This is a guest post authored by Amanda Imasaka. She is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.
Thinking of starting a business in Tokyo? Unsure of where to begin? Hiroyuki Ishige, the Chairman of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), suggests you, “Talk to JETRO first.” JETRO is a government-related organization and one of their central goals is promoting direct foreign investment in Japan. Their headquarters is stationed at the ARK Mori Building near Akasaka and Roppongi in Tokyo, and house the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC), the Tokyo Employment Consultation Center (TECC), the Business Development Center TOKYO (BDCT). All services are available in a number of languages, including English, Chinese, and Korean.
First things first, you cannot start a business without the proper visa. On January 29th the BDCT (which incidentally has two support desks: one in Marunouchi which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government appears to be positioning as a new Tokyo startup hub and can be read about here in addition to the one mentioned at the JETRO headquarters) began providing individual support for entrepreneurs regarding the deregulation of the “business manager” visa. Essentially the deregulation gives entrepreneurs a year to employ two people or invest 5 million yen in Japan provided they can convince the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) of their potential to do so at the 6 month mark.
But wait, it doesn’t stop there! The BDCT offers a multitude of services so make sure to bring your business plan along. These include pre-launch support like providing market information, introducing the experts you will need to establish your company (some examples: judicial & administrative scriveners, CPAs, patent attorneys, etc.), post-launch support such as information about how to set up offices, and even lifestyle support like introducing multilingual hospitals and schools. Perhaps the most valuable service they offer is business matching support, with employment numerous matching events held throughout the year and testimonials attesting to their success. The clincher: it is completely free and can be used as many times as you need. Something to keep in mind: AKA (producers of Musio, an AI enabled robot) CSO Brian Lee noted during his presentation at the Invest Tokyo Seminar Winter 2017, “We used TMG’s support services for a series of meetings with the company [Accenture, introduced through TMG’s services], focusing on areas we selected as essential, rather than for general business practices.” If you pinpoint a few areas to seek support for before arranging a meeting, they will be able to better help you help yourself.
TOSBEC is just around the corner from the BDCT in the ARK Mori building and as of December 22, 2016 they now accept the documents for all eight procedures necessary to establish a business (previously they accepted just three, a sure sign of the TMG’s desire to encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop). In most cases, you will first need to prepare and notarize the articles of incorporation, followed by the company registration documents. Once completed you will receive a notification of the start of your business which is necessary for national and metropolitan tax purposes. Bam, you just started a business. After that it is necessary to enroll in social insurance, and undergo the procedures associated with hiring employees (labor and insurance). All of this, from the notarization to the submission of immigration documents can be done at TOSBEC. Probably goes without saying, but despite being called one-stop, multiple stops will be required owing to the processing times for documents. I understand the sentiment though. TOSBEC is also completely free and can be used as many times as you want to for up to five years after starting your company.
The TMG has made no secret of what sectors they believe to be most promising for new business. They include healthcare, ICT, and the environmental sector. Additionally, they have the very specific goal of attracting 40 companies related to IoT and AI in the period from 2017 to 2020. Inviting all foreign entrepreneurs to talk to JETRO, a government-related operation, first gives them the ability to screen said prospective business plans, encouraging those they see potential in and perhaps discouraging all others. Regardless, I am confident their services can be useful for entrepreneurs who approach them in an informed and organized fashion.