How Tokyo can become a global leader in tech and innovation

There is no question that Tokyo is an amazing city. Our food is among the best in the world. Our nightclubs are open ’til 5 or 6 a.m. Our service sets a global standard.

And yet, when we think about the centers of technology and innovation around the world, Tokyo is not at the top of the list.

Why is this? It’s a question I ask myself often, and was the topic of much discussion during the Japan Association of New Economy (JANE) delegation visit to Silicon Valley last month.

Here is what I believe we must do to ensure Tokyo is broadly recognized as a global leader in technology and innovation.

Globalize internally. By this I mean Japanese companies like ours must recruit from all over the world. When we look at our competitors, we see global companies. These are companies that see the world as their resource for talent. It will be impossible for Japanese companies to create competitive, technology-based businesses without bringing in the best and brightest from around the world.

Promote Englishnization. When I made the decision to switch Rakuten’s official language from Japanese to English, I received more than a little criticism. “Oh, God, this Mikitani is crazy! He’s going to destroy Japanese culture by changing the language and it’s not going to succeed!” But of course, that didn’t happen. Japanese culture has survived and Rakuten, by following Englishnization, has been able to make the leap to becoming a global company.

Market the city. Our marketing is horrible. There are so many companies and cities in the world getting lots of credit for the things Japan excels at. It’s our job to get that word out. When I see the Ritz-Carlton brand recognized for offering the best service in the world, I think to myself, no offense intended, why are we not hearing about the thousands of Japanese hot spring ryokans (traditional inns) who set a unique standard for anticipating their customer’s every need with their omotenashi?

We need to consider where Tokyo goes from here. We need to think about what is possible. Fifty or 60 years ago, no one really believed Japanese automakers could be the top automobile companies in the world. Same goes for Japanese electronics makers. But these things happened. Tokyo can take the best of this culture – the high level of hospitality, the team spirit – and be recognized as a global leader in tech and innovation.

Editors note: For more comments from Mickey on this topic, see his keynote from the Rakuten Tech Conference here.

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One Comment

  1. I can appreciate this perspective as an English speaking foreigner currently living in Japan. There’s so much value here that the world just doesn’t know about! Plus, finding work in Tokyo/Japan, as a foreigner, would be much easier if more people took this approach. Thank you!

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