Dr. Makoto Ibusuki is Associate Professor of Law, Department of Law and Policy, Kagoshima University, Japan.
The most recent version of this article is available at //www.llrx.com/features/japan2.htm. You will be automatically redirected to that page shortly.
Japan is one of the most modernized and industrialized countries in the world. However, the Japanese legal resource on the Internet is not yet sufficiently supported by the legal community. In doing legal research on the web, the user would feel frustration when searching for data. There are so many Japanese commercial and non-commercial web pages, but few sites distribute legal data.
The purpose of this article is to introduce the limited web resource to people who want to get Japanese legal information through the web. Needless to say, for getting the resource in Japanese, the users in foreign countries must set up the computer for reading it by installing Japanese font program.
This article does not deal with such technical and technological issues. So, it is strongly recommended for each user to refer to the web resources for setting up the computer accessible for Japanese.
Historically, the Japanese legal modernization was based on European legal system. At the beginning of Meiji era, the system of Europe was the model of Japanese court system and legal system. German and French law and their respective judicial systems were the typical example used for the Japanese model.
However, after the Second World War, there was 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. So, it is very difficult to say whether the roots of the Japanese legal system come from the continental system or Anglo-American system. It might be better to call the Japanese legal system as hybrid of these two systems.
Japanese Constitutional law was adopted in 1946 after the Second World War. It includes the bill of rights. There are thirty-one articles related to human rights. It also provided for three independent branched of government for the country; Legislative, Judicial and Governmental powers.
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 fine or lighter punishment) and civil suits (involving claims not exceeding 900,000 yen), our four forty eight summary courts have jurisdiction.
The government Printing Office enables Internet users to check on new legislation at the site of Legislative Bureau, House of Council.
Kanpo (Gazettes) includes new legislation updated each week via PDF file. Accumulated data can be searched at the Government printing office. Dai-ichi Houki Pub. maintains the current debate schedule and full text data of some bills. Recently, the Japanese Diet started a database service containing minute’s of the proceedings.
Unfortunately, in Japan, no government sites contains all Japanese law, but some agencies and ministries produce certain statutes related to their works. Although there is no copy right for law in Japan, people have to pay fees for getting the texts of laws from some commercial sites or major commercial BBSs such as Nifty Serve and ASAHI-Net. On the other hand, some private sites provide 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 another is producing links to law text on other web sites which provide some law text.
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, and covers wide area. This site also serves users who wish to search the full text of the data.
Some legal publishers sell compact discs containing law text. National Academic Information Center, a governmental non-profit institute, also provides a full text database exclusively for the academic profession; students are excluded. Non-academic people, who cannot access the academic resources and do not wish to purchase CDs, have no way to obtain free access to law such text databases of the government.
Since 1997, selected decisions of the Japanese Supreme Court have appeared on the official site. Some famous and old Supreme Court cases have been translated into English and are available on this site. A private site, Kihon-page (meaning basic cases), also provides Supreme Court cases, which have been published in the Official Court Report (Saibansho-jihou) since 1995. The resources on their web for Supreme Court cases before 1995 are limited.
There were no sites for lower courts’ cases. However, on July 1999, the Supreme Court site started to provide lower court decisions of recent intellectual property cases. They also started the database of intellectual cases after 1969 on August 2000.
Aidai Hanrei is also the useful resources listing famous and important cases in main legal fields; constitutional law, criminal law, civil law, commercial law, criminal procedure law and civil procedure law.
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 judgements. 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 full text database of decisions published since 1875 covering over 20,000 cases.
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 for 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. Japanese Crime Statistics is provided at http://www.moj.go.jp/HOUSO/houso01.htm . The Japanese CENSUS is provided at http://www.mhw.go.jp/toukei/t_gaikyo.html.
In fact, it is difficult to find Japanese law journal articles on the Web. Few Japanese law reviews appears 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. At Kobe Gakuin University, an index of law reviews is provided by the Reference Room of Kobe Gakuin University, School of Law. However, the articles contained in commercial magazines are not included in this index. For social security law and labor law, the Ohara Institute at Hosei University provides a database for the articles in these fields. At the site of Prof. Nishitani of Hiroshima University, a database of Japanese articles concerning International Law is provided.
Unfortunately, in Japan, there is no site that provides legal news. With respect to specific issues, some news sites distribute news stories. 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 database for their news distributed since 1986.
At the moment, no publisher supports their service through the web, but only provides contents of back volumes for journals.
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 index. It contains links to sites about all aspects of Japanese law.
The second one is Kanazawa University’s index, which has long tradition on the Japanese web.
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.
For assisting web based legal research, “Houritsugaku-no-tameno-Internet” (Law on the Net; Nihon-Hyouron-Sha, Tokyo, Japan 2000) is recommended as the best tool. This is the first guidebook in Japan for legal research via the Net. It gives a comprehensive guide for Internet users who are looking for law materials on the net. It is a collaborative product by Prof. Yonemaru (Ritsumeikan Univ., Kyoto) and myself. The revised edition was published in Jan. 2000. It includes CD-ROM with every URLs for the convenience of the users.
As you see, Japanese legal sites are under developed at this moment. Although this country is the second one distributing personal computer in the world, the lower courts are not well equipped and wired and therefore, do not distribute their judgments through the web. In Japan, there is also no official web site distributing the entire data of our legislature.
It is difficult to predict when we can access such Japanese legal data through the Internet. However, if we could not do so in the future, the Information Technology Revolution, which is suggested by the current prime minister, would not be achieved well because legal resources must be the fundamental soft infrastructure for the civilized and modernized society. The web resources in each country would be best measured by evaluating whether a specific country can be such society or not.