Japan - State-Of-The-Art Hearing Facility In Tokyo Officially Launches.
Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - Japan - Dispute Resolution
29 October 2020
On 12 October 2020 the new Tokyo hearing facility of the Japan International Dispute Resolution Centre (JIDRC) officially launched. The opening ceremony for the purpose built, state-of-the-art facility – held in person at its premises in central Tokyo and joined virtually by participants from around the world – represents a key milestone in Japan’s quest to increase its popularity as a seat for international arbitration.
The Tokyo hearing centre (JIDRC Tokyo) is the JIDRC’s second hearing venue in Japan after the JIDRC Osaka was established in a former Ministry of Justice building in Nakanoshima, Osaka, in May 2018 (see our blog post here). The launch of these two venues forms part of the implementation of a wider policy recognised by the Japanese government in 2017 to “develop a foundation to activate international arbitration in Japan”.
The new JIDRC Tokyo venue occupies office space in Toranomon in the heart of central Tokyo and was purpose built to be a world class facility for hearings in international arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. It offers two large hearing rooms (which can be converted into a 170 person auditorium for seminars) and six break out rooms, and all of its facilities and technology are state of the art. The JIDRC has also set up its Tokyo venue with proceedings involving multiple languages in mind – simultaneous interpretation booths are built directly into its hearing rooms – and also offers parties the ability to use integrated AI-based transcription services for English language proceedings at no additional cost. Further details of the facility can be found on the JIDRC’s website here.
The official launch event for JIDRC Tokyo was planned originally in March 2020, but was postponed due to the impact of COVID-19 and rearranged to coincide with the Japan Association of Arbitrator’s Japan Arbitration Day in October. However, the JIDRC Tokyo has been open for business in the meantime (with two short COVID-19 enforced closures) and since March 2020 it has held full in-person hearings and also helped counsel and parties based in Japan to join virtual hearings using its built in video conferencing systems. The venue is also expected to host the Court of Arbitration for Sport during the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics – now to take place in July and August 2021.
The launch of the world class JIDRC Tokyo venue is a clearly a welcome development for arbitration in Japan and fills in another missing piece of the puzzle. Yet while the JIDRC representatives, speakers and panellists at the launch event were delighted to celebrate this milestone, it was recognised that the opening of the JIDRC Tokyo represents only a single – yet important – step on Japan’s journey. The JIDRC will now turn its attention to managing and operating its two venues and also fulfilling its second stated purpose – the promotion of international arbitration and mediation in Japan.
With this in mind, many of the speakers at the launch event were keen to highlight the positive traits that Japan has to offer to parties who wish to arbitrate their disputes there – its international travel links and safe environment for international travellers, its world class facilities and hotels, its modern arbitration law and arbitration-friendly environment, and its unique culture. However, in order for the JIDRC Tokyo to be a success in attracting parties it was recognised that:
Marketing the facility, as well as the positive traits of arbitration in Japan, to both international and domestic parties will be crucial (one leading international arbitrator suggested the focus should be “marketing, marketing, marketing”).
Encouraging more Japanese companies to pick arbitration seated in Japan was necessary to increase the number of Japan-seated arbitrations, especially in the near term.
A focus should be put on educating and empowering younger generations of lawyers in Japan given the key role they will play in the future of international arbitration in Japan.
The speakers and panellists also identified other recent positive developments in Japan – such as the changes to the law that relax restrictions on foreign lawyers based in Japan acting on certain types of Japan-seated arbitrations and mediations (see here). It was also noted that work is underway to further update Japan’s Arbitration Law: possible changes that have been recommended include granting the Tokyo and Osaka District Courts special jurisdiction to hear arbitration-related cases and removing the requirement to submit Japanese translations of English language awards in enforcement proceedings. The Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice will start to discuss amendments to the law, with the possibility that a bill will be submitted to the National Diet as early as late 2021.
Encouragingly, the launch event also reinforced the strong support for the JIDRC and arbitration in Japan from two key stakeholder groups:
The Japanese government, represented at the event by guest speaker, Ms Yoko Kamikawa (Japan’s Minister of Justice), and four Diet members from the ruling Liberal Democrat Party.
Foreign arbitral institutions and leading international arbitration practitioners, with messages of congratulations and support being sent by key international institutions such as the ICC, ICSID and SIAC and leading international practitioners being represented amongst the panel of speakers.
With the introduction of the state of the art facility at JIDRC Tokyo, other initiatives on the way and clear support for the development of arbitration from the government and international arbitration community, there is a feeling that Japan is beginning to turn the corner as a seat of arbitration. Only time will tell whether Japan can emulate the success of its Asian counterparts such as Singapore and Hong Kong, and more recently Seoul, but the latest signs continue to be encouraging. Watch this space for future developments.
Herbert Smith Freehills’ market-leading dispute resolution team in Tokyo has been awarded the ‘International Arbitration Law Firm of the Year’ at the Asia Legal Business Japan Law Awards for ten consecutive years (since the Award’s inception) and advises Japanese and international clients on international arbitrations seated in jurisdictions all around the globe. Tokyo-based Partner, Craig Shepherd, sits on the JIDRC’s Facility Operations Sub-Committee.
For further information, please contact:
David Gilmore, Managing Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills
 The official articulation of this policy can be found in the Cabinet Decision dated 9 June 2017, ‘Basic policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform’.
 These recommendations and many others have been made in a ‘Report on Reform of the Arbitration Law‘ prepared by the Study Committee of Japan Institute of Business Law: see here for further details