When you get into legal problems in Japan

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No matter if you are Japanese or a foreigner, there are many situations where you'll want some legal counseling. For example, you may have been chosen as lay judge or been the victim of violence. Or you might have signed an unknown contract and received a steep bill. These kinds of troubles can happen to anyone, anytime.

If you do get involved in such a situation, you should first talk about it with your family or a friend you can rely on. If there are legal issues that need to be solved, contacting a professional can help you resolve the problem faster.

Although your first thought may be to call a lawyer, there are many other legal professionals who can help. For example, in Japan there are licensed tax accountants who specialize in tax issues and judicial scriveners who can help with real estate or commercial registrations or filing legal paperwork with the courts. Also, you can consult with public institutions about legal matters. For example, if you sign an unfair contract given to you by a door-to-door salesman, contact the National Consumer Affairs Center run by the local government. Or if you have something you don't understand about tax, make an appointment with the local tax office. If you have a question about residing in Japan, call the Immigration Bureau directly. If it is about your job, contact your prefecture's Employment Bureau.

If you find out from these institutions that you'll need to complete some legal procedures, then it's time to meet with a lawyer to find the appropriate solution. If you don't know a lawyer, you can ask for help at The Legal Counseling Center run by the Lawyers association of each prefecture. Many associations have lawyers that can consult foreigners. If your local association does have someone with the appropriate background, ask when and where they hold consultations. The consultation is on a subscription basis. For example, the association that I belong to(Tokyo bar association) holds consultations at Yotsuya and Ikebukuro(consultation for foreigner is open in only every other Tuesday evening). At The Legal Counseling Center, there are interpreters of English or Chinese(Beijng dialect). If your local association doesn't offer consultations in your preferred language, you can contact the embassy of your home country and ask for the name of a lawyer who speaks your language. You could also call local foreigner-support groups and ask if they offer legal consultations in your native tongue.

Unfortunately, there are only limited numbers of lawyers who have experience with your problem and who speak your native language. In an emergency, you may need immediate help from a legal specialist. If you can't find someone who speaks your language at short notice, it's best to have a family member or friend (someone with no connection to the problem) act as an interpreter.