A common mistake made by foreigners trying to accomplish things in Japan is to go to a lawyer (bengoshi) with their problems. It is not a mistake because of a bunch of hooey about Japanese people not looking to the law for solutions, but because a lawyer may not be the best man or woman for the job.

Although juxtaposing the number of lawyers in Japan (about 32,000) and the United States (1.2 million and counting) is a staple of journalists and jurists alike, it is a largely meaningless comparison. Unlike countries such as the U.S., where everyone in the business of being paid to provide legal services is a member of one or two licensed professions, Japan actually has an almost tribal legal service industry in which lawyers are the minority.

A Japanese lawyer can provide you with a broad range of legal services, and many will doubtless be happy to take your money to do so, particularly in light of recent government policy aimed at significantly (some say excessively) increasing their numbers. However, lawyers must pass an exceptionally competitive exam and go through years of training, an investment of time and energy that may be reflected in the fees they charge.