3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Japan operates a highly centralized regulatory system in which national-level ministries and government organs play a dominant role. Regulators are generally sophisticated and there is little evidence of explicit discrimination against foreign firms. Most draft regulations and impact assessments are released for public comment before implementation and are accessible through a unified portal ( ). Law, regulations, and administrative procedures are generally available online in Japanese along with regular publication in an official gazette. The Japanese government also actively maintains a body of unofficial English translations of some Japanese laws ( ).
Some members of the foreign business community in Japan continue to express concern that Japanese regulators do not seek sufficient formal input from industry stakeholders, instead relying on informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions. This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms which lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators. The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures, to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received. The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.
International Regulatory Considerations
The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS). JISC aims to align JIS with international standards. According to JISC, as of December 31, 2017, 54 percent of Japan’s standards were harmonized with their international counterparts. Nonetheless, Japan maintains a large number of Japan-specific standards that can complicate efforts to introduce new products to the country. Japan is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of proposed regulations.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Japan is primarily a civil law country based on codified law. The Constitution and the five major legal codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commercial, Criminal, and Criminal Procedure) form the legal basis of the system. Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law. An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in IP cases. Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced by Japanese courts under certain conditions.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Major laws affecting foreign direct investment (FDI) into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act. The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008. The Japanese government amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC finding. In fiscal year 2018, the JFTC opened investigations against 143 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 120 investigations. During this same time period, the JFTC issued eight cease and desist orders and issued a total of 261.1 million yen (USD 2.4 million) surcharge payment orders to 18 companies. In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet which granted the JFTC discretion to incentivize cooperation with investigations and adjust surcharges according to the nature and extent of the violation.
The JFTC also reviews proposed “business combinations” (i.e. mergers, acquisitions, increased shareholdings, etc.) to ensure that transactions do not “substantially […] restrain competition in any particular field of trade.” In December 2019, amended merger guidelines and policies were put into force to “deal with business combinations in the digital market.” Data is given consideration as a competitive asset under these new guidelines along with the network effects characteristic of digital businesses. The JFTC has expanded authority to review merger cases, including “Non- Notifiable Cases”, when the transaction value is more than JPY40 billion (USD 370 million) and is expected to affect domestic consumers. Further, the amended policies suggest that parties consult with the JFTC voluntarily when the transaction value exceeds JPY40 billion and when one or more of the following factors is met:
(i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan;
(ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or
(iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)
Expropriation and Compensation
Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprises, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Japan has been a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) since 1967 and is also a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).
Enforcement of arbitral awards in Japan are provided for in Japan’s Arbitration Law. Enforcement in other contracting states is also possible. The Supreme Court of Japan has denied the enforceability of awards for punitive damages, however. The Arbitration Law provides that an arbitral award (irrespective of whether or not the seat of arbitration is in Japan) has the same effect as a final and binding judgment. The Arbitration Law does not distinguish awards rendered in contracting states of the New York Convention and in non-contracting states.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
There have been no major bilateral investment disputes in the past ten years.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) is the sole permanent commercial arbitral institution in Japan. Japan’s Arbitration Law is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law “Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration” (UNCITRAL Model Law). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.
A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organization also exists in Japan. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has responsibility for regulating and accrediting ADR groups. A Japanese-language list of accredited organizations is available on the MOJ website: .
The World Bank 2019 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan first worldwide for resolving insolvency. An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement. The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.
Out-of-court settlements in Japan tend to save time and expense but can lack transparency. In practice, because 100 percent creditor consensus is required for out-of-court settlements and courts can sanction a reorganization plan with only a majority of creditors’ approval, the last stage of an out-of-court settlement is often a request for a judicial seal of approval.
There are three domestic credit reporting/ credit-monitoring agencies in Japan. They are not government-run. They are: Japan Credit Information Reference Center Corp. (JICC; ; member companies deal in consumer loans, finance, and credit); Credit Information Center (CIC; ; member companies deal in credit cards and credit); and Japan Bankers Association (JBA; ; member companies deal in banking and bank-issued credit cards). Credit card companies, such as Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), and large banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), also maintain independent databases to monitor and assess credit.
Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes. This information is provided to credit card holders themselves through services provided by credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies. Increasingly, however, to get around the law real estate companies partner with a “credit guarantee association” and encourage or effectively require tenants to use its services. According to a 2017 report from the Japan Property Management Association (JPMA), roughly 80 percent of renters in Japan used such a service. While financial institutions can share data to the databases and receive credit reports by joining the membership of a credit monitoring agency, the agencies themselves, as well as credit card companies and large banks, generally do not necessarily share data with each other. As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.
A government-run database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations. The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.
For the credit rating of businesses, there are at least seven credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Japan that perform such services, including Moody’s Japan, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Japan, Tokyo Shoko Research, and Teikoku Databank. See Section 9 for more information on business vetting in Japan.