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Japan eyes startup visa program (nikkei.com)
372 points by benguild 46 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments



Japan's immigration system seems heavily set up to encourage young people to come, work and then leave.

This startup visa is good for getting a toe-hold on Japan but only targets people out of country. If you live in Japan already (so you might already speak the language and have helpful local knowledge) there aren't any great paths to starting a business without permanent residency. You can't start a side business on a regular work visa. If you change your visa to manage the business and the startup failed you are likely to be "directed to return to your home country", losing all the residence time you have accrued so far.

I've been working as an engineer in Japanese startups for the past few years and I'm kept on 1 year visa renewals. On a one year visa you can never apply for permanent residency.

And on top of this, there is the 5 year "technical trainee" visa, which is a means of getting manual labor in the country temporarily without having to publicize it. All the people on this visa do not have university degrees so after their 5 years are up they must return home and have no chance of residence in Japan (outside of marriage).

Of course, Japan is free to set its own laws. If you look at them the message is clear: "Japan wants your work and taxes, but it doesn't want you"


You can't start a side business on a regular work visa.

You know YC's question "How have you ever hacked a non-technical system?" This is my answer to it. You can start a side business on a regular work visa if the character of your business matches your status of residence and you don't intensify the business to the point where it is undeniable that it is a business as opposed to employment, e.g. by hiring full-time employees.

So, for example, if you were an engineer, and you happened to run a software company on the side, you could convince the Ministry of Justice to accept the argument that you were employed as an engineer by the 個人事業 (sole proprietorship) of you, which (since you have an engineering status of residence) doesn't require their pre-approval, and then (while establishing a record of e.g. tax paying and similar) bootstrap that into a renewal of your status of residence with yourself as the sponsor, and from there roll on to either a management/investor status of residence or one of the other more stable options.

For totally-not-a-lawyer gloss on this I'm happy to chat with anyone; you can make reasonable assumptions as to why I am fairly confident that the MoJ can be convinced to allow this.


For those who haven’t read it, Patrick’s article on Doing Business in Japan http://www.kalzumeus.com/2014/11/07/doing-business-in-japan/ is a fascinating read; on immigration, it goes into about as much detail as the above, but providing much more cultural context.


> You can't start a side business on a regular work visa.

You can't do that on an H1-B either.


wait, as a non-citizen of Japan you are allowed to sponsor yourself for a work visa? That sounds, uhh, strange.


A friend who is freelance translator sponsored herself when renewing her work visa (previously she was a colleague of mine and our company sponsored her at that time, but since becoming freelance she's not employed by anybody but herself). She just had to produce proofs for each the recurrent contracts she's got so she can show that she's earning enough money. So yes, sponsoring yourself is possible, but it requires a lot of paperwork to prove you have the mean to live in the country.

I don't know how much difficult it is start your own business in Japan, for this Patrick is clearly the most knowledgeable person here, but once it's done, you just need to give yourself a salary to be able to renew your visa.


It's about ensuring you have money, not that you need an invite.

So if you're a freelancer with a bunch of active contracts they let you in.


Not let you in, but let you stay. Self-sponsoring only works on a renewal.


This is possible in Singapore too. It’s technically the business that is sponsoring you.


Do you know of anyone who has done this? I'd love to buy them coffee!


Yes. Essentially you prove you have the funds to do bootstrap and support yourself.


People get O-1's for themselves in the US.


That's not just Japan. UK is another example of such behaviour. They killed HSMP (Highly Skilled Migrants Program ) in the name of curbing immigration. But at the same time allowed companies to transfer employees to UK for up to 5 years. So in my view they are no better.

Guess what the very problem it was supposed to solved still exists and immigration is increasing. They are just not getting Highly Skilled immigrants anymore, Strange world!


Hsmp was great but today's Tier 1 Exceptional is arguably the most generous in the western world for tech talent. 5 years with a direct pathway to citizenship. No other in Europe offers a path to citizenship this fast if at all.


> No other in Europe offers a path to citizenship this fast if at all.

Netherlands does. Come here as a "highly skilled immigrant", learn the language and become a citizen in 5 years. If you marry a Dutch citizen (and stay married for 3 years), that number is reduced to 3.


Are you daft? The EU-Blue card matches that in the worst case, and if you meet certain criteria, you can get permanent residency in as little as three years and citizenship in six. Every EU country.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Blue Card requires a job offer, in fact, a binding one. It's a serious threshold to clear.


Have you read the requirement of Tier 1 General Exceptional Talent[1] at all? I am reproducing them below. Do you think everyone who wants to come to UK should start on the path of either becoming a public speaker or start working on some sort of public platform to get recognised into these two categories.

You can apply for a Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa if you’ve been endorsed in your field in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts as: 1. A recognised leader (exceptional talent) 2. An emerging leader (exceptional promise)

[1]https://www.gov.uk/tier-1-exceptional-talent


You can do similarly in Germany. Startup visa €5000 ->after 3 years get Permanent Residency for entrepreneurs->then 4-5 years depending on your visa/naturalisation officer apply for citizenship.


Ireland offers this too afaik and so does Germany (with the catch that you reach B1 level proficiency in German)


What's different about Japan is that this is just about the only way to immigrate; Western countries typically have skilled guest worker programs in addition to more general immigration.


That's not really true. There are quite a few working visa categories for professionals in engineering, medicine, journalism, higher education, etc. in addition to the lower-skill categories for basic English teaching and "entertainment." The government has also introduced a points-based system that prioritizes visas for people with more skills/experience/income, and has been making it a lot easier to get longer-term visas and permanent residency.


He's right. Japan is worried about its depopulation problem. I've read articles about all different ways that Japan is loosening its immigration process.


I wouldn't compare UK with Japan. The path to permanent residence and citizenship in the UK is clear and straightforward. That has led to a solid number of startups in the UK.


I absolutely agree with the message you've arrived at and think you're right, along with the fact that they're free to set their own laws/determine their stance about the outside world.

One minor correction: I think you can become eligible for permanent residency with consistent 1 year visas -- from what I understand as long as the TYPE of visa is unchanged and you've had the same type of visa for 5-7 years it counts well towards the (quite recently developed) points system they use. Previously, I thought it was just 5-7 years of same VISA and you're in a pretty good spot, but turns out there's a point system now.

Here's the official documentation (japanese, unfortunately): http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/zairyuu/eizyuu.ht...


Regular working visas and the points system are completely seperate systems.

It is true that if you have enough points on the highly skilled professional visa you can get permanent residence (PR) in only one year.

On a regular work visa you must have 10 years consecutive residence in Japan and "must hold the longest visa type available to you (for these purposes longest means 3 or 5 years)" (my rough translation).

I have consulted with an immigration lawyer on the topic of applying for PR with a 1 year visa and he confirms this.


Do you have any idea why they are giving you only 1 year renewals? Previously on an instructor visa I had no trouble getting a 3 year renewal -- even though I only had 1 year contracts at my employer. I wonder if it's because they see your employer as being risky (given that it's a startup). You might consider trying to get a job somewhere bigger (or trying to get a full time position) if you want to stay in Japan forever.


Hey do you have any links for the points system vs the work visa systems, that are in english for people that might be interested? Even japanese would be helpful as well.

Also, +1 for consulting with immigration lawyers. I employ/consult with one as well, and that's about the best information you can get, it's well worth the money (and usually the consultation is free) -- they're very unlikely to get the paperwork/process wrong.


The immigration bureau has an English page for the highly skilled professional visa: http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/newimmiact_3/en/

The English page for immigration has lots of information, but it is quite vague and not wonderfully organized.


> You can't start a side business on a regular work visa.

This is incorrect.

A friend of mine started a businesses on a work visa and I myself have even started a business on a student visa [1]. No legal problems. I just recently switched from "Student" to "Manager" visa, and immigration had no problems with the fact that the business was already running for over a year before I applied for my residence status to be changed.

[1] http://marui-plugin.blogspot.jp/2016/11/starting-company-as-...


Sorry if my statement was inaccurate. The legal advice I have received states that if I were to start a company I would need to change residence types or would be unable to renew my current visa.

So how does your friend renew his visa? Does he renew as a standard work visa and declare his company at the same time?


As long as you have your current position (employment in my friends case or university enrollment in my case) you can extend the visa on those grounds, basically making you business a "side-business". After you quit your job or leave university, your visa stays valid until the end of the term. When the visa expires, you will have to apply for a Business Manager (経営者) visa, because you are not an employee (授業員) at your company, but an executive (役員).


From reading this policy, it seems there are two competing issues at stake:

- It seems necessary to attract the young & creative types. First, because everyone is doing it. And, second, because Japan has has a rather huge problem, not just with age, but with a general lack of anyone doing anything new and/or different.

- But Japan happens to be off the charts when it comes to the desire not to mingle with foreigners. It's not that visible, or in the news, because they're less likely to openly show it, or engage in violence. But foreigners are in even lower regard than young people.[0]

So you end up with this sort of policy, that has exactly zero chance of attracting anybody unless they see some specific opportunity in Japan.

[0]: Case in point: the EU admitted 1.4 Million refugees in 2015&2016. US: 210,000, Canada: 120,000. Japan: 9.


Some obvious discrepancies around permitted speech on this topic. Say you like traditional British values and think they are being undermined by immigration: "Racist! Xenophobe! There are no traditional British values anymore! Go back to the Daily Mail little Englander!"

Point out that Israel or Japan have immigration policy that are highly exclusive: wind blowing, tumbleweed..


> Japan's immigration system seems heavily set up to encourage young people to come, work and then leave.

Indeed, even though you have to pay all taxes like a local when you live in Japan, you can never benefit from stuff like pensions if you ever want to retire there.


This is not true. If you have permanent residence you can retire in Japan and claim the National Pension if you paid in for enough years. In fact, recently the number of years of payment required was reduced from 25 to 10.


There are other categories of visas where you can receive the National Pension as well. I'm on a spousal visa and I'm pretty sure I can receive a pension even if I don't get permanent residence (or at least that's what they told me at the city hall). As glandium says I can also receive what I put in through the pension system in Canada and the UK (the only 2 places I checked). Also, if you don't want to receive a pension, you can also receive most of what you paid into the system when you leave the country. Unless you have only staid for a year or so, though, it's probably better to leave it there, financially. Finally, the city hall also told me that if you have been paying into a compatible pension system in another country, the number of years paying into that system counts for the number of years in the Japanese system (but you have to roll the 2 pensions together).

It's worth checking diligently to make sure that you don't fall through some bureaucratic cracks in the system, but it seems surprisingly robust.


There are also bilateral agreements between Japan and other countries regarding pension, and how the years you paid in both can cumulate.


It sucks to hear you've been getting one year renewals. Unfortunately when it comes to bureaucracy here in Japan, things are on a case by case basis, so its hard to make any sweeping judgements. As a counterpoint, I came here on a working holiday visa (6 months) and found a job at a Japanese startup. When I renewed my visa, I switched to an Engineer visa and got a three year one.

Mid-way through that three year visa, I quit, and created a consulting company. After consulting with an immigration lawyer, I was told it was "probably ok" to be the director of a company on an Engineering visa, so long as the primary thing I was doing was Engineering related. When my three year visa expired, I successfully had my own company sponsor it, and got another three year one, followed by a five year one. Last year, I successfully got PR here.

Its hard to say why you're continually getting one year visa renewals. If you're not already doing it, it could be worth having an immigration lawyer submit the application on your behalf. Because it was a cheap business expense (~80,000 JPY) compared to the cost of screwing something minor up, that's what I did for every renewal I did under my own company (for PR, I did it myself though).

I'd argue that Japan has a relatively friendly policy for skilled immigrants. To get a job as a developer here, all you need is a company that's willing to sponsor your visa and a university degree in a related field. As far as I'm aware, there's no onus on the company to prove they couldn't get a Japanese to fill the position, or quotas on the number of visas like there are in other countries (US for instance).

Furthermore, a great thing about Japanese working visas are that they aren't tied to a specific company, only the field of work (which they've made broader by combining several statuses into the Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa category). This means once you have a visa here, you can easily switch jobs, and even if your company was to lay you off or you were to quit, you don't immediately need to return to your country.

What's more, Japan's introduced a points based system to give preferential treatment to highly skilled professionals. While the points they give create a bias towards someone coming from academia or working at a large well paying job, it makes it theoretically possible to get PR here without being married to a Japanese citizen after one year.

There are a lot of problems with Japan. I agree with you that the trainee visa is one big one. The lack of being able to get a clear answer about immigration status issues also makes it challenging, and encourages you to take a certain amount of risk in stepping into a grey area legally, which I understand will hold some people back. But for me personally, and other foreign entrepreneurs around me, it has made it possible to transition from being an employee to entrepreneur with relatively little investment compared to what is required in other countries.

If anyone is interested in more detail about transitioning from an engineer to entrepreneur here, I've written more about my experience here: http://www.tokyodev.com/2014/04/17/creating-company-japan/.


I agree. Also, It is a trend in some EU countries. This kind of program tries to boost the economy.


>Based on the New Business Implementation Plan, Fukuoka City officials will conduct a review on the progress of startup businesses founded by entrepreneurs who utilized this system and received approval for his/her Business Manager residential status. There will be three review sessions during the six-month period, of which at least one session will be held either at the entrepreneur’s place of business or residence. During the review sessions, the business’s bank account, lease for the place of business, and employment contracts may be reviewed. If progress is not satisfactory, Fukuoka City may direct the entrepreneur to return to his/her home country.

Sounds like a lot of biannual headache.


Try opening a business bank account in Japan. Or any bank account for that matter. Be prepared to start every handwritten form over if you make even the slightest error, and I hope you’ve been practicing your kanji. No credit cards or foreign transfers until you’ve got a few years in your business. Capital requirements. It’s a whole different ballgame, for better or worse.


The largest bank in Japan was flabbergasted that I sweet talked them into getting a business bank account for Starfighter.

Some things I wouldn't agree with: Personal bank accounts aren't challenging given a medium term status of residence. Wire transfers should be trivial for anyone capable of running a business; you just have to ask and not sound like a drug lord while doing so. Credit cards are easily available, including to foreigners (surprisingly so from some issuers), though corporate cards are much harder. Capital requirements functionally don't exist anymore; you can open a 合同会社 with 1 yen and you can convince large banks to open a business bank account with e.g. 10万 as an opening deposit.

(For anyone starting a company in Japan who wants to talk banking stuff I'd be more than happy to; this is very relevant to my professional interests these days.)


Sorry, Patrick, have to disagree with you on this one: 12 years of residency, started a Godo Gaisha, had to jump hoops even with my bank I'd had a personal account with all those years just to get a standard savings account.

Credit card was the same for me, although friends have had easier time. I owned a house, a car, registered a business - could not get a personal cc with company my family had been using for over 10 years without doing major banter and restrictions.

I can't imagine a foreigner coming over here with no spousal connections and setting up a company for a year.


There's a great deal of variance among Japanese banks regarding their policies on issuing credit cards to gaijin, all of which are (of course!) undocumented. A random list of cards that are supposedly easier to get:

http://wandertokyo.com/japanese-credit-cards/


It's not as bad as Hong Kong. I had to visit seventeen (17) banks and spend over USD$10,000 to get a bank account for our company over the last 1.5 years. I did everything from opening accounts in the same banking groups overseas to renting needless physical offices. None of it helped. Finally I got accepted by a startup bank with a special KYC process approved by the HKMA. Hong Kong accountants and other professional services firms privately report that their business is down immensely. It's the US' fault and they've announced in The Banker a month or two ago that they're preparing to roll back pressure, but the damage has been done.


Can confirm. With local banks it's a major nightmare. Even Japanese startups take MONTHS to have official banks account they can use for charging their clients. If you need anything fast, Rakuten Bank is your (pretty much) only option.


Yuucho, as well, though they are very slow with int'l wire transfers. Almost walked in/walked out to set up, though.


Shinsei was easy to work with (for a business account), have English language online banking and telephone support. Never had an issue with foreign transfers.

Does help to have a Japanese friend who can help when opening the account, etc, and it’s important to find accounting and legal help that speak English.


Shinsei is the most foreigner friendly bank in Tokyo, bar none. They're known for it, and they make their services convenient -- go there.

Initially you might have some trouble with the Address/Phone Number/Bank Account requirements, because they're almost all required at nearly the exact same time, making some weird pseudo requirement stalemate but here's what you do:

1. Get a place to live (likely through some online agency before you get to japan -- you're gonna pay a premium)

2. Register with your local ward office, get your foreigner card, which will have your address on the back and your face on the front

3. Get a phone at UQ Mobile (or whichever carrier will give you one, more choices if you have a longer VISA), IIRC the only real hard requirement is a credit card.

4. Get a bank account (phone required)

NOTE: some places will even let you pay for your apartment with a credit card

Oh BTW when I did this, I avoided the requirement stalemate by staying with a friend (thus I had a place to "live" at) when I arrived, and a phone number I could use (friend's phone number). It is possible to secure a place to live before you get to japan, there are sites that cater to foreigners for this purpose and will get you set up almost completely before you arrive so you just sign some paperwork when you arrive and have a place to live.


IIRC, you now get the "foreigner card" during immigration. You still have to register at the local ward, though.


You get the card at the airport, but it's useless without the stamp. Can confirm that the dependency graph stated by the parent is a (the?) correct way to navigate the system. The only thing I'd modify is that you can save money by bringing your own phone, and getting a phone+data SIM card from Bic, which you can set up on a recurring plan with a foreign credit card.


Yeah, it's been so long that I actually forgot the proper (I think) way to go through it, and that it was actualy easier for me because I had contacts/friends willing to help.

The problem with the phone+data sim thing is that you need an actual callable phone number, a lot of the time. Also, you can tell what numbers are used for in Japan by how they start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_numbers_in_Japan#Non... , and some places will be sticklers about it.

One sad/funny thing is that I actually needed a phone number to get a place to live as well, but actually my agent just used their own temporarily (literally right in front of the leasing agent, and they didn't care). I get the feeling that if you get a place from abroad they'll overlook that/work that out somehow, even if you don't have an agent that was as understanding/nice/flexible as mine.


Oh, if you have a phone+SIM card from Bic, you get a number. You need a non-tourist visa for that one, though...which means you need the stamped gaijin card.

I never had issues with anyone being snobby about the number, but I was in a bigger city, so maybe I had it easy.

(My sad/funny story was that in order to cancel the recurring phone payment, I needed to receive a text message to the phone number I was cancelling. But I had left the country by that point, and the SIM didn't work for international SMS. So I was screwed. I just told my credit card company to reject the recurring billing, and thus I'm probably blackballed from all future SIM-card purchasing in Japan.)


Could you have mailed the SIM back to a friend in Japan?


Probably, but I'd have to explain the whole thing and do international postage and whatnot, and it wasn't worth the hassle.


These days for phone numbers you can bootstrap that with a free VoIP account (only charges for outgoing calls) which doesn't require any form of ID.


For personal accounts Shinsei is fine. For business, not so much. They only do Japanese speaking, they require IE for certificate pinning I believe, and a lot of banks charge extra for online banking even.

Rakuten Bank is the best for startups I think, but you still need a Japanese speaking person in the company.


Please excuse my ignorance, but why would you start a business in a country you don't understand its language? Doesn't sound logical to me, except if there's a big part of the country that doesn't speak that language or something bizarre like that.

(this is a serious question, but I'm unable to phrase it this late in a way that doesn't sound like I'm trying to provoke you)


In Tokyo it is possible to get a job as a software developer without speaking Japanese. After living here a couple years someone decides they like life here, but want to run their own business. Maybe they want to run a SaaS or something that targets a global audience. For visa purposes, they need a Japanese company.

By this time they’ve maybe picked up up some basic Japanese but aren’t fluent. Becoming fluent in a language is quite challenging, especially if you’re working full time in an English language environment. Even without fluency, it’s possible to enjoy life here.


Especially in Japan. I don't think it's really possible for a native English speaker to ever become 100 percent proficient in Japanese.


What makes you think that? Japanese is just a normal language. You have to study vocabulary and grammar and interact enough with native speakers to learn expressions. The writing system and the lack of cognates makes it harder for an English speaker than, say, Swedish, but there is no reason to believe that you can't ever reach full professional proficiency.


The only category V language for English speakers, that also has an asterisk:

https://www.atlasandboots.com/foreign-service-institute-lang...

> Category V: 88 weeks (2200 hours) Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers

> Arabic

> Cantonese (Chinese)

> Mandarin (Chinese)

> [asterisk] Japanese

> Korean

> [asterisk] Usually more difficult than other languages in the same category


Why is that? Except for Kanji, Japanese doesn't look like a difficult language because it doesn't have genders and inflections.


Japanese does have inflections. Specifically, verbs are conjugated: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Japanese_verbs#Conju...


You are right, I meant cases [1] , like those that are there in German.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_case


The Wikipedia article you linked has a section on cases in Japanese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_case#Japanese


The British Empire did it successfully for centuries.

These days, it doesn't even take an army. Anglophone chauvinism is actually growing in many ways. In another generation or so even Japan will have a sizable expat class that stops bothering to learn the local language.


Anecdotally from living there for a few years, it was way more common to meet older expats living there with little to no Japanese than it was to meet younger expats, so long as they weren't totally brand new. There's quite a few people who went there during the bubble period that seem proud of the fact that ordering a beer is the extent of their Japanese despite living there for years.

Its much easier to learn the language now with the internet, and Tokyo offers near free lessons all over the city that are staffed by volunteers. Had one friend who came in with absolutely zero Japanese and by the end of his first year was understanding conversations. I see the opposite happening.


I actually agree with your point of view, too. It is getting easier to learn languages and the number of resources only grow.

There are two simultaneous trends. On the one hand the number of people who expect people everywhere to accommodate them in English is increasing. Their ability to remain in an English bubble is stronger than ever, thanks to Netflix, Google Maps, Spotify and online news sites. On the other hand, those who are motivated to learn are making more progress than ever before and they can get very, very far before moving abroad.

We have the same trend with computer literacy. There is a generation of people who have grown up with impenetrable walled garden mobile devices and would be completely lost on a command line. There's also a subset of that generation who has learned more about computing through MOOCs, Github and YouTube than their parents learned over decades of practice that early PCs essentially forced upon users.


Shinsei bank is no better for business accounts. No help given. Just has hard to open. Only one branch for business accounts in all of Tokyo


Ha ha! And you have to do it yourself! It's the primary reason I made my wife CEO of our company -- although in hindsight it was a brilliant move on my part. She's Japanese and I can't tell you how useful it is to have someone who understands the nuances of Japanese culture managing your company.

But wrt to credit cards and foreign transfers: I remember when we asked the bank manager if we could get a credit card and he actually laughed. At the moment I'm funnelling all of our foreign money through a personal bank account -- which my accountant says is pretty common.

As an aside if anyone needs to receive foreign currency in Japan, take a look at the rates for personal accounts in Shinsei bank. Not connected with them except for being a happy customer. Would be delighted to move the corporate account there, but they said "No" :-)


> and I hope you’ve been practicing your kanji

Shinsei bank offer applications in English

> or foreign transfers until you’ve got a few years in your business

Fortunately there are options to transfer JPY funds overseas using companies like Transferwise.


I’ve never heard of Shinsei bank. My accounts are at UFJ, and obtaining them was my second proudest achievement in Japan after my driver’s license.


They're a really small bank that happens to be owned by an American PE firm.


How or why did you choose UFJ?

// disclosure: head of Tech Strategy for Americas


No good reason, really. It could have been any of them —they’re all pretty much upside down and backward, to be honest. I guess it’s a way to enforce stability.


I remember being recommended Shinsei for banking.

"Oh great, they have an account setup app".

I go through the app, take pictures of my documentation etc.

"How easy!" I thought.

I get a call later asking me to visit a branch.

"Sorry, the app is only for Japanese" they tell me.

These kind of stories abound.


It can be yes. The govt agencies have their downsides. We worked with jetro (skymind): https://www.jetro.go.jp/usa/topics/companies-chosen-global-i...

While it has not been too bad, the paperwork and initial startup was a bit of a hassle.

I would be careful around this route.


Wow, that is very cool. Congrats on getting through it.


Same story as always: you take the risk, invest your time and break up your life. If it works you are welcome to stay. If it doesn't work you get cut loose and you likely will take years to recover whereas the other side hasn't risked a thing.

These kind of propositions only make sense if you have nothing to lose.


If your passport isn't from the right country you might have nothing to lose.

If you have decided to move to some other country, and are looking for the place with the least legal headaches for immigration, _and have a college degree_, then Japan is probably the best on that metric.

You don't have the uncertainty of the green card lottery (the permanent residency requirements are pretty well defined), no employer-based indentured servitude (you can change jobs easily on any visa), and if you are not doing unconventional jobs there's not much issue.

There's of course the cultural difficulties, and the initial difficulty finding an employer for initial sponsorship (though these sorts of visas are trying to make this easier). But the country has a high quality of life and you can carve out your own bubble without having the fear of getting your life uprooted due to legal issues.


This pretty much describes all countries aside from US


My understanding is that it's not trivial to get a visa in the EU as well, due to it being Shengen Zone stuff.

Even for simple trips, my Chinese friends in particular have to jump through hoops.

I also remember a scandal in France a while back when the gov't decided it didn't like foreign students staying to work in France after graduating, so changed rules to make it harder for people to stay afterwards.


> My understanding is that it's not trivial to get a visa in the EU as well, due to it being Shengen Zone stuff.

Work permits for non-EU immigrants are issued at the national level and have very little to do with Schengen. Requirements vary quite a bit across Europe.


For the purposes of work (IT) or business immigration it's totally trivial


I wouldn't move to japan even if I was living in a third world country. Their quality of life is very poor. All focus on work and nothing else.


I agree with this. With Japan, there is no soft landing. But part of the problem is that they’re still trying to avoid immigration chaos, and without a viable business there isn’t much validation to you being there....


I don't think Italy is a great place to do business, but it's a good place to live in many ways. They've got something similar that might be of interest to the right person http://italiastartupvisa.mise.gov.it/#ISVhome


That website is compeltrly broken on mobile. Is there another link with a summary of the program.

(The link jumps erratically, and completely breaks the back button)


Uh, you want to live in Italy, you'd better get used to shitty government web sites ;-)



I can see why these things make sense to legislators and policymakers - but in all pragmatic reality, I'm weary of it actually working.

1) Most startups fail. What happens then? What is the path? Many folks will come from 2cnd-tier economic nations, and don't want to go back. It gets complicated.

2) Investment requirements are easily provided for by people who want to 'buy citizenship' and it's easy enough to hire a few friends/family members, park their money in an account, and pull it out when they are done. The 'businessperson' visa was widely used as a backdoor to a passport in Canada.

It might make sense to make the visa commensurate on $X in a round A or something, but then it all gets very complicated.

It might be just better to have a smart immigration policy to retain top talent across the board in the first place.

It's really not 'founders' that make the business - it's 'the founders and everyone else'.


> 1) Most startups fail. What happens then? What is the path? Many folks will come from 2cnd-tier economic nations, and don't want to go back. It gets complicated.

Just take the risk and eat the cost. Sometimes investments don't work out. You hope the ones that do make up for it.


Just curious, anyone knows what's the advantage of starting up in Japan over say, Singapore? I know Singapore is predominantly English-speaking, you get all kinds of food and the laws are friendly to startups as well.

If I'm an English speaker in Japan, there is a huge language barrier, on top of which there are also other minor nuances to be paid attention to such as: high rent (depends on your area), finding Non-Japanese food and so forth.

Anyone with insights into the contrasts between both these countries, would love to hear :)


The biggest pro is of course the easier access to the Japanese market. This market is much bigger than the Singaporean market (of course both pale in comparison to global markets) and although gdp PPP/capita is higher in Singapore, Japan has a lower gini coefficient, so the consumers are about as well off. On the B2B side, Japanese companies make tons of products, so if your startup is a B2B solution for a specific product, it's more likely to be needed in Japan than in Singapore. Additionally, Japanese businesses can be absolutely massive, so you might have less sales overheard.

Japan is also of course known for their electronics, so if you're doing something electronics-heavy (e.g. making a phone or working with transportation systems) the demand of your product as well as the supply of workers with the skill to work on that product will be higher in Japan.


Been coming to singapore for the last 2 years, had one customer, came to Japan in equivalent amount of time and Japan won. I had 3x the customers coming from Japan, it might have been a better network upon landing, but in general the reception I had was better.

I now live in Japan full time.

I'll echo other replies and say more mature market and it's what I like to call a source of money rather than an aggregator.

Singapore's main benefit is being a "hub". If you have access to the direct sources of money though, it's a hard justification (By that I mean more mature markets in east asia that might not speak english)

I just came back from Singapore a few days ago and my assessment of the market is still the same. I talked to enough companies there to see it still doesn't make sense for us to be there yet. In general, I also feel like I can make more of a difference in Japan than SG (everyone speaks english but there aren't as many resources and companies are really conservative when it comes to buying software)


I have lived and created startups in Japan and Singapore. Japan is the much larger mature market compared to Singapore. If you can penetrate it you have good business for decades. But the barriers of entry are really really high. Both markets are expensive to live, but Singapore still has a huge influx on really cheap labor (~500 SGD per month) and cheaper corporate services (legal, accounting, shared co-working, etc)


Slightly off topic, what about startup, business and market in Malaysia?

I am from Malaysia, but now studying in Japan. Not sure if it worth it to struggle starting a business or working in Japan after graduating.


Slightly off topic. But this Japanese program sounds totally dressing and covered in tape. If you work remote and are completely self sufficient is there any country that will just let you live there?



I would be interested in knowing replies to this as well !


Thailand, for sure.


It was never officially approved in Thailand, and now it's officially illegal: https://www.bangkokpost.com/learning/work/693976/visa-runs-n... - I know people are still doing it, and I know of very public enforcement for a very short time (probably done to make a statement).

YMMV.


Good luck with that. I would advise against it having been stationed in Japan, in Yokosuka, on the first Nuclear vessel forward deployed ever. It's an awesome place for tourists but it will never be a place that anyone who is not 100% Japanese can call home. You will always be an outside over there.


Of course soldiers are considered outsiders. I doubt people stationed in Korea or Germany will be going on about how they felt like true locals either.

The biggest hurdle is the language barrier. People treat you like kids when they think you're just a typical tourist, but once you're past that hurdle, it quickly gets to the, "How can you not know this basic thing? All of us Japanese know it" point. At that point, you're the one reminding them that you're a foreigner.


Actually the US Forces-Germany relationship is pretty strong, and during the Cold War was even stronger. There were a lot of the permanent party at places like Landstuhl who were fairly embedded in off post activities.


Having lived here a decade, I consider it my home. While I’ll never be considered Japanese, I do find acceptance in society here.

Japanese society classifies people as insiders or outsiders. The key I’ve found is to become active in some community where you can become an insider. For instance, I’ve been active in the Japanese Ruby community where I’ve found acceptance.


Also moved here 10 years ago (though spent 2 years in the UK in the middle). I'm married to a Japanese woman and her family accepts me completely. My mother in law refers to me as her son and introduces me that way to people who don't know me. Some people are surprised, but people treat me exactly the same way they treat everybody else.

In my neighbourhood, I know pretty much everybody (mainly because I work from home and go for many walks). People call out to chat with me and I'm involved with community groups, etc. One time one of the young girls in the neighbourhood had a friend over and the friend said "Hello" to me in English. The girl said, "Don't bother. He's Japanese." She had no idea that I was Canadian.

The inside/outside issue is really the key. Everybody is an outsider in some context. Understanding your place and whether or not you are inside or outside is critical. If you want to be inside, you also need to follow the inside rules -- even if you don't agree with them. In my experience, this is where people get into troubles. If you say, "Hey, I don't agree with that, I don't want to do it" the response is universally, "OK. There is absolutely no problem with that. You are outside."

In short, there is no problem getting inside, but you actually need to want to be inside -- not one foot in and one foot out. If you want to be accepted as Japanese, then you have to be Japanese. Most immigrants do not actually want this for some reason.


>The inside/outside issue is really the key. Everybody is an outsider in some context. Understanding your place and whether or not you are inside or outside is critical. If you want to be inside, you also need to follow the inside rules -- even if you don't agree with them. In my experience, this is where people get into troubles. If you say, "Hey, I don't agree with that, I don't want to do it" the response is universally, "OK. There is absolutely no problem with that. You are outside."

>In short, there is no problem getting inside, but you actually need to want to be inside -- not one foot in and one foot out. If you want to be accepted as Japanese, then you have to be Japanese. Most immigrants do not actually want this for some reason.

This is interesting, as it contrasts with the fact that I can disagree with the majority about how things should be done in my own country (and act accordingly) without risking the insider status.


Yeah, I think that's a really apt description of the culture clash that happens. If you go into it with that expectation, you'll get absolutely steam rolled. I mean, you can still disagree, but you have to pick and choose your venues for talking about it. It's quite a famous saying that Japanese people have 3 faces: one that you present to the general public, one that you present to your friends and family and one that you keep completely to yourself. If you can't/won't do that then you will never fit in. It's worth noting that there are some Japanese people who have difficulty and they also don't fit in.

One thing I should point out is that "inside/outside" is always relative. It's not like people classify you as being Japanese/not Japanese most of the time. If you work for a company, then you are "inside" in the company -- as long as you follow the rules: going to drinking parties, showing up on time in the morning, dressing properly, staying late, etc, etc. You are also "inside" in your family -- again as long as you follow the rules: showing up for important events like Obon, Shougatsu, etc; paying deference to the head of the family; etc, etc. You are also "inside" in your community -- again rules: paying the "community fee", sorting your garbage properly, doing your turn at cleaning the community, participating in the community festival, etc, etc.

So when people see me, they don't see "Foreigner Mike"; they see Mike who works at blah, is in blah family, lives in blah community, is a member of blah sports club, is a regular at blah izakaya... and tangentially -- came originally from Canada. But a lot of foreigners don't really understand that: they have a contract position at some company, don't become a fixture in that company, don't have a family, don't get involved in the community (and especially actively avoid paying fees, or volunteering, etc) -- so the only thing left is "Foreigner Joe".


Man, this was a real breath-of-fresh-air. As someone who has had a pet dream of moving to Japan, and has this very thing as their primary fear, I feel relieved every time I hear something like this from someone of foreign origin, living in Japan.


Compared to many places in the world, Japan is a relatively easy place to migrate to. Having a university degree makes a massive difference, so if you are serious about it, then I recommend that. Also, if you are young, one area that I think often gets overlooked is that if you have a master's degree, you can get an instructor's visa and teach at college level. If you are under 40 and from an eligible country, I also highly recommend the JET programme, which is the programme I initially came in on. It's a government programme and is an incredibly soft landing into Japan -- visa get's sorted for you, you can bring your spouse, you can stay for up to 5 years -- which, if you are diligent is just enough time to learn a decent amount of Japanese, you are set up with a subsidised, furnished apartment with all the utilities hooked up, you aren't expected to be able to speak much Japanese, etc. But there are many other ways to come to Japan and probably it's more difficult to sort out leaving your home country than it is to actually find a way to work in Japan.

The biggest thing I will caution you is that most people who come here with expectations of what it's going to be like have a bit of a rude awakening. In Japanese culture if you are hammering a nail and it doesn't go in, you hit it harder. If it still doesn't go in, you hit it even harder. If it still doesn't go in, you pull it up and throw it away. This is one of the reasons why you see posts like the OP's.

I have found that people who come from countries with a strong cultural and moral background have a very difficult time in Japan. Japan also has a strong cultural and moral background -- but the culture and morals are different. You may find yourself in the situation where you are thinking, "I'm supposed to do X. X is morally wrong. I refuse to do X." -- and, well, at that point you are kind of screwed. If you have a more relativistic view of morals then it is much easier. Personally I have had to change my attitude from being "This way or no way at all" to constantly thinking, "What action on my part is likely to be successful in this circumstance". I don't give up my morals, but I act/refrain from acting in such a way as to be compatible with my surroundings. A lot of times that ends up with me keeping my mouth shut for a very long time, just waiting for the correct opportunity.

If you understand that you must adapt to Japan and that Japan will not adapt to you, then you will be fine. Either you will find that you can adapt and will have very few problems, or you will decide that Japanese culture is not your cup of tea. Resist the temptation to slam yourself up against the brick wall that is Japan. It hurts a lot.


Thanks for taking the time to reply to my short post at length. I actually came back this Sunday afternoon to just read your post again because I was having a tough day of Japan-centric wanderlust.

I've been preparing, mentally and otherwise, for an eventual move to Japan for over 10 years (with some breaks in-between as I was navigating the troughs of disillusionment).

- Visited Japan last year to make sure it wasn't a false dream. Had some disappointments but the larger goal hasn't been trashed.

- University degree in IT. Open to doing a Master's sometime soon.

- Emmigrated once already. So I know that I can adapt to a non-native culture.

- I will be a citizen of a country which does allow me to pursue the JET program. However, I really don't imagine enjoying life as an English teacher. I've looked into employment at the startups in Fukuoka as a more probable alternative. Perhaps even starting with a sabbatical year of Japanese language studies.

- Japanese; learning slowly but on a daily basis. Could prove competency upto JLPT4 within a couple of months of dedicated study.

- I can't speak for national identities having a hand in citizens having a strong moral compass but in my personal life - I subscribe to the philosophy that everything cultural and political is relative to the culture or society espousing those values.

Again, it's great to hear from ordinary people living good lives in Japan as foreigners. I don't expect that usually from HackerNews and my usual haunt i.e. r/Japan is a cesspool of misery and hate.


Why can't you be an outsider and still consider Japan home? To me, the mild (at least in bigger cities) racism and exclusion you experience is more than made up for the politeness and social order one enjoys in exchange.


Wait, what are the benefits apart from 'we let you stay here and do your business and here are some lawyers and maybe a good word here and there'? This is absurd.


I've noted this in a different comment, but Japan is very easy to live in. Japan's greatest strength and it's greatest weakness is that just about everyone in the society is in the same "lane".

This means you get a bunch of good and bad characteristics in the vast majority of the population -- politeness-by-default, general honesty, intense almost blinding nationalism -- it's a mixed bag.

Also, if you're interested from a culture perspective, it's quite possibly the most unique culture I've ever experienced. I'm not even normally interested in culture (just about every group has culture, things that make them different, and it's usually all interesting), but just the amount of seclusion that makes it almost impossible for a foreigner to be accepted in japan makes for some really interesting heightened culture differences/quirks.


> Japan's greatest strength and it's greatest weakness is that just about everyone in the society is in the same "lane". This means you get a bunch of good and bad characteristics in the vast majority of the population.

I've never heard it described this way before, it makes a lot of sense.


My Japanese girlfriend is always curious (from a distance) about America and what it's like there -- she sometimes assumes that it must be a terrible place because I chose Japan.

I usually explain that Japan and America have the same average quality, but Japan's peaks and troughs are fairly close to the average, while America's are much more extreme.

I don't know if that makes sense (and I'm not guaranteeing it's 100% accurate), but it helped her "get" how Japan is a bit different. :)


That's also how I explain it to people on both sides; Japanese society basically has the extremes pulled in on both sides, which results in a lot of benefits, but also some downsides. And it applies to a lot of aspects of society, like prosperity, politics, altruism, etc.


> I usually explain that Japan and America have the same average quality

Depends on the attribute, they certainly don't have the same average politeness, honesty, and public cleanliness. But then Japan has some unique downsides as well.


It's safe. There are fewer homicides in the entire country of 125 million than just the city of Chicago each year.


Yes, very safe indeed. It can be quite fun when you are in your 20s, if you live in big urban centers (night life, etc.) - but it's also an impenetrable society. Not being Japanese will place barriers around you in many aspects of the society, sooner or later (even if you are fluent in the language). It's important to be aware of this.


Do you mind expanding on this? I’m curious about what barriers will be put up, as I’ve thought about moving there.


I can elaborate - contact me via PM.


Not a reason to choose Japan specifically. That is also true for pretty much every 1st and 2nd world country on earth that isn’t the US.


For homicides yes. You can live in Germany or some other European country where murders and gun crime are in single digits per year (haven't checked the latest number, could be higher than single digits but much less compared to US, you get my point).

But the difference compared to Japan is in more petty crime. Things already mentioned in this thread - you can't just leave your laptop on coffee table and go to the loo for 10 min. Or leave your bicycle in front of a store and go inside for half an hour.

As a European I don't think there are many (if any) places in Europe where you don't have to watch your back and be aware of thieves and other (potentially dangerous or at least inconvenient) dodgy street elements.

Add to that overall cleanliness (amount of homeless people shitting on streets, screaming obscenities on people walking by etc, in US and EU cities that will be quite normal, in most Asian cities this would be a rarity) and moving to a place like Japan can be attractive option for people.


Homicide rate seems a ridiculous rate to use; I suspect the homicide rate per 100,000 startup founders is a rounding error of — for example — road traffic accidents.


A low violence, high trust society has spillover benefits. Aside from not being likely to be murdered, you can expend much less energy on safety.

If your concern is just survival, then perhaps Japan's perennial rank at the top of WHO life expectancy rankings is something that would interest you.


I'd doubt this, I've heard that Japanese police will classify clear murders as suicides if they can't solve the murder quickly.


What are the downsides? If it's an improvement and not a regression I don't see a reason to call it absurd.


Improvement over what? I haven't read any business argument so far why it would make sense.


Access to a market with 120 million people.


> During the review sessions, the business’s bank account, lease for the place of business, and employment contracts may be reviewed. If progress is not satisfactory, Fukuoka City may direct the entrepreneur to return to his/her home country.

Thanks, but I didn't move out of my parents' house just to recreate the experience in Japan...


France has the same thing, valid for 4 years. http://visa.lafrenchtech.com/


That graduate degree requirement sucks. I'd actually consider it (as an employee) even though pay is much lower in France than in the U.S., but I don't have any higher education at all!


I think it's still easy to get a work visa for France even without this program.

Salaries are lower, but you have social security, retirement, and very cheap education. You can't really compare gross salary.


And excellent, free healthcare.


"free"


Concealed/externalizer, then?

Still much less expensive than in the US, inarguably.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_total_h...


Yes but why would you ever want to move there to create a startup?

Not only you have to deal with enterprise related problems such as fiscal instability (rules changes almost every years, see for example how the auto-entrepreneur status changed over time), the URSSAF, a bureaucratic and slow administration but you have also to deal with a lot of issues on a personal level such as insecurity, terrorism, frequent riots and strikes, the administration (yes, again), ...

No really, as a French and as someone who tried a minimal thing with the easiest available status, I don’t understand how my country can be attractive. I would rather deal with the Japanese administration, which asks for ridiculous amount of documents but does its job. And a country with working services (transports, post) is also a big plus.


Did you ever work in another country? I work in Germany with colleagues from many different countries, and our country does not suck.

The French post is one of the best in the World, train delays are the same in France as in Germany (shall we compare with the situation in the US?), the administration is a PITA but they actually try to help instead of killing you (+ the number of organisms to help startups in France is very high).

Terrorism in France is a minimal cause of deaths compared to what happens in the US due to firearms. The fiscal instability is getting better with our current government (we know what is coming, not like in the US), the number of riots is low but they are highly mediatized.

I am honestly surprised by this comment, would have expected it from someone not living in France. Compared to the UK and USA, France is a safer place to create your startup right now if you are a foreigner.

The language is a pain and there are other alternatives (Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany) but if you want a country in the Western World that tries to help you instead of making everything possible to have you back at the border, France is attractive.

PS: If you ask « Why is it attractive? »: Paris is full of investors/incubators, young people do speak English, people in the startup environment interact a lot and you will find mates to work and speak about your issues easily. Paris has two major airports (compared to Germany with old airports in Berlin and a too small one in Hamburg) + train stations to go everywhere (i.e. London, Bordeaux, Lyon).


> Compared to the UK and USA, France is a safer place to create your startup right now if you are a foreigner.

In what way? You can't raise as much money. Your market is smaller, bureacracy is more (just to compare it costs £12 to make a company in the UK vs EUR 180 at a minimum in France), taxes are less in the UK & US, access to cloud computing is less available locally in France. You can get a visa in the UK and US too.. heck Australia too it's not as if France is special here. In fact on business terms, you're heavily disadvantaged in France.


> Did you ever work in another country?

Yes. I'm currently working in another country and I've been studying in Japan for a year. So I have few points of comparison.

Terrorism is not just a question of numbers. The problem is more about how the government handle the matter. When you read things like terrorists getting welfare[1] for years, the fact they can keep the nationality[2] and returnees jihadists from Syria will be welcomed[3], in addition to no state reaction after Charlie (which lead to the Bataclan event), no real proactive mesures against 15 000 people suspected of terrorism acquaintance or support[4], the problem is not current terrorism, it is the future. Because almost nothing is done against it and you can except to see the trend of multiples attacks per year (or month, Europe wise) to continue for years.

Should I mention that if you ever got red-handed in a terrorist plot you're only sentenced to maximum 10 years of prison[6], that can be further reduced for "good behavior"? It's even creating more of them actually.[7] And that hosting them is not even considered prosecutable?[8] And let's not dive in rabbit hole of the hundreds of salafist mosques that can preach hate against the French in total impunity.

It also have impact on daily life. Multiples subway stations are closed for hours everyday because of suspicious bags, the train station like Gare du Nord are closed and rushed by the police on a regular basis.

Anyway I could simply have started my post with a question, like you did: did you ever had a friend got shot in a terror attack?

I guess not, otherwise you would not just speak about numbers.

[1] https://francais.rt.com/international/44967-2-millions-deuro... [2] http://www.lefigaro.fr/politique/le-scan/2016/03/30/25001-20... [3] http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2017/11/09/01016-201... [4] https://www.valeursactuelles.com/politique/15-000-fiches-s-p... [5] https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/justice/filiere-dj... [6] https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/justice/filiere-dj... [7] http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2017/03/30/97001-20170330F... [8] http://www.lemonde.fr/attaques-a-paris/article/2016/05/26/ja...


[1] is from Russia Today, so I'll abstain from commenting

[2] is true, but it should be noted that this is standard procedure in the West, since citizenship is considered one the most inalienable rights (in Germany, loss of citizenship only occurs through taking another one; in the US, it's only possible for naturalized citizens to lose their citizenship if they commit terrorism within 5 years of being naturalized).

[3] the article does not say that djihadis will be welcomed.

[4] is standard procedure in the West. You can't detain people who don't even stand accused, unless you're the US and have absolutely no concern about egregiously violating your constitution (and human rights). And tracking 15,000 people is beyond what any police force can do.

[5][6] it is generally not a good idea to comment on criminal trials, since you have access to very little compared to the judges and jury. It's also unclear that detention is a good solution to the problem anyways.

[7] is perfectly correct.

[8] it is considered prosecutable, this person is on trial. Also see [6], and again, unless you have a very good reason to think the accused actually knew he was hosting terrorists (which the judges, who have access to far more information that you do, don't), there's nothing visibly wrong about that trial.

Finally,

> Anyway I could simply have started my post with a question, like you did: did you ever had a friend got shot in a terror attack? > > I guess not, otherwise you would not just speak about numbers.

It's not with strong feelings that you'll make good policy. It's very sad that people die, but it's no good reason to drop all common sense.


> I would rather deal with the Japanese administration, which asks for ridiculous amount of documents but does its job. And a country with working services (transports, post) is also a big plus.

Among developed countries, certainly France is in the best choices available, but as many pointed out in this thread, Japan, while having highly reliable services, is also kind of a late adopter for many technologies and often goes in trends that are quite different from the rest of the world.


Is a 1 year visa long enough to do anything serious?


But what's the point anyway to be in Japan? If your startup targets the Japanese market you are better off working with local Japanese in the first place and share the risk with them. If you don't target Japan, there is close to no good incentive to being based there for business (apart if you just like living there).


It's probably long enough to get a company to the point where the company can sponsor you for a longer term visa.


Can confirm this is true. It was easy enough for me to sponsor myself after the company was setup.

In my case my first hire helped us set it up, and then he handed director over to me. You obviously have to do this with someone you trust. Would not recommend this for every situation.

Edit: I obviously hit a nerve here somewhere. I stand by my position here. Get the right legal help. I can say it was a pain to find but once I did the process was smooth. It's not impossible like people make it out to be. Any process has bumps.

Don't be crazy and do it yourself though.


As an "entrepreneur" (closer to a freelancer/independent contractor, self employed through a company I created) that's currently living in Japan, a few notes:

- Things get a lot easier when a Japanese person is involved.

- Paperwork pain will be real, hire someone else to do it. Japan is almost completely about the appearance of propriety -- getting everything filled out properly is 90% of the difficulty.

- Hire a cheap japanese accountant, at least for the first year. Once you have your feet under you, then look into how to use the efiling system (most accountants just do this for you anyway, japan has an absurd amount of their taxes filed electronically, despite their paper-heavy seeming nature). (https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Jap...)

- Initial capital requirements are a thing, you can actually get away with a fairly small amount though, like 10/20k USD -- this is impossible in countries like the US where you need millions to even get in the H1-B LOTTERY (so even if you get in, you still maybe don't win). Japan is surprisingly lax, and I think they've been this way -- it's not even a recent change.

- You will never be completely trusted as a foreigner in Japan, nor will you ever completely fit in.

- Japan is VERY easy to live in, even for someone who doesn't speak Japanese. While this is true, you should strive to speak japanese if you live in Japan -- your experience will be severely limited otherwise.

- There's a monthly HN meeting here that's not half bad (https://hntokyo.doorkeeper.jp/events/upcoming)

- Japan's tech skill is low. While I expect people on HN to know a little more, the mainstream media often only catches a whiff of japan at the peak of it's technical prowess (robots in Kyoto, interesting breakthroughs, etc), but the vast majority of businesses here are WOEFULLY inefficient and have not embraced technology and the current rush to build good technical knowledge. Sending a fax for business purpose (like for example your startup sending a fax to another company to get them to perform some function) is a thing that people actually expect you to do here, while offering no API alternative or anything.

- The japanese market is NOT your home market, and not even some generic "global/international market". Japan is 95%+ ethnic japanese, and this makes it a complete different ballgame. If you've never been, learning how the culture works (what makes a "salaryman" a "salaryman"). Funnily enough, if you're a huge company (FB, Google, etc), then you actually CAN treat japan as just another global/international market, because name recognition has already pierced the japanese public and if the association is good (fashionable/smart/innovative/trend-setting foreign brand) then they'll buy what you're selling without much thought.

- Fiber is very cheap and accessible, the intra-country connections are blazing fast, but the connections to the outside world (like the USA) can be slow.

- The NHK fee is a thing, look it up and decide what you want to do before you come over (I wish someone had told me).

- Conglomerates are a huge thing in Japan, there are virtually no anti-trust laws. Companies like Toyota or Yamaha get their fingers in almost everything in Japan.

- Building trust as a company in japan takes a long time, but is even easier if you seem like a "japanese" company. I'm almost 100% sure that LINE has come as far as it has because people thought it was a japanese company at the beginning (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_(software)#History).

- This startup program looks most enticing for big established companies that want to create a japanese entity. Why would a company need to do that? because Japan's market is completely different, and often just making a branch office won't work.

- If you have 50K you can get into japan relatively scot-free by getting an investor visa, and likely fast-tracking yourself to a status called "Highly Skilled Professional" with the right job, which can lead to a "permanent resident" visa (you never become a citizen if you're not japanese).

- The most important thing I can tell you about japan is that it's greatest strength is it's greatest weakness: just about everyone is in the same "lane". When you leave that lane, things get extremely difficult, but if you stay in the lane, everything is smooth and easy. The lane includes things like politeness-by-default, general honesty & propriety, but also includes overly-intense-sometimes-blinding-nationalism (nationalism != patriotism).

There's a lot more I could say, but this list is plenty long (and random) already.

Small plug for myself -- I'm the CTO of an exceptionally small "startup"/consultancy: https://gaisma.co.jp (the homepage is in japanese and pretty skint but we mostly write software). If you've got questions about how I got to Japan or how it is, or you've got some cool projects for me to undertake, feel free to get in touch (see my profile or the gaisma page) vados@gaisma.co.jp


Another nitpick in an otherwise great post:

> You will never be completely trusted as a foreigner in Japan, nor will you ever completely fit in.

In my experience this is not really true (though if you read it literally, then it is ;-) ). If you speak, read, write and act like a Japanese person, then people will treat you as if you are Japanese. You will fit in. There are racist people in Japan, but not any more than I've seen in any other country. Japanese culture being what it is, you also won't really experience blatant racism out in the open even if you meet racists.

Having said that, attitudes are much different in the big city than the countryside. When I go to Tokyo or Osaka, everyone initially expects me to be a tourist. When I'm at home in rural Shizuoka, everyone expects that I live there (because there aren't a lot of foreign tourists). But even in Tokyo or Osaka after talking to someone for more than about 10 seconds they know that I live permanently in Japan and treat me that way.

My Japanese is not even that good (although I am very fluent in the areas where I have fluency). I rarely make social mistakes any more and people treat me just like they treat everyone else. I fit in here more than I fit in anywhere else in the world.

If you have difficulty fitting in, then it's likely that you're missing some nuance. Since nobody spells it out for you, it's definitely hard to figure out, but not impossible. You just need to watch what other people do in that situation and then start doing the same thing. The other main thing is to feel OK about being Japanese -- which a lot of foreigners don't in my estimation.


I actually meant it literally -- you get extremely close to completely fitting in but the problem is, as soon as you travel to a place you've never been to or hang with people you've never met, you're back to step one and you feel like you're on the outside again. This dissonance grates on me (and I think it would on anyone), and there's no one you can really rightfully blame.

This is something that I feel the US really gets right -- once you're an American citizen, you're an American and that's that -- no one generally asks where you're from unless they're trying to get to know you. This might have more to do with how America was formed, because it just is a country made up of a lot of people from other countries in relatively recent history, but it makes sense that Japan can't really do this with how homogenous they are.

There's a ton of nuance, and mileage varies a ton from person to person in their interpersonal interaction in any country which is why I was so literal with what I said -- most people I've met would agree with the literal statement.


Fair enough. I agree with the literal statement too, but I think it's a bit misleading for people who don't get the context. For what it's worth, not very many people ask me where I'm from and when they do I say Shizuoka. Nobody has asked the obvious follow up question.


Your post has a lot of great information in, but I must take issue with:

> (you never become a citizen if you're not japanese).

This is not true. Japan has a very clear path to citizenship. If fact, you need 10 years consecutive residency to get permanent residency, but you only need 5 years to get citizenship. You have to give up any other nationalities.

This site gives lots more information: http://www.turning-japanese.info/


Thank you very much for taking issue and filling that gap in my knowledge!

The relevant page: http://www.turning-japanese.info/p/steps.html

While it looks pretty involved, it is certainly possible, and I didn't know that, much appreciated.


> or you've got some cool projects for me to undertake, feel free to get in touch (see my profile or the gaisma page) vados@gaisma.co.jp

Are you on the Hacker News Tokyo Slack forum? [1]

@jason_tko (Jay Winder Make Leaps CEO who runs the Hacker News Tokyo community meetup that you mentioned - also on Meetup [2]) just launched it.

You could join and introduce your self perhaps ...

It's mainly an expat community but there is going to be a bilingual forum soon too, which is in waitlist right now - some Japanese language skills required for signup. [3]

[1] https://hackernewstokyo.slack.com

[2] https://www.meetup.com/Hacker-News-Tokyo-Japan/

[3] https://www.kinmate.io

Edit: sorry Victor - re-read your post more carefully and realized that you already attend the community meetup.


Oh hey no problem, my attendance has been pretty few and far between so far! Slack's not really my style (I find it hurts focus sometimes), but I might pop in there actually just to say hi.

I (along with a different startup's CTO that I'm currently working with) somehow missed the recent meeting this week somehow, I thought it was going to be on thursday, and it was supposedly the biggest one yet :(

I dunno who is who on HN (and almost don't want to) but the two hosts do an excellent job of creating a fun, not-awkward, encouraging, yet semi-professional and restrained atmosphere and I appreciate how hard that is. Also thanks to the other people behind running it, as I assume there's one or two more people in the background that are crucial. Also one of hosts introduced me to the existence of tethers a full week or two before the hubbub this last week -- so that's cool -- that kind of knowledge is why I come to HN.


Hey Victor, thanks for the reply!

It was a big event.

Jay's promotional post trended on HN. [1]

Also, Jay et al launched the Meetup page.

Hope to meet you in person at the Super Deluxe sometime - Paul Delhanty.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15775065


Why on earth would anyone move to Japan ?

You get treated like shit, get paid shit, do shitty work, and work under morons whose only qualification is the ability to speak Japanese and bullshit in English... and this for Machine Learning. I can't imagine the things one has to put up with for more vanilla jobs.

Moving to Tokyo must be one of the biggest regrets of my life. I'd look for Singapore or India even, compared to 'grorious Nippon'.


Sounds like your employer is pretty shitty (and to be fair, Japan has more than its fair share of shitty employers), but that's an attribute of your company, not Japan itself. And if you're coming over on a startup visa, it's your company and you set the rules.

All that said, it's hard to people with no connection to Japan opting to start up in Japan -- as patio11 notes, doing so without fluent Japanese is playing life in hard mode.


Can you expand on this? I've looked into several data science positions in Japan and they pay on-par with the U.S. From what I've experienced as a person who spent decades there, the key is to not work for a Japanese company...


To add to all the other posts saying that their country offers a similar visa, New Zealand also offers one: https://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/investing-in-nz/visas/entr...


This is quite something because traditionally Japanese culture has been fairly close to foreigners and probably for a good reason. Japanese people are likely the most courteous and honest people in the world. You can leave your luggage in the middle of the road and come back to find it still there. These folks have little experience with foreigners and often even western culture would be too harsh and rowdy for them. Some people are even afraid of impact of foreigners coming down during Olympics.

Overall, this is interesting times when world's supposedly most open country like USA is closing borders to foreign talent while supposedly most closed country opens up their border for the same.


This is pure exoticization.

Japan is fairly safe in certain ways - you’re not at risk of getting shot like in the US, sure.

But the police and justice system is very dysfunctional, with crime statistics being under reported, and many murder cases being tossed aside as “suicides” or “heart attacks”.

Even without taking this into account, crime rates in Japan are comparable to those of safe European countries.

And this is not even touching the HUGE pervasive problem that Japan has with sexual assault. If you’re a woman living in Tokyo, you most likely have been sexually assaulted in your life, likely more than once, and likely by a coworker or in public transportation.

Japan is great in certain ways, and still very backwards in many others. But it is not some magical country where there is magically no crime and people are the most honest in the world because of some mysterious Japan only gene. On many metrics, Japan is aligned with the most developed Western European countries (including the famously quoted “fertility rate”, which is actually the same as Austria or Germany). If anything, it is the US that is an anomaly in many ways (crime rate, financial inequality, drug use, etc).


There is a grain of truth to the statement though. I’m just leaving Tokyo to come back to the US. I was pretty amazed at many things. People leave their purses on the table as they go to restroom. They leave their bikes parked with no lock. I didn’t see anybody jay walk, even across narrow streets where the crosswalks were spaced several blocks apart. That is not to say there aren’t lots of problems along other dimensions of society. But coming from DC to Tokyo it reminds me a little bit about how I felt coming from South Asia to the US the first time.


Yes, there are absolutely cultural differences at play. I wouldn’t leave my laptop on a table in a coffee shop in NYC for even one second, whereas I’ve done it in Tokyo.

But with all that said, I have friends who’ve had shit stolen in Tokyo, or been assaulted by a drunk guy, etc.

So I stand by my original point - saying that Japanese people are “the most honest and courteous in the world” is naïveté at best, and exoticization at worst.


In which major European city could you leave your laptop or purse on a table while you use the bathroom?

Japan is incredibly different from Europe and America in thousands of important ways. The idea that it's even similar is absurd. There's very few comparisons you can even make, beyond the very superficial. Everything is different, from childbirth, children, school, dating, food, holidays, marriage, death, etc.

Your only frame of reference seems to be a 30 year old book (about culture, hah!) and a few discussions with friends...


You seem to be missing the point.

I am not saying that food or dating in Japan is the same as Europe (although I am not sure how you think childbirth works, I can assure you that the core of the childbirth experience is quite the same across humanity).

What I am saying is that when you compare things that are actually comparable - graduation rates, unemployment, drug abuse, illiteracy, child vaccination, etc - Japan is in many cases more clustered with the leading European countries than the US is.

Furthermore, when it comes to things like sexual assault, Japan is far behind.

On this basis, it is completely ridiculous to claim that Japanese people are the “most courteous and honest in the world”, unless your definition of a honorable society includes one where most women get groped on the subway as teenagers.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/sexual-ass...


The safety (and cleanliness and civility) in Tokyo is especially notable due to its size. Bern is nice, but it's less of a challenge to manage a 500k pop than 13 million. And while I'd consider London or Berlin very safe, they still have a murder rate 4 times or greater than Tokyo. So it isn't fair to call it exoticism, it is just real observation. And as you can attest, it is particularly striking when you go between someplace like San Francisco and Tokyo.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/nov/30/new-yo...

https://www.numbeo.com/crime/rankings.jsp


>I didn’t see anybody jay walk, even across narrow streets where the crosswalks were spaced several blocks apart.

Well that's just silly.


It helps keep traffic flowing.


I'm not jumping on either side of the argument about if Japanese are the nicest or not, but there are certainly some major differences from "nicer" western countries, with some of them hidden behind courteous outward appearances. In addition to common problem of assaults on women there is the whole child porn thing in Japan which strikes me as particularly egregious. Possession of it wasn't made illegal until 2014 and people were given one year to dispose of any they had. Apparently it has not disappeared, with record numbers of cases being reported by police in the three years since the law was passed [1].

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/child-pornography-and-child-abuse-ja...


Do you have any references for the above claims?


For homicide/fertility/etc rates, a simple google search will give you numbers.

For sexual assault/corruption/etc, it’s honestly common knowledge at this point. Googling “Japan underreported crime” will give you plenty of results from a variety of sources.

Additional insight comes from having a few close Japanese female friends who have opened up to me over the years.

If you’re trying to cure yourself of the “Japan is a magical place” myth, I highly recommend “Making Common Sense of Japan”, written by an economist. It’s from 1989, so the data is dated, but most of it still holds to day, and the analytical frameworks it builds are just as relevant.

There was a blog post written on the subject that I saw on HN a long time ago that I will try to dig up, and will update if I find it.


I would rank Taiwan higher than Japan. And in terms of leaving things without them being stolen, singapore higher than japan.

Tokyo people are very fake in their courteousness. Japan is only amazing when you leave Tokyo.


That's quite a roundabout way of saying "foreigners are criminals"...

Seriously, I'm extremely deferential to the local customs when I'm abroad. But I felt being pushed into a subway car during rush hour to be quite "harsh and rowdy". Not to mentioned the drunk guys who spit in my faced an laughed.


Your experience of being spat at in Japan was utterly unrepresentative. In twenty years I never seen, nor can even imagine seeing, such a scenario. Just maybe in Roppongi on a Saturday night.

As for the subway trains. It's certainly not rowdy. Uncomfortable, sure, but it's as ordered as possible under the logisical constraints present.


I spent two and half weeks in Japan recently, didn’t have a single issue.

Not trying to be confrontational but did you do any research before you went to Japan? Online it says to avoid public transit during rush hour. When I checked into my hotel the front desk even went out of their way to tell me which trains to avoid during rush hour because of how crazy it is.

3.7M people pass through Shinjuku Station daily. It’s going to be a bit crazy.

@OP, the narrative you’re painting is also quite exaggerated. Westerners are going to have to learn and respect the traditions/culture of Japan but with how incredibly hard the people work there it’s a great place to start a company.


Over the last 15 years I've spent roughly 6 months in Japan, and have never encountered anything other than respect and courtesy, especially if you make an effort to speak the language and respect the cultural customs. I've spent roughly the same amount of time in San Francisco in those years, and I've seen hundreds of cars with shattered windows, dozens of people shitting on the sidewalk, been harassed by crazy people on Market at least 10 times, almost stepped on needles in parks and on sidewalks, etc.


Consider that San Francisco is more of an extreme than Tokyo. I’ve lived in a bunch of “world” cities, including London, Berlin, Paris, SF/Bay Area, Tokyo, and the outlier there is more San Francisco than Tokyo. The only times (yes, plural) I’ve ever had people die of gunshots on the pavement within 1 block of my house in my life have been in the Bay Area.


You shouldn't be downvoted. Tokyoites will definitely elbow you in the face during rush hour with no remorse at all. I guess getting to work on time is more important than politeness.


One year is pretty short.

I suspect Japan would have to change a lot of policy if they really wanted to encourage immigrant driven startups to flourish and stay long term.


Japan seems like a bad place to try and start a business, given what I've heard about its bureaucracy and hostility towards immigrants.

Is my information correct, or do I need to explore this further?


You don't make up for a missing ecosystem of investment by tweaking the visa rules. Japan getting things wrong again.


What do you think they should do? This is at least a step in the right direction, and could lead to more of an ecosystem developing.


Before anything Japan needs to be a lot more flexible in terms of culture, rather than tweaking the rules to follow the trends. It's like the fool being pointed the moon and looking at the finger.

Cultural changes will not occur in a short timeline, and even more so in Japan where there is deference to age, experience and authority. On top of that in recent years the country has closed itself even more so than let's say 10 years ago (you can see that in politics a lot as well) , and it's not really a positive mindset to be in when you have the ambition of being a global player.

I still think Japan will change, but I expect them to change when they have their back against the wall rather than being very proactive about it.


I wonder if this could be chained together with the working holiday visa.


As an aside, how are software engineer salaries in Japan?


Absurdly low by Valley standards: 6 million yen a year (~$53k) is normal, senior folks might pull in 10m (~$88k).


Additionally, in normal Japanese companies that 6M _is_ the senior salary with starting salaries around the 3M~4M range. A 10M salary is basically a non-starter right off the bat at most places, they'd basically laugh you out the door with that, well, if you got a chance for an interview in the first place, but you wouldn't.

That said, 10M is of course not impossible, but in my experience it is mostly reserved for larger foreign companies, the banking sector or if you somehow manage to get to an executive level. And maybe a handful of very specialized very well funded companies.


Very rigid policy


patio - any thoughts?


I eagerly await @patio11’s thoughts on all of this. I imagine he’s got >0 to say...


Good luck finding a place to rent.


Silicon valley -> Tokyo expat here. It took me < 2 weeks. This process is hard but not as nightmarish as people who don't live in the country reading articles make it sound.

Just like anything, there's right and wrong ways to do it. If you do it the traditional way with a japanese speaking landlord who mistrust foreigners, yes it can be hard. That is a significant portion of the market.

One thing I will say, there are real estate companies that actually cater to foreigners.

This has been my landlord for a year and I just renewed: http://tokyoeasyrent.com/en/

There are other companies like this in the space. Look on places like gaijinpot for more information like this: https://gaijinpot.com/

It's just like any real estate market, do your research beforehand.

Where I will admit it can be harder is when you want to procure a larger house. They don't tend to ask too many questions for studios (which should be enough for entrepreneurs family aside).

That being said, if you do have family, spend your time finding right place and ask for referrals.

Japan has its downsides but it's by far the best place I have ever lived (especially compared to SF) both food wise and price wise.


>This process is hard but not as nightmarish as people who don't live in the country reading articles make it sound.

Agree wholeheartedly. Been living in Fukuoka myself for the past two years, and I cannot help but notice that the foreign population here has been steadily growing. Although the city is marketing themselves to be the new Startup hub in Japan, I still think it has to be as global as say, Tokyo, to catch up. English is also not so commonly spoken here as Tokyo.


Hello fellow Fukuokarite!

The city has definitely been pushing hard for foreign startups but the changes they are making are only baby steps and PR in my opinion. I thought it was rather strange that the press conference held by the mayor to promote foreign startups had to have an interpreter because the mayor couldn't manage any English and the foreign entrepreneurs on stage didn't speak Japanese.


I've talked to some folks from Fukuoka and it definitely seemed that way when I talked to them.

FWIW, JETRO is like that too. A lot of the process happens in Japanese (it's basically only foreigner friendly in name)

It's still a good start but it's definitely not what it's spun to be.

I have people I'm complaining to and they are changing though (even if it's taking them a few months)

The willingness to change is definitely new for Japan.


I went to the Startup cafe a couple of times, but I failed to grasp all the general amazement around it. I hoped to meet new people and learn about their entrepreneurial activities, but again, the people didn't speak English; and those that did, didn't seem interested.


You moved to another country to live and work there. What makes you an "expat" and not an immigrant? The color of your skin?


Depends I guess? I identify more as an expat right now because I don't actually have permanent residency?

It really depends on what your definition is I guess. I also don't really feel like I've integrated with the culture. I've really only been here a year. I don't know a lick of the language (I mean I can do basic things like order food, have basic conversation etc) but ultimately I don't think I'll consider myself an "immigrant" till after that happens. Hope that helps. I'm sure other folks would define it as well.

It's a gray area. I still get paid by america (while living in japan)


That's a fair answer: ambiguous status and what-not. It's worth noting though immigrants everywhere feel alienated culturally/linguistically all the time.

I apologize if my question came off as hostile, but it was meant to be to a certain extent! I've been here for 4 years now (leaving soon) and "expat" just rubs me the wrong way. It's a light term with an adventurous connotation that applies exclusively to Westerners; I've never seen third-world labor described as "expats" here, regardless of however permanent or transient their residence might be. At a time when the notion of immigration conjures up such hostility, it seems in poor taste to cordon off a subset of migratory activity as something distinct: "I'm not in your country, taking advantage of its resources; I'm simply outside my country." It doesn't help that many "expats" I've come in contact with have espoused remarkably reactionary opinions regarding foreigners in their home countries.

I can only speak for myself, but I left a $10/hr job in the US during a recovery that wasn't because I thought I could shake it better in Japan (studied Japanese in uni.) Even though I'm not going to wind up living here forever, I'm still the definition of an economic migrant.


Oh no not at all! It was a fair point. I plan on getting perm residency and using it as my base in asia. I also fly a lot as well. Japan is by far the place I feel at home which is why I advocate so strongly for it. You're right that you'll never completely fit in, and that's actually not my intention.

Ironically, I've created jobs in Japan so I feel like I'm contributing actually. I'm happy with my position in the country and hope to stay for a long time. My co also employs people in the US though.

Being that I'm a founder myself, I strongly advocate for US immigrants where possible. I wouldn't have been able to get my start anywhere else (even japan) if I didn't have US resources (especially being YC backed)


I've read getting a place to stay has become easier, but I still hear people complain about getting a bank account without help from an employer.


Yes the bank account is hard. I still use my foreign account.

I setup my company and then got my bank account. I still don't use it.

I'm assuming anyone in this thread looking seriously at japan will be hiring the right operations person to help you. Otherwise, you can't get much done without speaking the language (day to day is fine,

but for example the immigration office expects you to know some japanese if not just bringing someone with you to help you)


I have three bank accounts and two credit cards and setting them all up was trivial. I'm self-employed. That's personal accounts though, I hear it's much more difficult for business accounts.


Shinsei was extremely easy to get a back account with. I applied online and sent in a few documents and was all setup.


Great info thanks! My experience comes from MUFG. Other data points are helpful.


Plenty of abandoned buildings in the countryside.


It's really not hard at all these days, and Tokyo rent is wayyy cheaper than NYC or SF.


What would you say is average rent for a studio or ensuite room with decent commute to downtown Tokyo (15-30 minutes by train)? Just trying to get some approximate number.


I'd say around 100,000 to 160,000 yen, of course it's pretty variable based on size, age, and distance to the nearest train station.

To give you an example, mine is 26 meters square, built in 2014 (I think, would need to double check), 15 minutes from my door to Shinjuku station, 20 minutes to Shibuya station, and around 110,000 yen in monthly rent.




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