Table of Contents in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia

Japan in Asia

According to the work “Guide to Foreign and International Citations”, by the Journal of International Law and Politics (New York University School of Law):

Japan is a constitutional monarchy. The official language is Japanese (Nihongo). The
country is divided into 47 political and administrative prefectures (called either to (1), do (1), fu
(2) or ken (43)). Each prefecture contains cities (shi), towns (machi) and villages (mura), which
are the smallest political and administrative subdivisions of Japan. Japan’s legal system is based
on the civil law tradition.

The Constitution of Japan, promulgated in 1946 and made effective in 1947 (Nihonkoku
Kenpo), prescribes renunciation of war, and the separation of legislative, executive and judicial
powers, and includes a bill of rights. Sovereignty belongs to the people, who are represented by
the Diet (Kokkai). The Emperor is the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, but has
no political powers.

Legislative power is vested in the Diet, which consists of the House of Representatives
(Shugiin) and the House of Councilors (Sangiin). The 500 Members of the House of
Representatives are directly elected by the people to four-year terms. Their terms may, however, end prematurely if the Prime Minister (Naikaku Sori Daijin) dissolves the House of
Representatives. The 252 Members of the House of Councilors are also directly elected by the
people. Their terms, however, are six years terms, half of which end every three years.
Executive power is vested in the Cabinet, which consists of the Prime Minister, who is
the head of the Cabinet, and ten other Ministers. The Prime Minister is elected by the Members
of the Diet, and is typically the leader of the political party that, by itself or in a coalition with
other parties, commands a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. All other
Ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is collectively accountable to the

Judicial power is vested in a single system of courts. The Supreme Court (Saiko
Saibansho, cited as Saikosai) is the court of final appeal. It is composed of a Chief Justice and
fourteen Justices. The Chief Justice is nominated by the Cabinet and appointed by the Emperor.
The other justices are appointed by the Cabinet. A Justice can, however, be removed by the
majority of a popular referendum at the first election of Members of the House of
Representatives following the Justice’s appointment and again after every ten years following the Justice’s appointment. The lower courts are established by law. They include eight high courts (Koto saibansho), fifty district courts (Chiho saibansho), 438 summary courts (Kan’i saibansho), and numerous family courts (Katei saibansho).

High courts hear appeals of district court, family court, and summary court decisions. District courts are the courts of first instance for most criminal and civil cases. Family courts are the courts of first instance for cases involving domestic relations, including inheritance and juvenile delinquency. Summary courts are the courts of first instances for minor criminal and civil cases. The courts have the authority to determine the constitutionality of any official law, order, regulation, or act.

Japan Online Legal Resources


Laws and Legislation

  • English Translations of Japanese Law (author unknown) (compilation of links to online sources of Japanese law in English).
  • Legal Database (Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications):  Searchable database of the constitution, laws, regulations, cabinet orders and other government documents with legal effect.  Current within a month. In Japanese.
  • Legislation (Cabinet Legislation Bureau): From the 145th session of the Diet to the current session.  Includes proposed and passed legislation organized by bill and act number in Japanese.
  • Legislative Procedure visual representation. (in english) (House of Councillors).
  • Kanpou / Official Gazette Searchable database of the official gazette from June 3, 1996 until the present.(National Printing Bureau) in Japanese. (Free) (Access to May 3, 1947 forward available via paid subscription).
    • Prime Minister’s office has created an archive of the previous year issues, in Japanese.
  • Basic Statutes (Aichi University): Searchable database organized by subject and alphabetically in Japanese.
  • Statutes (Houko.com): Searchable database includes statutes from 1881 to 1996 in Japanese available without charge.  The more recent statutes are only available by subscription.  Also organized by subject, alphabetically and by date.


Laws by Subject

Regional Law




Subscription Databases

  • Lex/DB Internet (TKC)
  • Title: Nichigai. Web Address: http://web.nichigai.co.jp, from Nichigai Associates Inc. This database, presented in Japanese and updated weekly, indexes over 8,500 journals, faculty papers and annual reports of academic institutions published in Japan. The subject areas include medicine, science, humanities, popular culture, business and social sciences.

Other Japanese Law Websites

Note: We linked the resources to archive.org in an effort to decrease the number of broken links cited.

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