Gaishi Entrepreneur #1 – What’s in a company name?

what is in a company name? you can't have a blank business cardThinking of starting up your own company in Japan?  Why not, Japan is the home of the small enterprise.  The tax system is set up to promote large tax holidays for owners of small businesses and there doesn’t seem to be much of an expectation from the tax office that you even need to break a profit.  I was surprised at how simple it was to start up a company when I inked the papers at the local government offices last year here in Japan.  There are plenty of under-worked book keepers willing to weave through the bureaucracy and just tell you where to sign.  The only two things that you really need to give thought to is the name of your new baby and which town you would like to establish her in.

Even if you were starting up a company back home you would probably mull over the brand value of your name.  Let’s face it, do you really have any idea about how effective your new company name will be in nihongo (日本語) and what message it will convey to the average Japanese?  Well I have some good news for you.  It seems that katakana company names are all the rage these days.  An interesting piece of (albeit trivial) research published the other day by Tokyo Shoko Research (東京商工リサーチ) pointed out that of the ten most popular company names in Japan, seven solely use Katakana.

Hold on a sec, what do you mean ten most popular company names?  How can there be more than one company of the same name? So much for copyrite.  Japanese corporate law surprisingly allows more than one company to have the same name.  Technically, as long as your company has a different registered address then you can even call yourself Sony!  You could even be in the same street as long as both companies specified different street numbers in the official address.  (You can choose how detailed your official address will be.  If you are choosing an original name then you probably want to keep it as broad as possible (eg. Tokyo, Minato, Roppongi (東京都港区六本木) without mentioning which chome (丁目) or banchi (番地) you are.  That way even if you move offices down the street you don’t have to waste 10,000 yen updating your official company register with the tax offices.)  If you want to be really cute you can also distinguish yourself from another company by placing the KK (株式会社) either before or after your business name.

So what, you may ask, are the most popular company names in Japan?  A Whopping 429 companies (out of 2.6 million surveyed) were called “Assist” (アシスト).  This was followed by “Rise” (ライズ) and “Suntech” (サンテック) with 382 each and Sato Komuten (佐藤工務店) with 380 on number four.  While it might be good for a laugh down at the local pub, I doubt you or I are going to be calling ourselves Sato Komuten. Then again, I’m not totally sure it would be a great idea copying any of the top 10 names either.  As far as I can tell there are at least two other reasonably active companies that come in a google search for the company name that I chose.  Frankly, it is a pain in the arse.  In less than a year I have already been asked what I have to do with one of them.  Speaking of which, in this day and age you probably want to go for a company name that you can buy a .com or or .jp URL for (as this was the major reason why potential customers confused me with another company).  Don’t worry too much if you can’t register the kanji domain name (read more here).

Sato Komuten logoWhile we are at it with the company name bean knowledge here is a bit more.  The most common character used at the start of accompany name was 大 (meaning large eg. Yamato, Osaka, Taisei, etc.) with over 70,000 companies.  The most common katakana words at the start of company names were office (オフィス, 5124), green (グリーン, 3611) and Japan (ジャパン, 3608).  To be honest, I don’t think I’d be overly keen about chosing any of those katakana names.  Maybe I will borrow Yamato for my next company’s name though.

there really are a lot of sato-komutenSo what about ending your company name?  While we’d often put “inc” or “co” or “and partners” etc at the end of English names, in Japan it seems the standard is “Industries” (工業, kogyo).  Over 132,000 companies use that in their official name.  Skipping over the other typical Kanji names (建設、工務店、商事、商店) the most common katakana options (hey, as gaijin we’ve gotta use the katakana) the most popular words are service (サービス37,541) , center (センター, 22,139), tech (テック, 17,514), japan (ジャパン, 16,161).

who is the real sato?Have I helped you come up with an interesting name or just made matters worse?  How many people out there actually run their own companies?  I would love to see the stats for companies in Japan run by gaijin.  There are so many opportunities in such a big economy like Japan that it should be ripe for the opportunity.  Does anyone know of any organizations for gaijin entrepreneurs?  If you have an interesting stories about setting up a company in Japan then share it with us in the comments section below.

5 thoughts on “Gaishi Entrepreneur #1 – What’s in a company name?”

  1. Try the Japan Entrepreneurs Association started by a Canadian Chap.

    Best of luck with your new company.

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