We have the notary system like many other countries, but ours in Japan is slightly different from other systems, especially those systems used in countries and regions using the English legal system (England & Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore etc.). In this article, I will briefly introduce the Japanese notary system and its relevant services.
Where notaries work
Notaries in Japan are employed by the Legal Affairs Bureau (homukyoku), not law firms, and are therefore public officials. They work as full-time staff.
Notaries work in a notary office. In Fukuoka, the offices are in Chuo-ku and in Hakata-ku respectively.
Persons who qualify to be notaries include judges, public prosecutors or attorneys. Experienced court clerks also qualify. In reality, however, most notaries are retired judges and public prosecutors.
What notaries do
A notaries’ duties include the creation of notarial deeds and the notarization of private documents or articles of incorporation, as well as a number of other jobs. A notarial deed is an official document with a high level of evidential power, and therefore, if an agreement or document is created in a notarial deed and the obligor breaches the agreement, it can be enforced without obtaining a judgment.
Notarization of private documents, which may be written in English or other languages, will be further explained below, comparing the process with other relevant services.
Certifying a document
Certifying a document (or document certification) is to certify a document (e.g. passport) as a true copy of the original by having it signed and dated by a professional person, like a notary.
Document certification is often used in countries with the English legal system when confirming the identity of a remote applicant. It is not needed to be done by a notary, not even a lawyer, and in some countries can be done at a post office with a nominal fee.
In Japan, this practice is not common (i.e. no organization requests a copy in this manner), but a notary offers this service.
Attesting a signature
Attestation is to certify that a signature is authentic. You sign a document in the presence of a witness, such as a notary or lawyer, and then they will attest that your signature is authentic. Attestation is, in substance, similar to notarization (as explained below) if it is done by a notary.
In some cases, an organization may instruct you to get a signature attested by a notary, but in other cases, an attestation made by a lawyer may do. This practice is also not common in Japan as we use a seal instead of a signature.
Affidavit and statutory declaration
Maybe you haven’t heard of affidavit and statutory declaration? Both of these documents are written statements, and while an affidavit is usually used in legal proceedings, a statutory declaration is not. They involve swearing or affirming in front of a notary that the content of the statement is true.
Again, this practice is well-known only among countries with the English legal system, but a notary in Japan offers this service.
Notarization and legalization
Notarization is a process carried out by a notary to certify that a signature on a private document (e.g. a power of attorney) is authentic in a manner specified under the law. The main purpose of notarization is to detect and reduce fraud.
As for a public document (e.g. a company register), the same process done by a competent authority is called legalization. However, a seal rather than a signature is used in such a document, and the competent authority certifies that the seal is authentic.
By notarizing a private document, it will become a public document. As the case may be, such a notarized document further needs to be legalized (i.e. the Legal Affairs Bureau certifies that the notary’s seal is authentic and so on).
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this article is accurate at the time of posting, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ. If you do require advice or wish to find out more about the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.