Most people look to pursue a hobby or creative outlet during their tenure in Japan—photography, knitting, leatherworking, painting, woodcarving, etc. Eventually, you might get good enough to sell your product online, and for that, you’ll want an e-store.
Not only is setting up an online store a great creative venture and a way to earn a passive income, but it boosts your resume to hiring managers. Setting up an e-store shows employers that you display key skills like market research, marketing and sales and shows that you can proactively undertake projects independently.
In Japan, revenue from e-commerce has been on the rise since 2017 and is predicted to grow through 2025 and beyond. Given its ease of access and growth opportunities, there is no time like the present to jump in on the action.
Red tape, immigration and visa
I will need to preface this by saying that this does not substitute official advice, and all information is subject to change. You should only take official advice from an immigration lawyer and the immigration bureau of Japan.
One major hurdle to making an E-store in Japan is your residence status. However, this is no issue for permanent residents, business managers and spouses of Japanese nationals/PR visa-holders.
However, suppose you are on a visa with restrictions on the types of employment you can take. In that case, you must seek permission from your local immigration bureau and apply for activities not described on your visa before pursuing this venture.
At the end of the year, you must claim your earnings at the tax office as a secondary income. Read our quick guide to taxes in Japan.
Once you have confirmed your permissions with immigration, here are just some of the potential benefits of opening your own store.
- Improve your business Japanese: Negotiating with your suppliers, buying your crafts, dealing with mailing and fulfillment, communicating with customers—there is no limit to the learning opportunities to improve your Japanese in a real-life context.
- Find a creative outlet for your talents: Many foreign residents in Japan are creative. Running an online store could be a fun way to exercise your passions if you can’t find an outlet at your full-time job.
- A bit of side money: Although it shouldn’t be the only goal, if you are successful, some side money and a sense of accomplishment can be expected when committing to making an e-store. You might even start earning a passive income.
- Strengthen your resume: People often overlook the valuable experience you will earn in digital marketing when setting up an e-store online. To be successful, studying SEO, keyword research and market research is a fundamental learning curve that looks great on your resume.
Online stores in Japan
With an internet penetration rate of 94% and a keen and creative audience always looking for the latest trends, Japan is a great market to set up shop. SEO frameworks on Japanese e-commerce platforms also tend to be a bit simpler than what you see on Instagram and Etsy, so you may see good traffic if you keep your quality of service consistent.
Base is our best recommendation for beginners to the e-store world due to its very intuitive interface and high level of customizability for your storefront. Making coupons and sales is very easy to manage.
Additionally, fees are also very affordable, with only about 3% + ¥40 and an extra 3% on delivery being taken off every sales commission as a handling fee. However, one drawback with Base is the comparatively smaller customer base than others on this list.
Creema is one of the largest craft markets in Japan, second only to Minne, with over 10 million items on sale. Due to the higher pricing environment on Creema, it is the go-to option for semi-professional and professional craft-store owners with above-average product quality due to the high competition.
Creema has also penetrated the offline market by creating craft fairs for some of its sellers, which is an exciting goal to strive for. Setting up a store on Creema is easy and free, with the platform taking 11% of your sales commission in its business model.
Part of the enormous GMO family, Minne has over 800,000 active vendors and 14 million items for sale. The platform also dominates the public sphere with many features in magazines and TV spots.
Minne is also very female-orientated, with over 90% of their 20s to 30s demographic being women—something to consider when thinking about what you would want to sell. Setting up a store is very easy, with Minne taking 11% of the sales revenue (plus delivery) as their handling fee.
MercariShops is an online shop creation service provided by the well-known flea market app Mercari. However, unlike Mercari, there is no price negotiation and inventory management possible. You can buy and sell products just like a typical online shop.
The sales commission is 10%, which is high for an online shop—considerably higher than Base but closer in pricing to Minne and Creema. However, anonymous shipping handled with labels made digitally in-app is a huge draw to all Mercari products.
Another GMO property with English support (hurrah!).
Suppose you don’t have the space or the craft expertise or storage space. In that case, Suzuri offers a print-on-demand service similar to Redbubble, where you can add your designs to an item of your choice (mugs, t-shirts) and have Suzuri handle fulfillment for you as and when your items are bought.
One caveat is that the margins will be much lower than if you were to create the items yourself, but if you are looking to make your selling experience more passive, this is a solid option.
Things to remember
Starting a new venture is always a learning experience, and e-stores are no exception. Of course, having intermediate Japanese skills would be ideal, but you should at least know enough to explain your product and engage your customers politely.
There are plenty of other e-commerce platforms popping up all the time. If you consider yourself a professional, consider a site like Iichi or Stores. Finally, be aware of “hidden” fees like the cost to have your earnings transferred to your regular bank.
For more ideas on earning a side income, check 8 Side Jobs to Make Money in Japan.
Have you tried making an e-store in Japan? If you were to make an e-store in Japan, what would you sell? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!