Japanese Legal System

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Table of Contents in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia

Japanese Legal System in Asia

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. It is a civil law system based on German model; a system that also reflects Anglo-American influence and Japanese traditions, with judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Japanese legal system is a Mixed (Civil law/Customary), 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.

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), the 448 summary courts have jurisdiction.

Supreme Court Rules are not strictly speaking laws. They are the Court’s internal guidelines governing the actions of judges and judicial authorities. On the Supreme Court’s website, these rules are presented for many detailed subjects.

For information about legal research about Japanese law, see Legal Research in Japan.

Where to Start

General Information about Japan and their Legal Tradition

Japan and their People

Read about Japan and their People here.

Historical Background of Japan

Overview of the history of Japan.

Legal Education

Offering a summary of the legal education, including law schools , in Japan.

Development of Japanese Law

Report on the development of the law in Japan.

Structures of Japanese Law

It offers a description of the structures of the law in Japan.

Sources of the Japanese Law

See more about the sources of Law in Japan here.

The Japanese Government System

Study of the Government system in existence in Japan.

Japanese Constitutional Structure

Overview of the Constitutional Structure in Japan.

Historical Background

Read more about the history of the Government System of the country.

General Characteristics of the Constitution

Constitution of Japan: the main features.

Human Rights in Japan

Scope of the Civil and Human rights in the country.

Legislative Branch

The legislative branch proposes laws. Find a description of the Legislative Power in Japan here.

Structure of the Japanese Legislative Branch

Observation of the structure of the legislative power in Japan.

Functions and Powers

See more about the role of the legislative power in Japan here.

Legislative Process

Read how the Japanese legislative procedures work here.

Supervision of the Executive

Learn how the legislative branch supervises the executive branch.

Executive Branch

The executive power proposes laws. Read more.

Head of State in Japan

The head of state of Japan is the formal head of the executive, legislature and judiciary of Japan.

Head of Government in Japan

The head of government in Japan is the Prime Minister of Japan, the political leader of the government of Japan.

Japanese Council of Ministers

See information about the Cabinet Ministers of Japan here.

Japanese Local Governments

Review of the local government powers in Japan. See the definition of local rule here.

Local Organizations of Central Administration

The central administration consists of a number of ministries and other organizations, including local ones. Various departments, offices and divisions are established in each ministry in Japan. See the definition of centralization here.

Japanese Municipalities

Outlook of the cities, towns, villages and other communities, including municipal courts (when applicable), and their legal authority in Japan.

Judiciary Branch

The judiciary power interprets and applies laws. Find here a review of the Judicial System in Japan.

Main Features of the Judiciary

Read the most important characteristics of the Judiciary system in Japan here.

Japan Judicial Structure

Report of the Court Organization and Jurisdiction in Japan.
The Courts in Japan may be divided into:

  • High Courts

Description of the functioning of high courts in Japan.

  • Lower Courts

Summary of the roles of courts of lesser rank.


Information about rules that influence sentencing in Japan.

Participants in the Administration of Justice

Survey about the players in the Administration of Justice in Japan and other countries.


Information about the impartial administration of justice, the independence and status of the judiciary and other issues related to Judges in Japan.

Public Prosecutors

The role of those government officials who represent, in Japan, legal authorities (often prosecuting criminal actions in Japan and Asia).

The practice of law

More about the practice of law in Japan and Asia.

The legal professions

Outline of the legal professions in Japan and Asia.

Practitioners (Lawyers and others)

Learn about the legal role of practitioners, specially lawyers.

Notary-Public in Japan

Overview about Public Notaries practising in Japan.

Court reporter – Clerks

Overview of Court reporters and Clerks in Japanese and Asian courthouses.

Civil Law Procedure

Outlook of the main features of the Japanese civil process, including:

Pretrial Proceedings in Japan

Information about what pretrial proceedings consist of.

The Trial in Japan

Review of the judicial examinations in civil or criminal actions in Japan.

Civil Litigation

Overview of the steps of litigation in Japan, the litigator’s role and the types of civil litigation in the country here.


Evidence law outline in Japan.

The Judgment

Outlook of the tribunal decisions in Japan. For Judgments which are of significance as legal precedents on points of law in Japan, see precedents.

The Effect of the Judgment

Overview of effects and recognition of a valid judgment delivered by a court of competent jurisdiction in Japan.

Legal Remedies in Japan

Enforcement of a legal right ordered by the court. See also the Judicial Relief definition.

Appeals – Judicial Review

Description of the Appeals process and the Judicial Review process of challenging the lawfulness of decisions in Japan.

Criminal Law Procedure

Observation of the Criminal Process.

The Investigation of Crime

Scope of the investigation of crimes:

The Prosecution of Crime

Crime Prosecution.

Criminal Trials in Japan

Laws and rules of the administration of justice when a person has been accused of a crime.

Appeals – Judicial Review

When a party files an appeal, asking to review the case:

Alternative Dispute Resolution in Japan

Method of resolving disputes out-of-court (ADR).

Private Law

Family Law in Japan

Guide to Marriage Law, Succession Law and other Family Law topics in Japan.

Contract Law in Japan

Contracts Law outline in Japan.

Tort Law in Japan

Regulating claims by civil wrongs that result in an injury or harm.

Property Law in Japan

Real property and Personal property law in Japan.

Copyright and Industrial Property

Survey of industrial and intellectual property laws in Japan.

Foreign Trade

Regulation of Foreign Trade in Japan and Asia.

Business Law in Japan

Besides commercial law and the law of corporations and other entities, this guide provides comprehensive information about:

Criminal Law in Japan

Penal law involves prosecution for a crime in Japan and Asia. Find out more.

Family Law in Japan

Family legal issues including:

  • Divorce and separation
  • Child protection, custody, support and access
  • Adoptions
  • Property Division

Public Law

More about Public Law here.

Administrative Law

Report of the branches of the Administrative law, including Environmental law.

Administrative Processes

Administrative Processing in Japan and Asia.


Taxation in Japan explained.

Labor Law

Overview of the labor law and social security in Japan.

Asia Legal Systems

Further Resources

Law Books and Treatises

Japanese legal publishers produce hundreds of new books yearly in Japanese. In addition, Western publishers produce a variety of books on Japanese law in English and other languages.

Court Decisions in English

  • Judgments of the Supreme Court, 1952-: This Japanese government website includes some translations and many summaries of cases: http://www.courts.go.jp/english/judgments/index.html
  • Supreme Court of Japan: http://www.courts.go.jp/english/
  • Hanrei.net. Included are summaries of important law cases and articles and essays on a variety of topics relating to law in Japan, with links to other sites relating the Japanese law: http://hanrei.net/
  • Transparency of Japanese Law Project. This Kyushu University-based project provides English translations for many Japanese laws and court decisions. According to the website’s home page, “The Transparency of Japanese Law Project aims to provide legal information on international transactions in Japan to the overseas community by organizing and translating into English, information which includes: overviews of Japanese law, specific Japanese legislation, doctrines, and case law”: http://www.tomeika.jur.kyushu-u.ac.jp/index.html (Home Page)

History of the Japanese Legal System

The Japanese legal tradition has been shaped by many different influences, domestic as well as foreign. More than one different legal system has coexisted in Japan at various points in the long country history. The Portal of Japanese law provides introductory entries about the background and history of the law of the country.

Conclusion about the Legal System of Japan

A good comprehension of the Japanese legal system requires knowledge and skill in a number of disciplines. The Japanese system itself is the result of developments in law, economy, politics, sociological change and the theories which feed all these bodies of knowledge. The law or Japan may be relevant in a foreign jurisdiction court proceeding involving international transactions. The Knowledge of the Japanese traditions and its legal institutions allows a good understanding of the Japanese law, its institutions and processes and sets the Japanese law and system in a social context.

This guide introduces some of the main procedural and substantive Japanese principles, with a more detailed treatment of resources in the major subject areas of the Japanese law, with access to primary materials.

The general reader and students may learn some basic legal concepts and principles of the Japanese law, to explain how the Japanese legal system operates, and to provide a sense of how the systems within Japan have evolved historically in Japan from its origins.

A globally focused guide like this site, including the legal concepts and principles of Asia, cannot
avoid taking many culture-specific elements into account.

About the Author

Salvador Trinxet Llorca is a law writer, professor and lawyer specialized in comparative and international law.

See Also

References and Further Reading

  • Japanese Legal System (2nd ed.)
  • Japanese Law (2nd ed.)
  • Japanese Law in Context: Readings in Society, the Economy, and Politics
  • Comparative law in a global context : the legal systems of Asia and Africa, Werner Menski
  • Asian legal systems: law, society, and pluralism in East Asia, Poh-Ling Tan
  • Philanthropy and law in Asia: a comparative study of the nonprofit legal systems in ten Asia Pacific societies, Thomas Silk
  • Law and legal institutions of Asia: traditions, adaptations and innovations, E Ann Black; Gary F Bell
  • Law, capitalism and power in Asia: the rule of law and legal institutions, Kanishka Jayasuriya
  • Asia-Pacific legal development, Douglas M Johnston and Gerry A Ferguson
  • Modern legal systems cyclopedia, Kenneth R Redden and William Emerson Brock
  • Constitutionalism in Asia : Asian views of the American influence, Lawrence Ward Beer
  • The judicialization of politics in Asia, Björn Dressel
  • East Asian Law: Universal Norms and Local Cultures
  • Law, Capitalism and Power in Asia : The Rule of Law and Legal Institutions
  • Doing Business in Asia (updated regularly)
  • Copyright Law and the Information Society in Asia
  • Insolvency Law in East Asia
  • Intellectual Property Law in Asia
  • A Legal Guide to Doing Business in the Asia-Pacific
  • EHS Law Bulletin Series (updated regularly)
  • Basic Japanese Laws
  • Commercial Laws of the World: Japan
  • Constitutional Law: Japan (updated regularly)
  • Corporations and Partnerships: Japan (updated regularly)
  • Cyber Law : Japan (updated regularly)
  • Doing Business in Japan (updated regularly)
  • Essentials of Japanese Patent Law : Cases and Practice (Kluwer, 2006)
  • Family and Succession Law: Japan
  • Insurance Law: Japan
  • Japanese Contract and Anti-Trust Law: A Sociological and Comparative Study
  • Japanese Employment and Labor Law (2nd ed.)
  • Law and Investment in Japan : Cases and Materials (2nd ed.)
  • Social Security Law: Japan
  • Tax Laws of the World: Japan


  • Asia-Pacific Development Journal
  • Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law
  • Asian Law Journal
  • Journal of the Japanese and International Economies
  • Columbia Journal of Asian Law


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