The Bridge’s guide to VR hotspots in Tokyo (2017 new year edition)

The Bridge’s guide to VR hotspots in Tokyo (2017 new year edition)

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See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo’s Shibuya, aka Bit Valley, has long been the home of Japanese startups, with FinTech stationed in Otemachi, hardware in Akihabara, bioscience in Nihonbashi, and so on, but it appears startup hubs are popping up all over the place. So, I wondered where hot topic sectors like virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality related startups are gathering, thus the topic for this article was born.

A number of VR arcades have appeared in Seoul and Shanghai and they play a role in introducing VR to general (not VR-savvy or VR-enthusiast) consumers. According to experts, in the US it seems that VR startups are starting to gather around Silicon Beach LA, from Santa Clara which is very near Hollywood (the mecca of the video and entertainment industry) to Venice Beach. In London they are appearing in Shoreditch, an area of Tech City.

Is this where Tokyo’s VR startup hubs will gather? I walked around the city over the New Year while mulling this over.

Future Tech Hub, an incubation facility specializing in VR, newly opened in December

VR startups working hard at Future Tech Hub
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Future Tech Hub is Japan’s first incubation facility specialized in VR, as well as a coworking space and opened December 14. It is 5 minutes walking from Kayabacho station. In addition to investing in The Venture Reality Fund, they are operated jointly by Gumi (TSE: 3903) and Breakpoint. Gumi is managed by Tokyo VR Startups, an incubator specializing in VR. Breakpoint has been developing incubation facilities in Tokyo since 2004.

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Tokyo VR Startups regularly develop incubation batches, with the Future Tech Hub raising VR startups until they can participate in these batches, the goal being to produce graduates capable of renting their own offices, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. According to Yasuchika Wakayama, CEO of Breakpoint, leading Japanese VR startups Yomuneco (led by journalist Kiyoshi Shin who has written numerous books related to the gaming industry) and Ouka-Ichimon (offering content production and consulting service specializing in the Oculus VR head-mounted display) have set up operations bases there.

Breakpoint CEO Yasuchika Wakayama (right) and Tokyo VR Startups’ Tatsuya Kurohama (left)
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The theme of incubation is how to raise the business value of a startup in its early stage. Information about what kinds of hardware and software are up and coming filters down to us through our networks and we believe this could be helpful for startups.

Wakayama remarked.

On top of that, one the biggest advantages Silicon Valley has is the close proximity of startups and the market. For example, when an entrepreneur needs to meet with someone from Google to inspect their product, they can do it immediately. And they’ll know who to talk with at Pixar. We want to be able to provide this kind of information and create a similar environment.

He continued.

(In the context of open innovation) We are also getting inquiries from major Japanese companies. We are gathering information on what big companies are looking for in startups so, in turn, startups will be able to launch the products that the market wants more efficiently.

High-spec machines and an area to perform test and demonstrations are necessary when developing VR. At Future Tech Hub they have Galleria gaming computers produced by Thirdwave, HTC Vive from HTC, and cloud services from Amazon Web Services. Tenant startups can use these resources free of charge. Since the studio space for chroma key can be shared by several companies it is also economical.

Among the VR related materials placed by the entrance, there are also documents written by tenants.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

From Future Tech Hub it is a five minute walk along the Nihonbashi River to the Tokyo VR Startups base of operations, and it is expected that the two will share more than just close proximity. They have the power to function as a coworking space, but they have set the conditions for becoming a tenant high in seeking those that will contribute greatly to the VR startup community. Currently there are four corporations and one individual in fixed seats, with three more corporations in free seats and they want to increase this to 30 teams by the end of the year.

Gumi, which is jointly managing Future Tech Lab indirectly, is also jointly developing an incubation program in Korea called Seoul VR Startups. One foreseeable outcome is that VR startups from Korea in Japan using Future Tech Lab as their base.

VR Space

VR Space’s Co-founder and Executive Producer Akihito Ninomiya (left)
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

While our event space / live streaming studio The Bridge X is situated in Shibuya 2-chome, near Aoyama Gakuin University, at nearly the same time we moved our base there, the VR experience space VR Space opened in the same area. It is produced by serial entrepreneur Akihito Ninomiya, who previously operated the Talentio recruitment service (the hatch that operated Talentio was acquired by Ximera  in September 2015).

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VR Space offers 6 booths, each with various VR gaming experiences using HTC Vive. (Currently, they are not licensed to use Oculus Rift, which is not available for direct sales to consumers; only HTC Vive is available.) They are in a favorable location facing Aoyama Street, with couples stopping in on dates, and groups of company employees dropping by for a little recreation. Foreign users have also increased, and recently it seems they had to prepare Chinese manuals and customer guides in a rush.

A portion of the VR titles installed on the machine
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

For Ninomiya, VR Space is not only an arcade, but can also be used as a marketing base for developers of VR content, with the expectation that they could create a scale based on the consulting revenue from the B2B business.

Tech Lab Paak, The Roots, and VR Park Tokyo

Outside of VR Park Tokyo
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Recruit Holdings (TSE: 6098) opened its Acceleration Course specializing in VR from the 6th batch of last year’s Tech Lab Paak startup accelerator in Shibuya. Readers may recall that a number of VR startups were introduced during the demo day for the 6th batch.

Additionally, Colopl Next, which is a fund specializing in VR, has developed an incubation space called The Roots in Shibuya.  Although The Roots is especially for student entrepreneurship support and is not necessarily a facility for VR startups, some kind of synergy may be expected between the fund specializing in VR and the VR startups they invest in.

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Gree (TSE: 3632), a major internet service provider, along with Adores (TSE: 4712), a big name game center operator, opened the VR arcade VR Park Tokyo in Shibuya in December of last year to showcase attractions developed jointly by both companies. In November of 2015, Gree opened Gree VR Studio as a department specializing in the development of VR content, and it appears that the new titles created there can be experienced in Shibuya first. As we could not arrange an interview in time for this article, the interview released by the Japan Times has been posted below.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda