An authentication and an apostille are both certifications from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of official documents issued by government / public agencies and local governments.
An authentication / apostille will be required when you need to submit Japanese official documents for various procedures (such as marriage, divorce, birth registration, visa application, incorporation or real estate purchase) in foreign countries and when its relevant agency asked you to obtain a certification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It may also be required for certification by the consul of the Embassy / Consulate (-General) of the destination country in Japan (= legalisation). In other words, you need to apply for an authentication or an apostille only when it is required by the relevant foreign agency or Embassy / Consulate (-General) in Japan.
1. Authentication (of official seals)
An authentication is a certification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is necessary to obtain legalisation by the consul of an Embassy / Consulate (-General) in Japan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not issue a document itself but certifies official seals on official documents and makes such certifications on the official documents.
Please make sure to obtain legalisation of the relevant Embassy / Consulate (-General) after you obtained authentication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
An apostille is a certification by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the form of an allonge (= apostille) under the Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (or the Apostille Convention) (Hague Convention of October 5, 1961).
An apostille will be accepted only by signatory countries of the Hague Convention. In the destination country, it can be used as a certification equivalent to legalisation by the Embassy / Consulate (-General) of the destination country in Japan.
3. Application Procedure
(1) Notarization at the notary public office
According to the Japan National Notaries Association, the notarising authority of a notary is limited to private documents, hence official documents will never be the subject of authentication.
So how do you obtain authentication of private documents, such as certificates issued by private universities or banks, for which it is difficult in practice to obtain power of attorney from the issuer for the purpose of authentication?
If you prepares a declaration in which what the person wishes to convey to the recipient is stated and the document in question is attached as an exhibit, then a notary can authenticate the signature of the person who executes this declaration.
(2) The certificate of notary public’s seal (Note 1)
For a notarial document issued by a notary public, a certificate of the notary public’s seal by the director of the (district) legal affairs bureau to which the notary public belongs is required.
(3) In case of notary public’s offices in Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, Nagano, Niigata and Shizuoka (Note 2)
You can obtain a notarial document and a certificate of notary public’s seal by the director of the district legal affairs bureau at the same time.
After you obtain these documents, please go through the procedure for authentication or apostille at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
(4) One-Stop Service (Note 3)
At notary public’s offices in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka, upon request from applicants, applicants can obtain a notarial document, a certificate of notary public’s seal by the director of the (district) legal affairs bureau and an authentication or apostille by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the same time.
If you use this service, you do not need to visit the (district) legal affairs bureau or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please note, however, for an authentication, you must obtain legalisation by the relevant Embassy / Consulate (-General) in Japan.