was always fun. His profile at City-Yuwa highlights his great English negotiating skills. You can't miss that disarming American accent when Hitoshi spoke. Immediately, you wanted to know his background. Hitoshi was so nice and fun to be with. I found it a treat when he would come to a conference, which was quite often. I can't imagine the loss of losing him at such a young age.
Christian Runte - Hitoshi's sudden passing came as a shock and is a tragedy for all of us. I met him at several conferences and enjoyed our discussions. Together with Ted, we chaired the Privacy & Data Protection Group, and not only learned about the latest developments in Asia from him but also relied on his leadership and expertise. He will be deeply missed. I'm truly saddened by his passing, and on behalf of all partners and colleagues at CMS Hasche Sigle, and the members of the Privacy & Data Protection group, I would like to express our condolences to his family, and all colleagues at City-Yuwa Partners.
Scott Guan - I was deeply saddened by the shocking news of Hitoshi’s passing at such a young age. It is a great loss to his family, City-Yuwa Partners and the World Law Group. In past few days, I have received many messages from WLG colleagues, expressing their sincere condolences and sadness. Our thoughts and prayers are with Hitoshi’s family and his colleagues at City-Yuwa.
David Barbour - I met Hitoshi at his first meeting in Moscow when we sat together at dinner on the river cruise. We immediately “hit it off” when he said that he had lived in Texas (Houston) for a few years when he was in elementary school. I considered him an honorary Texan, and we made a point to catch up at all future conferences, sometimes over a beer or two. We spent quite a bit of time together at the Houston conference, of course. I was surprised when he wasn’t at the Lisbon conference and now I know why. He was entirely too young to be taken from us by that dreaded disease.
David Kay - Hitoshi was an active member of WLG and always made valuable contributions to the committees on which he sat. He was liked and respected by everyone and it is a testament to him that he undertook the fight of his life in silence and with dignity. He will be a tremendous miss to the WLG family and our heartfelt sympathy goes to his family.
Ted Augostinos - With so many others, I was shaken by the news of the death of our friend and colleague Hitoshi. Hitoshi served with Christian Runte and me as co-chair of the Privacy & Data Protection Group. He was a true colleague, overcoming time zone challenges to attend videoconferences at all hours, and contributing valuable insights and contributions to our work. We especially looked forward to seeing Hitoshi in person at WLG conferences, and will always miss and fondly remember Hitoshi’s intellect, generosity of spirit, warm friendship, and clever wit. Hitoshi’s friends at Locke Lord extend our most sincere sympathies to Hitoshi’s family and City-Yuwa Partners.

We extend our sincerest condolences to Mikio’s and Hitoshi’s families and friends. We also reaffirm our strong support of Japanese member firm City-Yuwa Partners during this challenging time. We look forward to many years of continued friendship and partnership with this firm while honoring the strong relationships built by and fond memories we have of Mikio and Histoshi. More thoughts about our friends on their passing:

Ri Bong Han - Many of us at BKL, including YS Oh, KB Lee, Annie, Byoung-Ki, and myself have known Mikio and Hitoshi for decades. Our strong ties with our friends at City-Yuwa have always been beyond working relationships - we have the fondest memories of Mikio and Hitoshi, and we will miss them dearly. Our hearts are with their families.
Ignacio Minorini Lima - Both Mikio and Hitoshi were esteemed friends and colleagues. We will miss them and we all are sad about these two terrible losses. Mikio and Hitoshi were kind to everybody, always with a nice remark to make and with a smile to share with the group. Mikio was one of the very first to get in touch and welcome me when I joined the WLG some years ago. This is one of the many fond memories I have of them throughout these years. My thoughts and prayers are with them, their families, and friends.
Annie Eunah Lee - I cannot find words that can fully capture the sadness I feel at this time. I will remember Mikio as a real gentleman who was conversant in diverse contemporary issues and Hitoshi as the most eloquent English-speaking bengoshi I have ever met in my career. I send heartfelt condolences to Mikio and Hitoshi’s families.
Tom Harrold - We have lost two wonderful members of the World Law Group family. Mikio and Hitoshi have been loyal contributors and participants in the WLG for many years. Their infectious smiles and positive attitudes will be sorely missed.
Jeff Jefferson and Jonathan Young - We were heartbroken to hear about the passing of our friend, Hitoshi Sakai. Hitoshi was intelligent, and he brought clear-minded insights and a keen wit to every conversation. He was also friendly, gentle-spoken and open to the views of others; as such, it was always a pleasure to spend time with him, whether walking through Warsaw on a sunny afternoon or sharing a late-night beverage in Shanghai. In addition to being an exceptional lawyer, he was an excellent colleague. When we catalogued our memories of him, he was often laughing. We will miss him very much.
Neil Sheehy - It is with deep shock and sadness that I write this note regarding the loss of Hitoshi and Mikio, our great colleagues and, much more than that, our dear friends. I will miss our interactions in business, our social get-togethers and the enlightening conversation that always ensued about their perspectives on the similarities, and differences, in our respective cultures and, sometimes, the warm-hearted debates as to which one was better! In so many ways, this is such a huge loss, to our organization and to the world generally, as they were two of the “great ones”; good, caring people that by any standard anyone is fortunate to have had the benefit of their friendship.

Mikio, Hitoshi, You will be so missed, but never forgotten. May your journey be peaceful, knowing that the thoughts and prayers of us all will be with you forever.