Making it in Japan: The Story of Starting a Business in Japan

This is a BIJ summary of a great article that you can find and read in full at

Some TL;DR takeaways:

  • Researching, setting up and building a successful business in Japan is a long process. It took the author 7 months to do.
  • The requirements are: lawyers, choosing viable business, Japanese partners, finding suitable office, having the right visa and a Japanese bank account.
  • Give room for failure and mistakes, and learn from them.
  • Where to begin when incorporating? For instance the author references GaijinPot. (Comment; Jason: Not a website I used to recommend for Business info, but since they shut down the cesspool that was the GaijinPot Forums, it has improved significantly)
  • Case Studies are given: Mariel – an Import business from Mexico, Mark – a Mobile apps business, Josh – a Translation business, Chris – a Digital & Design business, and James – a US legal Services business.

Building a successful business in Japan is a long and hard process, and the requirements are many: lawyers, deciding what sort of business, Japanese partners or not, a suitable office, visa and a Japanese bank account. To make it in Japan, you need to make time for and be prepared to make mistakes and have failures, then learn from these.

The author (not named) in this paper originally had no specific goals in Japan. His journey began with a desire to come to Japan and simple tourist visa, but he decided he wanted to build a business in Japan, so he had to find contacts. He left a successful career in USA for a change in Japan, due to his curiosity with the country, culture and language. He struggled with himself and overcame fears, putting together a budget, timeline, and signing up for Japanese language courses. To gain experience and knowledge, he traveled around Japan, mostly to non-touristy, traditional places such as Yakushima, Niseko, Echigo, Tsumari and Naoshima. His idea for a business, his concept, was to recreate the same trips he had, for others. The business could help people who have the same travel interests connect to each other and visit non-touristy places in Japan. After some time, he developed and discovered a strong interest from tourists, to travel on such trips.

The whole business building process took 7 months, from January to July. A lot of research was necessary to succeed, such as researching how to start a business from scratch, knowing who the competitors were, contemporary trends and companies available to help or partner with. The process was long, but the time was well spent on creating test offerings, web design and developing contacts and relationships.

The incorporation was a difficult process. GaijinPot, a forum for foreigners in Japan, turned out to be a good place for the author to begin his research. Here, he found a lawyer who presented a timeline and costs of incorporation. He also took care of the inkan (company seal) and a business visa etc. He found it was important to understand the potential business structures available to start a business with  in Japan (such as a Kabushiki Kaisha or Godo Kaisha). Also, finding a Japanese partner who can assist you to adapt to the culture, to the working style, customer and partner expectations, as well as for the translation and more is very important. A suitable office to suit just your needs, a suitable area in terms of cost, space etc. is also necessary.

The next consideration is to build a supporting team of trusted partners like lawyer(s), accountant etc. Next a visa application based on starting your own business can take up to 3 months due to the necessary information required to prove your credentials. To gain a working visa, you need to have an office, a business plan, approximately 5 million Japanese yen, an employee and a bank account, which may take a lot of time or may be a show stopper for many.

In addition, the article includes some successful case studies of businesses in Japan, such as Mariel from Mexico who set up an import business from her home country and Mark McFarlane who has a digital products business with mobile and web development. He studied computer science, and originally taught English in Japan. During his free time, he developed mobile applications, and afterwards was able to start doing that business as a freelancer. Josh Smith set up a business for translation and teaching. Chris Palmieri started and grew a digital agency, services and communication marketing business with his wife. And James ODonoghue has a specialization in US law, and helps Japanese companies to navigate the American legal system.

This Summary was written by Jason Ball, a “Fixer” and people Connector, in Tokyo