The 10 most popular businesses for foreigners to start up in Japan

September 14th, 2010By Category: Work Tips

The website (Entrepreneur Japan) has listed the top 10 businesses that are most popular with foreigners who start their own company while living in Japan. Of course, it is far from certain that entering into these business will make you a fortune – or even pay your living expenses, but they have the potential to grow into money-making enterprises.

1. Import and Export

Well-known and well-marketed as a shopping paradise, Japan has just about everything you could ever want to buy. But how about folks back home? Or what about those goodies you think could be a hit in Japan but nobody here has yet seen? Import and Export was the most popular business for foreigners to launch; areas covered included food, clothing, furniture, scrap metal, commodities, cars and machinery.

2. Restaurant

Restaurant management is another popular route and in relation to starting other businesses in Japan, is relatively easy to do. Indian curry, British pubs, American burgers are all popular offerings and have sprung up around big cities with an increased frequency of late. The foreign restaurant business in Japan has also created a lot of opportunities for the larger expat community, employing foreign waiters and waitresses and proving to be a natural market for importers of foreign produce.

3. Travel Agencies

One of the necessities of being foreign in Japan is the ability to travel freely, being able to come and go to the country as and when needed. Flights back to a home country for a family emergency or to take a break are just a few of the reasons why. Where foreigners are able to profit here is in offering cheaper tickets year-round, not just with the seasonally adjusted Japanese travel agents, who are usually catering for a market that prefers to buy their air tickets as part of package tours.

4. System Engineering

IT is a huge employer of foreign talent in Japan with companies like Panasonic and Gree looking to fill engineering positions in order to meet product demand. For those who do not fancy life inside a big corporate environment, plenty of work is available for independent contractors in various areas. An entrepreneur with the right expertise would do well to explore the market.

Language Schools

The language school sector remains a place for many to get a foot in the door of Japanese society. It can go on to become a career for some and for others, is a useful way to help support an extended trip to the country. Entrepreneurially minded teachers who consistently deliver popular classes and can handle the business demands can also strike out on their own, beginning with as little as a few teaching materials and a small rented office.

Positions 6 through 10 are listed below:

6. Electronics sales (this usually covers helping folks in Japan set up their internet and utilities or getting hold of products that are otherwise available through Japanese-only ordering)

7. Translation (count on this one being around for the foreseeable future, especially in the areas of technical documents, law and accounting)

8. Acupuncture (add to that other businesses that provide personal services to help folks stay fit and healthy)

9. Publisher / foreign book stores (Lots of examples of writers and other creative people living amongst the foreign community, we covered some previously here, here and here).

10. Dance Schools (a natural fit for anybody who enjoys salsa, ballroom or street dancing)

Photo courtesy of tata_aka_T / Flickr

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Adrian Villacarlos says:


    My name is Jackie, i saw your message and if your looking for a homebase worker, i am willing to apply for that. You can communicate with me in my email

    Im interested for your offer.

    Hoping to hear from you Ms. Jennifer.

    Thank you

  • Jennifer Heric says:

    I am an energy retailer looking to expand into the Japanese Market. I am seeking highly motivated people driven to earn income working from home with new accounts acquisition and data entry. Where can I post this opportunity so that I may find talent looking for upfront bonuses and to build residual income? (855) 848-7283

  • Tommy McMillan says:

    Obviously starting something that takes very little capital makes the most sense.

  • Ryan Paredez says:

    we need a successful business model. Capital will perhaps get you running.. but obviously you need to make profits. A lot of startups do fail.. but that is a risk people take. I currently work for a startup and it’s been an awesome experience.

  • nagpity says:

    If you have the capital yeah I’m sure it could work.