Section 5―Leasing an Office Space

To find the right office place for you, begin with how you want to use it. Do you need meeting rooms for client presentations? Want to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs? Need storage for your products? Or just need a quiet place to work? Within the city, there are lots of different options at different price points; one is bound to match your criteria. I got an office space out of necessity for my visa but didn’t use it and saw it as a waste of money. There are other alternatives, so work with your immigration lawyer/realtor/friends to find the right one for you.

Illustration by Adrian Hogan

My business is based around travel, and while I didn’t see a direct need for an office, my visa required that I have one with four walls and a lock on the door. It also had to be a separate address from my home address. 

Had I not had that requirement, I would absolutely be working out of one of the coworking spaces in Tokyo. They are casual environments filled with creative, ambitious people—amazing communities to be part of. 

Since I didn’t have a residency card, bank account, or permanent address, which is required to get my own lease for an office, I went through a serviced office provider, Regus.

I framed my search for an office space by price point and location. I didn’t plan to spend much time at the office. But since all my mail was being sent there, I did want it to be easily accessible from where I lived.

Learnings About Office Address
While I had heard in passing that people judged businesses by the address on their business card, I didn’t really understand what that meant. I had heard that Omotesando, Aoyama, Azabujuban, and others were great neighborhoods for business addresses, but I didn’t understand why. I didn’t think it would be very important for my clients who were from out of the country and unfamiliar with the different neighborhoods. 

What I had failed to understand was that I wasn’t trying to impress my clients, but business services like banks or partners like local tourism bureaus. Banks are weary of giving a corporate account to someone that doesn’t have a credit history in Japan, and I think it made it even easier for them to turn me down when they saw my address.

Another note: You have to get a corporate account in the same neighborhood in which your business is registered. So, if you end up getting a less expensive space farther outside the city, you’ll have to open your account at the branch there.

Learnings About Price Point
My rent ended up being higher than I wanted it to be per month. I only looked at properties in my range, but when we sat down to go over the contract I learned that I would also be charged a monthly fee for kitchen services (they provided free water/coffee, and it was non-negotiable—they made it available for everyone, so everyone had to pay.) And, if I wanted Wi-Fi or phone service I would also have to pay for that. Every print/scan/fax is also billed (that’s common practice at coworking spaces too).

I felt misled, but I also didn’t know the system yet. So if you are working with someone, make sure to communicate your MAX budget, including rent and all additional fees, and see what options they can come up with for you.

I used my credit card to pay the deposit and the first month’s rent. Then Regus had to verify my identity, so they sent a letter to the Airbnb where I was staying and I had to be home and sign for it. Once that was complete, the office was mine to use.  

As I move into my second year of business, I am looking for an alternative for my office, one that doesn’t feel like a waste of money. Some options I’m considering are:

  • Working with a realtor to find a small office space
  • Getting a two-bedroom apartment and using the second bedroom as an office
    • Here is a great article about how to work with lawyers and rental agencies to structure your lease so that your space is legitimate for businesses use.
  • Transferring my office address to my home address and working out of a coworking space

Since this will be my second year of business, I have more information to share with the immigration officers. I can show my company financials, the fact that I’ve been paying taxes, that I’ve enrolled in health insurance, etc. There is a chance I may not have to have a separate office with four walls and a lock and still get my visa (fingers crossed).


More information about places to work:

  • Tokyo Cheapo Guide to Serviced Office Spaces (from 2015). 
  • -  coworking space.
  • MOV -  coworking space.
  • The Works - coworking space.
  • The Hub - coworking space.
  • If you do end up having to get an office, but you don’t plan on using it, there is actually a service where you can use your space to store traveler’s luggage, Temp Grab

Illustration by Adrian Hogan

Entrepreneur Spotlight

Name: Mariel Lozano Villarreal

Country of Origin: Mexico

CompanyChalupa imports high-quality, craft goods from Mexico to Japan.

Years in Japan: 3+

Continuing Mariel’s story. Mariel is currently working out of an office space that she found through her network. Her friend knew a guy with a big office in Shibuya but only one employee and many spare desks. Their main office was in Osaka and they were only using the Tokyo office as a showroom for fabrics. It was the perfect fit for her because it had space where she could keep the store’s inventory. She was able to persuade the owner to rent her a desk at a really reasonable price, 30,000 JPY a month. 

She had also considered working out of a coworking space, but since she needs storage space for the import goods, that wasn’t an option.

The best part about working out of this office is that she can witness meetings and business interactions of the other company from her desk and learn about actual Japanese business manners.

The worst part is that sometimes people smoke inside and it isn’t a creatively stimulating environment.