Compiled with the help of legal experts Tetsuya Iida and Marcus Kosins 


If I am in a situation where I need to physically defend myself, would I be at fault, and subsequently arrested, for harming a Japanese national, even if it is in self defense?

If your act is legally acknowledged as a justifiable defense, you will not be arrested. A justifiable defense can be classified as an act unavoidably performed to protect your rights against imminent and unlawful infringement. It all depends, but a witness can be the best proof that the act was one of defense. Even if you have no personal or physical evidence, the circumstances can prove that it was an act of defense; for example, the police or the court may assume that it was an act of defense if you harmed a stranger in your own house.

If I find a lost wallet and don’t return it to a police station in order to source the owner myself through details found in the wallet, could I be charged with theft in the meantime? Is it considered stealing to pick up that which is not yours, even if found on the street?

If you have the intention to return the found item to the original owner, the act is not legally a theft. That said, you need to contact the owner immediately in order not to be suspected of theft or illegally keeping someone else’s property (embezzlement of lost property). Generally speaking, it is safer in Japan to immediately report a lost item to the police station.

What kind of visa does a foreigner need to open a business in Japan?

Basically, an Investor/Business Manger Visa, a Spouse of Japanese Visa, a Long-term Resident Visa, a Spouse of Permanent Resident Visa, or a Permanent Resident Visa is required. If you have a different visa from those above, you need to apply to change your status to an Investor visa using a company founded by you. In order to obtain the Investor visa, you need to invest at least five million yen in Japan, and to have a physical office separate from your residence and from any other person’s residence or office. You also need to have evidence (e.g. a business plan) that can convince the immigration office that your business is sustainable. Please note that the immigration office will make its decision on a case by case basis and may give you other requirements for your visa.

What are the other requirements (non-visa related) for a foreigner to start a business here?

If you start your business as a sole entrepreneur, you need to file some notifications at the tax office. When you register your company at the Legal Affairs Bureau, you need to file even more notifications with the tax office. If your company employs people, you also need to file some notifications at the social security office. In addition, you sometimes need to obtain a business license when you do a certain type of business; for example, the Placement Business License, the Investment Advisory or Proxy License, Liquor Import License, etc. Although a separate office is required to obtain an Investor Visa, a business can be registered with a home office. The requirement for foreigners that are not required for Japanese is a visa letting them operate a business. The most common problem for foreigners trying to register a business here is that the registration office does not accept application documents written in English. If you do not have one of the visa types noted above, you basically need to obtain the Investor Visa. There is a chance to obtain an Investor Visa if you make one of the rooms in your home the office of your company.

Can I self-sponsor my own visa?

Yes, you can self-sponsor your visa if you are granted an Investor/Business Manager Visa. You also can be granted the Specialist in Humanities Visa or the Engineer Visa as a self-employed freelancer if you have a long term service contract with local companies. There are no written rules defining the long term contract, but it is usually required to be longer than six months. If you don’t have such a contract but are able to provide evidence that you have been working freelance and earning sufficient funds to support yourself for some time, this can also be sufficient.

If the police stop me on the street and ask for a urine sample (for a drug test), must I comply, or do I have the right to refuse? If I refuse, what are the consequences?

Unless the police officer presents a valid court order or you are caught flagrante delicto, the order does not have legal force, and you have the right to refuse the urine test. The police may give up the test if they required it when they have no evidence or suspicion to require it; however, they can become skeptical if you refuse the test, and might obtain a court warrant to arrest you or to perform a compulsory test.

Is it possible for Japanese children to be dual citizens (say if they have a Japanese mother and a father from another country), and if they do, can they retain such dual citizenship under Japanese law?

A child with one parent who is a Japanese national, will, under Japanese law, have dual nationality from birth if his or her other parent is a national of a country whose laws bestow their nationality on that child from birth. That is why so many people these days have dual nationality. However, according to Japanese law a dual national must choose the one nationality they wish to retain before they attain the age of 22. If they fail to choose, the law says they may lose Japanese nationality, and the law says it can be taken away by administrative hearing. But although the law has now existed for many years, to date no one appears yet to have lost their Japanese nationality in this manner. And as there are many people in this category, most consider it highly unlikely that the Japanese government will ever do this.

Are there any substances that are legal to carry in the West (e.g. Mace or pepper spray), but are illegal to carry in Japan, even if you can buy them here?

Article 1-2 of the Minor Offense Act states that “a person who secretly carries around, without justifiable reason, knives, iron rods, or items that are used to harm another person’s life or body” shall be fined or punished by temporary imprisonment. If a woman carries pepper spray with a rational purpose such as to defend herself, such act shall be justified. However, it still may be punishable under the Minor Offense Act if she carries it without any necessity.

If my Japanese spouse leaves me and takes our children, do I have any rights (as a foreigner) to try to get the kids back (or at least partial custody)?

A parent who is a foreigner has the right to seek the return of a taken child, and this might be possible. In some cases, the court may grant partial custody. Generally, in cases where the child is taken by his or her own Japanese mother, however, the father only gets custody in cases where custody under the mother is clearly inappropriate.

If I am laid off by my company because of the current economic climate, what kind of compensation am I entitled to?

According to Labor Standard Law, you are entitled to receive severance pay equal to at least 30 days’ wages when you are dismissed without a 30-day notification.

Is it illegal to play live music in public places?

If the performance takes place on public roads, it is illegal unless you obtain the permission of the jurisdictional police commander beforehand. At parks, openings, and other public spaces, if you disturb other people with rude or violent behavior you may be breaking the Minor Offense Act and codes of the local government, etc.

Is it legal to drink alcohol on the street and in other public places?

It is not illegal to drink alcohol in public places, but if you disturb other people with rude or violent behavior, you may be breaking the same laws and codes mentioned above. If your visa is sponsored by a company and you leave the company, do you need to get a new visa from your new employer? It all depends. For example, you are likely to be able to remain on the same visa if your duty in your new company is the same or similar to the duties you declared to the immigration office when you obtained the current visa. However, it is advisable to obtain the Certificate of Authorized Employment, which officially confirms that you may work at your new company, from your local immigration office so that you can minimize the risk in renewing your visa in the future. You need to change your visa status if your current visa is an Intracompany Transferee Visa and the owner of your new company is different from the owner of your former company that sponsored your visa. Please consult the immigration office or an immigration lawyer when you change your company to confirm if you can remain in Japan on the same visa, as this is not a simple issue.

What are the consequences if you are stopped by the police and do not have your alien registration card on you?

The Alien Registration Law requires you to carry your alien registration card whenever you go out in Japan. If you don’t carry it, you can be fined up to ¥200,000. However, police officers will sometimes give you an oral warning and let you go.

If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, what is the punishment? What is the legal alcohol limit for driving in Japan?

The crime of driving under the influence of alcohol shall be established upon the detection of 0.3mg/liter of alcohol concentration in your blood or 0.15mg/liter in your breath. Some people can reach the punishable amount by drinking merely half a can of beer. Even if alcohol is not detected, the driver may still be punished under the crime of drunken driving if he or she is under the influence of alcohol and unable to drive properly. You should refrain from driving once you take in alcohol, no matter how small the amount is. The new Traffic Law punishes passengers riding in a car knowing the driver consumed alcohol. Even if the amount is very small, it is punishable if the driver is drunk. It is not illegal to ride in a car with a passenger who is drunk.

If a US citizen in Japan is moving back to the US, what visas are needed for their Japanese spouse and children hoping to live in the US?

A US citizen’s foreign spouse must obtain an immigrant visa at the US Embassy in Tokyo. It is a two-step process, documents submitted and two interviews. To process in Tokyo the US citizen must be living in Japan for at least 6 months and must attend the first interview. If no problems, processing takes 2-4 months. Often children of a US citizen have US citizenship and only need apply for a US passport. If not, they must also apply for an immigrant visa. More details can be found at the U.S. Embassy website As delays often occur, it is important to begin processing early.