Innovation In Japan With William Saito

SEASON 1 EPISODE 18

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  • What happened to the economic powerhouse that Japan was in the 1980s? Where did the innovation and entrepreneurialism go? Is it still alive or has Japan Inc. suffered from too much by bureaucracy and lack of leadership?
  • William Saito is an accomplished entrepreneur, venture capitalist, educator, and consultant to governments worldwide who will talk about how the Japanese economic train got derailed and what steps can be taken to get it back on track.

Snow in Tokyo!

Anthony asks the audience how was the little dusting of snow in Tokyo as people flocked to their social media about it. In case viewers are thinking of indoor things to do, he invited listeners to check out his recent video of Joypolis, a shopping and amusement center by the video company Sega. It’s got arcade games, roller coasters, and virtual rides good for families. Also in the area is the Toyota Car Museum, which showcases its cars and the eras these were made. Don’t miss checking those out in Odaiba, Tokyo.

Tokyo Podcast introduces Japan Blog News (JBN) featuring the latest posts from the most interesting blogs in Japan. For this week, the following blogs are recommended:

  • Hikosaemon rounds up the latest internet news with regards to Canadian journalist Christopher Johnson’s extraordinary account of his deportation from Japan. The Economist magazine column published Christopher’s claim that he was held by authorities at Haneda airport and coerced to purchase an outgoing ticket. A lot of people wondered how legitimate the story was. Hiko gave a good summary of all the articles and videos related to the news as well as his take on these.
  • Prominent blogger and author Baye McNeil has released his first book, ‘Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist.’ A compelling story of his journey from the streets of Brooklyn to the modern city of Tokyo, he writes his dealings with racism in Japan and within himself. Visit his website to get a copy of his book or order it from Amazon.

Want to have your blog post featured here? Feel free to send an email and Tokyo Podcast would be happy to include it.

An Entrepreneurial Streak

One of the leading experts on information and data security, William Saito is on the show to talk about entrepreneurialism and innovations in Japan. William has been designing stock market trading algorithms and software programs for tech giants early in his career. In 2005, he moved to Japan and founded InTecur which assists entrepreneurs and companies to turn innovations into globally viable products and services.

For William, entrepreneurialism does not necessarily mean creating companies. Viewing it rather as a mindset, he cited that it is a valuable tool that allows people to express their creativity and turn it into a new service, product, company, or even an industry.

William recalls moving his business from the US to Japan, dealing with challenges such as language fluency and its seniority system. He pointed out that Japan has the most valuable natural resource: its people, their education, and innovation. The problem lies in converting innovation into something practical and globally competitive, calling it the ‘last mile left’. Designating Silicon Valley to be the 100th mile, Japan already has the basics: education, infrastructures, and several generations of qualified graduates. The Japanese only need to convert these to a tangible product or a well-run company. Some solutions can either be done by growing them domestically or bringing in perspectives from overseas and other fields. Most Japanese companies would view these solutions as out of their reach; but this last mile involves less time, effort, and money compared to other countries who still need to build their structures for years.

Japan Inc. Then and Now

Post War Japan instilled in its people that they do not many natural resources. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)’s predecessor instructed companies to take their remaining resources and focus on certain areas such as cars, electronics, and other industries that made Japan famous. The direction, strategy, and leadership provided by institutions like METI allowed Japan to move forward. Thus, Japan led the way in half of the industries a decade ago; now, it does not lead in any industry. With globalization characterized by different needs, changing markets, and fast-paced developments, Japan is having a hard time catching up. No longer can it count on strong provident leadership. Innovation and competitiveness required them to think for themselves.

The Role of the School System

In terms of education, the number of Japanese students studying abroad has also gone down. Compared to neighboring Asian countries, Japan sends fewer students overseas to form networks. An indicator of this can be seen in the number of patent applications filed by companies all over the world. While other companies have joint authorships with other companies, Japanese patent applications tend to come from only one company. Sharing of ideas, creating relations, and growing the industry is absent; thus, the quality and number of patents are lower.

Judging a lot of business plan compositions in school, William observed that Japanese students tend to lose their entrepreneurial side. By third grade, they become mindful of just themselves. They are very good at taking tests and are pitted against each other for years – only to work with teams upon entry in the workforce. Since innovation moves at a rapid phase and corporations have different silos of technology, the outcomes reflect their lack of teamwork as well as the existence of politics and bureaucracy within institutions.

Revisiting ‘Made in Japan’

Many Japanese ventures think that creating something cool would automatically sell; disregarding whether it is affordable or user-friendly. To have a globally competitive product, one must know the difference between want and need. With Japan’s shrinking population, companies also need to look overseas and adapt news ways of engaging with the market. An example of this is enabling product customization; a contrast to mass production in Japan. Tourism needs to be promoted outside the country – not when people have already landed in the airports. Still, Japan-made items remain valuable in the luxury industry. Women should be included when assessing the market as companies could incur losses if they disregard them.

Taking the Risks

William would encourage his students to work on fields not their own and fail if they must. This would allow them to take into account their strengths and weaknesses, partner with talented individuals, and figure out how to do things better. Slowly, the changes in the system and his students motivates William to continue his advocacies. In a similar way in which famous companies rose from adversities and found success, the social impact of Japan’s innovative spirit would be tremendous once it overcomes its roadblocks.

To get more insights on how to address these barriers, check out William’s business blog. His autobiography ‘An Unprogrammed Life and Adventure of an Incurable Entrepreneur’ among other books he has written are also available online.

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