Govt to use AI translation system to publish laws in English from next fiscal year

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Justice Ministry plans to use an artificial intelligence-equipped system to translate Japanese laws and ordinances into English from next fiscal year, according to sources.

The move is aimed at swiftly releasing English translations of new and amended laws and government decrees to attract more foreign investment.

The government intends to expand the translation system to other ministries and agencies, depending on the outcome of the rollout at the Justice Ministry.

In its Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform for fiscal 2022, the government set a target of doubling foreign direct investment stock in Japan from ¥40 trillion at the end of 2020 to ¥80 trillion in 2030. The swift translation of laws and regulations into English was identified as an important task to achieve the goal.

Overseas institutional investors, among others, need to check Japanese laws and regulations in detail when making investments in the country.

The number of visits to the Justice Ministry’s Japanese law translation database nearly tripled to about 160,000 in fiscal 2021, compared to five years ago.

If English translations of new and revised laws and regulations are available, that will help investors make decisions sooner.

However, as of the end of June, only 842 of about 8,000 laws, government decrees and ministerial ordinances had been released in English on the database.

The long process involved in translating Japanese laws into English is largely due to the complexity of the work.

Currently, each ministry submits a draft translation to the Justice Ministry, which checks the format and style. The draft is then proofread by native English speakers, while experts, including lawyers specializing in foreign laws and legal scholars, conduct final checks. The whole process, from the initial submission to the release of the English translation, takes about 2½ years on average.

Ministries and agencies usually do not have teams specializing in English translation, so the burden has been placed on personnel from the departments responsible for the laws and regulations, who conduct the work while carrying out their regular duties.

In 2019, the Justice Ministry set up a strategy council comprising members from the private and public sectors to publicize Japanese laws and regulations internationally.

The ministry will aim to publish English translations of amendments of major laws and regulations within a year of their enactment by using an AI-equipped translation system. It plans to release more than 600 laws, ordinances and amendments in English by fiscal 2025.

The ministry intends to use the system to translate laws and ordinances that are under the jurisdiction of the ministry on a trial basis this fiscal year to assess the accuracy of translations, eyeing a full-fledged rollout in fiscal 2023.