Six reasons to start up in Japan
s an island nation, Japan has developed along a unique path. Culturally tight-knit but nonetheless reliant on external trade, the country is increasingly opening up to a new wave of innovation and investment in the twenty-first century.
Between 2013 and 2017, investment in the Japanese startup ecosystem increased by more than 150%. Domestically, the government has launched a number of programs aimed at inspiring young companies to base themselves in cities across Japan, including a startup visa and the creation of National Strategic Special Zones aimed at foreign investment.
From the glimmering lights of Tokyo, a pioneer in robotics manufacturing for years, to Fukuoka (the up-and-coming “East Asian Silicon Valley”) and a number of other leading startup cities such as Sendai, Osaka and Kyoto, Japan’s pivot to a startup economy is real and growing. Informed by Startup Guide Japan, here are six reasons to launch a business in Japan.
1. Japan is safe, clean and culturally rich
Japan has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world, and the Japanese are proud of their safety and order. Trains run perfectly on time, bikes are routinely left unlocked in the streets and the nation values cleanliness in both public and private spaces.
You’ll find a multifaceted culture here – long standing traditions dating back thousands of years exist alongside cutting-edge technology. Walking through the streets of Kyoto can feel like exploring an open-air museum, while the neon lights and soaring skyscrapers of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood feel like an entirely different world.
The nation’s previously closed business culture is also in flux. While Japan has a reputation for formal corporate culture, in recent years, more casual startup networking spaces and events have proliferated. There are networking nights, seminars and startup events held across the nation’s major cities on a weekly basis.
2. It has a dedicated startup visa
In an effort to make Japan more open to international businesspeople, the government has created a startup visa that is available in National Strategic Special Zones: Tokyo, Hiroshima and Aichi prefectures, and in the cities of Fukuoka, Sendai, Niigata and Imabari. Depending on the area, this can grant you a six-month or one-year temporary residence permit while you undertake the necessary startup preparations.
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3. There is strong support for entrepreneurs
Japan ranks 29th out of 190 economies on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, and has made great efforts in recent years to attract overseas companies. Begin your journey by consulting with JETRO, which provides excellent advice in English and may even provide you with temporary office space. Also look into local startup-support options in the area where you’re launching; for example, Kobe Enterprise Promotion Bureau and the Global Startup Center in Fukuoka.
Coworking spaces also provide support and can help you find your community. Hive Jinnan in Tokyo regularly holds events from startup-founder talks to art exhibitions. Kyoto Makers Garage provides tools and a space for anyone to create; government-backed Osaka Innovation Hub hosts Hack Osaka, an annual international conference on innovation; and Ignite Sendai Startups, led by a group of foreign professionals, launched Sendai’s first ever startup conference in English in 2019 and is working to grow the Tohoku entrepreneurial community.
Fukuoka styles itself as a “startup city,” and government-backed Startup Cafe Fukuoka City provides a coworking space, offers free advice and holds weekly events. For startup news in English, follow The Bridge, and for a great podcast, including inspiring interviews with founders, listen to Disrupting Japan.
4. It has a large and sophisticated market
With a GDP of $5 trillion, Japan's market is the third-largest economy in the world. Japanese customers are seeking new solutions to challenges both local and global, including the country’s aging society and environmental sustainability. Founders with genuinely innovative products and services will find a receptive market here.
5. Japan is embracing open innovation
In recent years, corporations in Japan have awakened to open innovation. Aiming to connect their business resources to startups for innovation, many corporate acceleration programs and corporate venture capital initiatives are on offer. Founders in Japan have ample opportunity to make corporate connections and open innovation has become a major movement among Japan’s many industries.
6. There are excellent universities with cutting-edge research and development
Japanese universities are famous for their R&D, and Nagoya University alone has produced six Nobel Prize winners from among its faculty members. As well as providing a highly educated workforce, by collaborating with startups and engaging in technology transfer, these institutions are commercializing research and helping to drive innovation.
Written by Phoebe Amoroso.
Repackaged by Hazel Boydell.
Main photo: Nicki Eliza Schinow / Unsplash.