Congratulations! The Success of Mr. Tamesue and Mr. Endo of Xiborg

→ Japanese

Recently, Ken Endo (1, 2, Wikipedia in Japanese) of Xiborg is attracting a lot of attention for his brilliant work. I have known him from when he was a PhD candidate at MIT. After successfully getting one, he came back to Japan and started working for the SONY Computer Science Laboratory (CSL). He started a company in collaboration with Dai Tamesue, an Olympian and medalists in World Competitions, who is director of the organisation, and they unveiled a new experimental running arena, the Brilla Running Stadium (in Japanese) on the 10th of December (press release in Japanese) at the now infamous Toyosu (because of the scandals and problems unearthed by Tokyo Governor Ms. Koike).

The stadium boasts a wide variety of tracks, with some of the tracks using materials slated for use in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and through this innovative location, they aim to help disabled people feel like Superman!

With audacious goals, these young people seek to leave an impact on the global scene, carefully preparing and planning, overcoming the inevitable setbacks and painful situations. I am always inspired by such young people, and feel encouraged by them.

They will shake things up, I am sure, and inject new life into a gradually stagnating Japan. Let’s go for Gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!


The Dismal State of Japanese Agriculture and the New Generation of Change-Makers

→ Japanese

The TTP agreement notwithstanding, agriculture in Japan is in dire need of reform in order to harness the potential and the value of this sector.

It may be surprising, but on the list of countries (in Japanese) that earn through agricultural exports, a list led by The U.S, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, and France, Japan comes in at a distant around 45th. I believe this is a typical example of Japan’s failure to sell its high-quality products on the world stage.

Some reforms have been kick-started into life by Shinjiro Koizumi (in Japanese), but the resistance of organizations like the JA (known locally as Nokyo) (in Japanese) persists, and lawmakers in the ruling party are loathe to call for reforms, fearing the alienation of the rural vote-bank.

In order to gain a better understanding of the situation, I attended a two-day town hall meeting organised by the responsible ministry departments.

It is true that people involved in agriculture are very hard-working, but it remains a fact that the wage rate when calculated per hour is a measly sum somewhere between 450 and 500 yen (4.5-5 dollars) . I think you will agree that the situation is unacceptable.

The second day of the meeting was led by Mr. Takashima of Oisix (in Japanese), and Mr. Kurita from SeakYuruyasai (in Japanese), two ‘outsiders’ who have started successful farming enterprises. They explained their business models, and Yuruyasai for example, is still relatively new (2.5 years) but salaries for participating farmers are 2000 yen (20 dollars) per hour, and they are aiming to increase the hourly wage to 2500 yen in the third year.

They are doing their best to harness the amazing asset that agriculture in Japan can be, an their reports seemed to have some effect on the public officials in attendance.

I knew Takashima personally for some years. He is a very capable person with a keen sense for business, having already floated stocks of his enterprise on the market. I had also invited Mr Kurita to attend this meeting with me.

I know Kurita from his days on the management team at WHILL, but it seems he has moved on to agriculture. I as well as others in attandence in this meeting, was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of his business model and execution.

These young entrepreneurs will be the driving force that will help change Japan, and I hope we can all support them in their endeavors!


From Toronto to Doha


I left Toronto for Doha via Montreal to attend the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum. I was a member of the selection committee at its inaugural meeting of the Forum.

At the Forum, I met with the representatives of the venture company Spiber, which utilizes genetic engineering to create spider webs, developed by Mr. Sekiyama. He is an alumnus of Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC) and his mentor is Professor Masaru Tomita. I took notice of Spiber in 2010, when it was presented at the SFC’s annual Open Research Forum when I was teaching at the SFC. I also had dinner with the Spider team and had the opportunity to exchange many ideas and opinions.

Watching the activities of passionate, young people always lifts my spirits and makes me want to offer my support if any. I am cheering for Spiber’s success.

Although the relations between governments are important in diplomacy, the trust that is built through people-to-people exchanges and friendship also plays a crucial role in international relations.

To Toronto Again


I returned to Japan from Cornell University via Toronto but I went back to Toronto just three days later.

I took part in a conference in Toronto, which focused on innovation in Canada and Japan and the areas where the two countries could increase their cooperation. Throughout the discussion, many people from both the Canadian and Japanese sides brought up how little attention each country paid to each other. The keynote speech was given by the co-founder of BlackBerry, Jim Balsillie. We were seated next to each other at the main table and had the chance to talk about many things.

I mentioned to Mr. Balsillie that I once moderated a key note speech of the other co-founder of BlackBerry, Mike Lazaridis, in Kyoto in 2007. I told him that I immediately started to use the BlackBerry when it became finally available in Japan for retail sale in 2008. Throughout his keynote speech, Mr. Balsillie emphasized the phrase, “Freedom to Operate,” and so we discussed many topics in our conversation. The Ambassador Monji was also present at this gathering.

The host organization of this conference was the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), which is a relatively new think tank. The Balsillie School of International Affairs. And both organizations are created by Mr Balsillie.

I have many exchanges with people in Canada and feel that it is a country of moderation and excellence. Although Canada shares a similar history with Australia of being a former British colony and a resource-rich country, there are some major differences. The environment and cold climate may be an influencing factor.

In my talk, I spoke about the potential for Japan and Canada to work together and to create new possibilities by combining their strengths and offsetting their weaknesses. Japan has four times the population of Canada but the two countries share the similarity of being geographically located next to countries with ten times their own populations. I raised these points and took a global and long-term perspective in my talk.

The conference concluded with a speech by the Minister of Trade, Chrystia Freeland. Her skill in the question and answer session attest to her brilliant career as a journalist.

In Japan, it is rare to find people like Mr. Balsillie and Minister Freeland in Japan. The existence of such individuals is a strength of Canada.

Meeting at Sendai with Young Entrepreneurs Active in Tohoku Reconstruction Efforts


On the afternoon of March 14th, I headed to Sendai. I gave the closing presentation in the event, “The Role of Entrepreneurs in Disaster Recovery.” This was the public forum for the International Disaster Prevention Conference, hosted by Sendai City.

The keynote speech was by Professor Michi Fukushima of Tohoku University, followed by excellent presentations by five young people filled with entrepreneurial spirit (1).

These young people who chose to work in northeastern Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake have diverse backgrounds, including those who lost their families during the earthquake, those who found their homes gone and were in shock, and those who left their jobs in other parts of Japan or abroad to go to destroyed towns and some return to their hometowns to become involved in reconstruction efforts.

This includes Mr. Masatsura Takahashi of Iwakitakahashi, Mr. Mitsuhiro Sato of Shimatsuji-kojiten, Ms. Ruriko Mitarai of Kesennuma Knitting, Ms. Megumi Hikichi of Walatis, Mr. Hiroki Iwasa of General Reconstruction Association (GRA) and others.

They are all truly incredible, amazing young individuals. They all have made use of the unique tradition, culture, and environment as well gotten people involved in the creation of a new social value (this is my definition of innovation), overcoming obstacles with their hopes and devotion. People who supported this process started to appear and join, forming a new organization and creating a raison d’être that they had in common.

It is the third time this year that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Ms. Mitarai, who has a global perspective and is able to widen the framework of the work that she is doing.

Finally, I gave my talk, focusing on projects which are helping to foster young people who are active in such reconstruction efforts in the Tohoku area. I spoke about the activities by IMPACT Japan, Qatar and the Intilaq project, “Tohoku Innovators Hub.”

I had a wonderful time sharing such experiences with impressive young people.

I also got to see five MBA students from the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business who I had just met two days ago.

The Japan Start-up Prize (Nippon Venture Prize); ‘New Business’ Conference and CONNECT !


On the 22nd of January, the ‘Japan Start-up Prize/Nippon Venture Prize; ‘New Business’ Conference and Connect’ (in Japanese) was organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The morning session started with a presentation by Tom Kelley (of IDEO fame) and Christian Bason. It was followed by a discussion between the two presenters, with Naohiro Nishiguchi moderating.

In the afternoon, we had a section that was organized by Hal Morimoto of Astoria Consulting and me. Focusing on corporate venture capital (CVC), this 140 min. section detailed how the scene has been dramatically changing over the past couple of years (Japanese).

Part 1 was titled ‘To seek return on investment, or to seek strategic profits? The way of CVC’ along with ‘CVC best practices’, with an expert panel composed of Erik Vermeulen, Hiroki Saito (in Japanese), Akimichi Degawa, Tomotaka Torin (in Japanese), and moderated by Moriyoshi Matsumoto.

Part 2 was titled ‘The CVC Market and Ecosystem’ with Jessica Archibald, Alastair Breward, Chris Erickson, and George Arnold, with Kari Andersen as moderator. Between these experts, they presented the audience with numerous, practicable, pragmatic and sensible advice. I felt that it is really important to heed the advice of these people. Building up trust, perseverance, creating a presence on a global stage, showcasing the technical skills of Japan were some of such points raised.

I was only able to be there for part 2, delayed because of an important matter that had suddenly cropped up. I was very impressed by the discussion, and as the panel wrapped up, I made my way onto the stage and thanked the participants for their insights. During the discussion, the prevalence of ‘groupthink’ as a characteristic of many Japanese corporations was mentioned, and I took the opportunity to elaborate on this a little further. All in all, the response to this event was very positive.

Finally, the awards for the first ‘Japan Start-up Prize’ / Nippon Venture Prize were handed out by Prime Minister Abe, who had just come back from the Middle East. Awardees included Mitsuru Izumo for Euglena, Yoshiyuki Sankai for Cyberdyne, Takeo Higuchi (CEO of Daiwa House), Naoko Samata for Coiney, Kazuhide Sekiyama for Spiber, and Koichiro Yoshida for Crowdworks. It was a night where young entrepreneurs stood out. Well done!

It was an event that energized and delighted.

A Bright and Energetic Next Generation


Last week, Ken Endo of SONY CSL, the breeding ground of crazy and eccentric individuals, stopped by my office along with Mr. Dai Tamesue and Mr. Sugahara of RDS. He came to announce that he has started a venture business in order to continue the research he had been conducting at MIT on prosthetics.

I have known him since he was studying for a PhD at MIT. I have supported him at See-D (in Japanese) and others.

While he has been active in promoting events that support people in poverty who use prosthetics due to accidents or land mines, he has also working with Paralympic athletes to further push forward the possibilities of humankind. One of his professors at MIT is Hugh Herr, who gave an astounding presentation on prosthetics at this year’s TED talk. With this technology, it may be possible for Paralympic athletes to surpass the record set by Olympic athletes. This was recently the case in the match between a computer and professional Japanese chess player (in Japanese).

Mr. Sugie of WHILL also came to visit, the first time since he moved his base to Silicon Valley. WHILL is a venture business that was set up by young engineers from four major Japanese companies. They introduced me to Mr. Hasegawa of WINGLE (in Japanese), which supports children who have unique talents that are less compatible with conventional educational methods.

Also, Mr. Matsuda of Teach for Japan, who I introduced on this site just recently was featured in the Globe section of the Asahi Shimbun (in Japanese).

There are many amazing individuals who are active in a wide spectrum of areas.

Before and After March 11th


As I mentioned in my blog post on the 11th of March, these past two weeks have been occupied by events related to the work I did in the capacity of the Chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission by the National Diet, a commission that is the first of its kind in the history of Japan’s constitutional government.

At Tokyo University, I was invited to speak at an event organised by Kan Itou and his collaborators. Here I was invited to speak for 20 minutes about the NAIIC report, but unfortunately, that was all I did, as I left right after my speech to go to Ueno station to board a Shinkansen for Sendai in Tohoku. In a program titled ‘Sendai for Startups! 2014’, the group Impact Japan and the Sendai local government worked in tandem to provide a stage for entrepreneurs and business start-ups. Ms. Oikawa of Oikawa Denim (link in Japanese) presented as a local entrepreneur, while I presented Impact Japan’s new initiative in partnership with Sendai, IntilaQ.

This was followed by a lecture at Club Kanto, and then a 2-day meeting at the Swiss Embassy, after which I spent my weekend participating in an event organised by ‘The Simplest Explanation of the NAIIC’ and the Japanese Red Cross Society (link in Japanese), an event attended and by many high school and university students. It was an opportunity to learn of the ongoing struggle of the evacuees, showing the complexity of the damage caused by the triple disaster. As if this were not enough, I followed up with a visit to Bunkyo ward in Tokyo, and then had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Muto (link in Japanese), who is widely credited for having successfully introduced a new system of medical system into tsunami-devastated Ishinomaki city. The event was prepared by the Japan-North America Medical Exchange Foundation (JANAMEF) and fittingly spoke of the ever-changing situation in the world and how it affected the future of Japan.

Although change here in Japan is a slow and laborious process, there are some glimmers of hope in the actions of the young people of today. I wish them success in their endeavours!

Asian Innovation Forum: The Youth of the World Come Together


The Asian Innovation Forum (AIF) (1) was started by Mr. Idei, former CEO of Sony, and I have had the privilege of helping out over the years.

This year, it was held on December 12th and 13th at GRIPS. I had the opportunity to give a lecture and serve on a panel. The second day was the competition for the Young Entrepreneur Award, by the bright, young people, which was really something. I had the privilege of giving another lecture.

Both the judges and the presentations by the young people were impressive, as they had been chosen from all over the world. There were people from Madras in India, London, Hong Kong and Dhaka, and from Japan, there were students from Keio and Waseda Universities.

Mr. Timothy Draper (1) also gave a lecture and shared fun and interesting stories based on his own experiences. It seems that it is a strength of the United States that there are such unique, out-of-the-box people. I was sitting in the front and had the opportunity to speak with him. He also wrote about the events of this day on his blog.

I also met Mr. Maheen, the Bangladesh partner of Mr. Saisho of “Dragon Sakura,” whom I have introduced on this column from time to time.

This was a gathering of diverse young people, who gave presentations and had discussions, and the entrepreneurs who support them. It is very promising.

TEDxTokyo 2013


Already into its 5th year, this year’s TEDxTokyo was held in Hikarie building of Shibuya. I have been involved in this initiative from the beginning, and I have watched as this event has steadily garnered more and more attention. The number of young volunteers has been increasing year by year, and so has the number of sponsors, making for a invigorating day.

As with every other year, Patrick was the host, and he livened up the day with his nimble and witty talk.

Each talk or presentation was interesting and informative, and they added up to a wonderful program which can be viewed online. On a personal note, I believe that the audience was greatly inspired by the talk of Shigeru Ban (1– in Japanese -, 23), an architect with whom I go back a long way and whose dynamism and energy still commands my respect. Each speakers shared their own life ‘story’, and I think this is what made the event a profoundly moving one.

And in a manner reminiscent of the TED talks held at Long Beach (home to TED since 2008), the end of each talk was met with a hearty applause from the crowd, and the standing ovations in particular speaks volumes about the response to each of the speeches.

With evening came the rain. As the TED event wrapped up, I excused myself and headed for Juntendo University in order to pay a visit to Professor Tomino at the reception for the Japanese Society for Nephrology, an event he organized as chairman. I was also able to meet David Harris after a long time. I remember him from Sydney in 1997 as a capable Secretary-General who helped organize a successful World Congress of Nephrology. It was a chance to catch up with old friends from my original field of expertise after a long time.