Paralegal Guide: Japanese Law
Compared to British common law and the constitutional system of the United States, very little is known about the legal system of Japan. It resembles the law systems in many Western countries but has foundations in the teachings of Buddhism, Chinese civil tradition and the Korean immigrants who fled the turmoil in their country during the Kofun period from 250 to 538. All of these factors produce a system that, while seemingly familiar, has eccentricities only fully understood by its members and diligent scholars.
The system of law in Japan presents students, attorneys, politicians and legal scholars with a model that at times appears highly structured and at others inconsistent. Its practices resemble both the legal traditions seen throughout Asia and the Western model of justice. It allows researchers to examine where the two conventions intersect and the key differences that divide them. As a world power, Japanese law is an essential component of any legal studies curriculum. We have assembled the information below to emphasize Japan’s importance in legal theory and explain the different forces that direct its legal professionals.
Japanese legal history was born out of Chinese invasion, Korean immigration and the feudal system that dominated early politics. These diverse sources make for disorganized and unpredictable legal policy, based more on tradition than precedence or codified procedure. Below you can find information on important reforms, periods and influences on the history of law in Japan.
- Duhaime summarizes the historical events that built a codified system of law in Japan. It offers the facts, but admits many aspects of Japan’s legal system are still poorly understood.
- Mark Levin reviews Haley’s Authority without Power, an analysis of Japanese law, and evaluates the claims made there. While it is essentially a critique, it does have a fair amount of review on the evolving structures of Japanese law.
- Ritsuryo was a system of governance adopted by Japan in the 7th century Heian Period. For the first time Japanese government had codified offices assigned to individuals based on social rank.
The Japanese governmental structure is largely based on that of the United States and other Western powers with vestiges of the emperor system still in place. It is separated into legislative, judicial and executive branches with distinct functions in the development and application of policy. The major components of the Japanese legal system are portrayed through the following resources.
- The House of Representatives is the lower house of the Japanese legislature and is composed of 480 members. Its members are elected from districts across the country and in a plurality system where the political parties choose candidates.
- The upper house of the Diet of Japan is known as the House of Councillors. Only 242 politicians make up this body elected by a combination of regional votes and party politics like the House of Representatives.
- The Supreme Court of Japan reviews controversial and landmark cases to determine their legality. Its members, like all judges in Japan, are appointed by the Emperor under the guidance of the prime minister’s cabinet.
- The Prime Minister and cabinet officials make up the executive branch of Japanese politics. The Prime Minister is chosen by the Emperor with instruction from the Diet and the Cabinet is in turn chosen by the Prime Minister.
- In addition to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, a host of Ministries oversee specific sectors of the executive. While political officials hold top positions in these organizations, the career bureaucrats tend to have the most power.
- The Emperor of Japan is not merely a figurehead, though his political duties are more for the sake of decorum than politicking. He confirms a number of political appointments, legislative actions and selects the Prime Minister.
Legal Education in Japan
While individuals in Japan can pass the bar examination without a law degree, the standard path to becoming an attorney or judge is through the education system. There are many legal schools in Japan, typically offering different programs for legal researchers, aspiring attorneys and future judges. These are a few of those institutions.
- Aichi University is a private institution with branches located in Toyohashi, Nagoya and Kurumamichi. Their school of law focuses on small class sizes and community involvement to immerse students in the practices of law.
- Kyushu University is one of the Imperial Colleges that are commonly held as the forerunners of academia in Japan. Its law school was the first to present lessons in English and includes courses in political science as well as traditional legal studies.
- The University of Tokyo has different programs for students wishing to engage in the practice of law or continue their research of the legal system. It takes a broad view of the law to address the many facets of the legal system.
- Ryukoku University is situated in Kyoto and dates back to 1639. Its department is divided into three sections for studies of legal application, judicial training and international relations.
- Osaka University offers legal studies through both the Graduate School of Law and Politics and Law School. The former focuses on teaching the academic background of law while the latter prepares students for practical application.
The groups for professional advancement in the legal industry are not as common in Japan as in the United States. This may be due to the fact that there are far fewer attorneys per capita in Japan than in the U.S. and the legal system emphasizes custom rather than statute. These are the most prominent professional legal groups in Japan.
- The Japan Federation of Bar Associations develops standards for bar examinations and the qualifications of attorneys. All Japanese bar associations and the attorneys registered there are members of the federation.
- The Japan Legal Support Center is a government institution connects the general public with legal information to address their specific problems. It instructs individuals on the processes involved in the legal system and how to find professional assistance.
Fundamentals of Law
While Japanese law has influence from Buddhism, Chinese practice and Western common law, it is typically considered a civil law system. In this type of legal environment judges have ultimate say in trials and base their findings on statute rather than precedence. While Japan shares this system with much of Europe, there are many intricacies to the Japanese system that are identified in the material below.
- The Japanese judiciary is a five tiered court system that separates cases along criminal, civil and family issues. While it resembles the United States and other Western legal structures, the traditions that govern disputes are much different.
- This overview of the Japanese legal system begins with a brief discussion of the different institutions involved in the legal process. This summary expands into details of the powers and responsibilities of each pillar of law.
- JapanLaw has English translations of the most important legal statutes in Japan. The codes are divided by the societal sectors they regulate to easily find specific regulations.
- Japanese Law Translation is a service of the Japanese Ministry of Justice that releases English translations as they are produced. The acts are searchable and a legal dictionary matches Japanese terms with their English equivalents.
- Hanrei summarizes the judgments handed down in Japanese case law. You can find cases related to specific types of law from defined periods, though many cases do not yet have summaries.
- SOFTIC offers a few translations of Japanese court cases related to software protection. Analysis of the courts’ findings is given to clarify the implications of each trial.
- Children’s rights cases examine some of the Japanese precedent for laws that protect youth. The accepted procedure for obtaining case documents in Japanese society is also explained.
- Japan’s Creaking Legal System suggests possible reasons for corruption in the legal system, blaming the lack of attorneys and poor oversight for the problems. It also looks into recent efforts at reform and analyzes their efficacy.
- The judicial system in Japan is structured similarly to the United States with courts at different levels addressing different severities and types of crime. The procedures followed during hearings, however, are much more focused on conciliation and mediation and for the most part lack jury-decided trials.
- Nature of the Japanese Legal System depicts the interconnected bodies that work to create and enforce the law in Japan. It has substantial information on where to find case law and the Japanese terms helpful for searching for specific legislation.