Since founding in 1997, Rakuten has transformed from an e-commerce pioneer in Japan to a global family of services, powered by the internet. Over time, the company has come to mean many things to the many people who use its services around the world.
To some, Rakuten is recognized for its global partnership with FC Barcelona, to others, as the architect of the world’s first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network.
But despite the remarkable breadth of Rakuten’s offering today — which includes more than 70 services worldwide, ranging from online shopping and digital marketing to communications and financial services — the company remains deeply connected to its Japanese roots.
From its love of robots to its passion for fashion, here are just a few ways that Rakuten has been shaped by its home culture.
Ranging back nearly 400 years to the first mechanical puppets of the Edo era, robots are as Japanese as it gets. But there’s a world beyond Astroboy, ASIMO and the other 250,000 industrial robot workers currently employed across Japan.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Japan is also on the forefront of drone technology, and the Rakuten Drone team is one of the leading businesses in the space. As an emerging technology, much of Rakuten Drone’s focus to date has been test running new applications with an eye for safety and efficiency. We’ve seen Rakuten Drone deliver flowers for Mother’s Day, deliver packages to remote islands and communities, play a supporting role in breaking the world record for longest drone delivery, and its newest feat — inspecting base stations for Rakuten Mobile’s recently launched mobile network.
Rakuten Drone is also taking its expertise to the streets with the development of autonomous unmanned ground vehicles. First seen in the wild on a college campus in Eastern Japan in the summer of 2019, Rakuten’s Drone UGV team has more recently been spotted sunning itself near a beach south of Tokyo delivering BBQ supplies to beachgoers, where it delivered its services for a limited time.
Like its aerial cousin, the terrafirma-bound version of Rakuten Drone, which boasts the approximate stature of a pony and resembles a cross between a certain astromech droid and a double-decker bus, is currently being tested by a number of municipalities that see delivery drones as a possible solution to complex logistical challenges.
Revolutionizing mobile in a mobile-first country
Japan has always been one of the most complex and advanced countries when it comes to mobile technology and phones. From the launch of the world’s first 1G network in 1979 to the spread of mobile phones and text messaging years before the rest of the world picked up the trends, Japan has often been at the forefront of this technology.
No wonder Rakuten is on a mission to put Japan back at the forefront of mobile innovation.
Earlier this year, Rakuten Mobile made headlines with its full-scale commercial launch of the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network. Rakuten’s advantage: Virtualization. Unlike traditional mobile networks, which rely on dedicated hardware, Rakuten Mobile’s network is software-based and running on off-the-shelf servers.
Virtualization not only reduces costs, but offers greater stability, scalability and agility, and the architecture makes it possible to upgrade the network to 5G mainly through software updates. “We don’t have to worry about building and transforming our network from 3G or 4G to 5G. From day zero, Rakuten’s network is 5G-ready,” explains Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin.
A history of fashion
Since the Meiji Era began in 1868, the Japanese aesthetic has only grown in prominence. From cars to architecture and fashion, the Japanese design sensibility is an essential and unique characteristic of this island nation.
For Rakuten, fashion has always been a part of the journey. When Mikitani’s founding vision of empowering business owners first came to life on the e-commerce marketplace, many early success stories were local fashion retailers.
Through the years, Rakuten has continued to support the Japanese fashion industry as the host of the massively popular Rakuten Girls Award fashion event. And more recently, the company became the presenting sponsor of Tokyo Fashion Week, one of the world’s premier fashion events.
“Omotenashi” service quality
Over the decades, Japan’s image has evolved from masters of manufacturing to electronic innovators to creators of kawaii (cute) culture. But one lesser-known and experiential element of Japanese culture is at the heart of all of Rakuten’s services: omotenashi!
Omotenashi represents Japanese hospitality, which is defined by attention to detail and anticipating the needs of the customer. Each service experience presents unique opportunities to deliver on the omotenashi promise. Rakuten Today has covered it extensively but a list of practitioners of omotenashi from around Japan might also include the cleaning staff who gather to bow in unison to greet passengers as they board the bullet train, and the taxi drivers who jump out of the car to help with luggage and automatically open the door so passengers don’t have to lift a finger.
Omotenashi can be seen when merchants from the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace handwrite personalized notes to thank customers. Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani recently explained efforts to bring the spirit of omotenashi to the company’s chatbots.
As Rakuten continues to grow and introduce new services around the globe, the company will continue to leverage its tech expertise, design and fashion aesthetic, and Japanese service mindset. Next time you see the Rakuten brand on a box, an FC Barcelona jersey, or even a drone, take a closer look. You might be able to recognize the Japanese roots lying just below the surface.