Founding a startup is no easy task. Founding a startup in a foreign country is even harder. For a long time now, Japan has developed an infamous reputation among foreign entrepreneurs as being notoriously difficult to launch a startup company. There are a number of reasons for this; chief among them being the nation’s conservative corporate culture, restrictive visa requirements and daunting language barrier.

The Japanese government has been trying to remedy this issue for quite some time now. They recognise the benefits of attracting foreign talent and investment and are gradually teaming up with local governments to create an environment more friendly to people who want to live and do business in Japan.

Belgian-born Van David Thai, a 35-year-old manager of a retailer in Tokyo, lamented having to deal with procedures in Japanese, even those ostensibly geared to visitors.

Thai said to the Japan Times that it was a struggle to find relevant information regarding how to start a business in Japan, mostly due to much of said information only being available in Japanese. He found even more difficulty when it came to filling out Japanese visa application forms for prospective entrepreneurs.

When an overseas entrepreneur wants to launch a startup in Japan, the first thing they have to do is acquire a business manager visa. The applicant must register a company that has at least ¥5 million (US$46,700) in capital or two or more full-time staffers. The applying manager must also have a physical office.

One of the major issues with this is that visa criteria for foreign startups are difficult to meet abroad. Thus, the country is offering a relatively new six-month startup visa in special zone to allow foreign entrepreneurs to prepare. Within that time frame, holders of startup visas must set up the company and clear the requirements for the business manager visa with the support of their local government. Unlike the startup visa, the business manager visa is renewable.

Upon receiving feedback that the preparations often take more than six months,

Late last year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched a one-year visa system with participating local governments. This was due to receiving concerning feedback that the preparations to obtain a foreign startup visa often took more than six months.

According to the Immigration Services Agency, there were 25,670 holders of business manager visas as of December 2018, up from 24,033 a year earlier. Despite its efforts, however, Japan is far behind its regional peers. According to the latest edition of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking released last month, Japan is 29th among 190 countries. And among the top five, three are in the Asia-Pacific region, with New Zealand in first, Singapore in second and South Korea fifth.

Recently, the central government has implemented more practical methods to help foreign entrepreneurs to establish themselves in Japan. One such solution is the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Centre, which allows entrepreneurs to complete almost all of the procedures needed to open a business under one roof. Regardless, Japan still has quite a long way to go before they can truly tear down these stringent barriers.


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