Resource: Japanese Law Translation

Do you need an easy way to find Japanese laws in English? While working in Japan this past year, I had a vague idea of the Alien Registration Act (which the government is looking to change soon) from my general experience as an expat, but found myself tongue-tied talking to non-Japanese speaker living there for the first time in a much different situation than mine. It would have been helpful to have access to a full translation of the law, instead of relying on my questionable ability to decode Japanese legalese. If you’ve been in a similar situation, today’s featured resource offers a solution.

As one of the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) initiatives to promote translation of Japanese laws for the international community, Japanese Law Translation began in 2009 and the website claims 440 laws and regulations are now available. There is an annual plan for new translations, so the website is systematically updated several times a month.

The website is forgivingly easy to navigate, featuring a search engine with multiple ways to query the database. The main page is cleanly designed with three center links, directing the user to Law Search, Dictionary Search, or Keywords in context. The interface is bilingual and the database can be searched in Japanese and English. Depending on how you use it, some Japanese reading may be necessary.

The “Law Search” function is straightforward. I find myself using the keyword search the most often because I don’t often know what a law is called in English. When you open a law text, there are a variety of ways to view it. You can select alternating Japanese-English, English only, or Japanese only. At the bottom right, the file is available for download and printing in many formats. Separate laws available in translation are linked directly in the text.

“Dictionary Search” accesses the Standard Legal Terms Dictionary. It’s a handy tool because you can look up the laws pertaining to a term by clicking “Law which use this term.” For example, let’s say I’ve forgotten (yet again) what the English translation is for 一般財団法人 (a type of nonprofit corporation). Type it into Search. Oh right, it’s a “general incorporated foundation.” Then, I can go further into the law translations to find more information. Furthermore, the dictionary is not limited to nouns; you can find phrases and grammar patterns used in legal documents. Sometimes there is an example sentence.

For offline browsing, the dictionary is available here as a 324-page pdf, including translation guidelines and standards.

“Keywords in Context” is complex, but useful for finding references to a keyword throughout the existing database. It will show you results line-by-line, English on the left and Japanese on the right. The results are centered in the form, making it difficult to scroll to the beginning of a sentence, but it’s easy enough to click on a line and display it in the box below. After typing in an English keyword, it will automatically cross-search with a Japanese translation. For example, I searched “animal” and the first translation provided was 家畜 (310 hits), but if I’m actually looking for 動物 (402 hits) in context I can select it from the drop-down menu next to “Translation” and click Align. It will also suggest related translations. The keyword “education” yielded the Ministry of Education as an option to narrow the search.

While the website is focused on being a resource to legal professionals around the world, it’s an excellent database for your research in Japanese Studies, finding information on the laws pertaining to your everyday life in Japan, or using the dictionary to develop your Japanese vocabulary. As the website’s disclaimer states, translations are unofficial and meant to be used solely as a reference, and therefore cannot be cited in an official legal case.

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