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Starting an LLC in Japan

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


Introduction:


Otsukaresama! You’ve made the exciting decision to open your own business in Japan! While there are various ways to achieve this, one of the most advantageous options is to establish a Limited Liability Company (LLC). An LLC offers several benefits, including liability protection, flexibility in ownership and management, and favorable tax treatment. However, navigating the intricacies and language barriers associated with setting up an LLC in Japan can be daunting. To help streamline the process and allow you to focus on your passion, we have created a comprehensive and user-friendly guide outlining the steps you need to take to establish an LLC in Japan. Whether you're a local entrepreneur or an expat seeking business opportunities, our guide will provide you with the necessary information and resources to embark on your entrepreneurial journey with confidence.


 

Section 1| What is an LLC?


An LLC (Limited Liability Company) in Japan, known as "Godo Kaisha" or "GK," is a popular business structure that combines the benefits of a corporation and a partnership. It provides entrepreneurs with a flexible and relatively simple way to establish a legal entity for their business operations.


An LLC is considered a separate legal entity from its owners or members, providing limited liability protection. This means that the personal assets of the members are generally protected from the debts and legal obligations of the company. In the event of financial difficulties or legal issues, the liability of the members is typically limited to their investment in the company.


LLCs in Japan are popular among small and medium-sized businesses, startups, and foreign entrepreneurs looking to establish a presence in the country. The flexibility, limited liability protection, and pass-through taxation make the LLC an attractive choice for those seeking a business structure that offers both operational flexibility and legal protection.


LLC Vs. Stock Company


When it comes to starting a business in Japan, it's crucial to understand the distinctions between different company types. In this blog, we will focus on the process of establishing a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and delve into its unique characteristics. However, if you're interested in creating a Stock Company, be sure to check out our linked blog for a comprehensive guide.




​Stock Company

​Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Registration fee for establishing the company

7/1000 of the capital amount

(150,000 yen if it is less than 150,000 yen)

7/1000 of the capital amount

(If it is less than 60,000 yen, 60,000 yen)

​Articles of incorporation at the time of company establishment

Required

​NOT Required

Minimum capital amount

1 yen or more

1 yen or more

Designation of payment handling institution

Required

NOT Required

Investor Status

The founder becomes a shareholder based on the investment amount

No requirement to be a manager

All investors become managers

Voting Rights

One share one voting right

One person and one voting right

Representative

CEO

Representative Employee

Social Status | in Japan

High

Lower than stock companies (typically)


Who Can Start a Sole Proprietorship in Japan?

In Japan, various individuals and entities can start an LLC (Limited Liability Company). Here are some examples of who can establish an LLC in Japan:


  1. Japanese Citizens: Japanese citizens who meet the legal requirements can start an LLC in Japan.

  2. **Foreign Individuals: Foreign individuals residing in Japan can also establish an LLC. However, they may need to fulfill specific visa and residency requirements.

  3. Foreign Companies: Foreign companies that want to expand their business operations to Japan can form an LLC as a subsidiary or branch office.

  4. Joint Ventures: Japanese and foreign individuals or companies can collaborate to form a joint venture LLC in Japan.

  5. Expatriate Entrepreneurs: Foreign entrepreneurs who are not residing in Japan but wish to establish a business presence in the country can do so by setting up an LLC.

It's important to note that the specific requirements and procedures for forming an LLC may vary based on the jurisdiction and the individual's or entity's circumstances. It's advisable to consult with legal and business professionals who are familiar with Japanese laws and regulations to ensure compliance and a smooth process when starting an LLC in Japan.


**Foreign individuals who wish to start an LLC in Japan will typically need to obtain a Business Manager Visa (or "Investor/Business Manager Visa"). This visa allows foreign entrepreneurs to engage in business activities and manage their company in Japan.


To learn more about the application process and requirements for the Business Manager Visa, you can visit the official website of the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They provide detailed information on visa types, eligibility criteria, required documents, and application procedures.



Please note that visa requirements and procedures may change over time, so it's essential to refer to the official government website or consult with the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate in your home country for the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding visa applications for starting an LLC in Japan.


Section 2 | Benefits of Starting an LLC in Japan


Starting a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Japan offers numerous advantages for entrepreneurs and business owners. An LLC is a popular business structure known for its flexibility and liability protection. Let's explore the key benefits of establishing an LLC in Japan:

  1. Limited Liability Protection: One of the primary advantages of an LLC is limited liability protection. As a member of an LLC, your personal assets are typically safeguarded from the company's debts and legal liabilities. This means that your personal wealth and property are generally protected, reducing your personal financial risk.

  2. Flexible Ownership Structure: LLCs in Japan allow for a flexible ownership structure. You can have one or multiple members, including individuals, corporations, or even foreign entities. This flexibility enables you to bring in partners, investors, or shareholders as needed to support your business's growth and capital requirements.

  3. Simplified Compliance and Administration: Compared to other business structures, LLCs in Japan often have simplified compliance and administration requirements. The paperwork and reporting obligations are generally less burdensome, allowing you to focus on running and growing your business. This can save you time, effort, and resources.

  4. Pass-through Taxation: LLCs in Japan typically benefit from pass-through taxation. This means that the profits and losses of the company are "passed through" to the members, who report them on their individual tax returns. As a result, the company itself does not pay corporate taxes, avoiding double taxation that may occur with other business structures.

  5. Flexibility in Profit Distribution: LLCs offer flexibility in profit distribution among members. You can allocate profits and losses based on the members' contributions, agreed-upon percentages, or other arrangements specified in the operating agreement. This flexibility allows for customized profit-sharing, enhancing member satisfaction and incentivizing growth.

  6. Enhanced Credibility and Business Opportunities: Operating as an LLC can enhance your business's credibility and open doors to various opportunities. It signals to clients, partners, and investors that you have a structured and legally recognized business entity. This credibility can lead to increased trust, more significant business opportunities, and access to funding or partnerships.

  7. Ease of Business Transitions: LLCs provide ease of business transitions and changes. If you need to add or remove members, transfer ownership, or restructure the company, the process is generally straightforward and less disruptive compared to other business structures. This flexibility allows you to adapt to evolving market conditions and seize new opportunities efficiently.

By considering these benefits, you can make an informed decision about whether starting a company in Japan is the right path for your entrepreneurial journey. However, it is also important to consider the difficulties.


Section 3 | Challenges and Considerations for Sole Proprietors


While starting a company in Japan comes with numerous advantages, there are also challenges to consider:

  1. Requirement for Professional Accountants: Companies in Japan must comply with strict accounting regulations. This necessitates the assistance of professional accountants who can handle financial statements, bookkeeping, and tax filings. Hiring accountants adds to the operational costs of your business.

  2. Complex Paperwork: Starting a company involves navigating a considerable amount of complex paperwork, including registration forms, licenses, and various legal documents. Understanding and completing these administrative requirements can be time-consuming and overwhelming, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the Japanese legal system.

  3. National Pension and Health Insurance Obligations: As a company, you have obligations to enroll your employees in the national pension and health insurance systems. This involves additional administrative tasks and financial responsibilities that need to be properly managed.

  4. Initial Start-Up Costs: Starting a company in Japan often incurs initial start-up costs, such as registration fees, office space, equipment, and other necessary resources. It's crucial to carefully plan and budget for these expenses to ensure a smooth launch of your business.

By being aware of these difficulties and proactively addressing them, you can navigate the process of starting a company in Japan more effectively and increase your chances of success.


Section 4 | Flow for Foreigners to Create Company in Japan


In this section, we will outline the general flow of procedures that foreigners need to follow when establishing a limited liability company in Japan.


If you're a foreign entrepreneur considering starting a business in Japan, I highly recommend checking out TOSBEC (Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center). As a government-funded entity, TOSBEC specializes in assisting foreigners in creating startups and provides a comprehensive range of services. The best part? You can get everything set up for free in one place.


I have linked their site here. They also offer all their services in English, so you'll have no language barrier issues!


Now for the basic flow you'll need to follow:


Step 1: Determination of Basic Matters and Preparation of the Articles of Incorporation

The founder, who is the person or persons investing in the company, decides on the fundamental details of the company. These include the company's form, trade name, head office location, business purpose, and capital amount. Based on these decisions, the articles of incorporation are prepared.


Step 2: Payment of Investment

Sufficient funds are essential to operate a company. For a limited liability company, there are multiple options for receiving investments, including payment into a designated bank account or directly receiving the investment and preparing a receipt by the representative employee.


Step 3: Registration of the Company Establishment

Once all the necessary documents are prepared, the registration of the company establishment must be applied for at the Legal Affairs Bureau that has jurisdiction over the company's head office address. The registration of the company establishment legally establishes the company. The timeframe for completing this registration varies depending on the workload of the Legal Affairs Bureau, usually taking about a week to 10 days.


It's important to note that this overview provides a general flow of procedures for establishing a company in Japan. The actual process may vary depending on the specific circumstances and legal requirements. Therefore, it's advisable to consult with legal professionals or experts in Japanese corporate law to ensure compliance and obtain accurate guidance tailored to your situation.


What do you need to bring? | Main Required Documents


  1. Registration Application Form: This form is required to apply for the registration of company establishment at the Legal Affairs Bureau. It includes important information about the company, such as the company's name, address, purpose, and details of the founders.

  2. Articles of Incorporation: The Articles of Incorporation outline the company's internal regulations, including its organizational structure, decision-making processes, and rights and responsibilities of shareholders or members. These articles need to be prepared and signed by the founders.

  3. Seal Registration Form (and Representative Employee's Seal Registration Certificate): In Japan, official seals or stamps called "hanko" are commonly used for legal and administrative purposes. The company needs to register its seal, and the representative employee also requires a separate seal registration certificate.

  4. Document Certifying that the Investment has been Paid: For limited liability companies, a receipt for the investment made by the representative employee is acceptable.

  5. Consent Letter of Appointment of the Representative Employee: This letter confirms the appointment of the representative employee, who acts on behalf of the company and has certain legal responsibilities. It signifies their consent to take on the role and represents their acceptance of the associated duties.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and additional documents may be required depending on the specific circumstances and the type of company being established. It is recommended to consult with legal professionals or experts in Japanese corporate law to ensure that all necessary documents are prepared accurately and in compliance with the relevant regulations.


Section 5 | Overcoming Challenges for Foreign Entrepreneurs When Creating LLC


Establishing a company in Japan is not limited to Japanese individuals. The process described earlier for company establishment applies to both Japanese and foreign entrepreneurs.


However, there are specific challenges that foreigners face when they are not physically present in Japan during the company establishment process. One such challenge involves the selection of a bank account for making the investment.


Acceptable bank accounts for investment payment include:

  1. Japan domestic branch of a domestic bank (e.g., Osaka branch of the Bank of Tokyo)

  2. Overseas branches of domestic banks (excluding local subsidiaries) (e.g., Beijing branch of the Bank of Tokyo)

  3. Japanese branches of foreign banks (e.g., Tokyo branch of Beijing Bank)

  4. Overseas branches of foreign banks (e.g., Boston branch of Beijing Bank)

While there are multiple options for the bank account, it's important to note that opening a domestic bank account in an overseas branch is usually limited to large companies. Thus, a bank account in Japan is typically required for company establishment.


Additionally, many banks require a valid address in Japan to open an account. This means that having a period of stay in Japan of more than 3 months and an address is necessary. Therefore, individuals with a Temporary Visitor (tourist) visa, which allows them to stay in Japan for up to 90 days, may face difficulties in opening a bank account.


Despite these challenges, there is still a viable option for establishing a company in Japan. The investment payment can be made through the bank accounts of specific individuals:


  1. Founder: The founder of the company can use their own bank account for investment payment, or delegate authority to receive payments to another individual.

  2. Directors at incorporation: Directors involved in the company establishment can use their bank accounts for investment payment, with delegation of authority if required.

  3. Third party: If neither the founder nor the directors at incorporation have domiciles in Japan, a third party with a bank account in Japan can be designated for investment payment, again with delegation of authority.

It's worth noting that not only the founders but also the initial directors and third parties can use their bank accounts for investment payment. Therefore, foreign entrepreneurs living overseas without a bank account in Japan can establish a company in collaboration with a "cooperator residing in Japan" who has a bank account.


For foreign entrepreneurs residing abroad who wish to establish a company and obtain a Business Manager visa, it is important to have a "cooperator residing in Japan" for various purposes, including the requirement of a business office and assistance with the visa application process.


In summary, while physical presence in Japan is not a strict requirement for company establishment, foreign investors residing overseas will need the support of a "cooperator residing in Japan" for both the establishment process and the acquisition of a Business Manager visa.


Section 6 | Why Not Start a Sole Proprietorship Instead?


Establishing an LLC (Limited Liability Company) in Japan offers its own unique advantages. Unlike a sole proprietorship, an LLC allows for the inclusion of partners, which can bring diverse skills, resources, and expertise to your business. Additionally, an LLC provides the opportunity to generate higher profits while benefiting from favorable tax treatment.


Another advantage of forming an LLC is the ability to attract investments and funding. Investors are often more inclined to invest in established entities like LLCs due to the limited liability protection they offer. This can provide your business with the necessary financial support for growth and expansion.


However, it's important to note that starting an LLC in Japan also presents certain challenges. For instance, the establishment of a company requires the involvement of accountants who can assist with financial matters and ensure compliance with tax regulations. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of complex paperwork involved in the process, which can be time-consuming and overwhelming.


Additionally, as an LLC owner, you'll need to navigate the requirements of national pension and health insurance, which can add to the administrative responsibilities and costs associated with running your business.


To delve deeper into the intricacies of creating a sole proprietorship in Japan, I recommend referring to the blog I have already created. It provides valuable insights into the benefits and difficulties associated with this business structure. By exploring these resources, you can make informed decisions and determine the best course of action for your startup journey.


Section 7 | Conclusion


Embarking on the journey of establishing a company in Japan as a foreign entrepreneur may seem like a daunting task, but armed with the right knowledge and resources, you can overcome the challenges and turn your vision into reality. In this blog, we have covered the general flow of procedures for establishing a limited liability company in Japan, highlighting important steps such as determining basic matters, notarization of articles of incorporation, payment of investment, and registration of company establishment.


We have also addressed specific issues faced by foreigners, such as the requirement of a business manager visa and the need for a bank account in Japan. While it may initially appear that being physically present in Japan is a prerequisite for company establishment, we have provided insights into alternative options, such as leveraging the bank accounts of co-founders or cooperators residing in Japan.


It's important to remember that this blog is intended to provide general information and guidance, and should not be substituted for professional legal advice. Consulting with a qualified attorney or business consultant is recommended to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and to address individual circumstances.


Starting a company in Japan offers unique opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs, allowing you to tap into a vibrant market and contribute to the country's dynamic business landscape. With thorough preparation, a clear understanding of the procedures, and the support of experienced professionals, you can navigate the complexities and successfully establish your business in Japan.


We wish you the best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey and encourage you to explore further resources, consult official channels, and seek professional assistance for the most up-to-date and accurate information. Japan awaits your innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.



 

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional legal advice. The content provided in this blog is based on general knowledge and research, but laws and regulations can vary and change over time. Each individual or entity's situation is unique, and it's crucial to consult with qualified legal professionals or seek advice from relevant government agencies to obtain accurate and up-to-date information specific to your circumstances.


While we strive to provide reliable and accurate information, we cannot guarantee the completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the content in this blog. Therefore, any actions taken based on the information provided in this blog are at your own risk.


By using this blog, you acknowledge that we are not responsible for any losses, damages, or legal consequences that may arise from your reliance on the information provided. Always seek professional advice when making important legal or business decisions.


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