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JILT 2000 (1) - Makoto Ibusuki

Japanese Law on the Internet: Its Realities and Possibilities

Dr. Makoto Ibusuki
Associate Professor
Kagoshima University, Japan

Delivered at the 2nd AustLII Conference on Computerisation of Law via the Internet, Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, 21-23 July 1999.


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1. Introduction

Japan has one of the most developed telecommunication and computer industries in the world. There are over ten million people daily enjoying the net and thousands of web sites in the Japanese language. Most government departments have already produced their homepage and they also have their own LAN (local area network) and database. Many companies have started doing business through web sites.

However, many people might be frustrated in doing legal research on Japanese law on the net. Because no governmental site provides a comprehensive database of Japanese statutes on the web, it is difficult to search for a specific law. Because of the lack of case law reports on the web in Japan, people would not be able to read a case they want to.

This paper will talk about web resources of Japanese law and ways of finding. It also points out the reason for insufficient resources of Japanese law on the Internet. Lastly, it discusses the possibilities of development of web resources in the future.

2. Web Resources

This section indicates some useful portal sites, primary resource sites and secondary resource sites in looking for Japanese general legal resources on the web. All the web sites mentioned in this paper are in Japanese.

2.1 Portal Sites

2.1.1 Link site

Legal Resources of Law and Cyberspace produced by Attorney Hisamichi Okamura is a comprehensive link page for law materials on the web, including topic index. It contains links for all aspects of Japanese law. Attorney Okamura is a well-known expert on cyberspace law. His diary provided on the same site daily distributes useful information for cyberspace law. His activity on the network has won the highest praise.

2.1.2 Guidance site

The best known guidance for legal research on Japanese law materials is provided by, Fundamental Legal Research: Legal Research Room maintained by Ms. Mariko Ishikawa. This is a reliable site in which the viewer can obtain knowledge of how to research various Japanese law resources; i.e., law text, cases, law articles and governmental documents. This site is also very useful as link site for law-related web resources in Japan. It has complete links to all Japanese law departments and bar association sites. Ms. Ishikawa has had a long career as a law librarian in Japan. Now her performance as a web-librarian helps everyone searching Japanese legal resources.

2.1.3 Guide book

'Houritsugaku-no-tameno-Internet' (Law on the Net) is the first guidebook in Japan for legal research via the net. It is a comprehensive guide for Internet users who are looking for law materials on the net. It also has a FD containing LawLists and World List. This book is a collaborative product by Prof. Yonemaru (Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto) and myself. The latest edition was published in Nov. 1996. Currently we are drafting the new edition for publication.

2.2 Primary Resources

2.2.1 Statutes and Legislation

The Government Printing Office enables Internet users to check on new legislation in the site of Gazzets (Kanpou). Because it is provided in graphic data, users cannot download them as text format.

None of the governmental sites provides new bills on the web. However, Dai-ichi Houki Pub. maintains the current debate schedule and full text data of some bills. Recently, the Japanese Diet started a database service of minutes proceeding in the Diet.

Unfortunately, in Japan, no government site contains the whole Japanese law text, while some departments supply some statutes concerned. Although there is no copyright in the law text of Japan, people have to pay some fee for getting a law text in some commercial sites or commercial BBSs such as NiftyServe and ASAHI-Net. However, some private sites provide law text on the Internet. There are two types of such web sites. One is producing their own data in their sites and another is producing links to law text on the other web sites which provide some texts voluntarily.

Houko (meaning law storehouse) is a typical site of the former type, containing a word index, field index and chronological index. The viewer can search on the site. Aidai Roppou (meaning basic statutes by Aichi University) is a typical site of the latter type. Although the site is named after 'basic laws', the number of their links is never limited to basic volumes, and covers a wide area. The site also serves users to search the full text of the data.

Some legal publishers sell Compact Discs containing law text. National Academic Information Center, governmental non-profit institute, also provides full text database exclusively for academic profession; students are excluded. Non-academic people, who cannot access the academic resources and do not wish to purchase the CDs, have no free access to the law text databases.

2.2.2 Cases

Since 1997, selected judgments of the Japanese Supreme Court appear on the official site. A private site, Kihon-page (meaning basic cases), also provides the Supreme Court cases that were published in Official Court Report (Saibansho-jihou) since 1995. There are no resources on the web for the Supreme Court cases before 1995.

There are also no sites for lower court cases. However, some privately supported sites provide judgments concerning specific fields. For example, Mr. Ueno's site includes copyright case resources and Prof. Sonoda's site provides cyber-porn case resources. The site of The Tax Law Association also maintains a set of tax law precedents.

Some publishers distribute Compact Discs containing cases that have been published in case reports in prints and also support online databases such as Westlaw and LEXIS. However, at this time, no provider has started a case database service via the Internet even for commercial distribution.

2.2.3 Governmental resources

In May 1999, the Freedom of Information Act was passed by the Japanese Diet. Before the legislation, many government sites started to provide their information through the Internet. On the web, there are huge resources of governmental information. The best way to search the information is to locate and check on the Clearing System. This site is a meta-search engine designed for searching the information contained on the central government sites and local government sites. Some useful web resources are introduced here, such as the Japanese Crime Statistics and the CENSUS of Japan.

2.3 Secondary Resources

2.3.1 Law Articles

It is difficult to find Japanese legal articles on the web. Few law reviews appear on the Internet. Ritsumeikan Law Review is an exceptional case. While some professors provide their articles on their homepages in public, most of the articles in Japanese law reviews are published only as hard copy.

On the other hand, there are some index sites for law articles that are printed in major law reviews and legal magazines. Reference Room of Kobe Gakuin University, School of Law, provides the index of law reviews. However, the articles contained in commercial magazines are not included in this index. For social and labor law, Ohara Institute, Housei University provides a database for articles. At the site of Prof. Nishitani, Hiroshima University, there is a database of Japanese articles concerning International Law.

2.3.2 Legal News

Unfortunately, in Japan, there is no site for legal news. Some news sites distribute legal news stories. The page of Pursuit of Cases in the Internet, produced by Mainichi News, provides many stories concerning the Internet; for examples, cyber-pornography, online gambling, clacking and hackers, electronic commerce, software issues, copyright issues, domain issues and security issues.

3. A Critique of Net Resources on Japanese Law

In spite of strong developments the computer industry and digitalization in government offices, in Japan we cannot see the success in the service of legal information in the Internet. Most universities and colleges are now connected to the Internet. Most libraries distribute the library catalogue as a computer database, not by index card. Many teaching staff are using e-mail everyday and getting a lot of information for their academic life through the web.

However, their professional articles are published only as hard copy and seldom on the net. This section discusses the reason why the web resources in Japan are so poor and suggests some possibilities for improvement.

3.1 Monopoly of Providing Statutes Information

The most important reason for law texts not being on the net is the distribution system. The data of law texts is contained and stored in government offices. The responsibility for collecting law texts in Japan is in the Bureau of General Affairs. They have a database of law texts known as Genkou-Hourei (Current Law) database. An extra department of this Bureau distributes it. On 26th, Feb. 1998, the Asahi Shimbun, one of the major newspapers in Japan, reported that the department monopolized the distribution of law texts, charging a fee although the department obtained the data without any cost. The data is distributed through commercial BBSs. The access fee for users is three hundred yen (about two dollars) per minute. Major law publishers pay a royalty for the source of law text from the department in order to edit their commercial databases.

There is no official site on the web distributing Japanese law texts. Some private sites do provide this data. However, they cannot avoid mistakes such as providing out of date text and including incorrect words. Such inaccuracy and lack of reliability would be a serious defect for legal information services in a modern developed country.

3.2 Inadequate Digital Networks in Japanese Courts

The absence of computer networks in Japanese courts is the second reason for inadequate web resources in Japan. No Japanese court other than the Supreme Court distributes its judgments on the web. Only a committee in each court sends some judgements to the legal publisher after selection, and some judgments selected by the courts are also printed in official paper case reports.

Although all judges are supplied with laptop computers, Japanese lower courts do not have a server for public information concerning their business, such as case dockets, court schedules and judges' names, and do not have e-mail servers for receiving motions, documents and files from attorneys. There is also no local area network for the collaborative work of court officers. In the age of the Internet, Japanese courts are completely isolated from the computer network world. As a result, academics and ordinary citizens do not have any direct access to the judgments of lower courts.

3.3 Academic Reluctance to Digitalization

In the academic community, there is a reluctance to post and exchange their opinions on the computer network and to make the articles public. As I pointed out in the last section, there are few law reviews on the web. The number of homepages of law schools is also small compared with other academic fields. Such hesitation in their activity on the computer network can not encourage the academic community to require free access to legal information via the net. However, there is a gap between the older generation of the academic leadership and a younger group. Old academics do not prefer new innovations and are afraid to lose the benefit of their existing closed society.

The Internet is not suited for closed communities. Computer networks provide open access to information. Users have equal access to information on the web. The older generation generally prefers the traditional, face to face system for exchanging information. They also do not have web literacy and are reluctant to learn it. The current academic situation may be a result of the conflict between the wired generation and the non-wired one.

3.4 Inadequate Computer Education in Law Schools

As I pointed out before, most higher education institutions are connected to the Internet. However, the professors do not teach in their class using computer networks, nor do they refer to web resources. Few have homepages for their class. They also do not encourage their students to use e-mail to contact their instructors.

As a result, many students do not have the opportunity to learn Internet literacy. Many professors cannot teach them extra literacy for using computer networks. Faculty in University and the educational department in the Japanese government do not support computerized education. They just build computer networks. A small number of law academics is trying to develop the use of computer based learning without professional assistance.

4. Conclusion

In the next century, popularization of computers in the classroom in the Japanese law department and constructing of intra-net in the Japanese court might change the current situation.

Law school computing would be able to change the old style of teaching. If professors wish to have a good lecture in a computerized class, they have to collaborate to develop course materials for legal education with other colleagues and they should have to also require the Japanese government to provide open access by students to law text databases. The government must respond to the request by providing the data not only for academics and education but also for the citizen.

The infrastructure for computerizing the court would be able to change the distribution systems of judgments to the public. If these problems are removed, people may access Japanese cases in the near future. The key factors in the process of change will be the development of law school computing and of intra-nets in the court system.

This is a Conference Paper published on 29 February 2000.

Citation: Ibusuki M, 'Japanese Law on the Internet: Its Realities and Possibilities', Conference Paper, 2000 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

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