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I was a little confused after reading this on Wikipedia article for 宇部港, a harbor in Ube, Yamaguchi:

港湾法{こうわんほう}上の重要港湾...に指定されている。

I'm really not used to reading very technical writing, so there is a (pretty good) chance that I'm way off the mark, but I figured it means something like:

"It is designated as an Important Port under the Harbor Act" (or however the legalese works out).

What got me stuck was the use of the kanji (which I, for lack of a clear reference, am reading as じょう). Is it saying that the 港湾法 is above the Ube Harbor, or vice-versa? It may be how English has wired my brain, but I think of things "under a law"? Is this simply the way it's said in Japanese? Does it have another meaning?

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Using the preposition “under” is simply the convention in English when talking about 法律上の things. They should use “above” instead. :) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 18 '12 at 16:47
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We usually say [法律上]{ほうりつじょう}は~=法律に[基]{もと}づいて~=法律の[下]{もと}(で)~ = legally / by law / under law・・・ –  Choko Jan 18 '12 at 16:49
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@Tsuyoshi, I thought it might be an English prejudice...but then it sort of made sense, like the law is an umbrella, and covers everything in the shadow...it's interesting to think about why we say things the way we do @.@ –  silvermaple Jan 18 '12 at 17:04
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Just as the use of “under” seems logical to you, you could just assume that the use of “上” is logical in Japanese, unless you think that the English vocabulary is more logical than the Japanese vocabulary. In the question, you are arguing that it is usually “under” and the use of “上” in Japanese is just a convention, but I find no difference between what you call usual and what you call a convention. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 18 '12 at 17:13
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@istrasci san, Lol, yep, it's definitely [下]{もと}, not [下]{した}. –  Choko Jan 18 '12 at 17:46
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Without knowing the entire sentence, this looks like a 〜上 meaning "from the viewpoint/standpoint of 〜". I talked about the meaning of this in this thread, so I'll defer you there for a more complete explanation.

Basically sounds like "From the viewpoint/In terms of the Harbour Act 〜". Actually, in this case, I think "Under the Habour Act" (as you mentioned) would be correct English also.

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That makes a lot of sense, thanks :) Just to clarify that pretty much was the whole sentence: 港湾法上の重要港湾、港則法上の特定港に指定されている。 I tried to find a non-complicated sentence for an example :D –  silvermaple Jan 18 '12 at 17:10
    
'In terms of' sounds better than 'from the viewpoint of'. –  Bathrobe Jan 18 '12 at 23:05
    
@Bathrobe: Agreed. I was just recalling my textbook definition and couldn't really think of anything more practical. –  istrasci Jan 19 '12 at 0:06
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From goo:

 [接尾]名詞に付いて、…に関して、…の面で、…の上で、などの意を表す。

  • 「一身の都合」
  • 「経済の理由」
  • 「行きがかりそうせざるを得なかった」

As istrasci said, it has a meaning of "from the viewpoint/standpoint of 〜"

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