Depending on your goals and situation you might need to visit one or several of the following places:
- Notary Public (Gyosei Shoshi)
- Legal Affairs Bureau
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Embassy / Consulate General
Below is the information about what these institutions do, when you might need them, and where to find them.
Notary Public (Gyosei Shoshi)
Who is Notary Public in Japan?
There are two types of lawyers in Japan: bengoshi and gyosei shoshi. While the duties of the first one are quite similar to the duties of the attorney, the second one is closer to the notary public. There is a small overlap between the functions of these two lawyer types, however generally speaking they take care of different issues. Gyosei shoshi is also called Administrative Scrivener, Immigration Lawyers or Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists. In order to keep this guide unified and easy to understand we will use the term notary public at all times.
What Do They Do?
Generally speaking notary public is responsible for notary deeds. The notary deed is an official document done by the gyosei shoshi in accordance with the law.
Examples of the notary deeds may be, but not limited to:
- Notarised wills/will deeds;
- Notarial deeds for contracts pertaining to monetary loans;
- Notarial deeds related to payment of damages for mental anguish or payment of child support, in connection with divorce; and
- Notarial deeds relating to the leasing of land or buildings.
Each notary public has a field of specialization. The variety of specializations is really numerous. It can basically be of any kind as long as it is dealing with the rights and obligations. That is why people with the same title of gyosei shoshi can be dealing with completely different fields.
Their duties may include, but are not limited to:
- authentication of private documents and articles of incorporation,
- attachment of officially-attested dates to documents
- preparation of wills or inheritances
- registration of vehicles
- handling the visa application documentation. In fact, they were the only specialists who are authorized by the Immigration Bureau to deal with visas (or status of residence) documents as proxies on behalf of their clients. The same right was also granted to bengoshi in 2004, however, it is common that gyosei shoshi is dealing with this type of paperwork.
- notarizing the articles of incorporation (page/link)
Where to Find Them?
One-Stop Service. These service offices allow to process your documents faster than it could be done at the regular notary public office. There are only 3 such points, and they are located in Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Osaka.
By submitting your documents to these points you do not need to go to the Notary Public office and then to the Legal Affairs Bureau in order to be able to certify your documents there and later at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Embassy / Consulate General. You can receive a certificate of the seal of the Notary Public by the director of the Legal Affairs Bureau as well as an authentification or apostille by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the same time.
Other locations. In case you cannot go to a one-stop service office, you can go to the regular Notary Public offices, which are located all over Japan. In this case, you will need to go through more stages of legalisation. Offices of the regular notaries can be found through this page (in Japanese).
Legal Affairs Bureau
What is the Legal Affairs Bureau?
This is the institution that unifies all the Notary Publics in a certain area into one group. Depending on the geographic location of their operation, all the Notary Publics belong to one of the eight Legal Affairs Bureaus:
In case you need to obtain some documents from the Legal Affairs Bureau, usually, you need to visit the one that corresponds to your area of residence or the nearest one.
What Do They Do?
These Bureaus do not legalise documents, but they can certify the seals of the Notary Publics. In other words, you might need a certificate from the Bureau if you need to prove that the seal of the Notary Public on your papers is true. Such Bureaus have lists of all the notaries who belong to a certain Bureau’s legal district, and thus Bureau knows which seals of which notaries are true and have legal power.
Such certifications (proofs) of seals are usually necessary when forwarding documents for processing to the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs or Embassies/Consulates as well as other institutions (called destination agencies) who asked for such verification.
Where to Find Them?
Each of the big regional Bureaus stated above has a number of smaller offices in different cities. You can find the nearest one to you using this list (in Japanese).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (often abbreviated as MOFA) is the last and highest Institution when it comes to verification of documents.
What Do They Do?
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does two things:
- As well as the Legal Affairs Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can certify the truthfulness of the seal, but for the Head of the regional Legal Affairs Bureau. It is necessary to be able to apply for an apostille or authentication from the Embassy/Consulate General or other destination agency, or
- It can legalize your documents by applying apostille or authenticating to the documents.
Important note: If you have received an apostille or authentication form the Embassy or Consulate general, you can not get certification of a seal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Where to Find Them?
You can apply for both certification and legalisation in two places:
- the MOFA building in Tokyo (2-2-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku 100-8919), or
- the Osaka prefectural government building (2-1-22 Otemae, Chuo-ku 540-0008).
Embassy / Consulate General
Usually, this is the last place where you need to go to get documents legalized for use in other countries. Embassy or a Consulate will authenticate your documents or issue an apostille to give them legal power.
Important note: If you have received an apostille or authentication form the Embassy or Consulate General, you can not get certification of a seal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Which Embassy or Consulate General you go to and of which country depends on your particular case.
Which One Do I Need To Visit?
When you are preparing your documents for a certain type of application, the institution that processes your application will tell you what kind of verification/legalisation you need exactly and where to get it.
If you are confused by the hierarchy of these institutions, this table might help you to visualise the flow of the documents through different offices.
There are different places that can help you with the verification and legalisation: notary public, Legal Affairs Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Embassy/Consulate General. Depending on the final goal of legalisation you might need to visit one, several or all of them.
However, you do not need to worry about choosing the right place to go as you will be instructed on the need type of verification or legalisation by the designated agency. One-stop service points are a great choice to proceed with your paperwork fast without having to go from place to place.
Verification and Legalisation FAQ
What are other names for "gyosei shoshi" in English?
Gyosei shoshi is also called Notary Public, Administrative Scrivener, Immigration Lawyers or Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists. The variety of names comes from the variety of duties these specialists perform.
How can I know that a certain gyosei shoshi is the right choice for me?
As in many other professional spheres, specialization and experience of notaries may vary. You might need to do the preliminary research and ask around to find the specialist that can handle your current paperwork. That is why it is a good idea to visit a one-stop service point, where you will not need to worry about choosing the right person, as it has already been done for you by the country of Japan.
Can gyousei shoshi help me in the court?
In case you encountered issues that need to be resolved at the court, you will need a bengoshi, or a lawyer. Gyosei shoshi is dealing with administrative procedures that encounter bureaucratic paperwork and verifications while bengoshi can help to resolve legal disputes and assist in criminal cases as well depending on one’s specialization.
Which institution has the most power in verification procedures?
In Japan, it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, usually, the Embassy or Consulate General is the last institution you need to visit. Although both of them have the legal power to verify and legalise documents, their powers are often mutually exclusive. Once you got verification of the Ministry you cannot get verification of the Embassy and vice versa. Make sure to clarify which verification or apostille you need beforehand.
What is a destination agency?
Destination agency is a general name for any institution that asks for verified documents or apostille on them. It can be, for example, a university, customs, a business partner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in some other country, etc.