Japanese Law in English through the Internet: Take Two

[English version for: Baum, Nottage et al’s Bibliography chapter in Harald Baum (ed) Handbuch des japanischen Handels- und Wirtschaftsrechts [Handbook of Japanese Commercial and Economic Law] (Carl Heymann, Cologne, forthcoming 2009)]
When Harald Baum and I translated and expanded the original Bibliography chapter in the first edition of this book, and published it as Japanese Business Law in Western Languages: An Annotated Selective Bibliography (Fred B Rothman, 1998), we added a new section introducing the online resources that were already increasingly available for free over the Internet. We also created a webpage – Japanese Law Links, now archived at Sydney Law School – that updated and expanded our introductions to resources made public by various types of organisations.
After another decade, following further exponential growth in the Internet as well as steady increases in interest and writing about Japanese law world-wide, it is now both easier and harder to offer a guide to such online resources. It is harder to be as comprehensive in reviewing them, because of their sheer volume, and there is the added difficulty of selecting the more authoritative and useful resources. However, our task is also easier in that there are now several well-established and reputable websites. They often contain (sometimes annotated) links to other resources, and often original material, in Western languages – especially in English, which is therefore our main focus in this chapter. It is also easier because of higher-quality Internet search engines, such as Google, although no search engine can ever be perfect – as we show next.

For example, a sample search under “Japanese Law” through www.google.com on 18 March 2009 produced the Wikipedia’s “Law of Japan” as the highest-ranking entry. An advantage of this webpage is that it introduces (with hyperlinks) some basic institutions and areas of Japanese law, although these are currently quite brief. The major disadvantage, as many readers may know, is that Wikipedia is like “open-source” software: anyone can register to write or to over-write what others have contributed, on an anonymous basis. Unlike software, however, which will just not work properly for anyone if it turns out to be faulty, it is difficult to know if the current contributions to Wikipedia are wrong or misleading. In fact, Wikipedia had flagged several sections (on Japanese “criminal law” and “torts”) as having been nominated for checks about the “neutrality” of the original writer’s descriptions.
Thus, it may be safer to begin online research through similar introductions to the Japanese legal system authored by identifiable and established experts. For example, another highly-ranked entry via the Google search was Professor Makoto Ibusuki’s “Japanese Law via the Internet”, on “Globalex” at New York University Law School. However, it introduces Japanese law and research tools for finding materials in Japanese as well as in English, and was last updated in September 2005.
An alternative, also hyperlinked to the English webpages of various legal institutions described, is the 2008 entry on “Japanese Law” by Professors Masaki Abe and Luke Nottage, contained within the “Japan” part of the “AsianLII” online database. This is a new part of that database (also accessible via the related WorldLII database), which was therefore not (yet) quite so highly ranked in a Google search. However, incorporating on the Japanese Law Online database built up by ANJeL (the Australian Network for Japanese Law), the Japan part now contains a wealth of annotated links to other resources, by area of law as well as types, such as other “Introductions to Japanese Law”. The main links are to the “Governmental Framework” webpage of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, including an outline of the basic structure of government and a useful “organization chart” with hyperlinks to the English websites of the Ministries, the two Houses of Parliament, and the Supreme Court.
Another very valuable set of annotated links, often to English- as well as Japanese-language resources and including many web-based resources, is Rob Britt’s “Japanese Legal Research at the University of Washington”. Although regularly updated, it does not show up so prominently in a Google search under “Japanese Law”; but other websites do often link to it.
More experienced researchers, already familiar with the broad contours of the Japanese legal system and other major websites, may wish to go straight to the main websites for primary legal resources. In recent years the Cabinet Office has embarked on a major project to produce translations of major legislation using a standard bilingual glossary. This resource has increasingly displaced “Mika’s page”, (hitherto) popular from Google searches, which hyperlinked direct “English Translations of Japanese Law” but has not been updated since January 2007. The translations by the Cabinet Office, along with other full translations from various public and private sources, are conveniently available via the longstanding and very popular resource provided by Mizuho Securities, “Japanese Law (Japanese Legislation in English)”. This website lists them as “finance-related” or “other” legislation, and makes the same distinction between summary “reports and outlines” of legislation. Many of those legislative outlines come from the (erstwhile) Office of the Trade and Investment Ombudsman. Another very helpful set of summaries comes from the Japan External Trade Organisation’s guide to “How to Set Up Business in Japan – Laws & Regulations on Setting up Business in Japan”.
Mizuho Securities’ website also links to “Courts and Government Entities” (including further links to selected entities other than Ministries, such as the Financial Services Agency and Fair Trade Commission ); and to “Courts and Procedures” (with another link to the Supreme Court of Japan – but without highlighting that this publishes translations of its major judgments ). It also links to “Other Useful Law Related Websites”, notably the “Transparency of Japanese Law Project”. The main focus of this large research project, generously funded via Kyushu University by Japan’s Education Ministry, has been to translate into English selected court judgments in various fields relevant to cross-border transactions. In response public feedback, each area also includes some “Overview” material, and links to “Legislation/Regulations” and other resources, although sometimes the overlap with the translated court cases is not complete.
Now that very large law firms have emerged in Tokyo, both as home-grown firms as well as fully-fledged offices of international law firms, most now provide newsletters or other digital material on various areas of law or specific new developments. Various Japanese associations for legal professionals also have some material in English related to Japanese law. For even more contextual material, delving further into how the “law in books” may in fact translates into the “law in action” in Japan, it remains more difficult to find authoritative and up-to-date online material. Within Japan, some major university law faculties publish English-language law journals; but sometimes only once or twice a year, and not necessarily focused on Japanese law per se.
Outside Japan, sample articles in English from the Journal of Japanese Law have been made available since 2004. Quantitatively, however, the largest free resource comprises working papers and accepted articles uploaded on the easily-searchable Legal Scholarship Network – usually in full text, at least displaying abstracts, and usually contained with the Asian Law Abstract series. For separate papers and books, a newer research tool is Googlebooks, containing sometimes quite lengthy extracts – but subject to the limits imposed by copyright law.
Lastly, the internet continues to develop new forms of communication. One newer legal research tool comprises Japanese Law “blogs” (sometimes know as “blawgs” ). As of March 2009, some major ones in English were operated by Luke Nottage (overlapping with the East Asia Forum blog), and Marcelo de Alcantara (mostly reproducing interesting news articles or others’ blog postings). These provide shorter analyses of more contemporary issues, but often link in to broader developments or longer research papers. Another development, focused less on legal information but more on broader networking among researchers, is the recent growth in networking sites. Readers may now be aware of www.facebook.com (mostly for social networking) and www.linkedin.com (more for professionals); but for researchers of (Japanese) law the most relevant site may now be www.academia.edu.

Author: Luke Nottage

Prof Luke Nottage (BCA, LLB, PhD VUW, LLM LLD Kyoto) is founding co-director of the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), Associate Director (Japan) of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS), and Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at Sydney Law School. He specialises in international dispute resolution, foreign investment law, contract and consumer (product safety) law.

One thought on “Japanese Law in English through the Internet: Take Two”

  1. As of 1 April (start of the new financial/academic year in Japan), the Ministry of Justice had launched a new website of current and anticipated translations:
    This had “Translations of 164 laws and 1653 law titles”; and seems to have subsumed the work of the Cabinet Secretariat’s webpage.
    Professor Noboru Kashiwagi reports to me that:
    “Members of the old committee under the Cabinet Secretariat will continue to serve as members of new committee under MOJ.
    Software was developed by the University of Nagoya team led by Professor Koji Matsuura. There will be a symposium on the law translation by Nagoya University in Tokyo on May 29.”

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