The Legal Entities in Japan You Should Know

Japan company formation. Establishing a business in Japan through Kabushiki Kaisha (KK) or Godo Kaisha (GK)

Japan, Business Entities, Legal entities, Kabushiki Kaisha (KK), Godo Kaisha (GK), Branch Office, Representative Office

Business Establishment Formats and Options

Investing in Japan as a foreign investor provides a fair and equitable playing field. Japan boasts many world-renowned companies, and several multinational companies have already established their presence there. Japan presents an attractive investment opportunity with a dynamic market and extensive business opportunities.

Japan’s economic policies and regulations promote free-market competition, providing an equal opportunity for domestic and foreign businesses to thrive. Additionally, the Japanese government provides ample support to foreign investors with several incentives, such as subsidies, low-interest loans, and tax breaks, making Japan an ideal destination for investment.

Foreign investors have multiple options to establish a legal business entity in Japan. One can either set up a “Branch Office” or a “Subsidiary Company” as a Kabushiki-Kaisha or a Godo-Kaisha to engage in commercial activities. These options include:

• Representative Office
• Branch Office
• Subsidiary Company (Kabushiki-Kaisha or Godo-Kaisha)
• Limited Liability Partnership [LLP] (Yugen Sekinin Jigyo Kumiai)

When choosing the right business structure for your business in Japan, it’s important to consider several factors, including the level of liability protection, the ease of raising capital, and the tax implications.

However, for commercial business activities in Japan, the most popular options are to establish a “Branch Office” or a “Subsidiary Company” in the form of a Joint-Stock Company (Kabushiki-Kaisha) or a Limited Liability Company (Godo-Kaisha). The choice of the entity will depend on the investor’s objectives, business size, and desired level of liability protection.

It is important to assess the advantages and disadvantages of each option and seek professional advice to make an informed conclusion that aligns with the business objectives. Once the legal entity is established, the company must comply with all Japanese regulations, tax laws, and reporting requirements to operate smoothly in Japan.

Branch Office

A branch office is a business structure where a foreign company establishes a presence in Japan. The branch office is considered an extension of the foreign enterprise and is not a separate legal entity. This means that the foreign company is liable for any debts or obligations incurred by the branch office in Japan. Setting up a branch office can be straightforward, but it requires approval from the Ministry of Justice and registration with the local government.

Representative Office

This business entity functions as a liaison office for foreign companies. It cannot engage in profit-generating activities and is not regarded as a legal entity. Instead, it serves as a non-commercial office that carries out market research, promotes the foreign company’s products or services, and facilitates communication with Japanese clients or partners.

Foreign companies often establish a representative office in Japan to explore the Japanese market, establish a local presence and build relationships with Japanese businesses. A representative office can also serve as a stepping stone towards establishing a more permanent presence in Japan, such as a branch office or subsidiary.

Unlike a branch office, a representative office in Japan does not need to be registered with the government or have a minimum capital. But, representative offices have restrictions. It cannot contract, trade, or profit. Administrative workers are authorized, but no employees.

Kabushiki Kaisha (KK)

A joint-stock company or corporation, known as Kabushiki Kaisha in Japan, is the most common business structure. It’s a legal entity that can issue shares to raise capital and distribute profits to shareholders. The company is run by a board of directors, with at least one director and shareholder. Shareholders enjoy limited liability protection, securing their assets from business liabilities. Despite the benefits, setting up a KK can be complex and requires a minimum capital investment of JPY 1 million.

Godo Kaisha (GK)

A limited liability company or LLC, known as Godo Kaisha in Japan, is a popular business structure. It provides limited liability protection to its members, who are equivalent to shareholders in a KK. A GK can be managed by its members or a board of directors and does not require a minimum capital investment. On the other hand, a GK cannot issue shares, which can make it challenging to raise capital.

Choosing the Right Business Structure

When choosing the appropriate business structure for your business in Japan, consider various factors, including liability protection, capital raising, tax implications, and cultural and language factors. For instance, if you plan to do business primarily in Japan, you may prefer a KK or GK as they provide limited liability protection and are recognized legal entities. If you are a foreign company seeking to establish a presence in Japan, a branch office may be a more straightforward option, but keep in mind that it is not a separate legal entity and does not provide liability protection.

Set Up Your Business with SME Japan

After knowing all the business entities in Japan, we know that it might still need to be clarified with all the jargon, and our clients typically come away with more questions than answers. But don’t let this stop you from starting your business!

We provide comprehensive support to help SMEs navigate the intricacies of doing business in Japan.

Our experienced professionals can guide you through the entity registration process, from choosing the right business structure to completing the necessary paperwork. We provide personalized advice tailored to your business needs, so you can be confident that you’re making the best decisions for your company.

In addition to entity registration, we offer various other services to help SMEs succeed in Japan. These include market research, business planning, and financial management. We also equip access to a network of local partners and resources to help you establish and grow your business in Japan.

At SME Japan, we are committed to empowering SMEs to succeed in Japan’s competitive business landscape. Whether you’re just starting or looking to expand your existing business, we are here to support you every step of the way. Request a consultation now to learn how we can help you begin and grow your business in Japan.

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

Options for establishing a legal entity include branch offices, representative offices, and KKs or GKs, each with pros and cons. Choose the option that best matches your business goals.

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