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HOME > Public Statements and Opinion Papers > Opinion Papers > Opinion Concerning the Vision for Publicizing Japanese Laws and Regulations Internationally

Opinion Concerning the Vision for Publicizing Japanese Laws and Regulations Internationally



January 18, 2019

Japan Federation of Bar Associations

As globalization increases in personal and business activities in Japan, it is extremely important that Japanese laws and regulations be easily and accurately understood by foreigners residing in Japan and also by people overseas. The current system to promote the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into foreign languages was launched by the Japanese government about 10 years ago in response to such demand, and the system has achieved certain results so far. However, in light of the recent advanced globalization, such as the increase of international transactions by Japanese companies, foreign investment in Japan, and the number of foreigners residing in Japan, foreign-language translations of laws and regulations do not seem sufficient at present both in volume (i.e., the number of translated laws and regulations should have been much more by accelerating the speed of translation) and quality. There is now an urgent need to advance and improve foreign-language translation and relevant services.

Upon the establishment of the “Council on the Vision for Publicizing Japanese Laws Internationally” (“Council”) by the Ministry of Justice, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (“JFBA”) hereby expresses its opinion on the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into foreign languages in this Opinion Letter which shall be submitted to the Council.

I. Improvement of the Current System to Promote the Translation of Japanese Laws and Regulations into Foreign Languages

1. Opinion

The system to promote the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into foreign languages should be enhanced so that the translation can be improved in terms of speed (to increase the number of translated laws and regulations) and quality.

2. Reasons for the Opinion

(1) The necessity to Improve Speed and Quality of Translation

Because of the increasing globalization of personal and business activities, it is clear that the translation of laws and regulations into foreign languages is an imperative need. In order to facilitate international transactions by Japanese enterprises, to promote foreign investment in Japan, to support the development of legal systems in emerging countries, and to improve the legal access of foreign residents in Japan, speed and quality in translating laws and regulations into foreign languages should be rapidly improved by taking sufficient budgetary measures. Especially at the time of enacting or revising important laws and regulations, such as basic laws and the regulations concerning businesses, it is necessary to promptly publish the English translation to disseminate the contents of such laws and regulations. But currently, it takes a considerable period before they are accessible to the public. More intensive and concentrated work should be given to the translation of major laws and regulations in particular so that English translations can be published at the time when the new or revised editions become effective. Translation of other laws and regulations should also be worked on urgently so that they can be translated speedily and published in greater numbers. Thus, it is necessary to urgently review the translation system following the suggestions described in (3) below or other ways.
The “Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2018” approved by the Cabinet in June 2018 also promotes the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into foreign languages as a measure to strengthen legal support for the overseas expansion of Japanese companies. The “Policy Package for Promoting Foreign Direct Investment into Japan to Make Japan a Global Hub,” which was adopted by the Council for Promotion of Foreign Direct Investment in Japan in May 2016, states that “a check scheme will be established for translations of laws and regulations to maintain high quality, while at the same time, an additional 500 laws and regulations at minimum will be translated into foreign languages and published by fiscal 2020.” From this point of view, it is considered important to promote measures that place more emphasis on speed and immediacy while paying full attention to quality.

South Korea and China in the same East Asia area have been making more rapid progress in the translation of laws and regulations into foreign languages. It is said that South Korea has completed the translation of more than 60% of the laws and regulations into English,1  and preparations for publishing them in Chinese are also underway. In China as well, a certain amount of laws and regulations have been translated into English and made public.

(2) Problems with the Current System to Promote Foreign Language Translation of Japanese Laws and Regulations

Following a hearing with Prof. Noboru Kashiwagi, former Chair of the Japanese Law Translation Council (“Translation Council”), the following issues related to budgetary measures were identified:2 

(i) Shortage of Japanese Experts

Final check for English translation done by translators is currently carried out by the members of the Translation Council (consisting of lawyers, academic researchers, etc.) placed in the Ministry of Justice. Due to the lack of such personnel, however, the check is conducted only by a sampling method, under which errors contained in the texts other than those sampled may be left uncorrected, and consistency of the entire translation may not be ensured. Consequently, the full-text check is sometimes conducted by the members of the Translation Council on a voluntary basis, mostly without getting paid.

(ii) Shortage of Native Speaking Adviser

While it is indispensable that documents translated into English are proofread by a native speaker of English to make them natural English, there are very few English native speaking professionals who have an adequate knowledge of the Japanese language as well as Japanese laws (that is, those who can interpret original Japanese laws correctly and can check if they are translated correctly into natural English).

Because of such shortage of native speaking advisers, the native speakers’ check regularly implemented by the Ministry of Justice is limited only to the important laws and regulations, and other ordinances are made public without the native speakers’ check.

(3) Improvement of Translation System

In light of the necessity described in (1) above and also the problems of the current system pointed out in (2) above, it is necessary to promptly establish an effective system by following the policies that are discussed and developed by an inter-ministerial liaison council of related ministries led by the Ministry of Justice. Specifically, the following measures must be taken.

(i) Securing of Manpower

Along with re-examining the division of roles among Translation Council members, it is necessary to reconsider the effectiveness of the English check system. For that purpose, it is necessary to address urgently the personnel shortage of English native speaking professionals who have adequate knowledge of the Japanese language and Japanese laws, as well as Japanese experts who conduct translation checks.

Aside from the Translation Council members, it may be reasonable to consider the recruitment of translation checkers from legal professionals, mainly from young academics. It is also essential to improve the Legal Terms Dictionary for enhancing the efficiency of translation. Eliciting cooperation from research institutions of universities and the private sector should also be included in the agenda. In addition, further efforts are necessary to train and secure specialists in legal translation.

(ii) Utilization of AI

IT and AI have advanced remarkably, especially recent technological developments utilizing AI in translation work. As the practical use of AI translation software is rapidly advancing in law firms and legal departments of companies, the use of IT tools and AI should be positively and promptly considered and introduced at least for the draft translations of laws and regulations, as well as checking the quality of translations.3

(iii) Selection and Prioritization of High-need Laws and Regulations

As mentioned above, it is necessary to rapidly increase the number of translated laws and regulations by expanding the necessary manpower and introducing the necessary tools. At the same time, it is also important to establish a mechanism to appropriately sort out and prioritize the legal fields and the laws and regulations with a large demand for translation. Even under the current system, inquiries about which laws and regulations should be prioritized may be made to external organizations while the prioritization is decided in principle by each ministry and agency. However, it is difficult to say that the mechanism functions properly. In addition, it is suggested that a new council composed of major users of the Japanese Laws Translation (“JLT”) database should be established to discuss and develop the policies used to determine which laws and regulations are to be translated, and when they should be released.

II. Enhancing the Content of Legal Information (especially from an overseas perspective)

1. Opinion

As the JLT website currently contains only the translation of laws and regulations with the translations limited to English, the content should be enhanced to include other legal information.

2. Reasons for the Opinion

(1) Translation of Administrative Information, Summary of Legal Fields, and Information related to Laws and Regulations

A brief outline of Japanese legal fields and the information on Japanese laws and regulations (including information on revisions to the law) should also be translated and introduced worldwide.

(i) Necessity for Improvement

It is sometimes useful to provide a translation of the outline of laws and regulations depending on the type and content (it is so, for example, in the tax law field, because the release of translations of such laws is often delayed due to frequent revisions, the content is extremely complex and difficult to understand, and they are mostly not applicable to big overseas companies but small and medium enterprises and individuals).

While outlines summarizing the content of some laws and regulations have been translated and released, it is hard to say that they are easily accessible for users because the progress of the translation and how the translation is released vary according to each ministry or agency that handles the translation.

Also, when important laws and regulations are enacted or revised, it is extremely effective if a summary paper is first promptly translated and published that can be understood at a glance (materials that can be used as explanation materials) and sets forth the main points of the enactment or revision (abstract of laws and regulations).

In addition, if comprehensive summaries of each legal field in the Japanese legal system, such as investment, finance, intellectual property, etc., are provided, the usability would be further improved and those who access Japanese laws for the first time would be able to grasp easily the overall picture as well as which laws and regulations are applicable.

(ii) How to Improve

As part of the project to promote the translation of laws and regulations into foreign languages by the Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies, it is necessary to actively consider and promote providing not only the translation of laws and regulations in English, but also English translations of outlines of laws and regulations, information on legal fields, law revisions, etc. in light of the needs of users.

(2) Translation of Court Precedent

As well as translating laws and regulations, major court decisions should also be translated and published to the world.

(i) Necessity for Improvement

With the development of digitization, even civil law countries which were not willing to make court precedent public have been increasingly publishing court decisions for several years.4  In Malaysia, all the court precedents are made public in its official languages, that is, in English and Malay. In addition, even in non-English-speaking countries such as South Korea5  and China,6  court precedents have been increasingly made public in English.

In addition, during the course of developing the IT used in judicial proceedings in Japan, along with expected digitization of court precedents, it would be worthwhile to discuss and promote proactively publishing all court precedents in Japanese in the field of commercial transactions law and business law in close cooperation between the Supreme Court and the Government, apart from those in the patent law field, all of which have already been arranged to be published through the courts’ efforts, although this is not a topic that suits the primary purpose of this opinion letter to deliver opinions about publicizing Japanese laws internationally.

(ii) How to Improve

(a) Legal Fields to be Addressed Intensively

Initially, precedents in the fields with high needs from overseas should be worked on more intensively. Translation in English should come first, and Chinese should follow as one of the major languages next to English.

(b) How to Choose Court Precedents

It is necessary to gain the cooperation of courts when leading cases in each field are selected.

(3) Introduction of Chinese Translation

In addition to translation in English, translation in Chinese should also be provided.

(i) Necessity for Improvement

In addition to English translations of laws and regulations, it is necessary to provide Chinese translations as much as possible considering China’s power of influence and the wider use of Chinese as a second language in emerging Asian countries. Further, Chinese translations of Japanese laws will be indispensable in dealing with legal problems in family law (divorce, inheritance) with Chinese nationals arising from international marriages, etc. and the substantial increase of investment in Japan in the near future when China lifts the restrictions on capital transactions.

(ii) How to Improve

The followings are the possible concrete measures suggested to proceed with the Chinese translation of Japanese laws and regulations.
(a) New members of the Translation Council who check and examine the Chinese translation should be appointed among scholars and lawyers.

(b) Native Chinese speaking advisers should be recruited.

(c) Chinese translation should be outsourced to capable translators. The same know-how as in the process of English translation, from outsourcing to translators through native speakers’ check and subsequent Translation Council members’ check, can be utilized for the Chinese translation.

III. Improvement of Access and Provision of Legal Information (especially internationally)

1. Opinion

Wide recognition of Japanese laws in the international legal community can serve the facilitation of international transactions of Japanese companies as well as the promotion of foreign investment in Japan. Therefore, rather than just improving the existing contents of the JLT website and waiting for that information to be accessed, it is necessary that information be proactively distributed internationally.

2. Reason for the Opinion

(1) Portalization of JLT website

The JLT website, which currently provides mainly the laws and regulations translated in English and also the Japanese-English dictionary search service for legal terms, should be redesigned as a portal site.

(i) Necessity for Improvement

A large amount of information is currently provided on the JLT website. However, it seems that the site requires improvements to enhance the usability from the users’ perspective, such as by making interface modifications, adding a function to post questions, etc. In addition, a variety of related information should be posted to attract more visitors to the JLT website so that more visitors eventually come to use the main functions of the site.

(ii) How to Improve

More relevant information should be posted in a manner that is tailored to the needs of not only the main users of the JLT website, such as Japanese companies, Japanese subsidiaries of foreign companies, foreign companies, etc. but also the companies, individuals, lawyers, etc. who are engaged in international business. What can be specifically suggested is to add interoperability to the website system (beginning with adding relevant links, and considering further potential service improvements) in order to facilitate the use of the contents of the English sites of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), ministries and agencies,7  the Supreme Court, the JFBA, and even translations by the private sector, if available.

(2) Other Suggestions

In addition to the above, by distributing the public relations information from the Mistry of Justice about the services provided on the JLT website more widely, and increasing referrals from external organizations for preferences on which laws and regulations should be translated into English, it is expected that familiarity with the site among such organizations will increase, and thereby utilization of the site also is expected to increase.8

IV. Improving the Written Style of Laws (in Japanese)

1. Opinion

The written style of Japanese laws and regulations should be simplified, so the translations are easily understood.

2. Reasons for the Opinion

Japanese laws and regulations translated simply word-for-word are sometimes not straightforward enough for non-native speakers of Japanese to utilize them. Some regulations tend to be too technical and detailed without having an adequate explanation of the purpose of regulations, some have many complicated sentences in a nesting structure, and some frequently use abstract and incomprehensible terminologies, all of which could cause misinterpretations when skimmed through just once.

For example, in the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act, it is very difficult to understand the structural relationship with other corresponding regulations and it is also difficult to locate the definitions of terms. 

In addition, long sentences in regulations sometimes become difficult to understand when translated, because the connections of sentence components such as the subject and predicate, and the modifiers to be linked in a long sentence, which can be easily figured out judging from where they are placed in an original Japanese sentence, might not be so easy to understand when they are placed separately too far away when translated into foreign languages.

In order to solve these problems, it is necessary to improve the original style of Japanese laws and regulations in an easy-to-understand manner.

V. Conclusion

As described above, the JFBA has a vision that Japanese laws and regulations will be disseminated to the world, which will be accomplished by improving the system to promote the translation of Japanese laws and regulations into foreign languages, aiming at enhancing the quality and speed of translation, and also by engaging proactively in providing information to the world through the JLT website, which will be enhanced as a portal site with more legal information content and through public relations activities.

Various measures can be taken for disseminating Japanese laws and regulations internationally.  Increasing the involvement of Japanese legal professionals in international legal affairs may contribute to the international dissemination of Japanese laws and regulations, even though indirectly.

The JFBA has been actively engaged in international human rights activities, international cooperation activities (dispatching experts to developing countries to support the development of legal systems, etc.), fostering international legal professionals (support for attorneys’ overseas study, career support for international public service, etc.), and promoting international work by attorneys (revitalization of international arbitration, etc.). The JFBA is hereby determined to continue to enhance these activities while cooperating as necessary with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other relevant agencies, which will contribute to increasing attorneys’ involvement with international law.

1According to the Korean Bar Association, 1374 laws and 704 enforcement ordinances have been translated into English as of November 2018.

2Besides issues raised here, some proposals were also raised including a proposal, concerning the reorganization of the Translation Council, of transferring its translation operation to a newly established independent administrative institution or other body, and a proposal of establishing a mechanism to accelerate the provision of primary translation, which is outsourced by relevant ministries and agencies to translators, by endorsing a certain initiative by the Ministry of Justice.

3Mr. Yukinaga Kojima, a lawyer and a member of the Translation Council, proposed a system that enables translators to create more accurate translations using AI translation software. In the first phase in establishing such a system, a Japanese-English terminology dictionary to be built into the AI translation software should be provided to a software developing company, and the next phase, besides the dictionary, the AI automatic translation software for Japanese laws and regulations should be developed by the government in compliance with the Law Translation Guidelines, and provided to translators. (“Publicizing Japanese Laws Internationally, and its Development - 10 years since the launch of translation of Japanese laws and regulations,” P25, August 2018 issue, Horitsu no Hiroba).

4By accumulating and publicizing previous legal precedents, it is expected that understanding about the legal system and principles of such countries can be enhanced. In addition, it is expected that publicizing Japanese court precedents will lead to an increased number of legal professionals who study Japanese language and Japanese laws, and thereby the foundation for expanding of overseas operations of Japanese enterprises can be strengthened.

5According to the Korean Bar Association, about 100 Supreme Court cases have been translated and published in English every year in South Korea. In addition, law journals published by the Supreme Court which contain research papers and outlines of Supreme Court decisions are translated into English and published biannually.

6Also in China, there is a website where a certain number of court precedents are published in English. Further, all precedents are published in Chinese.

7For example, foreign nationals have great interest in Japanese income tax, corporation tax, inheritance tax, etc. related to business with Japan and living in Japan. However, the tax-related laws and regulations are so complicated that it is not easy for them to understand simply by reading the translation of provisions. From this point of view, the JLT website traffic could increase significantly if it provided useful information on Japanese laws and regulations such as easy-to-understand explanations of relevant laws and regulations in English which should be published by the relevant ministries and agencies on their websites which can be accessed by adding links on the JLT site. As mentioned earlier in II.2.(1) “Translation of Administrative Information, Summary of Legal Fields, and Information related to Laws and Regulations,” such relevant information in English may be provided under the initiative of the Ministry of Justice.

8In addition, in the article by Mr. Yukinaga Kojima referenced above, he proposed issuing a newsletter to provide new updates of the information relevant to translation. Such provision of information through newsletters, regardless of in Japanese or English, will lead to effective promotion of the JLT site.