If you want to make software in Japan, go to Tokyo. If you want to make hardware, come to Kyoto.
Following the trend of too many things converging in Tokyo, the startup scene within Japan is strongest in the modern capital. Most big-name Japanese startups are based in Tokyo, and for anyone trying to start a software or web startup, being there is a natural conclusion.
It’s an entirely different story for hardware startups.
In one of the largest, densest, and most expensive city in the world, trying to work with more than your computer and the cloud and build hardware could be a costly venture. The network also isn’t as established compared to software and web services.
Unbeknownst to most, the ancient capital of Kyoto, my hometown and my current city, has a rich culture of hardware and electronics. While most people see Kyoto as a tourist destination or the home of Nintendo, there are a lot of world class companies that most people don’t know about because they operate mostly in the B2B field: Kyocera, Rohm, Omron, Nidec, Shimadzu, and Horiba to name a few. Furthermore, there is an amazing amount of capable SMEs that support these companies in a very Japanese style of industry networking.
Until now, there wasn’t a robust startup scene in Kyoto, but that is starting to change. With the network and resources available, this is the perfect place to build hardware. In addition to the companies, Kyoto is one of the best university towns in the world with over 25 universities.
Now to make it easier for entrepreneurs in Japan and around the world to build hardware, a new program called Makers Boot Camp just launched in Kyoto. The idea is to create an acceleration program that connects with all the advantages of Kyoto.
The university that I work for, Kyoto Institute of Technology, is providing a hardware crash course for budding entrepreneurs and the organization I’m a part of, KYOTO Design Lab, is contributing with design expertise and maker spaces. Kyoto Shisaku Net, a coalition of over 100 companies are providing their expertise in mass-production prototyping, and the city along with the Advanced Scientific Technology & Management Research Institute of Kyoto is involved as well.
It’s quite exciting.
While there are several hardware accelerators around the world, as much as I can tell, this is the first one that is really focusing on mass-manufacturability. Unlike software, the path to market for hardware companies is much hairier, and just because you created a functional prototype doesn’t mean you can suddenly create it en-masse and spread it around the world. There are many entrepreneurs on Kickstarter who underestimated the difficulty in design for manufacturability.
I’m really excited that something like this is starting in my hometown and even more excited that I get to be involved.
Now I’m hoping cool people from around Japan and world will come to Kyoto to make awesome new products.
P.S. Some of you are probably wondering what I’m exactly doing back in Kyoto. I know the newest rendition of “what is Sushi up to” is months delayed. I promise, in due time.
それで思いついたのが一度パリで参加した SCAVENGER HUNT。ちょっと違うかもしれないが日本だと宝探しのような物。チームに分かれてヒントから街中で色々な物を探す冒険。実際に探して買うとしても良いが、それより写真をとって見つけたと証明するかメッセージを見つけてメモって持って帰る方が普通。ちなみにドイツで自分の誕生日にこのイベントをコーディネートした経験がある。友達たちを街中に送り色々なことをさせて面白かった（その後は飲み会）。
Some cultures are like water. If you don’t paddle fast enough, you will drown.
Some cultures are like quicksand. If you move too fast, you will get sucked in.
Some cultures are like a viscous fluid. You can move slowly but once you start moving fast, there is incredible force holding you back.
What kind of culture do you live in?
Slush arrives in Japan, like an angry bird slung across Asia to land in an empty parking lot in Odaiba, Tokyo. Is this the strike that cracks open the islands metaphorically called the Galapagos? or is this an anomaly for a nation that speaks so much about being global but fails to live up to its words?
ヘルシンキからアングリーバードのようにお台場に SLUSH が飛んできた。これがガラパゴスと呼ばれる日本を開き開ける起点になるのだろうか？それともグロバール化と謳うがグロバール化できない日本には異例なものなのだろうか？
100% English language, rock ‘n’ roll festival atmosphere, truly an oddity in the sunny Tokyo day. 3000 entrepreneurs, investors, reporters, students, and interested people like myself came together to bask in the excitement of creating something new from scratch. A truly magical day but what will remain once the tents are removed and the community scatters again?
Connections made, knowledge passed on, inspiration delivered, words written, videos transmitted, but is that enough? Will that ignite a revolution in this country, take down the conservative culture, and be a catalyst for change? Or will it fade away into the night like a firework, leaving a trail of rapidly vanishing smoke?
With or without Slush, startups will keep working, failing, succeeding, laughing, crying, dreaming. For a day they were rockstars, performing in front of a screaming audience, but changing the world doesn’t happen in a day. I wish the best for all of them for trailblazing is not easy, especially in a world where the fear of failure can be suffocating.
The real magic of Slush Asia was not visible in the foreground. They were the unsung heroes of the day, without which the event would not have been possible. 300 (what a great number) students came and volunteered their time and effort to put together this amazing event. I hope they were truly inspired for it’s ultimately them that will carry this country into the next generation. For a day, they made the stage, and the world came to them.
SLUSH ASIA 真の光は表出ては輝いていなかった。謳われぬヒーロー、ボランテイアで関わった３００の学生達（なんてスバラシイ数字なんだ）、彼らなくしてこのイベントは成功していなかっただろ。彼らが SLUSH ASIA を通して限りないインスピレーションを得た事を願う。なぜなら彼らがこの国を次の時代に持っていくからだ。青く晴れた東京の一日、彼らがステージを作ってそこに世界が来た。
Slush is a world renowned startup and tech event in Helsinki that started in 2008 and grew from 200 people to 15,000 in seven years. Slush Asia was the first time the event was held outside of Finland in Odaiba, Tokyo. 3000 people attended this one day event that was unlike any other in Japan. You can read more about it here:
- Konichiwa Slush Asia! (Arctic Startup)
- Greetings from Slush Asia (Futurice)
- Slush in Tokyo (Finnish Embassy)
I was involved in Slush Asia as an English pitch coach using my design, presentation, and (small) startup experience. I also got to see the original Slush in Helsinki in 2014 as a member of a German startup company. It was a great experience to connect and help out with the small but budding startup scene in Japan, and I hope the culture and community grows.
SLUSH はヘルシンキから始まった世界的に有名なベンチャーとテクノロジーのイベントで、２００８年に２００人規模で始まり去年は１５０００人来場した。SLUSH ASIA ４月２４日に東京お台場で行われフィンランド外では初。一日で３０００人参加したイベントは日本では他ならぬ空気と独特のムードが漂った。もっと知りたい方は関連記事をご参照：
- スタートアップ・ムーブメントがここから起きる「SLUSH ASIA」に込められた熱き思い (Forbed Japan)
- 世界のIT最新開発状況の今を東京で「SLUSH ASIA」レポート (ガジェット通信)
- 白熱のSLUSH ASIAスタートアップピッチ、グランプリはプレイアブル広告のVMFive (The Bridge)
- 「SLUSH ASIA」で見た「コミュニティー・フェス」という新たなかたち (Medium JP)
- 現地レポート！お台場で開催中、SLUSH ASIAの会場の熱気をお届けします！ (Sportry.me)
- 世界最大級のスタートアップイベント『SLUSH ASIA』会場からのツイートまとめ (togetter)
私自身 SLUSH ASIA では英語のピッチ（ベンチャー企業のプレゼン）コーチとして、デザイン、プレゼンテーション、そして少しのベンチャー経験を用いてお手伝いしました。去年の本家の SLUSH にもドイツのベンチャー企業の一員として参加し、いろいろ学びました。日本ではまだ小さいベンチャーコミュニティとつながって手助けできた事は良い経験になった。これからもどんどんコミュニティと文化が広まるのを願います。
(Photos from Flickr Album)
Unlike many cities in Japan, the public transport system in Kyoto is not as developed. This is partially due to the fact that as an ancient city, digging is prohibitively expensive. You can’t just dig in Kyoto; you have make sure you won’t be destroying artifacts that may be centuries old (or even a millennium or two).
There is a street in Kyoto that is perpetually traffic jammed. All the locals know this, but as a tourist city, many people from outside the city come in relying on their nav systems, creating unbearable congestions in places.
The City of Kyoto recently went to the Japan Digital Road Map Association and requested that nav systems put part of that street (~1100m) on lower priority for routing and not guide cars into smaller residential streets (From Kyoto Shimbun, Japanese only, I’m pretty sure this article won’t be translated anywhere). According to the newspaper, the top for digital map companies in Japan promised to do their best. I don’t know if these are data owners like Zenrin or includes users like Google.
Don’t get me wrong, knowing how horrible the situation is on that street, I think this is a great idea. However, I wonder how much governments and organizations should influence navigation data and ultimately the flow of people.
In this case, intentions are pure, but what if a city is developing a new shopping district and want more people to go through there? What if it wants to direct traffic away from a residential area inhabited by influencers? What if a city wants to hide a poorly developed neighborhood?
Now that this precedence is being set, it’s going to be interesting to see how companies will handle future requests of a similar nature. After all, traffic and the flow of people have an incredible influence over the development and economy of an area.
(Interesting case study from Okinawa in 1978)
After World War II, unlike the rest of Japan, Okinawa was under the direct control of the US until 1972 when it was handed back. During that time, like the US, cars in Okinawa drove on the right side of the road, different from the rest of Japan that drives on the left. Six years after Okinawa was returned to Japan, on July 30th 1978, the traffic direction in Okinawa was switched back to left side driving. You could probably imagine the chaos that ensued.
One effect of this change involved the fishing bait and supply stores. Historically, bait shops were placed on the side of the road so people driving towards the sea can easily access the store. However, overnight, this changed. New stores opened on the other side of the road and quickly drove the old stores out of business. Same roads, same cars, just on the other side of the road.
Funny how life happens.
Above is a roughly 2 x 2 km (1.25 x 1.25 mi) area in Kyoto, Japan, my hometown. Within this 4 sq. km area are:
- The hospital where I was born
- The first house I lived in (literally 30 seconds by foot from the hospital)
- The second house I lived in
- The business that my dad ran
- The okonomiyaki restaurant we went to when my parents had to work late
- The supermarket that pretty much provided most of my nourishment
- The kindergarten I attended
- The church where my parents got married
- My grandparents’ condo
- The home of my aunt, uncle, and cousins’ family
- Where my other aunt lives
This is pretty much where my life happened for the first ten years of my life. The only thing not inside this map is my elementary school which was few kilometers east.
Then in 1993, I moved to Hawaii to go to middle school, then to Connecticut for high school, Texas for university, and California for graduate school plus a year stint at DaimlerChrysler. After that I spent almost two years in Paris and three and a half years in Germany, which takes us to present day where I am now living in this box again, having completed a full circle around the globe.
Of the people that know me, many of you knew (especially those in Frankfurt), some of you might have figured out from Facebook, and some of you probably had no idea that I moved to Kyoto at the end of February. I’ve been saying “move” because after 22 years, it doesn’t feel like “moving back.” My family is quite surprised as I’ve been gone for so long, and quite frankly, I’m surprised too.
Already in the short time I’ve been here, there have been many many discoveries. Even though I can speak Japanese fluently and understand the culture, there are still plenty of things that can surprise me here. That is wonderful.
So I’m starting a new chapter in my life. I don’t know if I’m going to be here for the next four year, forty years, or four hundred, but I’m excited that I can see my own country with a fresh new lens and be in a country where I can understand the language.
Still learning, still moving, and still living the adventure. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.
(I’ll post what I’m doing in another post)
In Japan, other people’s time is valuable. In Germany your own time is valuable.
This may sound like two ways of saying the same thing, but there are significant differences.
The other day at the doctor’s office in Germany, I was picking up some documents. When I first arrived at the reception, the receptionist informed me that I needed to talk to the doctor before receiving the document that was sitting right in front of her. I then waited for an hour, only to be called by the same receptionist who then told me that the doctor doesn’t have too see me. She gave me the documents… An hour of time, wasted, for nothing.
Ask expats from US and Japan in Germany and they will tell you that waiting is a way of life here. Public offices can easily suck up half a day (though sometimes they can be really fast), waiters and waitresses are never there when you want to pay the bill, even buying a train ticket from a human being can be a thirty minute wait. When I have an appointment with my dentist, I still usually have to wait 15-30 minutes. While people like to stereotype German efficiency with on-time trains, they are not that punctual. The S-bahn I take to Ultimate Frisbee practice on Mondays have been on-time once in the last three months. Germans believe that if you want or need something, you are willing to wait. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in Germany say “Thank you for waiting.”
On the other hand, Germans are very precious with their own time. They draw clear boundaries between working hours and non-working hours and meticulously count the working hours. Overtime must be paid out or converted into vacation days (common for lots of professionals). Germany is the only country where my boss told me I should be taking more vacation days. Germans work hard and play hard, really well.
Japan is the exact opposite. There is an unhealthy overtime culture where people stay at work far too late to look like they are working hard. I read a story once where the office had to shut down in the evening because of some maintenance work but it was announced only thirty minutes prior to closure. As soon as the announcement was made, everyone quickly finished up what they had to do and left the building on time. Japan also has a terrible track record of people not taking their vacation days. There is talk that the government is now trying to solve the problem by making everyone use all their vacation days, by law. I have no idea how that would work.
Punctuality and services, on the other hand, are Japan’s strong suit. Other people’s time are valuable, and one should make sure they don’t take up too much of it. Waiters and waitresses are incredibly attentive (many restaurants have buzzers you can use to call them), queues, if any, move rapidly, and you would never have to wait more than five minutes if you have an appointment. In 2012, the average delay for the bullet train, amongst the 120,000 that ran, was 36 six seconds. To make up for the Paris-Frankfurt ICE that I rode on the other day that was delayed for 30 minutes, Deutsche Bahn would have to run 50 trains on time. No way that is happening.
There is a Japanese phrase “お待たせしました” which translates to somewhere between “Thank you for waiting” and “I’m sorry for making you wait” that is a way of greeting anyone who has waited. You go to a restaurant, the waitress has to check which tables are open, you wait ten seconds, she will say this. Even if you are EARLY to an appointment and waited in the lobby, you will here this.
In an ideal world, people would value both their own and other people’s time. I would love to live in a country where personal time was protected as Germany and service was as punctual as Japan, but that’s probably Narnia right now.
If I were to place these two countries in a cultural spectrum, I would put the United States in the middle but slightly closer to Japan and France in between but much closer to Germany. How about your culture? How is time valued?
This is second of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looked at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.
What if we live in the darkest age in the history of mankind?
The early 21st century is considered to be the darkest age in the history of mankind.
At no other time in history did people exploit the resources on Earth at such a grand scale. For the first time, people were able to ecologically impact their world but did not fully understand the damage being delivered at a global scale. Instead, people were too busy wasting limited resources for individual gains in the name of capitalism. Government and political action simply did not have enough power against the capitalistic dogma that dominated the generation, and the future was disregarded for the present.
To make things worse, most of the resources were being spent for the benefit of a select few in what people called “the developed world.” For once there were enough food in the world to feed everyone but people starved in the millions while others wasted food. Life expectancy and child mortality varied drastically around the world while many people suffered and died from diseases that were considered curable at this point.
Even within the developed countries the chasm between the rich and poor grew as massive complex financial systems were built to ensure that the wealthy collected more wealth. Despite becoming a much more efficient society, many people worked too much while those less capable weren’t able to find jobs, and cutthroat behavior dominated professional culture. This became so endemic in some countries that generations of unemployed and underemployed people left a lasting scar on its culture.
On the other side, rampant commercialism dominated economic activities as companies competed to access and control the minds of the consumers. More money were spent communicating and promoting products and services rather than improving and manufacturing them. The cost of products and services rarely matched the actual (and not perceived) value, and yet this was seen as normal. The unquenchable thirst for the new was instilled in the minds of consumers while ideas like planned obsolescence and celebrity endorsements thrived.
Culture was also heavily dominated by commercialism as those challenging the status quo simply could not compete against the exposure of those putting forth easily digestible and forgettable content. Personal image and branding of “artists” were heavily controlled by the companies that backed them, and this was not considered mass deception.
Ultimately the early 21st century became known as the age of modern slavery. While traditional slavery of bonds and shackles were mostly eradicated, a new form of economic and commercial slavery arose. Those with power and wealth built and used financial and political tools to contain those below them, and corporations spent incredible resources to manage the mind of consumers.
Compared to part I, writing part II felt darker but more optimistic for the future. Hopefully we can question the world we live in and radically redesign it for something more in line with our innate values.
This is first of a two-part series looking at our current world from a future perspective. Part I looks at the present as the greatest age in the history of mankind. Part II looks at the present as the darkest age in the history of mankind.
What if we live in the greatest age in the history of mankind?
The early 21st century is considered to be the greatest age in the history of mankind.
At no other time in history did technology evolve so fast. New communications technologies brought the world together at an unprecedented pace and rapidly increased the collaboration between people, nations, and cultures. These communication technologies also connected industries and other technologies to bring forth exponential growth in efficiency and capability. Data and algorithms replaced people’s unreliable experiences and intuitions so that better decisions could be made faster.
The early 21st century was also the golden age of culture. The abundant resources available meant that not only did people have the time to create, they also had the means to do so. This coupled with the interconnecting world meant that everyone and anyone could be a cultural center, free to project out into the world. With the abundance of leisure time and resources, industries for entertainment flourished, further spreading culture around the globe.
The interconnectedness of the world also lead to increased international travel, both for leisure and work. Increased competition in the travel industry and disappearing borders meant that more and more people were traveling, learning about and understanding each other. This lead to one of the most peaceful times in the history of mankind with no major wars and minimal deaths from human conflict.
The connection between people brought forth the great age of philanthropy. The richest people of this age gave generously to improving the lives of those less fortunate. There were more foundations and NPOs than people can keep track of, each trying to improve the world in their own ways. Even those without money contributed their time and expertise. The internet was full of people providing help and advice to those whom people never met.
Not surprisingly, writing this paints a dark view of the future, as we all like to believe that the best is still ahead of us. Stay tuned for part II coming soon.
This is a follow up post on “Taking the road not drawn.”
Our perception of the world as nodes and links is not only in the physical domain but also in the metaphorical way we live our lives. By our use of phrases such as “career path,” we’ve come to believe that there is a way forward in our lives to get somewhere.
The first stages of our lives are structured like climbing a ladder with grades in schools (as in “1st grade”) leading to degrees. Many people keep this way of thinking as they start working and climbing the “corporate ladder.”
In reality the world isn’t one ladder we are trying to climb or a path that leads us somewhere. It’s a place where you can head in any direction you want, any time you want. The paths we lay down are only our perception of how life should proceed, biased by the ways millions have traveled before.
You can go wherever you want. The question is, where do you want to go?