Legal framework and regulations in Japan


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General comments

Accessibility in English

The good news is that the Japanese Ministry of Justice very helpfully maintains a website which offers English translations of the Japanese legal code: http:// Of course the bad news is that it’s still a legal code, and therefore only partially comprehensible to the untrained. To do it full justice, the site does make a good job of conveying the intent of the law, rather than just its wording.

Consumer Law


A reasonable summary is: nothing you wouldn’t expect back home. There’s a very strong code, and it protects the consumer against the expect set of misbehaviours: mis-selling; misrepresentation; grossly exaggerated pricing; fake goods; high-pressure selling; false contracts; and so forth.

The code also makes clear that if you are selling to Japanese customers in Japan, then it is Japanese consumer law that applies.

The key law area is translated as the "Act on Specified Commercial Transactions"; if you want to read it yourself on the English translation site, then try pasting the following search terms into the search box (Figure 27):

Sales Contract

As noted in the email section above, there is a requirement in Japanese websites and emails that individuals don’t hide behind the anonymity of the company – there must be a named person, with an associated job title, given as the "owner" of the electronic information.

A particularly important point is that Japanese law regards the order confirmation as the moment when a sales contract has been established, and mandates some key content in it: name of seller; name of general manager; address of store; phone number; contact information (email etc); price of goods; any other costs; payment terms and method; delivery terms; returns conditions. What you may currently be regarding as a courtesy confirmation screen plus email that helps cut down on inbound phone-calls is effectively a contractual document in Japan. You might want to review its content.

Incidentally there’s also an excellent summary of the key points, unfortunately in Japanese only,78 of the basic consumer law applicable to ecommerce available at, a site devoted to helping Japanese retailers sell online themselves.

Cooling off period and returns

Japan does not have a strong returns culture. By default, a customer has 8 days in which to return an item. This can be overridden by specified terms and conditions on the website.

It is legal to charge for the return, including postage costs, if you wish to do so. In practice, "free" returns are unusual in Japan.

Product labelling

In theory, most clothing or electronic products and many household items require labelling in Japanese in order to sell them in Japan. Take specific advice.

Data protection

Basic data protection

As noted above, there is a strong code on the protection of personal information (data protection act) which says what you would expect it to say. If you are compliant at home, you will be compliant in Japan, and vice versa.

There are no restrictions on holding personal data outside of Japan, but you must comply with the Japanese code if you do so. Again, if you’re already compliant this will not present you with any issues.

Email and SMS

There is a strict code covering email or SMS marketing activities: Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail. The key points are straightforward:

• Full auditable and trackable permission to receive email marketing messages must be received prior to any send i.e. it’s an opt-IN code, and you must keep an audit trail.

• If someone unsubscribes, you need to act on it very promptly; technically it’s immediately illegal to send anything after the unsubscribe has been received.

• Any email must contain the name, title and email address of the sender. The requirement for job title is obviously unusual by the standards you probably normally follow.

• Fines for non-compliance are high: up to ¥30 million.

• If there’s a reciprocal legal arrangement between your own country and Japan (which there is for almost anyone likely to be reading this document), then the Japanese authorities can pursue senders outside Japan under this code.

Cookie Law

Basically there isn’t one.


  There’s little in the legal landscape for ecommerce in Japan to cause alarm. If you are already compliant back home, then you are probably almost already compliant in Japan.

  Fines for non-compliance are high, and Japan is legally able to pursue you in your home country.

  The Japanese Ministry of Justice helpfully publishes an English translation of the Japanese legal code, which manages to convey intent as well as detail i.e. non-lawyers can feasibly read it.

  There are strong equivalents of the Sale of Goods Act, Consumer Contract and Consumer Protection law in general, and Data Protection. Distance Selling Regulations are actually less onerous in Japan than in most countries

  The defaults returns policy is more favourable to retailers than you may be used to.

  Review your emails. There are some extra requirements about identifying the sender which are probably unfamiliar.

  Take care over order confirmation screens and associated messages. They form the basis of the contract under Japanese law.




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