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.