If you have, or are looking at setting up a company in Tokyo, you’ll want an address to put on your web site or business cards. If you’ve got the capital and cash flow for an office, and that suits your style of working, then this article isn’t for you. If you’re starting off by working from home or you’re mixing work with family commitments and you want an address that isn’t obviously your apartment, then a virtual office might be a good option.
At their most basic, a virtual office provides an address to put on your official company registration and a place for official (and plenty of junk) mail to be sent. Additionally they may offer services such as a Tokyo (03) telephone number that forwards to your mobile, meeting rooms, equipment for presentations and even short-term desk space. If you see the virtual office as being just a stepping stone to needing actual office space or just a place to work everyday, then you probably should pay a lot more attention to the options available and also the community around the particular location. For example, some co-working spaces that offer virtual offices may be better suited for IT businesses while others may be better suited for ‘creative’ businesses. We’ll look into co-working in more detail some time in the future.
The most famous players in this space are the international companies Servcorp and Regus. Both have offices in prestigious locations throughout Tokyo and the services and facilities they offer are quite impressive – although sometimes a little over the top with trying to look expensive. They’re still just virtual offices though, so shelling out an enormous amount of money for a virtual office at a prestigious address is a bit like turning up to an important meeting in a Mercedes Benz taxi. Sure, it’s a Benz but it’s still a taxi.
Although virtual offices are a lot cheaper than getting your own place, the cost for a start-up or bootstrapping business is not insignificant. Therefore it’s important to find out if it’s the right thing to do. For example, if you’re looking to sell stuff through online marketplaces Rakuten or Yahoo Japan, then you’ll find Rakuten will reject applicants with virtual offices, while Yahoo will reject applicants with their company address at their place of residence! Moving your official company address also costs between 30,000 to 60,000 yen (Legal Affairs Bureau fees) so if you make a mistake, it could end up costing you 120,000 + the contracted virtual office fees which you probably won’t be able to get out of paying. Therefore, it’s a good idea to find out what the implications are in your industry before diving in.
So what are the cheapo options? One of the bigger players in Tokyo is called Customer Plus (site in Japanese) which offers a large number of locations throughout Tokyo starting at about 5,000yen/month. This includes the option to book a room for meetings at any of their locations for a reasonable hourly fee. Many of the offices are in prestigious locations but they tend to be in rather old buildings. The interiors are decent, but if you are looking to make an impression with a client, you will have to choose the meeting location carefully. Also, beware of the extra fees – you’ll find there are always little extra things you need that will push the price up from 5,000 to about 10,000/month. If you don’t read Japanese, you might have some issues. I tested the site using the Google translate feature in Chrome, but (as unfortunately too many Japanese sites do) the site uses images for links extensively so the page doesn’t translate very well. So if your Japanese isn’t up to it, you’ll need a Japanese speaker to help you. Another similar option is 1 Stop Business Center – they have a video introduction in English and a dog in a tie as their mascot. There is also the slightly strangely named Business Pit in Shibuya. Rates and facilities seem reasonable but it’s hard to get over the name.
If you’re looking for places that speak English and have English web sites, then you could try Moboff (it means mobile office) with locations in Harajuku, Yotsuya and Shinjuku or Agora in Shibuya. Prices for both start around 10,000yen/month for virtual offices. Moboff in particular seems to have a strong community and organises regular events acting almost like an incubator.
So if you’re just looking for a ‘set and forget’ type virtual office, places like Customer Plus might be worth a look, but if you plan on having lots of meetings or eventually moving into office space, you might want to consider one of the options that also includes co-working or serviced office space.
About The Author
Greg has been been searching for a cheaper way of doing things in and around Tokyo for more than 12 years. Greg's qualification for being a cheapo include walking up to an hour across Tokyo to save on the 160 yen subway fare and still having clothes in his dresser from 1998. When not searching for the izakaya with the cheapest beer in Japan, he develops web sites.