Japanese Law and Government/Civil Law
Japanese civil law is generally governed by the Civil Code (民法 Minpō). The Civil Code is divided into five volumes:
The Civil Code recognizes two types of "persons" (人 hito); natural persons (自然人 shizen-jin) and juristic or legal persons (法人 hōjin).
Minors and majority
Individuals acquire civil rights at birth (Article 3) and are considered to be competent as adults upon reaching the age of twenty (Article 4).
Minors must have the consent of their legal representative in order to engage in legal acts; any acts engaged in by minors without such consent are voidable but not automatically void. The legal representative may give prior consent for a minor to dispose of their property, in which case any such disposal is not voidable (Article 5).
Minors may also engage in business as adults with the consent of their legal representative (Article 6).
Adults with inhibited psychological competency may be protected under three different systems. These are instituted by a family court at the petition of the individual, their spouse, their immediate relative, their legal guardian/curator/assistant, the supervisor of their guardian/curator/assistant, or by a prosecutor. The family court may also rescind any of the systems upon petition of any such person. The three systems are mutually incompatible with each other; if a person moves from one status to another, their previous status must be canceled (Article 19).
- Guardianship (後見 kōken) is employed when the adult in question has lost their ability to reason due to psychological disability. Once guardianship is instituted, the individual's legal acts are voidable, except for necessary acts in the course of their daily life (Article 9).
- Curatorship (保佐 hosa) is a less severe form of guardianship for adults who have significantly reduced capacity to reason (Article 11). A person under curatorship needs consent of their curator to engage in certain acts listed below (Article 13). The family court may also give this consent where the curator denies consent and there is no risk of harm to the individual (Article 13.3). Any such acts without the curator's consent are voidable (Article 13.4).
- Collection or use of principal
- Lending or guaranteeing an obligation
- Acquiring or disposing of real estate or other major assets
- Gifts, settlements or arbitration agreements
- Accepting or waiving succession rights, or dividing estate property
- Refusing or waiving gifts, or accepting gifts with appurtenant liabilities
- Building, renovating, expanding or conducting major repairs on buildings
- Leases beyond the maximum default term stipulated by law
- Assistance (補助 hojo) is an even less severe system for adults who have reduced capacity to reason. The individual must consent to being placed under assistance (Article 15). The family court then designates acts for which the individual requires the assistant's consent (Article 17).
When a minor or otherwise competency-restricted individual becomes legally competent, any counterparty to a voidable act has the right to demand their acceptance of previously-voidable acts. If the individual remains incompetent, the counterparty may demand a similar acceptance by their guardian, curator or assistant. The demand must allow for a response period of no less than one month (Article 20).
A competency-restricted individual is also barred from voiding prior acts if they used fraudulent means to make their counterparty believe they were competent (Article 21).
Juristic or legal persons
For-profit corporations are the most common juristic persons; these are described in Japanese Commercial Law.
The Civil Code also establishes two types of juristic person that are formed for public purposes, such as education, arts, religion or charity. Such corporations must be granted a permit from a relevant government agency before they are legally established (Article 34). Their establishment must then be recorded within two weeks at the Legal Affairs Bureau having jurisdiction over the corporation's head office (Article 45).
Foreign juristic persons are not generally recognized in Japan, except for the following (Article 35):
- Foreign countries
- Foreign regional divisions
- Foreign companies
- Other foreign juristic persons recognized by a Japanese law or treaty
Associations (社団法人 shadan hōjin) are formed by members who execute articles of incorporation (定款 teikan).
Associations have a structure similar to business corporations. Their highest decision-making organ is a general meeting of members (社員総会 shain sōkai), which elects directors (理事 riji) to oversee the operations of the association. Associations may also have auditors (監事 kanji), although these are not required.
Foundations (財団法人 zaidan hōjin) are formed by a donation of capital recorded in an act of donation (寄附行為 gifu kōi). Foundations always have directors and may have auditors, but they do not have a general meeting of members, as there are no members to form a general meeting.
The director(s) of an association or foundation may act on behalf of the corporation with regard to any matters within its enumerated purposes. Directors may be personally liable for approving or executing acts outside the purpose of the corporation (Article 44).