Looking up the translation for "illegal", I found 違法{いほう} and 不法{ふほう}. These words seem to be quite similar. Judging from what I have found online, it seems 不法 is mainly used to refer to illegal immigration, trespassing, etc, whereas 違法 can refer to any illegal act. Is this accurate? Is there a more general difference in meaning?


NHK放送文化研究所 says:




<例>違法・・・~建築 ~駐車 (○○店の)~営業
不法・・・~侵入 ~入国 (ゴミの)~投棄 価格を~につりあげる (宅地の)~造成

And 明鏡国語辞典第2版 defines 不法 as follows:


人の道にはずれること。 無法。「━な言いがかりをつける」

So 違法 only means "to be against the law", whereas 不法 has a stronger nuance of "immoral" or "anti-social". 不法 is occasionally not even illegal. For example, 価格を不法につりあげる is not necessarily illegal even though it is immoral. On the other hand, decisions of courts often include sentences like Xは違法である but not Xは不法である because 違法 is more objective and unambiguous.

That said, many compounds containing 不法/無法 are fixed expressions, and you may have to remember them one by one.

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