Here’s a checklist of the steps and documents required to start a language school or small business in Japan as a sole proprietorship (kojin jigyo)
The best thing about living in Japan is that it’s incredibly easy to start a small business as a sole proprietorship called “kojin jigyo” in Japanese. Anyone with a tax identification number, strangely called “my number,“ can do it regardless of nationality or visa status absolutely free. It can be done in minutes!
That means if you’re thinking about starting your own language school in Japan or making your part-time side job of teaching English an official company, registering your company is the easiest part of your entrepreneurial challenge. This article will guide you through the steps and documents required to start a language school or small business in Japan as a sole proprietorship (kojin jigyo).
Japan is a great place full of business opportunities for foreign residents.
Please note that this article is aimed at people currently living in Japan with a visa status other than “Tourist.” The steps for setting up a sole proprietorship in this article shouldn’t be confused with setting up a corporation with the newer start-up visa or applying for a self-sponsored visa. (These generally require a great deal of time and initial investment or come with greater risk and uncertainty.) For more information on starting a corporation, here’s a great article about making it in Japan with interviews of people who successfully started their own corporations.
The information contained in this article only describes the author’s personal experience to use for reference. Due to periodic changes in immigration policies and national laws, the procedures outlined below may not be acceptable for your situation. Always consult with the immigration office and an immigration lawyer before attempting to start your business in Japan.
So there are no hurdles when starting an English school in Japan?
What hurdles will school owners encounter in Japan?
While anyone can register their language school (eikaiwa) easily, be careful! There are still important visa status considerations that you must consider. The department that manages the registration of new businesses as sole proprietorships and the department that manages immigration and visas are not directly connected. Theoretically, that means someone could set up their own small business and manage it as their main source of income until the end of their current visa period.
When the time to renew comes, however, that person could be in a world of trouble when the immigration office finds out that the income from the small business doesn’t meet the requirements of the working visa. In this case, it’s almost guaranteed that the working visa won’t be renewed and abruptly leaving the country is the only option.
Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far.
Anyone can register a language school as a small business in Japan, but if your working conditions don’t satisfy the requirement of your working visa, then it’s GAME OVER! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s jump into the steps for registering your language school.
Don’t play by the rules and your small business might be finished before it even has a chance to take off.
Steps for registering a small business in Japan.
1. Have a valid working visa and tax ID number
2. Fill out a 1-page document (kaigyo-todoke) within 2 months after starting your business activity at the local tax office (zeimusho). (you can probably fill it out in less than 10 minutes.)
OK, so maybe it wasn’t as complicated as you thought. Now let’s explain each step in more detail. We’ll actually start at the end of the list and go backwards.
Step 2. How to fill out the sole proprietorship registration form (kaigyo-todoke)
The main purpose of the sole proprietorship registration form is to let the tax office know that you’ll be earning taxable income and that you’ll file your income taxes every year. If there are some years that you decide not to work and have no income from your business, you won’t be charged any tax. Your taxable income is calculated by the following formula:
[income earned from your business] – [expenses paid from your business]
It couldn’t be any simpler. Keep in mind that income earned as your salary from a different job won’t be factored into the equation.
Taxes are filed based on the profit earned from January 1 to December 31 every year between mid-February and mid-March of the following year. Filing taxes can be done on your own at the tax office or city hall depending on your area, but as your company grows, it’s advisable to hire a professional tax lawyer (accountant) to take care of this and avoid any penalties, audit, or missed opportunities.
Here is the actual form. Click the image to see what each part means and how to fill it out. Remember to make a copy or snap a photo of the form before you submit it because the tax office generally won’t give you a copy under any circumstances.
Step 1. Making sure your visa status will allow you to stay in Japan after starting your English school
The easiest visa types for starting your own language school as a sole proprietorship are permanent resident visa or spousal visa. These two types of visas allow you to work in any industry and renew without any trouble (in the case of a spousal visa.) Most other types of visas, however, do not allow you to use the income from your school as your primary source of income.
Generally speaking, your primary source of income must come from a salary of a company or organization that employs you, and that work must fall into the category of your visa type. You can do work outside of your primary job, assuming there is nothing against it in your employment contract. It’s important to remember, though, that you must request special permission if you want to perform duties outside of your current visa status.
Getting married to a Japanese national or living and working in the country for a long time are the most common ways.
What does “primary source of income” mean?
That’s a great question that only the guardians of immigration office secrets know the answers to. Seriously, the immigration office policies are often vague, and it’s hard to get any kind of concrete answer from them. For people who don’t have the convenient permanent resident visa or spousal visa, a common approach is to start small and slowly build up your business on the side as long as the taxable profit doesn’t become greater than the salary of your main job.
Are there any other ways to start my language school without being employed by another
company or organization?
There are other ways to start your language school or eikaiwa as a small business in Japan, but they typically require help from someone willing to partner up and help out with the school. For example, if two people decide to start a school and one of them is a Japanese national or has an appropriate visa type, then that person could start the business in their name and hire the other person as an employee.
Starting an English school with two people will either require a solid foundation of existing students, a large initial investment, or a lot of sweat labor, strategy, and luck. (My school actually started this way with only a few students and no initial investment.)
Starting your own language school (eikaiwa) is as easy as taking two steps!
Anyone can handle the first two steps of starting an English school in Japan.
Hopefully this article clears up any confusion you might have about the process of starting a language school or small business in Japan as a sole proprietorship. While it’s a simple task to start the company, making sure your visa requirements are met should be your highest priority. While it’s not impossible to start with common work visa types such as Instructor or Specialist in Humanities, you’ll find that some approaches will be easier than others.
Whatever route you choose, it’s important to make sure that you are following all laws, regulations, and immigration policies. The last thing you want to deal with after successfully building up your school is a legal headache or even worse, deportation!