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Japanese Law via the Internet


By Makoto Ibusuki


Published September 2005


Dr. Makoto Ibusuki is Professor of Law at the Ritsumeikan School of Law, Kyoto, Japan.


Update to an article previously published on LLRX.com on February 15, 2002


Table of Contents


Basic Structure of Japanese Legal System

Finding Japanese Legislation via the Internet

Finding Japanese Cases via the Internet

Finding Governmental Resources via the Internet

Secondary Sources

Legal Research Guides




The purpose of this article is to introduce the limited web resources to those who want to obtain Japanese legal information through the web. Needless to say, 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. So, it is strongly recommended for each user to refer to web resources for setting up a computer accessible to Japanese.


Basic Structure of Japanese Legal System

Historically, the Japanese legal modernization was based on the European legal system. At the beginning of Meiji era, the system of Europe – especially the German and French law and judicial systems - was the model of the Japanese court system and legal system.

However, after the Second World War, there was a major legal reform. Constitutional law and criminal procedure law, which are most important for the protection of human rights, were revised by modeling American law.  Therefore, it is possible to say the Japanese legal system is a hybrid of continental and Anglo-American law.


Japanese Constitutional Law was adopted in 1946 after the Second World War. There are thirty-one articles related to human rights. It also provided for the separation of three powers: Legislative, Judicial and Governmental power.  The Diet has recently launched a webpage to introduce “Birth of the Constitution of Japan".  It has many graphic representations of the draft 60 years ago.


In Japan, there are two parliaments: the Upper diet (Sangi-In) and lower diet (Shuugi-In).

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 small crimes (punishable by a fine or lighter punishment) and civil suits (involving claims not exceeding 900,000 yen), our 448 summary courts have jurisdiction.


Finding Japanese Legislation via the Internet

The Government Printing Office enables Internet users to check on new legislation a week after the legislation was enacted in the Congress on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.


Kanpo (Gazettes) includes new legislation updated each week via PDF file.  Accumulated data can be searched on the site of the Government Printing Office.  Dai-ichi Houki Publishing also maintains the current debate schedule and full-text data of some bills.  Recently, the Japanese Diet started a full text database service containing minutes of the proceedings of whole plenary sessions and each committee after 1946.


In April 2001, the Ministry of General Affairs launched their consolidated code database "Hourei Date 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 comes online two or 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.


On the other hand, there have been some private sites for providing law text free of charge on the Internet. There are two types of such web sites.  One is producing its own data on the site and the other is producing links to law text pages of other sites which contain law text. Some sites of law text are a hybrid of their own data type and links.


Houko (meaning ‘law storehouse’) is a typical site of the former type, containing a word index, a field index and a chronological index. The viewer can search on the site.  Aidai Roppou (meaning ‘basic statutes’ from Aichi Univ.) is a typical site of the latter type. Although the site name refers to "basic laws", their links are never limited to basic sources, but cover wide areas. This site also serves users who wish to search the full text of the data.


Finding Japanese Cases via the Internet

In 2001, the Japanese Supreme Court started their service to produce full-text data of 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 translated into English are available on this site.


There are still no sites for the lower courts' cases. However, on July 1999, the Supreme Court site started to provide lower court decisions of intellectual property cases and labor law cases. In August 2000, they also started the database of both legal fields after 1969.


Aidai Hanrei is also a useful resource, listing well-known and important cases in the main legal fields: constitutional law, criminal law, civil law, commercial law, criminal procedure law and civil procedure law.  At this moment, this site is suspended for a while.


Some private sites provide decisions related to specific fields. For examples, Mr. Ueno's site includes copyright case judgments, and Prof. Sonoda's site provides cyber-porn case judgments including unpublished ones. The site of the Tax Law Association also provides a set of tax law precedents.


Some publishers in Japan distribute compact discs containing cases that have been published in case reports in print form and they also support online databases similar to Westlaw and LEXIS. For example, TKC is a full text database of decisions published since 1875 covering over 20,000 cases. Dai-ichi Houki also launched online full text case database with some other legal databases.


Finding Governmental Resources via the Internet

In May 1999, the Japanese Diet passed the Freedom of Information Act. Before the legislation was enacted, many governmental sites had 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 government sites and local government sites. Some useful web resources are introduced here. The newest Japanese Crime Statistics are provided at http://www.moj.go.jp/HOUSO/2004/index.html . For another Japanese census, the main page of Japanese Statistics provides lots of data.


Secondary Sources

Legal Articles

In fact, it is difficult to find Japanese law journal articles on the Web. Few Japanese law reviews appear on the Internet. The Ritsumeikan Law Review is an exception. While some scholars provide their articles to the public on their homepages privately, most of the articles in Japanese law reviews are published only in print form.


On the other hand, there are some index sites for law articles which have been published in major law reviews and legal magazines. The National Institute of Informatics provides the service for the indexing of academic journals.  For social security law and labor law, the Ohara Institute at Hosei University provides a database for the articles in these fields.  A database of Japanese articles concerning International Law is provided on the site of Prof. Nishitani of Hiroshima University.


Legal News

Unfortunately, in Japan, there is no site that provides legal news. With respect to specific issues, some news sites distribute news stories. Kyoto Shin-bun provides new judgment stories daily.  The page called Pursuit of Cases on the Internet, produced by Mainichi News, provides many stories concerning the Internet, i.e. cyber-pornography, online gambling, hacking, electronic commerce, software issues, copyright issues, domain issues and security issues. Major Japanese national newspaper companies, Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi News, Yomiuri News and Nihon Keizai Shimbun distribute their stories via the net. Asahi Shimbun also has a full text commercial database for their news distributed since 1986.


For English readers, The Japan Times, Nikkei Net and Mainichi Daily News distribute legal news in English.


A new trend on the Internet for legal news is, needless to say, law-related blogs.  In Japan there are few legal news sites.  Some law-related blogs are very useful because they are gathering legal news selected by bloggers.  “Homepage for lawyers" produced by Judge Okaguchi is one of most well-known and accessed blogs for lawyers and judges.  "Attorney Ochiai’s Page" is also well-known blog site providing law-related news daily. The number of lawyers and law professors' blogs is not very great at this moment.  However, the blog is certainly a powerful resource for finding law-related contents even in Japan.


Legal Publishers

Some legal publishers have started to provide their book catalogues online. Examples include Nihon Hyouron Sha, Yuhikaku, Dai-ichi-Houki, Hanrei Times and Shin-Nihon-Houki.


At the moment, no publisher supports their service through the web, but only provides contents of back volumes for journals.


Legal Research Guides

As portal sites, some excellent pages are recommended. The first one is Legal Resources for Law and Cyberspace, produced by Atty. Hisamichi Okamura. It is a comprehensive link page for law materials on the web, including a topic of indices. It contains links to sites concerning all aspects of Japanese law.  Web Legal Cram School has also wide and various law-related links.


The World Legal Information Institute has a specialized page for Japanese law in English, which is provided by Australasian Legal Information Institute.  It is helpful in finding English text of Japanese law. Senrei and Japanese Legal Research are also excellent guides for non-native users. Needless to say, the reliability of these English text sites should be considered because the law texts could be changed and/or amended after their web publication.


As guidance for legal research using Japanese law materials, Fundamental Legal Research: Legal Research Room, maintained by Ms. Mariko Ishikawa, is well known. This is a reliable site as a reference for people who wish to do research about Japanese law. The viewer can obtain knowledge of how to research various Japanese legal resources, e.g. law texts, cases, law articles and government documents. This site is also very useful as a link site for law-related web resources in Japan. It has complete links to all Japanese University law departments and all bar association sites.


Professor Saito's page is a competitor of the Legal Research Room. It shows the users lots of useful ways to find reliable legal research tools of Japanese law resources and contains explanation for each research tool.


For assisting with web-based legal research, "Internet Hou-Jouhou Guide" (Law on the Internet; Nihon-Hyouron-Sha, Tokyo, Japan 2004) is recommended as the best tool. This is the comprehensive guidebook in Japanese for legal research via the Net. It has three parts: the first one is general guidance for usage of information technology on judicial system, law school education and lawyers’ activity.  The second one is lecturer concerning legal research on the net for each country.  The third one is guidance for tools and literacy for internet usage.  The editor of the book is Prof. Yonemaru (Kobe University, Japan) and I.  It includes a CD-ROM with guidance on voice and graphic and every URL for the convenience of the users.



In 2004 the new law school system has started in Japan.  Under the new system, the schools are graduate school and offer professional education just like in the United States.  There are over sixty such schools at this moment.  The new school business caused drastic digitalizing of legal contents.  Many publishers are rushing to digitize their magazines and books, and they are contained rapidly in the commercial legal database which is customized for law school education.  Unfortunately, they are only available for fee-based users in the law schools.  However, the Japanese publishers certainly changed their mind and do not hesitate to digitalize their contents suddenly.  There have already been many CD-ROM and DVD commercial products on the Japanese legal resource market.  Some of them are inserted in the web-based service.  I believe the movement will be going to the next step for the renovation of the publication business which is suitable to the global and internet era.


With the recent movement of law-related blogs, the digitizing legal contents in Japanese legal publication market will change the way to disseminate legal materials.  At this moment, the publishers do not recognize they have potential demand overseas.  However, in near future, they will open their service not only to the domestic market but also for foreign users.