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.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The 1953 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation gives national treatment and most favored nation treatment to U.S. investments in Japan.
On January 1, 2021, the Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force, which includes a chapter on investment liberalization. The text of the agreement is available online ( ). In November 2020, Japan signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the ten ASEAN nations, Australia, China, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand. RCEP also includes a chapter on investment. The text of the agreement is available online (https://rcepsec.org/legal-text/).
As of February 2021, Japan had concluded 35 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) (Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Egypt, Georgia, Hong Kong SAR, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Oman, and Kenya). In addition, Japan has a trilateral investment agreement with China and the Republic of Korea. Japan also has 18 economic partnership agreements (EPA) that include investment chapters (with Singapore, ASEAN, Mexico, Malaysia, Philippines, Chile, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Switzerland, Vietnam, India, Peru, Australia and Mongolia, the Comprehensive and Progressive Partnership for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), UK and RCEP).
On February 1, 2019, the Japan – European Union Economic Partnership Agreement entered into force, which includes provisions related to investment. The text of the agreement is available online ( ). The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership went into effect on December 30, 2018. This agreement includes an investment chapter. The United States is not a signatory to this agreement. Japan is the current chair of the CPTPP commission, its second time since the agreement went into effect.
The United States and Japan have a double taxation treaty, which allows Japan to tax the business profits of a U.S. resident only to the extent that those profits are attributable to a permanent establishment in Japan. It also provides measures to mitigate double taxation. This permanent establishment provision, combined with Japan’s corporate tax rate that nears 30 percent, serves to encourage foreign and investment funds to keep their trading and investment operations offshore.
In January 2013, the United States and Japan signed a revision to the bilateral income tax treaty, to bring it into closer conformity with the current tax treaty policies of the United States and Japan. The revision went into effect in August 2019 after ratification by the U.S Congress.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Japan operates a highly centralized regulatory system in which national-level ministries and government organs play a dominant role. Regulators are generally sophisticated and there is little evidence of explicit discrimination against foreign firms. Most draft regulations and impact assessments are released for public comment before implementation and are accessible through a unified portal ( ). Law, regulations, and administrative procedures are generally available online in Japanese along with regular publication in an official gazette. The Japanese government also actively maintains a body of unofficial English translations of some Japanese laws ( ).
Some members of the foreign business community in Japan continue to express concern that Japanese regulators do not seek sufficient formal input from industry stakeholders, instead relying on formal and informal connections between regulators and domestic firms to arrive at regulatory decisions. This may have the effect of disadvantaging foreign firms that lack the benefit of deep relationships with local regulators. The United States has encouraged the Japanese government to improve public notice and comment procedures to ensure consistency and transparency in rule-making, and to give fair consideration to comments received. The National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE), issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), contains a description of Japan’s regulatory regime as it affects foreign exporters and investors.
International Regulatory Considerations
The Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, plays a central role in maintaining Japan Industrial Standards (JIS). JISC aims to align JIS with international standards. According to JISC, as of March 31, 2020, 58 percent of Japan’s standards were harmonized with their international counterparts. Nonetheless, Japan maintains a large number of Japan-specific standards that can complicate efforts to introduce new products to the country. Japan is a member of the WTO and notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) of proposed regulations.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Japan is primarily a civil law country based on codified law. The Constitution and the five major legal codes (Civil, Civil Procedure, Commercial, Criminal, and Criminal Procedure) form the legal basis of the system. Japan has a fully independent judiciary and a consistently applied body of commercial law. An Intellectual Property High Court was established in 2005 to expedite trial proceedings in IP cases. Foreign judgments are recognized and enforced by Japanese courts under certain conditions.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Major laws affecting foreign direct investment into Japan include the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Companies Act, and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act. The Japanese government actively encourages FDI into Japan and has sought over the past decades to ease legal and administrative burdens on foreign investors, including with major reforms to the Companies Act in 2005 and the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act in 2008. The Japanese government amended the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in 2019.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) holds sole responsibility for enforcing Japanese competition and anti-trust law, although public prosecutors may file criminal charges related to a JFTC finding. In fiscal year 2019, the JFTC investigated 99 suspected Antimonopoly Act (AMA) violations and completed 81 investigations. During this same time period, the JFTC issued 11 cease and desist orders and issued a total of 69.2 billion yen (USD 659 million) surcharge payment orders to 37 companies. In 2019, an amendment to the AMA passed the Diet that granted the JFTC discretion to incentivize cooperation with investigations and adjust surcharges according to the nature and extent of the violation.
The JFTC also reviews proposed “business combinations” (i.e., mergers, acquisitions, increased shareholdings, etc.) to ensure that transactions do not “substantially … restrain competition in any particular field of trade.” In December 2019, amended merger guidelines and policies were put into force to “deal with business combinations in the digital market.” Data is given consideration as a competitive asset under these new guidelines along with the network effects characteristic of digital businesses. The JFTC has expanded authority to review merger cases, including “Non-Notifiable Cases,” when the transaction value is more than JPY40 billion (USD 370 million) and the merger is expected to affect domestic consumers. Further, the amended policies suggest that parties consult with the JFTC voluntarily when the transaction value exceeds JPY40 billion and when one or more of the following factors is met: (i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan;
(i) When an acquired company has an office in Japan and/or conducts research and development in Japan; (ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or
(ii) When an acquired company conducts sales activities targeting domestic consumers, such as developing marketing materials (website, brochures, etc.) in the Japanese language; or (iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)
(iii) When the total domestic sales of an acquired company exceed JPY100 million (USD 920,000)
Expropriation and Compensation
Since 1945, the Japanese government has not expropriated any enterprise, and the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments in Japan is highly unlikely.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Japan has been a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) since 1967 and is also a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention).
Enforcement of arbitral awards in Japan are provided for in Japan’s Arbitration Law. Enforcement in other contracting states is also possible. The Supreme Court of Japan has denied the enforceability of awards for punitive damages, however. The Arbitration Law provides that an arbitral award (irrespective of whether or not the seat of arbitration is in Japan) has the same effect as a final and binding judgment. The Arbitration Law does not distinguish awards rendered in contracting states of the New York Convention and in non-contracting states.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) is the sole permanent commercial arbitral institution in Japan. Japan’s Arbitration Law is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law “Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration” (UNCITRAL Model Law). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards.
A wide range of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations also exist in Japan. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has responsibility for regulating and accrediting ADR groups. A Japanese-language list of accredited organizations is available on the MOJ website: http://www.moj.go.jp/KANBOU/ADR/index.html .
The World Bank 2020 “Doing Business” Report ranked Japan third worldwide for resolving insolvency. An insolvent company in Japan can face liquidation under the Bankruptcy Act or take one of four roads to reorganization: the Civil Rehabilitation Law; the Corporate Reorganization Law; corporate reorganization under the Commercial Code; or an out-of-court creditor agreement. The Civil Rehabilitation Law focuses on corporate restructuring in contrast to liquidation, provides stronger protection of debtor assets prior to the start of restructuring procedures, eases requirements for initiating restructuring procedures, simplifies and rationalizes procedures for the examination and determination of liabilities, and improves procedures for approval of rehabilitation plans.
Out-of-court settlements in Japan tend to save time and expense but can lack transparency. In practice, because 100 percent creditor consensus is required for out-of-court settlements and courts can sanction a reorganization plan with only a majority of creditors’ approval, the last stage of an out-of-court settlement is often a request for a judicial seal of approval.
There are three domestic credit reporting/ credit-monitoring agencies in Japan. They are not government-run. They are: Japan Credit Information Reference Center Corp. (JICC, https://www.jicc.co.jp/english/index.html ‘, member companies deal in consumer loans, finance, and credit); Credit Information Center (CIC, https://www.cic.co.jp/en/index.html , member companies deal in credit cards and credit); and Japan Bankers Association (JBA, https://www.zenginkyo.or.jp/pcic/ , member companies deal in banking and bank-issued credit cards). Credit card companies, such as Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), and large banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), also maintain independent databases to monitor and assess credit.
Per Japan’s Banking Act, data and scores from credit reports and credit monitoring databases must be used solely by financial institutions for financial lending purposes. This information is provided to credit card holders themselves through services provided by credit reporting/credit monitoring agencies. Increasingly, however, to get around the law, real estate companies partner with a “credit guarantee association” and encourage or effectively require tenants to use its services. According to a 2017 report from the Japan Property Management Association (JPMA), roughly 80 percent of renters in Japan used such a service. While financial institutions can share data to the databases and receive credit reports by joining the membership of a credit monitoring agency, the agencies themselves, as well as credit card companies and large banks, generally do not necessarily share data with each other. As such, consumer credit information is generally underutilized and vertically siloed.
A government-operated database, the Juminhyo or the “citizen documentation database,” is used for voter registration; confirmation of eligibility for national health insurance, national social security, and child allowances; and checks and registrations related to scholarships, welfare protection, stamp seals (signatures), and immunizations. The database is strictly confidential, government-controlled, and not shared with third parties or private companies.
For the credit rating of businesses, there are at least seven credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Japan, including Moody’s Japan, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Japan, Tokyo Shoko Research, and Teikoku Databank. See Section 9 for more information on business vetting in Japan.
4. Industrial Policies
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Japan no longer has free-trade zones or free ports. Customs authorities allow the bonding of warehousing and processing facilities adjacent to ports on a case-by-case basis.
The National Strategic Special Zones Advisory Council chaired by the Prime Minister has established a total of ten National Strategic Special Zones (NSSZ) to implement selected deregulation measures intended to attract new investment and boost regional growth. Under the NSSZ framework, designated regions request regulatory exceptions from the central government in support of specific strategic goals defined in each zone’s “master plan,” which focuses on a potential growth area such as labor, education, technology, agriculture, or healthcare. Foreign-owned businesses receive equal treatment in the NSSZs; some measures aim specifically to ease customs and immigration restrictions for foreign investors, such as the “Startup Visa” adopted by the Fukuoka NSSZ.
The Japanese government has also sought to encourage investment in the Tohoku (northeast) region, which was devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear “triple disaster” of March 11, 2011. Areas affected by the disaster have been included in a “Special Zone for Reconstruction” that features eased regulatory burdens, tax incentives, and financial support to encourage heightened participation in the region’s economic recovery.
A revision to add “advanced data technologies” as one of targeted growth areas for NSSZs, was approved by the Diet in May 2020 and went into effect on September 1, 2020. The revision will allow regions to create “Super City National Strategic Zones,” on the condition that the zone will provide advanced services to its citizens through utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), big data or other data linkage platforms. The Cabinet Office website cited remote schooling/healthcare, cashless payment services, and one-stop administrative services as examples of such projects. The Japanese government is accepting applications for “Super City Strategic Zone Project ” as well as requests for related regulatory reforms until April 16, 2021.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Japan does not maintain performance requirements or requirements for local management participation or local control in joint ventures.
Japan has no general restrictions on data storage. On January 1, 2020, the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement went into effect and specifically prohibits data localization measures that restrict where data can be stored and processed. These rules are extended to financial service suppliers, in circumstances where a financial regulator has the access to data needed to fulfill its regulatory and supervisory mandate.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interests in real property are recognized and enforced. Mortgages are a standard lien on real property and must be recorded to be enforceable. Japan has a reliable recording system. Property can be rented or leased but no sub-lease is legal without the owner’s consent. In the World Bank 2020 “Doing Business” Report, Japan ranks 43 out of 190 economies in the category of Ease of Registering Property. There are bureaucratic steps and fees associated with purchasing improved real property in Japan, even when it is already registered and has a clear title. The required documentation for property purchases can be burdensome. Additionally, it is common practice in Japan for property appraisal values to be lower than the actual sale value, increasing the deposit required of the purchaser, as the bank will provide financing only up to the appraisal value.
The Japanese Government is unsure of the titleholders to 4.1 million hectares of land in Japan, roughly 20 percent of all land and an area equivalent in size to the island of Kyushu. According to a think tank expert on land use, 25 percent of all the land in Japan is registered to people who are no longer alive or otherwise unreachable. In 2015, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) found that, of 400 randomly selected tracts of land, 46 percent was registered more than 30 years ago, and 20 percent was registered more than 50 years ago. A similar survey by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) found that 20 percent of farmland had a deceased owner and had not been re-registered. The government appointed a group of experts to study the matter, and the Unknown Land Owners Problem Study Group announced the results in a midterm report on June 26, 2017, and in a final report on December 13, 2017 ( ). It estimated that by 2040 the amount of land without titleholders will increase to 7.2 million hectares. There are a number of reasons beyond the administrative difficulties of a title transfer as to why land lacks a clear title holder. They include: population decline, especially in rural areas; the difficulty of locating heirs, particularly if there are multiple heirs or if the deceased had no children; and the cost of reregistering land under a new name due to tax costs. Virtually all the large banks, as well as some other private companies, offer loans to purchase property in Japan.
Intellectual Property Rights
Japan maintains a comprehensive and sophisticated intellectual property (IP) regime recognized as among the strongest in the world. In 2020, Japan ranked sixth out of 53 countries evaluated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the strength of IP environments. The government has operated a dedicated “Intellectual Property High Court” to adjudicate IP-related cases since 2005, providing judges with enhanced access to technical experts and the ability to specialize in intellectual property law. However, certain shortcomings remain, notably in the transparency and predictability of its system for pricing on-patent pharmaceuticals. The discriminatory effect of healthcare reimbursement pricing measures implemented by the Japanese government continues to raise serious concerns about the ability of U.S. pharmaceutical companies to have full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP in the Japanese market. More generally, the weak deterrent effect of Japan’s relatively modest penalties for IP infringement remains a cause for concern.
U.S. Embassy Tokyo is aware of isolated claims of U.S. IP misappropriation by Japanese state-owned or affiliated entities and presumes, given the vast volume of bilateral trade, that additional cases across public and private sectors may exist. That said, the Japanese government has taken several steps in recent years to improve protection of trade secrets. Revisions to the Unfair Competition Prevention Act (UCPA) went into effect July 2019, which classifies the improper acquisition, disclosure, and use of specified protected data as an act of unfair competition, offering civil and criminal remedies to stakeholders. The revisions also extend the scope of unfair competition to include attempts to circumvent technological restriction measures. Japan has taken a leading role in promoting the expansion of IP rights in recent regional trade agreements, including:
- RCEP: On November 15, 2020, Japan joined 10 ASEAN member states, plus Australia, China, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea, in signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This regional trade agreement includes a comprehensive IP chapter, much of it repeating norms set out in TRIPS, but also offering unique protections for genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and folklore.
- Japan-UK CEPA: The Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed on October 23, 2020, and in force beginning January 1, 2021, contains an IP chapter including provisions on copyrights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, patents, regulatory test data exclusivity, new plant varieties, trade secrets, domain names, and enforcement.
- Japan-EU EPA: The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, which went into effect February 1, 2019, also includes a substantial IP chapter.
- CPTPP: As part of its 2018 accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan passed several substantive amendments to its copyright law, including measures that extended the term of copyright protection and strengthened technological protection rules.
Japan’s Customs and Tariff Bureau publishes a yearly report on goods seizures, available online in English ( ). Japan seized an estimated $121.2 million worth of IP-infringing goods in 2019, a decrease of 5.2 percent over 2018. In June 2020, the Customs and Tariff Bureau of the Ministry of Finance announced the “SMART Customs Initiative 2020,” which aims to utilize cutting-edge technologies such as AI to improve the sophistication and efficiency of its operations. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s country profiles at .
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Japan has privatized most former state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Under the Postal Privatization Law, privatization of Japan Post group started in October 2007 by turning the public corporation into stock companies. The stock sale of the Japan Post Holdings Co. and its two financial subsidiaries, Japan Post Insurance (JPI) and Japan Post Bank (JPB), began in November 2015 with an IPO that sold 11 percent of available shares in each of the three entities. The postal service subsidiary, Japan Post Co., remains a wholly owned subsidiary of JPH. The Japanese government conducted an additional public offering of stock in September 2017, reducing the government ownership in the holding company to approximately 57 percent. There were no additional offerings of the stock in the bank, but there was an offering in the insurance subsidiary in April 2019. JPH currently owns 88.99 percent of the banking subsidiary and 64.48 percent of the insurance subsidiary. Follow-on sales of shares in the three companies will take place over time, as the Postal Privatization Law requires the government to sell a majority share (up to two-thirds of all shares) in JPH, and JPH to sell all shares of JPB and JPI, as soon as possible. The government planned to implement the third sale of its JPH share holdings in 2019 but did not do so due to sluggish share performance.
These offerings mark the final stage of Japan Post privatization begun under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi more than a decade ago and respond to long-standing criticism from commercial banks and insurers—both foreign and Japanese—that their government-owned Japan Post rivals have an unfair advantage.
While there has been significant progress since 2013 with regard to private suppliers’ access to the postal insurance network, the U.S. government has continued to raise concerns about the preferential treatment given to Japan Post and some quasi-governmental entities compared to private sector competitors and the impact of these advantages on the ability of private companies to compete on a level playing field. A full description of U.S. government concerns with regard to the insurance sector and efforts to address these concerns is available in the annual United States Trade Representative’s National Trade Estimate on Foreign Trade Barriers report for Japan.
In sectors previously dominated by state-owned enterprises but now privatized, such as transportation, telecommunications, and package delivery, U.S. businesses report that Japanese firms sometimes receive favorable treatment in the form of improved market access and government cooperation.
Deregulation of Japan’s power sector took a step forward in April 2016 with the full liberalization of the retail electricity sector. This change has led to increased competition from new entrants. While the generation and transmission of electricity remain mostly in the hands of the legacy power utilities, new electricity retailers reached a 20- percent market share of the total volume of electricity sold as of January 2021. Japan implemented the third phase of its power sector reforms in April 2020 by requiring vertically integrated regional monopolies to “legally unbundle” the electricity transmission and distribution portions of their businesses from the power generation and retailing portions. The transmission and distribution businesses retain ownership of, and operational control over, the power grid in their regional service territories. In addition, many of the former vertically integrated regional monopolies created electricity retailers to compete in the fully deregulated retail market.
American energy companies have reported increased opportunities in this sector, but also report that the regional power utilities have advantages over new entrants with regard to understanding the regulatory regime, securing sufficient low-cost generation in the wholesale market, and accessing infrastructure. For example, while a wholesale market allows new retailers to buy electricity for sale to customers, legacy utilities, which control most of the generation, sell very little power into that market. This limits the supply and increases the cost of electricity that new retailers can sell to consumers. While the liquidity of the wholesale electricity market has increased in recent years, new entrants — including American companies — report that they have few other options for cost-effectively securing the electricity they need to meet their supply obligations. These market dynamics were exacerbated in January 2021, when high electricity demand and constrained LNG supply during a cold spell led to record-high wholesale electricity prices over the course of several days. In addition, as the large power utilities still control transmission and distribution lines, new entrants in power generation are not able to compete due to limited access to power grids.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Progress has been made through efforts by the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to introduce non-binding reforms through changes to Japan’s Companies Act in 2014 and adoption of a Corporate Governance Code (CSR) in 2015. Together with the Stewardship Code for institutional investors launched by the FSA in 2014, these initiatives have encouraged companies to put cash stockpiles to better use by increasing investment, raising dividends, and taking on more risk to boost Japan’s growth. Positive results of these efforts are evidenced by rising shareholder returns, unwinding of cross-shareholdings, and increasing numbers of independent board members. According to a TSE survey conducted in December 2018, 85.3 percent of companies had a compliance rate of 90 percent out of the 66 principles of the new code. As of May 2019, 93.6 percent of TSE listed firms have at least one independent director, according to TSE’s most recent White Paper on Corporate Governance. In December 2019, the Diet approved a revision of the Companies Act, which will enable companies to provide documents for shareholders’ meetings electronically. Listed companies will be obligated to have at least one outside director. The bill went into effect on March 1, 2021.
Following Stewardship Code revision in March 2020, TSE and FSA plan to revise the Corporate Governance Code in spring of 2021 to reflect the realignment of the TSE segmentations, which will be implemented in 2022. The revised guidelines are expected to require companies, to be listed in the “Prime Section,” a top-tier TSE section, to have more than one-third external directors. The guidelines are also expected to urge listed companies to have more diversity in mid-level and managerial posts, by hiring and training female and foreign workers. Awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) among both producers and consumers in Japan is high, and foreign and local enterprises generally follow accepted CSR principles. Business organizations also actively promote CSR. Japan encourages adherence to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
Japan’s penal code covers crimes of official corruption, and an individual convicted under these statutes is, depending on the nature of the crime, subject to prison sentences and possible fines. With respect to corporate officers who accept bribes, Japanese law also provides for company directors to be subject to fines and/or imprisonment, and some judgments have been rendered against company directors.
The direct exchange of cash for favors from government officials in Japan is extremely rare. However, the web of close relationships between Japanese companies, politicians, government organizations, and universities has been criticized for fostering an inwardly “cooperative”—or insular—business climate that is conducive to the awarding of contracts, positions, etc. within a tight circle of local players. This phenomenon manifests itself most frequently and seriously in Japan through the rigging of bids on government public works projects. However, instances of bid rigging appear to have decreased over the past decade. Alleged bid rigging between construction companies was discovered on the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka maglev high-speed rail project in 2017, and the case was prosecuted in March 2018.
Japan’s Act on Elimination and Prevention of Involvement in Bid-Rigging authorizes the Japan Fair Trade Commission to demand that central and local government commissioning agencies take corrective measures to prevent continued complicity of officials in bid rigging activities and to report such measures to the JFTC. The Act also contains provisions concerning disciplinary action against officials participating in bid rigging and compensation for overcharges when the officials caused damage to the government due to willful or grave negligence. Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether the Act’s disciplinary provisions are strong enough to ensure officials involved in illegal bid rigging are held accountable.
Japan has ratified the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, which bans bribing foreign government officials.
For vetting potential local investment partners, companies may review credit reports on foreign companies available from many private-sector sources, including, in the United States, Dun & Bradstreet and Graydon International. Additionally, a company may inquire about the International Company Profile (ICP), which is a background report on a specific foreign company that is prepared by commercial officers of the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo.
Resources to Report Corruption
10. Political and Security Environment
Political violence is rare in Japan. Acts of political violence involving U.S. business interests are virtually unknown.
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.