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 three-card monte can teach you about NFTs

NFTs are easy to understand if you examine their core utility. Unfortunately, there are thousands of NFT promoters spending millions of dollars to make sure you never look at that. This episode is a departure from our standard format, but it's an important topic. I want to explain what NFTs actually are and how you can best make money with them -- if you really want to. Our Japanese founders will be back next episode. So let’s get right to it. Transcript This is it, gentlemen. This Queen of...


Passion alone can’t make cars fly

We have been dreaming about flying cars (and startups have been promising them!) for over 70 years, and it looks like we might almost be there. Orders have been placed, and delivery schedules set. Today we sit down with Tom Fukuzawa of SkyDrive, and we talk about the development of their flying car and their recent contract with the city of Osaka for air-taxi services. However, we also talk about the real difficulties of turning a group of passionate volunteers into a passionate startup. I...


But what if your data is too big for the Cloud?

Cloud visionaries promised us unlimited scalability, but they greatly underestimated the amount of data we would start producing. Today we sit down with Michael Tso, the co-founder of Cloudian, and he explains why some systems are just too big for the cloud, and how the industry is adapting. Mike also shares his advice for selling via channel partners, and we talk about the competitive advantages and disadvantages of being a Japanese startup on the global stage. It's a great conversation,...


DJ Selects: How Government Money is Hurting Japanese Startups

Japanese university and government venture funds play a much larger role in Japan than in the West. I've always considered this difference to be, on balance, neutral, today's guest makes a convincing case that these funds are actually hurting the startup ecosystem here. Today we sit down and talk with Hiroaki Suga, co-founder of PeptiDream. PeptiDream is now a $7 billion biotech company, but it started out as a couple of university faculty members funding operations out of their own pockets....


This disruptive tech started with a dance move

It's hard to get paid to do what you love. Perhaps no one understands this better than dancers, but Taku Kodaira and his team at Mikro Entertainment are on a mission to fix that. But this conversation, and Mikro Entertainment itself, is about much more than dance. Mikro's marketplace for dance moves is just the first application of Mikro's new motion-capture technology, and things are just getting started. Today, Taku and I talk about the surprising economics of dance moves, the adoption...


The Future of Disrupting Japan

Disrupting Japan turns seven years old this week! Unfortunately, because of current conditions in Japan, we won't be able to sit down over a beer and talk about startups live as we usually do. Today, I'd like to share a story in three acts. We'll talk about the podcasting industry, what Disrupting Japan really is, and the likely future of Japanese startup founders. Please enjoy. Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan's most successful entrepreneurs....


The new era of Evocative Machines. Why you’re going to love it.

We speculate a lot about our future "robot servants" or "robot masters", but that whole metaphor is wrong. It's not going to happen that way. This is a very personal and rather speculative episode. No guests this time. It's just the two of us. In past episodes, you have already met some of the founders at the center of an amazing cluster of startups that have the potential to redefine the way humanity interacts with machines. Evocative Machines is a uniquely Japanese approach that has...


Why the robot uprising will give us Robot Pets, not Robot Masters

Japan has a very different approach to robotics. Japan leads the world in industrial robots, but there is also a growing movement that is reinventing the way we share our world with machines. Kaname Hayashi was one of the creators of Softbank's Pepper robot. His latest startup, GrooveX, has raised over $100 million to develop the Lovot; a companion robot, or perhaps more accurately, a robot pet unlike any other. We talk about the Lovot itself, of course, but we also cover GrooveX's unique...


One way that AI is transforming family farms

Some of Japan's innovations are going to have a much bigger impact outside of Japan. Like most startups, most AgTech startups sensibly tend to focus on their own markets. While this makes things easier at first, it tends to overlook the huge challenges -- and potentially huge profits -- that exist in the developing world. Today we talk with Shunsuke Tsuboi of Sagri, and he explains how Sagri started life as a satellite -imaging startup focused on incremental innovation in Japan, but then...


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...