Virtual Offices in Japan, Explained [Updated 2022]
Japan’s business regulations require companies to have a physical address on their company’s registry certificate.
But is there a way around that? Can you use a Japanese virtual address for company incorporation?
For a large majority of use cases, the answer is yes!
Today, we look at 22 frequently asked questions regarding virtual address services in Japan, how to switch to a virtual office in Japan, and the ins and outs of using one for your Japanese business.
What is a virtual office service in Japan?
A virtual office service provides a Japanese address for business use—minus the physical space. Also known as virtual address services, you get a business address you can use on your company’s registry certificate without needing to sign a real estate lease. Hence, your business remains compliant in Japan while minimizing overhead.
Why must Japanese businesses register a physical address in Japan?
This physical address listed on your company’s registry papers, tokibo tohon (登記簿謄本), is used for business-related correspondence between the local government and your company, such as tax-related notices and communications from government bureaus regarding compliance, updates on regulations, etc.
If your business faces investigative proceedings, this is the address the government will use to inform you of that. (See “Your Company Incorporation in Japan: The Essential Primer” for more about company incorporation in Japan!)
Can I use a Japanese virtual address for setting up an office in Japan?
The following business types can use virtual addresses for company registration in Japan:
regular joint-stock companies
limited liability companies
In brief, most user cases can legally use a virtual office address on their incorporation papers.
Which businesses are not allowed to use virtual addresses for company registration?
Certain professions in Japan must abide by regulations that govern their actual place of business. Often, the regulatory wording that prohibits the use of virtual addresses are phrased as follows:
When one must have “a physical space available for business operations.”
When one is required to show one’s business license within one’s office space.
When one is required to have “independent office space.”
For the above-stated reasons, the following professions are unable to use virtual office addresses on company registration forms:
financial business operators
real estate businesses
secondhand goods/recycling shops
temporary staffing businesses
job placement businesses
waste disposal collection businesses
adult entertainment businesses (cabaret clubs, pubs, pachinko parlors, etc.)
For a full rundown of use cases, see “User Cases: Who Can, Who Can’t Use a Virtual Office Address in Japan?”
How do I change my company’s registered address to a Japanese virtual address?
To change the registered address on your company’s incorporation documents, complete the following steps:
Hold a shareholder meeting, agreeing to an address change.
Submit a Japan Post forwarding notification to get your mail delivered to your new address.
Notify the Legal Affairs Bureau of your company’s address change.
Re-apply for your company’s seal registration. (If you are moving outside the previous Legal Affairs Bureau’s jurisdiction, you will need to re-apply for your company’s seal registration.)
Notify address change to various governmental offices (insurance, pension, and employment bureaus).
The above list summarizes the steps involved with changing your company’s registered address and switching to a virtual office mailing address. We recommend reading “How to Change the Corporate Address on Your Touki” for detailed steps, services, and tips.
What’s the difference between a Japanese PO box in Japan and a virtual address in Japan?
Post office boxes (PO boxes) are mail collection boxes often set up within a post office or near one. Depending on the PO box service, the company might provide mail forwarding or require individuals to go to the PO box service and pick up their mail.
Individuals who choose PO boxes will often do so because they are frequently away from home and cannot receive mail at their home address or they do not wish to receive certain types of correspondence at home. Or they go abroad for work and wish to consolidate their mail safely.
A virtual address service in Japan provides a physical location—often in a business district—which you can claim as your business base of operations. Your business mail is collected at this location and forwarded to you. Furthermore, services like MailMate will upload your mail to the cloud and help you take action on bills or provide translated summaries as needed.
Individuals who choose a virtual address service will often do so because they want a business address in Japan that is in a prestigious area or they require an address to use on their company incorporation papers. Or they want to start a business without renting office space.
What’s the difference between a Japanese virtual address and a virtual mailbox service?
Many virtual offices in Tokyo offer a virtual address for Japan but not a virtual mailbox service. So how are they different?
Virtual offices (バーチャルオフィス) or share offices (シェアオフィス) in Japan that offer virtual addresses for company incorporation may offer a mail forwarding feature. Yet will stop short of providing you with online access to the mail you received.
A virtual mailbox service in Japan—like MailMate—provides both a virtual address for company incorporation but also online access to the mail received on your behalf.
Does it matter where in Japan my virtual address is located?
Currently, there is an exodus of startups and big-name businesses leaving Tokyo and establishing their headquarters elsewhere. According to a survey by Teikoku Databank and reported on by NHK, 351 companies moved their headquarters or head office functions from the Tokyo metropolitan area to regional areas in 2021, the highest number since 1990, when the data was first collected.
Image. Graph depicting the number of companies leaving the Tokyo Metropolitan Area in the last decade. The red line traces the companies exiting Tokyo and the blue line tracks companies registering in Tokyo. Graph by NHK.
The central government has designated the following prefectures and cities as “startup hotspots” (locations that provide startup visas):
Do Japanese banks accept virtual addresses for corporate bank accounts?
Using a virtual address for a corporate bank account is possible, but it will also depend on your chosen bank and how much you have prepared beforehand.
According to research conducted by Ofnavi.com, a virtual office provider, the following banks do not refuse companies based on using a virtual address on company registration papers.
Rakuten Bank (Rakuten Bank application process for corporations)
Japan Net Bank (Japan Net Bank [PayPay Bank] application process for corporations)
Mitsubishi UFJ Bank (Mitsubishi UFJ Bank application process for corporations)
Mizuho Bank (Mizuho Bank application process for corporations)
However, companies with a virtual address aren’t guaranteed approval, as banks consider many factors when it comes to corporate bank accounts.
Factors for refusing your bid to open a corporate bank account include issues such as the starting capital being too small, your business goals being unclear, or you have no website or invoices to show proof of doing business.
Thus, while the banks mentioned above have allowed virtual addresses to be used in the past, the criteria for opening a corporate bank account are strict. And rigorous preparation will be essential in your bid to open a corporate bank account.
Can I use a virtual address for my e-commerce shop in Japan?
There are 3 points that virtual office experts advise you follow to use a virtual address for your e-shop successfully.
Clearly list the virtual office's address and your phone number on your website/seller site. According to the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions (特定商取引), if a consumer requests disclosure of information, the store must disclose the seller’s name, address, and contact information.
Clearly state that you will disclose the necessary information at any time upon request. This step is to comply with Article 11 of the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions, which stipulates exceptions to requiring sellers to provide their contact information.
If you follow these points and have confirmed that you can remain compliant with your e-commerce site’s TOU, you will be able to use a virtual office address for your online store.
(See also Question 18, Act on Specified Commercial Transactions Guide, Consumer Affairs Agency.)
Can you buy a virtual address in Japan? How do I get a virtual address for Japan?
Forward-looking businesses have begun to provide these virtual office address solutions and mail-handling services. Among them, MailMate solves a need that non-Japanese business owners face—Japanese to English translation of incoming correspondence.
Image. Woman receiving notifications from MailMate for mail received on her behalf at her virtual office address.
Aside from providing business addresses for company incorporation, MailMate focuses on what the foreign entrepreneur needs to succeed in Japan: translation of your Japanese mail and subsequent handling of to-dos by bilingual staff.
Presently, there are 3 tiers you can choose from:
Starter Plan: ¥3,800 per month
Ideal for personal use, this plan provides the basics for receiving, storing, and forwarding your Japanese mail. At your request, MailMate scans, translates, and pays bills.
Basic Plan: ¥9,800 per month
For the digital nomad or sole entrepreneur, this plan includes a Japanese business address for company incorporation along with physical mail digitized and translated summaries with 1-click.
Standard Plan: ¥28,000 per month
This plan provides more mail scans and translated summaries for small teams with mid to high mail volume, a Japan business address, and a bilingual virtual mailbox service.
Pro Plan: ¥88,000 per month
For SMEs who want to focus on their business, this plan is designed for remote teams so you can report to global HQ with translated summaries of mail recieved.
Check out all the details here.
What are the benefits of using a virtual address service in Japan?
Unique benefits of MailMate’s virtual address service include the following:
The Basic Plan gives you a virtual address to register your company in Japan.
All mail received is uploaded to the cloud for easy access anywhere.
Cloud-based storage means instant forwarding to your lawyer, accountant, etc.
Get bills paid on your behalf at the local convenience store with 1-click.
Bilingual mail room staff provides fluent English support for your Japanese mail.
All your mail stays under 24/7 surveillance and can be shredded at your request.
Once your mail is digitally converted, it’s encrypted with 256-bit technology.
And then there are reasons specific to having a virtual mailbox, covered here: “5 Fascinating Reasons Why People Like Virtual Mail” and more FAQs answered here: "What Is a Virtual Mailbox Service in Japan? [Your FAQs Answered!]"
If you are bringing your business to Japan and require a Japanese business address, virtual address services—like MailMate—provide a legal and cost-effective solution that you can use for company incorporation in Japan.
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