Japan ratified the Convention of 15 November 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, also called the Hague Service Convention, on May 28, 1970. The Convention’s provisions entered into force in Japan the following July 27.

US attorneys seeking service in Japan would be wise to familiarize themselves with the mandatory character of the Convention as set forth in Volkswagenwerk A.G. v. Schlunk, 486 U.S. 694 (1988).

Canadian attorneys should consult provincial precedent — Canadian courts take a more nuanced view of the Convention, but effectively reach the same conclusion: its limitations must be observed. Regardless of forum court requirements, the service rules of the receiving country must be observed, or enforcement of a judgment may become impossible.

About Serving Process in Japan

The Japanese Central Authority is reliable, methodical and thorough, usually processing requests for service within approximately 60 days of receipt. Certificates of Service are returned via diplomatic pouch, so although service may be effected within roughly 8-10 weeks, proof of service is usually delayed by another 8-10 weeks.

The Japanese Authority is so thorough and methodical that, where served documents indicate summons expiration dates or imminent hearing dates, requests will be rejected as not respectful of a recipient’s rights. Of course, timetables must allow a defendant/respondent to answer in a timely manner, so if the Central Authority doubts that service can be effected quickly, the request will be returned.

Optimally, a summons will neither expire nor be accompanied by a court-imposed timetable; our staff attorneys can provide guidance on drafting compliant documents.

Translation Requirements

Japan requires a full translation into Japanese of all documents served pursuant to the Hague Service Convention — regardless of whether the recipient speaks English.

In all cases, documents must reasonably be understood by the defendant in order to fulfill US Due Process requirements. In particular, for documents served upon a recipient who speaks neither English nor Japanese, translation into a third language may even be necessary. US practitioners should explore this issue with our legal staff.

Service Through Alternative Channels

Article 10(a):

Upon joining the treaty, Japan declared that it does not object to direct service by postal channel, but, caveats to its declaration make the true status of the law rather ambiguous. The declaration does not indicate that such method would always be viewed as valid service, so difficulties may arise if a judgment needs to be enforced in Japan.

In all cases, service via the postal channel should include a signed receipt mechanism (required under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4).

Regardless, mail service pursuant to the Hague Service Convention is fraught with issues, including the need to have it executed in accordance with the forum court’s local rules, and where service abroad is proper when the destination country has not affirmatively stated that it is not opposed to mail service.

Articles 10(b) and 10(c):

Japan objects to direct service by judicial officials and “interested persons” under the Convention.

Contact LLS for Assistance

LLS can assist you with service and can help you understand and meet the requirements for service of process in Japan. Please call 1-800-755-5775 for more information.