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Discover the ethos, soul and character of the business scene in Tokyo.

Explore a dynamic, determined and disruptive business landscape that has real global impact. Leverage Tokyo's exceptional pool of talent, efficient infrastructure and ahead-of-the-curve ideas and make it work for you. Through our main interviewee, expatriate Jonathan Hewitt, embark on a journey through Tokyo to understand the innovative and unmatched professional philosophy of the city.

Tokyo: The city you want to be in

Nothing explains contrasts better than Tokyo—home to traditional sensibilities and modern thinking, hi-tech gizmos and hand-drawn Manga, swanky malls and hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, humble shrines and plush skyscrapers, it's the confluence of these contrasts that attracts expats.

The organized chaos dominating life here can be overwhelming. But when it comes to business, a sound set of government initiatives woos international entrepreneurs looking to set up shop. Success stories of foreign companies in Tokyo are based on unparalleled logistics and robust infrastructure. Not surprising then, that foreign brands thrive. In fact, Tokyo's Special Zone for Asian Headquarters project ambitiously aims to host 400 foreign companies, including 40 R&D centers by 2020!


These satellite centers can
help you tremendously.

So, head to TOSBEC (the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center) in Akasaka. Or reach them through the satellite centers at Shibuya and Marunouchi that provide centralize services for procedures critical to doing business in Japan. They will help with matters such as the certification of articles of incorporation, company registration, taxes, pension and social insurance, and immigration procedures. Communication is eased by expert translators and the free consultations smoothen the application submission procedures.

Did you know?

One useful Japanese word to remember is "Sumimasen." It communicates "excuse me", "thank you" and "sorry." So, whether you bump into someone, want to call a waiter or if you've received a gift from someone, "Sumimasen" will be an almighty word.

Focus on relationships to
build trust in the market

The government's support for non-Japanese people setting up business varies by location, says Hewitt. "Each district within Tokyo has their own program which may include rent rebates or even market survey information. English language support is available though the central proposals tend to be in Japanese and therefore, having a Japanese contact/partner is a great advantage." But it's not mandatory. All one needs to do is ask for help when required.

"Adidas tested the Japanese market in 1998 when no other brand had come into the market alone. It was imperative to work with existing business channels and Japan being a free market, we lived or died by our own decisions. The government simply set the ground rules." - Hewitt.

Hewitt also accords importance to the language and focuses on relationships without which, "the business is hampered from the beginning." Having worked in three sectors in Japan, he accepts that in his case, "we were building a global brand in the Japanese market with the backing of a well-established group -- Adidas. The business had been managed through a distributor for over 20 years so the first years were spent building trust in the market." And what did it take to do this? "The late night sessions were an investment for the future. Over time, strong and enduring friendships that would lead the brand to the position it is in today, emerged." And these friendships continued even after he moved out of Adidas.

How complicated is the
process of starting a business
in Tokyo?

It can be simplified by TOSBEC. Head to your nearest TOSBEC satellite center for help with the critical matters.

Do I need a Japanese partner
to set up my business?

It's always helpful to have one. However, there is enough help from the government should you not have one.


Setting down roots in Tokyo

A quintessential big city with bright lights, Tokyo is eclectic, energetic and expensive! Having it on a bucket list of global destinations is different from settling down here. The latter mandates understanding some basic pointers. Hewitt maintains, "Expats live across all areas and districts of Tokyo. However, the eastern neighborhoods are simply more used to foreigners than those in the west of the city and therefore, make life a little simpler."

But, selecting a neighborhood to settle in depends on core factors—rent, easy commutes, proximity to offices, hospitals, markets, areas of entertainment, eateries, international schools etc. The best way to begin is by listing priorities and fixing a budget.


When you use the washroom in someone's home in Japan, you may have to wear specific bathroom footwear so you don't contaminate the rest of the house.


When you use the washroom in someone's home in Japan, you may have to wear specific bathroom footwear so you don't contaminate the rest of the house.

Understanding Japan: Language vs How Things Work

The same goes for schools. With over 100 institutions from kindergarten to university levels, one is spoilt for choice. The international schools preferred by expats come at a price and have long waiting lists. But they are tailored to a specific country or provide broader, non-country specific education. Hewitt says, "Here there will be numerous different nationalities and all are in the same situation so making friends becomes part and parcel of life." In contrast, the local schools teach in Japanese and, public primary and junior high schools, are free for foreign students. However, it's a difficult option according to Hewitt especially considering the "language abilities one needs to have." Negotiating this is tricky especially when outside Tokyo.

"Arguably more important for an expat is understanding how Japan works rather than learning the language," he concedes.

Health insurance is the other big consideration for expats and largely dependent on their employer. However, Jonathan says, "Every resident of Japan is required to sign up for public health insurance whether paid on-shore or off. However, few foreigners know that registration is a legal requirement."

Many companies offer private healthcare packages for expats and the Japanese healthcare system. Now, expats tend to compare health insurance coverage here to what's available in their countries, so note that opinions do differ on quality, affordability, complexity and the doctors' approach.

How easy is it getting
around Tokyo?

Tokyo's public transport services are famously reliable and efficient. You can pick from subways, trains, buses and boats that traverse all of Tokyo. There are also car rental services for those who wish to drive and bicycle rental facilities in central parts of Tokyo.

What are school meals
like in Tokyo?

School meals served in most public primary and junior high schools are scrumptious! Delicious and nutritious, meals are calculated to meet nutrition needs for each age group and the menu varies from day to day. The meals are served by the students themselves, in an effort to instill care and discipline in each child.