Photo by Pixabay on

I was thinking that a list of things I had to do so far as a bootstrapping foreign startup-founder in Japan would be useful to someone else looking to start something here as a heads up.

Settling your daily life:

-Find accommodations.
-Get a Japanese phone number starting with 070,080 or 090.

More info in the guide.

-Open a personal Japanese bank account.

Getting a bank account from the most accessible bank in your area would be a good choice, big banks in Tokyo include MUFG, Mizuho, SMBC. Otherwise, internet banks such as Rakuten, Aozora, Minna no Ginko, Sony are also good for their low fees and decent UI.

-Move your capital using Wise

I personally use Wise to transfer my money from Singapore to Japan for their low fees and no nonsense interface, but if there are other options, do feel free to comment because it’s always nice to have an alternative.

Getting started with the business:

-Register yourself and the personal seal at the local city office.

For your personal registration, it is a requirement that you present yourself to the nearest city office (市役所|区役所) and register your presence in Japan. Subsequently, you’ll need to get a residence certificate (住民票) and this certificate will be required for your banking later as well.

-Find an office/ coworking space to base your business in.

This is both easy and hard as it is something you can potentially solve with money. There are many coworking spaces in Japan, especially in the big cities. Fukuoka alone has more than 20 spread across the city.

-Incorporate your business (KK instead of GK for name brand and potential for capital injection) using a scrivener recommended by Fukuoka City Office and Startup Centre.

This is assuming you are like me and set up your business in Fukuoka, otherwise, cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya have their own startup organisations run by the government. These will be of great help in your startup process. The scrivener’s services cost me about 100,000 yen, which I was told was a reasonable price and the fact that he spoke English helped when there was jargon which I didn’t catch.

-Register myself with a labor attourney and enrol into the pension and insurance system (required by law).

From what I hear, you can do everything yourself. However, being unfamiliar with the process and with a large number of jargon, I would advise using the labor attourney and cough up the 36,000 yen for the service.

-Set up a corporate bank account with a bank in Fukuoka (apparently something that the city will look at when renewing my visa, this is not official information but was hinted that it is something they will consider).

Depending on your personal circumstance, the bank that you choose may vary. A comprehensive guide has been written by Mr Becker on this. Personally, I use Fukuoka Bank (the main bank in Kyushu) and Aozora bank as a back up (an online based bank) with low fees.

-Build my MVP (in this case my courses that I will offer to fresh graduates and career switchers)

Personally, my business is a low capital startup with an MVP that has already worked in Singapore. However, looking at other companies who have failed in Japan, localisation is a must for most products looking to succeed here. An important point from a contact was that professional translation is essential to match Japanese standards.

-Plan and build my website myself

I personally use WordPress self hosting through Hostgator, but please do your own research and find what suits you best. Other web builders like Webflow, Weebly and Wix are also popular.

Those with more funding, feel free to engage web agencies or freelancers to do up the website for you. After registering my office address, I received plenty of promotional materials telling me about various service providers

-Plan and launch my marketing campaigns using Google Search and display ads as well as start local SEO using “Google My Business”

How you distribute your products may vary, but do take note Twitter usage in Japan is high, and Yahoo Japan is established. Altnerative platforms like Smartnews and recommendation widgets like Outbrain is also common.

-Prepare a contract for independent contractors or staff

I was informed that having a customer service rep with native level language competency would work wonders for my company’s customer service since my audience are mostly Japanese. Also, my half baked language skills won’t cut it, apparently.

I turned to Deel for information regarding staffing contracts since they already had some information in English. For business owners looking for a quick solution to hire staff, Deel is pretty good with their user friendly interface and ready templates together with compliance ready documents.

The con as a small business owner is that costs quickly add up since the fee is per charged person per month.

Most likely your company will need customer service staff who speak honorific speech fluently. Regardless of whether the staff are locals, prioritise their customer service skills (including language proficiency).

-Attend networking events at the co-working space to know more people and follow up afterwards.

Events are regularly held in Fukuoka, some organised by Fukuoka Growth Next (FGN). The local startup organisations and accelerators typically hold networking and pitching events regularly throughout the year. An example is B-Dash Ventures that was held in October 2022 with a good turnout and pitches in addition to speakers from various businesses and VCs.

I hope this list helps people starting out in Japan with setting up their business. Please feel free to drop comments or feedback in the comments section below and see you next time.