The worlds of tech, politics, science and art collided last week in Tokyo at NEST 2018, an annual event organized by the Japan Association of New Economy, with the goal of bringing together thought leaders from around the world to discuss innovation trends in Japan, Asia and beyond.

The centerpiece of this year’s summit was a special panel session featuring JANE Chair and Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Nobel Laureate Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and iconic Japanese rock star, Yoshiki.

A panel discussion between Hiroshi Mikitani, Marc Benioff, Nobel Laureate Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and iconic Japanese rockstar, Yoshiki, headlined NEST 2018.

Clockwise from top left: Composer, producer and entrepreneur Yoshiki, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Nobel Laureate Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and JANE Chair and Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani at NEST 2018 in Tokyo.

Here are four key takeaways from their broad-ranging and illuminating discussion:

Philanthropy is a responsibility

Benioff and Mikitani have enjoyed a friendship for over two decades and one common interest that links them is philanthropy. Both men have made significant donations to Dr. Yamanaka’s research into iPS Cells, which has shown tremendous potential in healthcare. On philanthropy, Mikitani and Benioff agreed that businesses and individuals have enormous potential and a responsibility to contribute to society.

To value innovation is to value risk

Benioff has long looked to Japan as a center for innovation. But he and Mikitani both agreed that Japanese businesses and entrepreneurs can be hampered by the fear of failure. “We have to value failure…. It means you’re taking chances,” emphasized Benioff. “We all want an innovation culture. That means we also have to value risk.” Building on that comment, Dr. Yamanaka shared an example to illustrate the differences he sees between the US and Japan when it comes to the value placed on risk. While his best students in Japan aim to get into big, established companies, his best students in the U.S. often look first to innovative startups, embracing the risk and reward that comes with starting something in that business environment.

The importance of mindfulness

Marc Benioff shared with the audience that he had dropped by Kyoto on his way to Tokyo, to meditate. This is a regular practice for Benioff, who said “I’m trying to cultivate a ‘beginners mind’, or shoshin, because it’s how you come up with innovation. The best place to learn about innovation is Japan.” Mindfulness is one of the more recent trends to emerge in the corporate world in the United States that is also widely adopted in Silicon Valley. In Japan, Rakuten is one of the few homegrown companies to promote the practice among employees. There may be few executives who are more committed to mindfulness for their whole teams than Marc Benioff, however, whose own company maintains dedicated mindfulness and meditation spaces on each floor of each Salesforce office around the world.

But the popularity of the practice isn’t limited to the corporate world, as Yoshiki himself is a confessed practitioner. The X Japan drummer, pianist and songwriter, who is also an accomplished classical musician, said about meditation, “it is vital to my process.”

One wish for Japan

To close out the session, the panelists considered what they would do if they had one wish for Japan. Given Mickey’s passion for Englishnization, and its important role in helping Rakuten expand globally, Mikitani was quick and emphatic in sharing his wish for everyone in Japan to speak English. Yoshiko also liked that wish but added that he wanted to see more philanthropy across-the-board. Dr. Yamanaka’s wish was that Japan could have a strong vision for the future to complement its incredible work ethic. Marc Benioff wished to see more diversity and empowerment of women in the corporate sector.

As for Rakuten.Today, our wish is to see another great session like this at NEST2019.


Read more reports on NEST 2018 here.