Ha Minh’s Mission To Make Japanese Law More Intelligible To The Vietnamese Community In Japan | Vietcetera
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May 10, 2022
CultureViet Kieu

Ha Minh’s Mission To Make Japanese Law More Intelligible To The Vietnamese Community In Japan

Most Vietnamese in Japan do not speak the local language and are having a hard time decoding national laws. Vietnam-born Tran Vu Ha Minh is translating Japanese legal codes into Vietnamese language.
Ha Minh’s Mission To Make Japanese Law More Intelligible To The Vietnamese Community In Japan

In a conversation with Vietcetera, Ha Minh shared the project she takes the most pride in — HaMinh Initiatives.

Tran Vu Ha Minh spent her childhood in random corners of Saigon, depending on where her bicycle took her, reading books about myths and legends. She dreamt of following the heroes in the books and “wanted to have such adventures.” And so she did go on one.

Ha Minh’s curiosity to learn more about the bigger world served as her determination to be diligent at school and excel at it. She was aware that only privileged families could afford to send their kids to study abroad, but Ha Minh had a plan.

“I tried hard to get the best result in the university entrance examination among 50,000 applicants,” she told Vietcetera. “I did many part-time jobs to save money to study English. After so many failures and countless efforts, I finally got the full scholarship from the Japanese government to study in Japan and have many extraordinary experiences.”

In April 2007, Ha Minh started her journey studying Japanese Studies at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. After a year, she got her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at Hitotsubashi University. From 2018 to 2020, Ha Minh earned her Master of Professional Accounting from Aoyama Gakuin University. And just last March, she finished her second degree, Bachelor of Laws Major in Corporate Law; Artificial Intelligent & Legal Perspectives at the Hitotsubashi University. At present, she’s taking up a Master of Laws of England and Wales at Leeds Beckett University. On top of that, she’s working at FPT Consulting doing business transformation projects for Japanese companies.

In a conversation with Vietcetera, Ha Minh shared the project she takes the most pride in — HaMinh Initiatives. The project is a private think tank that includes three main programs: Compose a Japanese-English-Vietnamese dictionary of Law-Economics, disseminate legal and ethical knowledge for advanced tech and AI, and educate Vietnamese citizens in Japan through project Japanese Law.

Ha Minh (1st-R) with her friends at the language school. | Source: Ha Minh

You’ve received quite a lot of academic accolades. What’s your best memory as a student?

To me, it’s always about my curiosity about discovering new knowledge. It brings me chances to explore fields I love and the courage to pursue them. It’s when I could overcome my perceived limitations and widen my capabilities that I treasure the most. There were so many moments, such as my first year at the faculty of Commerce at Hitotsubashi University 14 years ago. I studied Japanese for only one year, but I had to learn with brilliant Japanese students in regular curriculums. I could not catch what the professors taught, could not understand the textbooks full of Chinese characters while learning Kanji scripts, and could not write as fast as Japanese students. In the second episode, I took more credits than usual to quickly finish the curriculum to work full-time. I studied for 15 hours every day for one month and had other personal errands. The feeling of overcoming myself makes me realize that “nothing is impossible.”

Who do you consider your teacher or mentor, and why?

In retrospect, a visiting professor in my first semester at Aoyama Gakuin University I studied from inspired me and influenced my philosophy. Until 2018, I was a typical office lady in a traditional Japanese-style company. Like other Japanese colleagues working in the same company in their lifetime and doing whatever the company wants, I had not thought out of the box. After taking the class with the visiting professor, I was inspired. He was a mid-70s retired chartered professional accountant and once worked at EY Japan. After retiring, he was the advisor of many companies and visiting professor teaching the next generation. Surprisingly, even in the financial accounting class, he did not teach accounting or auditing but the latest digital business models. I am so surprised that the world has changed rapidly and worried while realizing that I was backward lagging. I was determined to leave my stable position at the railway and real estate developing company with many large-scale projects in Vietnam to challenge me. I respect him for his erudition and the inspiration he instills in the young. He is the kind of person I want to be when I get older — someone who doesn’t hesitate to learn new things and is generous enough to pass down knowledge to others.

Ha Minh Dictionary

What’s the story behind HaMinh Dictionary?

It’s pretty unusual for anyone to imagine they would one day make a dictionary. When I was in my first year at Hitotsubashi University, my friends and I were helping a Vietnamese specialist, professor Gomi Masanobu, with his Vietnamese-Japanese dictionary. At that time, I realized that writing a dictionary is not as complicated as people have thought. I thought it isn’t too impossible to dream of writing a dictionary about economics-business jargon in the future. Collecting terminologies and finding their meanings is time-consuming and requires highly specialized knowledge.

To do it effectively, in the beginning, I planned to do it while I was studying for my master's degree in Accounting and Auditing. I recorded every new terminology and found the meanings immediately in classes. While I finished the master’s course, the words reached 5,000; I collected most of the popular business and accounting terminologies. While in class, I realized that I like reading logical judgment in precedent cases and decided to study Law. One of the reasons I continue studying Law is that I want to expand my dictionary by including more legal terminologies.

You’ve completed translating 15 laws into the Vietnamese language for your “Japanese law for Community” project. Tell us more about this.

Half a million Vietnamese live in Japan, but very few people understand Japanese law because of the language. As a law learner, I know that a deep understanding of the legal system of the country they live in is essential.

I believe this project will help the Vietnamese community, so I’ve decided to just focus on translating the most important codes, such as the Civil Code (Civil Transaction), Code of Criminal Procedure, and Code of Civil Procedure.

As a business and accounting learner, I attempt to conduct the project effectively and productively. I have my cousin to support paper works. I need the English version to get the quotation and put it into the machine learning translation tool.

Is the Vietnamese community in Japan supportive of your initiatives?

Most of the people surrounding me support the project. However, as many Vietnamese people do not really read the laws, some think it’s not so much of a big deal.

Some friends suggested that I should do guidelines or documents that the majority of the community could understand. However, doing such documents is expensive, time-consuming, and definitely harder than translating laws. Unlike other Vietnamese communities in other countries such as the USA or Australia, they do not face any problems with literacy to understand the law, and there are also many lawyers of Vietnamese origins.

While working at FPT Consulting in Japan, Ha Minh is looking forward to sharing “ethical and trustworthy AI” knowledge to establish “responsible AI” with the Vietnamese community. At the same time, she’s reaching out to the legal tech industry in Vietnam with regard to adopting technologies in legal practices.

You can send your support to Ha Minh Initiatives here.