I came to Japan without a concrete plan, and now, a year later, I am running my own business. In reflecting on this journey for myself, I decided to share my experience. Consider the following a process document that breaks down what I've learned into specific milestones. For each step, I've also included anecdotes from other entrepreneurs, as well as useful resources.
Along the journey we'll cover: getting the idea, finding a lawyer, deciding which business to start, working with a Japanese partner, leasing an office, accounting, applying for a visa and opening a corporate bank account. There is definitely not one right way to start a business. All you need as you embark on the process is a little bit of audacity, a lot of humility, and the willingness to learn from your mistakes.
Similar to my experience, the entrepreneurs I interviewed didn’t move to Japan with the goal of starting a business. They moved to Japan because they loved the culture/country, and while designing their lifestyle, a business was born.
My friend Luis once said, “A city chooses you, you don’t choose a city.” When it comes to my move to Japan, that couldn’t be more true. There was an unmistakable feeling of home when I stepped off the train onto the amazingly quiet but chaotic station platform in Shinjuku. The feeling of belonging was compelling (and intriguing) enough for me to make the jump and leave my life in San Francisco behind.
I didn’t choose. There wasn’t a choice. Here was just right.
I’ve been in Japan for one entire year now. In that time I've learned conversational Japanese and started my own business creating immersive experiences for individuals and companies.
I started my company while I was on a tourist visa. This meant I didn’t have a Japanese phone number, permanent address, or residency card. All of these details had implications on my process. I’ll discuss this more in the Finding a Japanese Partner section, but first, let’s examine how I decided to start a business.
When I did the interviews for this article, I sought out foreigners who had gone through the incorporation process. This criterion, meant that I didn’t interview anyone doing freelance work, working for domestic companies, or doing interesting side projects. For any freelancers reading this, there are still applicable sections for you such as finding an accountant, a lawyer, or a coworking space. Discussion of visas and taxes will likely be the most different.