Japanese Law via the Internet
By Makoto Ibusuki
Dr. Makoto Ibusuki is Professor of Law at the Ritsumeikan School of Law, Kyoto, Japan.
Published September 2005
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Table of Contents
6.1. Legal Articles
6.2. Legal Publishers
The purpose of this article is to introduce the limited web resources available to those who want to obtain Japanese legal information through the internet. Needless to say, in order to obtain resources in the Japanese language, users in foreign countries need to install a Japanese font program for reading and printing.
This article does not deal with such technical and technological issues. Thus, it is strongly recommended for each user to refer to web resources for setting up a computer accessible to Japanese.
The Japanese legal system was modernized at the beginning of the Meiji era, and was based on the European legal system. The German and French law and judicial systems in particular served as the model for the Japanese court system and legal system. However, after the Second World War, major legal reforms were instituted. Constitutional law and criminal procedure law, which are most important for the protection of human rights, were revised and modelled after American law. Therefore, it can be said that the Japanese legal system is a hybrid of continental and Anglo-American law.
Modern Japanese Constitutional Law was adopted in 1946 after the Second World War. The constitution contains thirty-one articles related to human rights, and delineates the powers of the government, which is divided into three branches: Legislative, Judicial, and Governmental power. The Diet has recently launched a webpage dedicated to the “ Birth of the Constitution of Japan,” which contains many graphic representations of the draft from 60 years ago.
The Japanese court system is simple because it is not a federal system. There is one Supreme Court, eight high courts, and fifty district and family courts. For minor crimes (punishable by a fine or lighter punishment) and civil suits (involving claims not exceeding 1,400, 000 yen), the 438 summary courts have jurisdiction.
The Government Printing Office enables Internet users to check on new legislation a week after the legislation was enacted in the Congress, through the website of the Prime Minister’s Office . The most reliable method when checking up on Japanese legislation is to make use of the Official Gazette . The most recent week of Official Gazettes are provided at no cost by the National Printing Bureau in PDF format on their website. Gazettes prior to this period, which date back to 1946, can be searched online by signing up for the fee-based Official Gazette data service.
Minutes of the proceedings of Diet sessions are also useful for obtaining information on legislation. The Japanese Diet consists of a bicameral system with the House of Representatives (lower house) and the House of Councillors (upper house); minutes from sessions of both houses are available online. There is also a special page displaying a list of bills submitted to the Diet during each session. Japan's current parliamentary system was established in 1946; however, even the minutes from sessions of Japan's Imperial Diet prior to 1945 have recently become accessible and searchable for free on the internet. These minutes also include links to a site where users can search for legislation and examine how such legislation has changed over the years.
In April 2001, the Ministry of General Affairs launched their consolidated code database " Hourei Data Teikyo System " (Current Law Database). It is the first database in Japan to produce consolidated code on the web for the public without a fee. The data is made available online two to three months after enactment of a new law or amendment of a code by the diet. The database includes over six thousand laws, regulations, directions, and orders from the ministry. Users should note that the Current Law Database is not an exhaustive resource, even though it does contain some abolished laws and laws which have not yet been enacted. English translations of some Japanese legislation are available through the Cabinet Secretariat’s “ Translation of Laws and Regulations ” project.
There are also some private sites which provide law text free of charge on the Internet. Aidai Roppou (meaning ‘basic statutes,’ from Aichi University) is one such website. Although the site name refers to "basic laws," their links are not limited to basic sources, and the full text of laws is often available.
In addition, the site houko.com is a well-established provider of full texts of laws, even though some parts of the site are subject to fees.
Regulations of local governments are of great importance in the sphere of local governance. Bylaws and municipal codes are provided by some websites, including Kagoshima University , Reiki-Link and Keio University .
In 2001, the Japanese Supreme Court started a service which provides full-text data of all official case reports which have been published since 1947. It also has a full-text search capability on the site. Some historical and well-known Supreme Court judgments are available in English, as are certain case reports. Some publishers in Japan provide online databases similar to Westlaw and LEXIS. For example, LEX/DB of TKC , LexisNexis Japan and Westlaw Japan are full-text databases of decisions published since 1875, covering about 200,000 cases (as of 31 st Dec. 2008).
In May 1999, the Japanese Diet passed the Freedom of Information Act. However, even prior to this act, many governmental sites had already started to provide their information via the Internet. On the web, there are numerous resources for government information. The best way to search the information is to locate and check on the Clearing System . This site is a meta-search engine designed for searching the information contained in the central and local government websites. Some useful web resources are introduced here.
Resources from various councils that determine the direction the government takes in amending its laws are also made available to the public, on the websites of the government offices in charge of those laws. As an example, the citizen judge system to be introduced in 2009 was reviewed by the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council Criminal Law Subcommittee .
The judicial statistics page of the Supreme Court website is an excellent resource for statistics relating to Japanese courts. This site allows you to view PDF files of statistical data from the year 2000 onward. Moreover, statistical data is published in various white papers issued by the government every year. The printed versions of white papers are the official versions, while the information found on the aforementioned website is often a summarized version. In addition, the Legal Yearbook is also an excellent resource.
Although there are several websites available for searching bibliographic information on academic documents, there are also more specialised websites which are specifically geared toward searching for law-related literature.
The most reliable free site for searching bibliographic information on academic documents is CiNii . Created by the National Institute of Informatics, the CiNii is a database for searching bibliographic information which provides full-text PDF files of documents which are partially protected by copyright. Some of the content provided by the database is free of charge, while some documents require a fee. Another site known as JAIRO , which was launched in 2008, provides a cross-searchable database of Japanese institutional repositories. The data searchable via CiNii is mostly sourced from journal articles, however, JAIRO allows the user to also search for books, conference papers or academic dissertations.
There are also literature databases which specialize in the field of law. One example is a database of bibliographic information on legal precedents that is part of D1-Law, a law database provided by the legal publisher Dai-Ichi Hoki . This database allows the user to simultaneously search for related laws and cases by providing useful links when search results are displayed. Nippon-Hyoron-sha Co., Ltd provides a search service that is also a convenient specialist database for finding commentary on legal precedents. In addition, the user interface of LEX/DB – a database of legal precedents – serves as a useful database of legal publications. These publications are journals published by law faculties of Japanese universities and are a major source of law-related literature.
The Yuhikaku Publishing Co., Ltd is widely accepted as the best-known legal publisher in Japan. The company has a long history as a specialist legal publisher, issuing many academic books in addition to compilations of laws and cases. Japan's basic compilation of laws is known as the Compendium of Laws – a collection of codes, important laws and ordinances often used by legal practitioners. Yuhikaku provides a guide to using the Compendium of Laws on its website and is a useful resource for explaining how these laws have come together.
There are a few sites which provide details in English on how to undertake Japanese legal research. In Japan, some parts of Keio University's KITIE page contain instructions for students on how to search for laws and precedents. Outside of Japan, the Washington University's school of law website provides detailed search methods for students majoring in Japanese law . Although written in Japanese, the website of Professor Saito of Hokusei Gakuen University is also very well known. In addition to a number of links to related sites, Professor Saito's site includes detailed guides to research methods, as well as tools written by the Professor himself. It is updated regularly, making it one of the most reliable websites available.
Two websites which are valuable for learning of search tools, rather than methods, are those of the National Diet Library and Professor Kado of Osaka University . Both sites are very useful even though they are written entirely in Japanese. In addition, the website of the Japan Legal Information Institute at Nagoya University and AsianLII provide useful lists of legal information resources in English.
In 2004, a new law school system was started in Japan. Under the new system, law school is considered graduate school and offers professional education, just like in the United States. At present, there are over seventy such schools. The creation of these new schools led to the rapid and broad digitalization of legal documents. Many publishers are rushing to digitize their magazines and books, which are placed immediately into the commercial legal database that is customized for law school education. Unfortunately, they are only available, for a fee, to users in the law schools.
The new law school system has affected the way even legal practitioners go about their legal research. Because of the new law school system in Japan, law school graduates who became legal practitioners have received specialised legal research training in class at university, and therefore are now very selective when it comes to what research tools they use. As a result, databases for Japanese legal research are currently being upgraded very quickly.
With the recent growth of law-related blogs, the digitizing of legal materials in the Japanese legal publication market will change the way to disseminate legal materials. Currently, the publishers do not recognize that there is potential demand for Japanese legal materials overseas. However, in the near future, they will offer their service not only to the domestic market but also to foreign users.
Finally, a quick word on law librarians. In Japan, there exists no official accreditation for law librarians. Consequently, librarians with extensive legal knowledge are hesitant in calling themselves law librarians. However, this does not necessarily mean that there are no law librarians in Japan. Many librarians affiliated with the Japan Law Libraries Association consider themselves to be law librarians, and actively participate in and organise information sharing and training sessions. Unfortunately, individuals are unable to become members of the Japan Law Libraries Association because its main purpose is to bring together institutional members. Nonetheless, if one is able to get in contact with a librarian affiliated with the Association, much valuable information on Japanese legal research may be obtained.