Japan is the world’s third largest economy, the United States’ fourth largest trading partner, and, as of 2019, the top provider of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. The Japanese government actively welcomes and solicits inward foreign investment and has set ambitious goals for increasing inbound FDI. Despite Japan’s wealth, high level of development, and general acceptance of foreign investment, however, inbound FDI stocks, as a share of GDP, are the lowest in the OECD.
Japan’s legal and regulatory climate is highly supportive of investors in many respects. Courts are independent, but attorney-client privilege does not exist in civil, criminal or administrative matters, with the exception of limited application in cartel anti-trust investigations. There is no right to have counsel present during criminal or administrative interviews. The country’s regulatory system is improving transparency and developing new regulations in line with international norms. Capital markets are deep and broadly available to foreign investors. Japan maintains strong protections for intellectual property rights with generally robust enforcement. The country remains a large, wealthy, and sophisticated market with world-class corporations, research facilities, and technologies. Nearly all foreign exchange transactions, including transfers of profits, dividends, royalties, repatriation of capital, and repayment of principal, are freely permitted. The sectors that have historically attracted the largest foreign direct investment in Japan are electrical machinery, finance, and insurance.
On the other hand, foreign investors in the Japanese market continue to face numerous challenges. A traditional aversion towards mergers and acquisitions within corporate Japan has inhibited foreign investment, and weak corporate governance, among other factors, has led to low returns on equity and cash hoarding among Japanese firms, although business practices are improving in both areas. Investors and business owners must also grapple with inflexible labor laws and a highly regimented labor recruitment system that can significantly increase the cost and difficulty of managing human resources. The Japanese government has recognized many of these challenges and is pursuing initiatives to improve investment conditions.
Levels of corruption in Japan are low, but deep relationships between firms and suppliers may limit competition in certain sectors and inhibit the entry of foreign firms into local markets.
Future improvement in Japan’s investment climate is largely contingent on the success of structural reforms to raise economic growth, and, in the near term, the implementation of COVID-19 recovery measures.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2020||19 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||29 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2020||16 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||USD 131,793||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 41,710||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Direct inward investment into Japan by foreign investors has been open and free since amendment of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act (FEFTA) in 1998. In general, the only requirement for foreign investors making investments in Japan is to submit an ex post facto report to the relevant ministries. The Act was amended in 2019, updating Japan’s foreign investment review regime. The legislation became effective in May 2020 and lowered the ownership threshold for pre-approval notification to the government for foreign investors from ten percent to one percent in industries that could pose risks to Japanese national security. There are waivers for certain categories of investors.
The Japanese Government explicitly promotes inward FDI and has established formal programs to attract it. In 2013, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced its intention to double Japan’s inward FDI stock to JPY 35 trillion (USD 318 billion) by 2020 and reiterated that commitment in its revised Japan Revitalization Strategy issued in August 2016. At the end of 2019, Japan’s inward FDI stock was JPY 33.9 trillion (USD 310 billion), a 10.4 percent increase over the previous year. The Suga Administration’s interest in attracting FDI is one component of the government’s strategy to reform and revitalize the Japanese economy, which continues to face the long-term challenges of low growth, an aging population, and a shrinking workforce.
The government’s “FDI Promotion Council,” composed of government ministers and private sector advisors, releases recommendations on improving Japan’s FDI environment. In a May 2018 report ( ), the council decided to launch the Support Program for Regional Foreign Direct Investment in Japan, recommending that local governments formulate a plan to attract foreign companies to their regions.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) are the lead agencies responsible for assisting foreign firms wishing to invest in Japan. METI and JETRO have together created a “one-stop shop” for foreign investors, providing a single Tokyo location—with language assistance—where those seeking to establish a company in Japan can process the necessary paperwork (details are available at ). Prefectural and city governments also have active programs to attract foreign investors, but they lack many of the financial tools U.S. states and municipalities use to attract investment.
Foreign investors seeking a presence in the Japanese market or seeking to acquire a Japanese firm through corporate takeovers may face additional challenges, many of which relate more to prevailing business practices rather than to government regulations, although this varies by sector. These challenges include an insular and consensual business culture that has traditionally resisted unsolicited mergers and acquisitions (M&A), especially when initiated by non-Japanese entities; a lack of multiple independent directors on many company boards (even though board composition is changing); exclusive supplier networks and alliances between business groups that can restrict competition from foreign firms and domestic newcomers; cultural and linguistic challenges; and labor practices that tend to inhibit labor mobility. Business leaders have communicated to the Embassy that regulatory and governmental barriers are more likely to exist in mature, heavily regulated sectors than in new industries.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign and domestic private enterprises have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity. Japan has gradually eliminated most formal restrictions governing FDI. One remaining restriction limits foreign ownership in Japan’s former land-line monopoly telephone operator, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), to 33 percent. Japan’s Radio Law and separate Broadcasting Law also limit foreign investment in broadcasters to 20 percent, or 33 percent for broadcasters categorized as providers of broadcast infrastructure. Foreign ownership of Japanese companies invested in terrestrial broadcasters will be counted against these limits. These limits do not apply to communication satellite facility owners, program suppliers or cable television operators.
The Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, as amended, governs investment in sectors deemed to have national security or economic stability implications. If a foreign investor wants to acquire over one percent of the shares of a listed company in the sectors set out below, it must provide prior notification and obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry that regulates the specific industry. Designated sectors include weapons manufacturers, nuclear power, agriculture, aerospace, forestry, petroleum, electric/gas/water utilities, telecommunications, and leather manufacturing. There are waivers for certain categories of investors.
U.S. investors, relative to other foreign investors, are not disadvantaged or singled out by any ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Japan External Trade Organization is Japan’s investment promotion and facilitation agency. JETRO operates six Invest Japan Business Support Centers (IBSCs) across Japan that provide consultation services on Japanese incorporation types, business registration, human resources, office establishment, and visa/residency issues. Through its website ( ), the organization provides English-language information on Japanese business registration, visas, taxes, recruiting, labor regulations, and trademark/design systems and procedures in Japan. While registration of corporate names and addresses can be completed online, most business registration procedures must be completed in person. In addition, corporate seals and articles of incorporation of newly established companies must be verified by a notary, although there are indications of change underway. When he took office in September 2020, Prime Minister Suga called for reforms to eliminate use of seals and paper-based process along with establishment of a new Digital Agency as part of his policy agenda of digitizing the provision of government services.
According to the 2020 World Bank “Doing Business” Report, it takes eleven days to establish a local limited liability company in Japan. JETRO reports that establishing a branch office of a foreign company requires one month, while setting up a subsidiary company takes two months. While requirements vary according to the type of incorporation, a typical business must register with the Legal Affairs Bureau (Ministry of Justice), the Labor Standards Inspection Office (Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare), the Japan Pension Service, the district Public Employment Security Office, and the district tax bureau. JETRO operates a one-stop business support center in Tokyo so that foreign companies can complete all necessary legal and administrative procedures in one location. In 2017, JETRO launched an online business registration system that allows businesses to register company documents but not immigration documentation.
No laws exist to explicitly prevent discrimination against women and minorities regarding registering and establishing a business. Neither special assistance nor mechanisms exist to aid women or underrepresented minorities.
The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) provides a variety of support for outward Japanese foreign direct investment. Most such support comes in the form of “overseas investment loans,” which can be provided to Japanese companies (investors), overseas Japanese affiliates (including joint ventures), and foreign governments in support of projects with Japanese content, typically infrastructure projects. JBIC often supports outward FDI projects to develop or secure overseas resources that are of strategic importance to Japan, for example, construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to facilitate sales to Japan and third countries in Asia. More information is available at .
Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) supports outward investment by providing exporters and investors insurance that protects them against risks and uncertainty in foreign countries that is not covered by private-sector insurers. Together, JBIC and NEXI act as Japan’s export credit agency.
Japan also employs specialized agencies and public-private partnerships to target outward investment in specific sectors. For example, the Fund Corporation for the Overseas Development of Japan’s Information and Communications Technology and Postal Services (JICT) supports overseas investment in global telecommunications, broadcasting, and postal businesses.
Similarly, the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development (JOIN) is a government-funded corporation to invest and participate in transport and urban development projects that involve Japanese companies. The fund specializes in overseas infrastructure investment projects such as high-speed rail, airports, and smart city projects with Japanese companies, banks, governments, and other institutions (e.g., JICA, JBIC, NEXI).
Finally, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is a Japanese government entity administered by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under METI. JOGMEC provides equity capital and liability guarantees to Japanese companies for oil and natural gas exploration and production projects.
Japan places no restrictions on outbound investment.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The Government of Japan has provided extensive and expanded employment subsidies to companies to encourage them to maintain employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the pandemic, worker shortages still remain in sectors such as construction, transportation, and nursing care. The unemployment rate as of December 2020 was 2.9 percent. The fact that Japan’s unemployment rate has risen so slowly during the pandemic is remarkable and likely due to the social contract between worker and employer in Japan, as well as the continued government subsidies. Traditionally, Japanese workers have been classified as either regular or non-regular employees. Companies recruit regular employees directly from schools or universities and provide an employment contract with no fixed duration, effectively guaranteeing them lifetime employment. Non-regular employees are hired for a fixed period. Companies have increasingly relied on such non-regular workers to fill short-term labor requirements and to reduce labor costs. The pandemic has particularly hurt non-regular workers whose employment was concentrated in hard-hit service sectors such as tourism, hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment.
Major employers and labor unions engage in collective bargaining in nearly every industry. Union members as of June 2020 made up 17.1 percent of employees (“koyo-sha”), up slightly compared to 2019 and an increase for the first time in 11 years, but still in decline from 25 percent of the workforce in 1990. The government provides benefits for workers laid off for economic reasons through a national employment insurance program. Some National Strategic Special Zones allow for special employment of foreign workers in certain fields, but those and all other foreign workers are still subject to the same national labor laws and standards as Japanese workers. Japan has comprehensive labor dispute resolution mechanisms, including labor tribunals, mediation, and civil lawsuits. A Labor Standards Bureau oversees the enforcement of labor standards through a national network of Labor Bureaus and Labor Standards Inspection Offices.
The number of foreign workers is rising, but at just over 1.72 million as of October 2020, they still represent a fraction of Japan’s 69-million-worker labor force. The Japanese government has made changes to labor and immigration laws to facilitate the entry of larger numbers of skilled foreign workers in selected sectors. A revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in December 2018, implemented in April 2019, created the “Specified Skilled” worker program designed specifically for lower-skilled foreign workers. Prior to this change, Japan had never created a visa category for lower-skilled foreign workers and this law created two. Category 1 grants five-year residency to low-skilled workers who pass skills exams and meet Japanese language criteria and permits them to work in 14 designated industries identified by the Japanese government to be experiencing severe labor shortage. Category 2 is for skilled workers with more experience, granting them long-term residency and a path to long-term employment, but currently permitted only in a few designated industries.
The Japanese government also operates the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). Originally intended as an international skills-transfer program for workers from developing countries, TITP is currently used to address immediate labor shortages in over 80 designated occupations , such as jobs in the construction, agriculture, fishery, and elderly nursing care industries. As noted previously, the 2018 Immigration Control Law revision enabled TITP beneficiaries with at least three years of experience to qualify to apply for the Category 1 status of the Specified Skilled worker program without any exams.
To address the labor shortage resulting from population decline and a rapidly aging society, Japan’s government has pursued measures to increase participation and retention of older workers and women in the labor force. A law that went into force in April 2013 requires companies to introduce employment systems allowing employees reaching retirement age (generally set at 60) to continue working until 65. The law was revised again in March 2020 and will enter into force in April 2021, asking companies to “make efforts” to secure employment for workers between 65 and 70. Since 2013, the government has committed to increasing women’s economic participation. The Women’s Empowerment Law passed in 2015 requires large companies to disclose statistics about the hiring and promotion of women and to adopt action plans to improve the numbers. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, had a disproportionate effect on women in Japan. Women were more likely than men to occupy non-regular positions, work in industries hardest hit by the downturn, and face greater pressure to prioritize family over work. As a result, women have experienced reductions in working hours, departure from the labor force, or furloughs in greater numbers than men, erasing part of the rise in their workforce participation through 2019. The Government of Japan has acknowledged this impact on women’s economic participation and has convened a study group to consider solutions.
In May 2019, a package law that revised the Women’s Empowerment Law, expanded the reporting requirements to SMEs that employ at least 101 persons (starting in April 2022) and increasing the number of disclosure items for larger companies ( as of June 2020). The package law also included several labor law revisions requiring companies to take preventive measures for power and sexual harassment in the workplace.
In June 2018, the Diet passed the Workstyle Reform package. The three key provisions are: (1) the “white collar exemption,” which eliminates overtime for a small number of highly paid professionals; (2) a formal overtime cap of 100 hours/month or 720 hours/year, with imprisonment and/or fines for violators; and (3) new “equal-pay-for-equal-work” principles to reduce gaps between regular and non-regular employees.
Japan has ratified 49 International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions (including six of the eight fundamental conventions). As part of its agreement in principle on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Japan agreed to adopt the fundamental labor rights stated in the ILO Declaration including freedom of association and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labor and employment discrimination, and the abolition of child labor. The CPTPP entered into force on December 30, 2018.