Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan-logo

Disrupting Japan: Startups and Innovation in Japan


Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.

Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.


Tokyo, Japan


Startups are changing Japan, and Japan is once again starting to innovate. Disrupting Japan introduces you to some of the Japanese innovators that will be household brands in a few years and explains what it’s really like to be an innovator in a society that values conformity.






What you can learn from this “PoopTech” startup

The bacteria in our gut affect our lives and our health in ways we are just starting to fully realize, and mapping this biome is expected to advance medical science and pharmacology as mapping the human genome. However, our gut biota is not a mappable sequence, but a complex ecosystem, and one that may be unique to each individual. In our conversation, Shinji Fukuda, founder of Metabologenomic (aka Metagen), explains how the science is advancing, what kinds of consumer devices we are likely...


Instagram for skin disease? Wait, this could work!

A lot of great ideas seem crazy when you first hear about them. Today Ryotaro Ako, founder of Atopiyo, explains not only why this is a great idea that is deeply valued by his users, but he also frankly talked about the difficulties in bringing it to market. We talk about the challenges of forming a long-term, core team and of developing a steady cash flow while trying to focus on a social good, and the risks involved in monetizing a community. Ryotaro also explains why extensive press...


So, your startup wants to play in Japan’s Regulatory Sandbox?

Disruption comes slowly to medicine. And that's a good thing. Since the ethos of the profession is "First, do no harm", it makes sense that safety and efficacy are prioritized over rapid innovation. But innovation does happen, and the Japanese government is working to make sure it happens faster. Today we sit down with Taro Ueno of Susmed and talk about the challenges and tradeoffs in innovative medicine. We talk about why he left medical research for entrepreneurship, and how iPhone apps...


Why people are afraid to trust AI. And how to fix it

Artificial Intelligence makes a lot of people nervous. That's understandable. Today we sit down with Ken Fujiwara of Hacarus to discuss why that is, and what this startup is doing to fix it. As in so many other fields, when comparing AI in Japan and the West, we find that the technology is fundamentally the same, but the social attitudes and business strategies are very different. Ken is a serial entrepreneur, but running an AI startup was never part of his original plan. He had bigger goals...


What you can learn from Japan’s seven-minute miracle

Today we are going to look at a different kind of innovation. It's not technology. It's not patentable, and I'm not sure it's scalable. But it is important. It turns out that the story behind a Japanese viral video can teach us a lot about the future of work. It's an example of Japanese innovation at it's best I think you'll enjoy it. Links The Seven-Minute Miracle video Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs. I'm Tim...


This startup built the first open-source driverless car

The automotive industry is closed and proprietary. But Shinpei Kato, founder and CTO of Tier IV, thinks they are going to be forced to change. Teir IV has brought together a global community of programmers and corporate partners to create the Autoware project. Tier IV's goal to develop a completely open-source software platform to drive autonomous vehicles is ambitious, and they have already completed some of the most advanced road-tests of driverless cars in Japan. Today we explore the...


Why startups should be better than charities at solving social problems

Startups exist to develop new solutions to problems. But many of society's biggest problems fall outside traditional startup business models. Today we explore why that is, and how it might be changed as we sit down with Robin Lewis, co-founder of Mymizu, a startup focused on reducing plastic waste by encouraging reuse. We take a deep dive into possible monetization strategies, why startups should be better at solving social problems than non-profits, and we discuss a possible roadmap for a...


The Dream of Flying Cars meets the Truth of Aviation Startups

Personal aviation is awesome! Aviation has been a source of inspiration and a symbol of innovation since the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, to today's dreams of colonizing Mars. Unfortunately, it's been very hard for startups to make money in aviation. Even the Wright brothers did not do particularly well in business. But things might be changing. Today we sit down and talk with Tasuku Nakai, co-founder of Tetra Aviation, and we...


What’s really changed after six years of Disrupting Japan

Disrupting Japan is six years old and ready to party! Unfortunately, we can't. Like so much else in 2020, this year's big, live show has been canceled, but I hope you'll make it next year. It's not all bad news, of course. There are a lot of great things happening for both Disrupting Japan and for Japanese startups. So looking back on these six years, I'd like to share some of the most important changes that are happening in Japan. Please enjoy. Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to...


How this silkworm startup is taking on the pandemic

Bio-tech is messy because life is complicated. A lot of attention is given to computers sequencing genomes, but some of the most advanced and important work is done by studying and using other living things to make our own lives better. Kenta Yamato co-founded Kaico to commercialize a technique that uses silkworms to manufacture small-batch custom proteins. And Kico is involved with everything from veterinary medicine to Japan's search for a coronavirus vaccine. We also talk about the...


Reinventing online maps to focus on community

We have always loved maps. Maps combine artistry and utility in a way that very few disciplines allow. But of course, it's always been a trade-off. The beautiful, ornate maps from centuries past told you where the major landmasses were, but provided little detail. And today's GPS-based maps provide an unprecedented level of accuracy but uninspiring in their presentation. Machi Takahashi, founder and CEO of Stroly, has a best-of-both world's solution. We also talk in-depth about the unique...


Selects: Why Japan’s Geisha are disappearing in the social media age

You don’t usually think of Japan’s geisha as being an industry, but it is. In fact, strictly speaking, it’s a cartel. A cartel that is now being disrupted by internet-based booking agencies and low-cost substitutes. It seems that even geisha are not immune to internet-based disintermediation. In this special interview Sayuki, Japan’s only geisha who also holds an MBA, explains the business model behind geisha. We talk about the way things used to be, the current threats that have many geisha...


Your Japanese textbooks are lying to you

They probably mean well. They are telling you something that is easy to understand and that seems like it's true at first, but it's still a lie. I received an overwhelming response to my recent episode on success via public humiliation, and more than a few people tried to set me straight about how Japanese keigo is supposed to be used, so today I'm going to return the favor. Don't worry, this is not a Japanese lesson, at least not in the pedantic sense, but it might clear up a few of the...


DJ Selects: Why startups lose control of their sales channels, and how to fix it – Allen Miner – Oracle

Oracle first came into Japan more than 25 years ago, but the challenges they faced and overcame then are exactly the same ones firms are facing today in executing their Japan market entry. Allen explains why Oracle needed a unique sales and marketing strategy for Japan, and how he managed to get buy-in from headquarters — even though Oracle already had a sales and marketing program that had proven fantastically successful in other markets. We also talk about how Oracle managed to negotiate a...


What makes people pay for new online events

You would expect that event-focused startups would be some of the hardest hit by the global pandemic and lockdown, and for the most part, you would be right. But Peatix is one event startup that adapted fast and is now actually thriving during the lockdown. We've talked with Taku Harada before, and if you have not done so already, you should check it out. It's a great conversation and there is no overlap with today. Today we talk about how startups can pivot and survive during the pandemic,...


Why public humiliation is the secret to success

I've never managed to find a direct road to success. My bio reads like a random walk down many different career paths, so I always feel unqualified to answer when people ask me for career advice. Today, however, I'd like to share one insight about doing business in Japan that I learned the hard way. If you've been through something like this, I hope you'll be able to identify with it. If you haven't, I hope you can learn something from it, and avoid it. Please share your experiences in the...


The Japanese Trap of the Glorious Failure

Japanese businessmen famously fear failure. But that understanding is horribly incomplete. In fact, there is one type of failure that is admired, almost sought after, in Japan. Today we take a look at the trap of the Japanese glorious failure, see how it's hurting startups, and examine our options on fixing it. Show Notes Life lessons from Mark the Dog When and why failure is feared in Japan What is a Glorious Failure, and why it is admired How the Glorious Failure is hurting Japanese...


DJ Selects: Why Your Startup Accelerator is Going to Disappear

Almost all startup accelerators are going bankrupt and going away. Hiro Maeda, the founder of two of Japan's most successful, and most different startup incubators explains both the brief past and precarious future of startup incubators and accelerators. We talk not only about the mechanics and challenges of what it takes to make an incubator successful, but Hiro has some practical advice on when founders should consider joining an accelerator and how they can avoid the 99% of them that...


One important lesson startups will forget after the panic

Innovation drives society forward, but everyday competence keeps it on the road. Over the past five years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of disruptive innovation, but today I’d like to talk about the framework that allows disruptive innovation to be a net positive to society. The coronavirus pandemic has some people looking for innovation and others for stability. However, examining how Japan and the rest of the world are getting though it shows us something very...


Why boring startups are actually the most interesting

Some of the most important startups are ones you never hear about. Some industries are so complex and arcane that its hard for people on the outside to understand the problems that startups are solving or the long-term gain of solving them. Freight forwarding is one of those industries. Today we talk with Taka Sato of Shippio, a startup trying to change the way freight forwarding works in Japan. We talk about the challenges involved in trying to disrupt a low-tech, low-margin industry and...