Japanese Tax Laws: A Guide for Startups

Japanese Tax Laws: A Guide for Startups

Japanese Tax Laws: A Guide for Startups

Japan’s business environment is renowned for its technological innovation, highly skilled workforce, and strategic location in Asia. For startup founders, Japan offers a promising market with opportunities for growth and expansion. However, understanding the intricacies of Japanese tax laws is crucial for the success and sustainability of any business venture in the country. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to navigating the Japanese tax system, specifically tailored for startup founders.

How Does the Japanese Tax System Work?

The Japanese tax system is structured into two main categories: national taxes and local taxes. Additionally, taxes are classified as direct taxes, which are paid directly to the government, and indirect taxes, which are collected by intermediaries (such as businesses) on behalf of the government.

Key Tax Authorities and Their Roles

1. National Tax Agency (NTA): Responsible for the administration of national taxes, including corporate income tax and consumption tax.

2. Prefectural and Municipal Tax Offices: Handle the collection of local taxes, such as inhabitant taxes and enterprise tax.

The Four Types of Taxes Applicable to Businesses

Corporate Income Tax

Corporate income tax is a direct tax imposed on the profits of corporations. The rates for corporate income tax in Japan vary depending on the income level of the corporation and its size. As of 2023, the standard corporate tax rate is approximately 23.2%, but this can be lower for smaller enterprises.

Taxable Income and Deductions: Taxable income is calculated by subtracting allowable deductions from gross income. Deductions may include business expenses, depreciation, and certain reserves.

Consumption Tax (Value-Added Tax)

Consumption tax, akin to Value-Added Tax (VAT) in other countries, is an indirect tax applied to the sale of goods and services. The standard rate is 10%.

Filing and Payment Process: Businesses must file consumption tax returns annually or quarterly, depending on their size and turnover. For example, a startup generating an annual turnover below 10 million yen may opt for simplified tax filing procedures.

Withholding Tax

Withholding tax is applied to specific types of income paid to residents and non-residents, such as salaries, interest, dividends, and royalties. The rates vary based on the type of income and the recipient’s status. For example, a 20.42% withholding tax applies to dividends paid to non-residents.


– Salaries paid to employees: Typically subject to withholding tax at progressive rates.

– Royalties paid to foreign entities: Usually subject to a 20.42% withholding tax, which may be reduced under tax treaties.

Local Taxes

Local taxes consist of prefectural and municipal inhabitant taxes and enterprise tax.

1. Prefectural and Municipal Inhabitant Taxes: These taxes are based on the income of the business and are levied by local governments. For example, in Tokyo, the standard inhabitant tax rate for corporations is 10%.

2. Enterprise Tax: This is a tax on the business income of corporations, also collected by local governments. In Tokyo, the enterprise tax rates range from 3.4% to 5.5%, depending on the type and size of the business.

A startup employee filing japanese taxes

Tax Incentives and Reliefs

Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits

Japan offers generous R&D tax credits to encourage innovation. Businesses can claim a credit against their corporate tax liability for qualified R&D expenditures, which can significantly reduce their tax burden.

Special Measures for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)

SMEs in Japan benefit from various tax incentives, including reduced corporate tax rates and simplified tax filing procedures. For instance, the corporate tax rate for SMEs can be as low as 15% on the first 8 million yen of taxable income. For more information about the subsidies you can receive as a startup in Japan, refer to our article on the topic here.

Other Tax Incentives for Startups and Innovative Businesses

Additional incentives include tax deductions for capital investments, subsidies for employing new graduates, and grants for businesses in designated special economic zones.

Tax Filing and Payment Procedures

Overview of Tax Filing Deadlines and Requirements

Filing taxes in Japan involves adhering to specific deadlines and submitting various documents to the appropriate tax authorities. Here is a detailed guide to ensure compliance:

Documents Required for Tax Filing

When filing taxes in Japan, the following documents are typically required:

1. Corporate Income Tax Return: This form includes details of your company’s income and expenses. You can find a guide to filing for corporate tax returns here on the NTA’s website.

2. Financial Statements: These include the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of retained earnings.

3. Consumption Tax Return: For businesses subject to consumption tax. You can find a guide for filing your consumption taxes here on the NTA’s website

4. Withholding Tax Report: If your business has made payments subject to withholding tax.

5. Local Tax Returns: Specific forms for prefectural and municipal inhabitant taxes and enterprise tax.

Submission Details and Deadlines

1. Corporate Income Tax Return: Must be filed within two months of the end of the fiscal year. Extensions may be granted upon request.

2. Consumption Tax Return: Due annually or quarterly, depending on the business’s turnover. Annual filers must submit by March 31st following the end of the tax year.

3. Local Taxes: Prefectural and municipal taxes typically have deadlines in mid-May for the previous fiscal year.

Where to Submit

– National Taxes: Submit to the National Tax Agency (NTA). You can find your local tax office here.

– Local Taxes: Submit to the respective prefectural or municipal tax offices.

Tax Credits and How They Fit into the Process

Tax credits, such as the R&D tax credit, should be claimed when filing the corporate income tax return. The claim involves providing detailed documentation of qualifying expenditures and completing specific sections of the tax return forms.

How to File Electronically

Japan offers the e-Tax system, an electronic filing platform that simplifies the tax submission process. Here’s how to file electronically:

1. Register for e-Tax: Visit the e-Tax website and create an account.

2. Prepare Your Documents: Ensure all required documents are digitized and ready for upload.

3. Complete Forms Online: Fill out the necessary forms on the e-Tax platform.

4. Submit and Pay: Once completed, submit the forms electronically and pay any due taxes through the available online payment options.

Penalties for Late Filing and Non-Compliance

Failure to file taxes on time or correctly can result in significant penalties. For instance, late filing of corporate income tax may incur a penalty of 5% to 15% of the unpaid tax amount, in addition to interest charges.

By following these steps and utilizing the available resources, startups can ensure timely and accurate tax filings, taking advantage of all applicable tax credits and avoiding penalties.

Money going towards Japanese tax

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Language Barriers and Navigating Japanese Tax Documentation

One common challenge for foreign startups is the language barrier. Japanese tax documentation is primarily in Japanese, making it difficult for non-native speakers to understand and comply with regulations. Our websites Launch Lab and Scaling Your Company can help you find accounts for your startup and help with basic accounting issues.

Understanding and Applying Tax Laws Correctly

The complexity of Japanese tax laws can be daunting. Misinterpreting tax regulations can lead to costly errors. Engaging a bilingual tax consultant who understands both Japanese and international tax laws can mitigate this risk.

Finding Reliable Local Tax Advisors and Consultants

Establishing relationships with reliable local tax advisors is crucial. Look for professionals with experience in assisting foreign startups and a strong track record of successful tax compliance.

Case Study: A US-based tech startup expanded to Japan and initially struggled with local tax compliance due to language barriers and complex regulations. By hiring a bilingual tax consultant with expertise in Japanese tax laws, the startup successfully navigated the tax landscape, optimized its tax liability, and avoided penalties.

Practical Tips for Effective Tax Management

Keeping Accurate and Detailed Financial Records

Maintaining precise financial records is essential for accurate tax filing. Implement robust accounting systems and regularly update your financial records. You can find a guide from Launch Lab on filing your tax records here

Utilizing Accounting Software Tailored for Japanese Regulations

Invest in accounting software designed for the Japanese market, which can automate tax calculations and ensure compliance with local regulations. To navigate business regulations in Japan, refer to our article here on the subject.

Regularly Consulting with Tax Professionals

Schedule regular consultations with tax professionals to stay informed about any changes in tax laws and to receive tailored advice for your business. Launch Lab can help you work with tax professionals and boost your financial and operational capabilities, refer to this link to begin your consultation process.

Staying Updated on Changes in Tax Laws and Regulations

Japanese tax laws are subject to change. Subscribe to updates from the National Tax Agency and other relevant sources to ensure you remain compliant with the latest regulations.


Understanding and complying with Japanese tax laws is vital for the success of any startup in Japan. This guide has provided an overview of the key taxes, filing procedures, and common challenges faced by businesses. Startups are encouraged to seek professional advice and leverage available tax incentives to optimize their tax positions. By staying informed and proactive, startups can navigate the Japanese tax landscape effectively and focus on growing their business.

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