Unlike other countries, Japan has been very slow to make translations of their laws available to the general public. While some may argue that the number of foreigners in Japan does not warrant spending large amounts of money translating legislation, in fact, translations of key laws assist in opening up Japan to businesses interested in entering the Japanese market. This is especially true when we consider that contracts being entered into by Japanese corporations are governed by the laws of Japan, and that parties to contracts need to be able to access such laws so as to ensure they do not violate them!
The tardiness of the Japanese government to realize the importance of such translations is disappointing, but the fact that the government is now backing this project is reassuring. For the sake of Japan’s economy I hope that the government sets about working on translations into other languages in the near future.
The Japanese Law Translation site is essential reading not only for those translating legislation and other legal documents, but also for translators involved in other fields who translate documents which cite laws.
Putting aside some of the strange English used on the site, it is a wealth of valuable information and it is not too late for legal translators who were previously unaware of it, or who have, up until now used terms that differ from those recommended, to start using the terms and information included in the site.
First time visitors to the site might want to start by reading the help file which gives lots of hints on how to use the site effectively and includes details of information contained in the site.
Visitors might then want to download the latest version (updated annually) of the Standard Bilingual Dictionary – downloadable in PDF form from the dictionary search tab. Sections I and II include guidelines for translating legislation (note the preference for American English and desire to avoid Romanized Japanese), while the “special volume” (特別編) is essentially an 11 page style guide.
Existing translations of Japanese laws can be viewed in various formats on the site (I recommend the Japanese-English comparison table format when you want to copy/paste relevant quoted parts) and can also be downloaded.
As stated on the site, translations are not “official” but for reference purposes. However, given that the site is managed by the Ministry of Justice, the translations here are about as official as they are ever going to be, and should be used with confidence when searching for translations of excerpts of legislation in documents you may be translating.
The site is a mine of information including future translation plans, links to government sites, and a section entitled “Other English translation data” which provides translations of government organizations and job titles.
The next article will include more information on the Japanese Law Translation site and my own tips for using the site.