In total, it took seven months from when I first messaged the lawyers, went through the visa process, and opened a corporate bank account. It would have been faster, probably closer to five months, if I had transitioned my certificate of eligibility into a working visa right after I got it at the end of April. However, I have no complaints about how long it took. During that time I was able to build a web presence, test offerings, and begin working with clients. I was always able to run the business; the only things I wasn’t able to do until I had my visa were open a corporate bank account, get a Japanese cell phone number, and enter into a lease.
The initial costs were around 8,000 USD, not including living expenses.
At the start of this article, I mentioned that I faced “unforeseen” challenges throughout the process. How arrogant of me to expect that as a first-timer and a foreigner in a new country I would already “know” the process—and to be surprised that the challenges that came up were unforeseen. Of course they were! I’d never started a company in Japan before!
The biggest actual challenge in the whole process was managing myself and my expectations. At times I was impatient and pushy and created undue stress for myself and others. I didn’t feel efficient working within the system and was frustrated by the fact that it always took me three or more conversations with the same person to get something done. I wondered what I was doing wrong and how I could have prepared better and been more effective. No one was doing anything wrong and no one was being purposefully unhelpful, although I often felt that people didn’t want to take responsibility for things. In most cases it was just a matter of learning about the system and then following the steps laid out. It’s actually straightforward, but it just took time to learn. Starting a company has been insanely humbling. Moving forward I have a better understanding of my tendencies and will work to lead with patience, curiosity, and the willingness to ask for help.
In 2017 I’m offering my traditional services like trips to the House of Light and the Kumano Kodo and working one-on-one with individuals and corporations coming to Japan while also experimenting with new ways that the values of the organization can come to life through local partnerships, writing, research, and artist engagement. Specifically, I'm looking to partner with Universities and NGO's to bring their service providers to remote regions throughout Japan.
My pie-in-the-sky dream is being a part of a project like the Benesse Art Site in Naoshima, whose mission is to create a space where visitors can reimagine their lives for the better. But that’s a very, very long-term vision.
For the short-term, here’s my bucket list for experiences to have in 2017:
- Experience winter in Hokkaido: drift ice in the Okhotsk Sea, igloos on Shikaribetsuko, and the famous Shirogane lake near Biei (maybe some skiing too)
- Stay at the Airbnb Community Center in Yoshino, Nara
- Hike the Nakasendo Trail
- Snorkel in Ishigaki, Okinawa
- Dance at the Awadori Festival, Shikoku
- Surf the beaches of Kyushu and visit Nagasaki
- Celebrate at the summer matsuri in Aomori and Akita
- Follow Basho's footsteps from Nikko to Kanazawa
- Make sake at a brewery in Niigata
- Meditate with monks and celebrate New Year’s at Koyasan
Thank you so much for your time. I hope this has given you insight into the process and some tools to move forward.
I have a few requests for you before we sign off:
- If you know someone with an interesting perspective on Japan that I should interview, please introduce.
- If you know a special place in Japan that should be visited, let me know.
- If you know a unique hands-on experience to try, send along the details.
- Or if you know someone offering a similar service anywhere in the world, please put us in touch. I’m hoping to create a better network of service providers in the year to come.
Thank you so much.
Best of luck with your ventures!
P.S. Who can help me figure this out?
This article would not have been possible without the help of:
Lesley and Gregg Adamo, Rob Arimoto, Kate Bagby, Edward Wexler-Baron
Catie and Patrick Beard, Nathan Bryant, Yabu Cui, Robin and Ryan Derose, Kathy Dick, Jack and Katie Egan, Noriko Endo, Carrie Foran, Yesenia Garcia, David Gilbert, Bryan Guerra, Adrian Hogan, Sarah Horowitz, Kyoko Imai, Yasuhiro Imai , David Jones, Raphael Lee, Abby Leonard, Margaret McCarthy, Mark McFarlane, Laura and Mike McLively, Luis Mendo, Jesse Liebenson-Morse, Joseph Mueller, Keith Mueller, Megan Mueller, Vanessa Mueller, Akari Murata, James ODonoghue, Kohei Okada, Cara O’Shell, Chris Palmieri, Venetia Pristavec, Christina Ramos, Christian Rongavilla, Jimmy Royston, Jessica Semaan, Kendra Salvatore, Karishma Shah, Yulia Skogoreva, Josh Smith, Bob Stilger, Ryota Sugai, Rajitha Thejani, Curt, Heather, Lacie, Neil and Pierce Thorne, Andrew Vilcsak, Mariel Lozano Villarreal, Yusuke Wakamiya, Georgie Willis, Izumi Yoshimura