How can Japan Innovate? CEOs from Rakuten, Line, and more discuss [Live blog]



This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.

The final session of day one at the Infinity Ventures Summit featured some of the biggest names from Japan’s internet space, including Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, Line Corporation CEO Akira Morikawa, GMO Internet’s CEO Masatoshi Kumagai, as well as Fuji Television’s senior executive managing director Chihiro Kameyama. The panel was moderated by Nikkei Inc’s senior writer Waichi Sekiguchi. The session was in Japanese, and the remarks below are selected from the simultaneous translation.

Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani

18:07 – Rakuten’s Mikitani joked at the begining, saying he’s not so comfortable speaking in Japanese. He started by pointed to the Japan Association of New Economy (you may recall we covered the JANE summit a month back). He notes that in order to bring change, there is a sort of ‘galapagos wall’ that must be overcome.

18:11 – Mikitani says that entrepreneurs who visited Japan from Silicon Valley at that event noted that Japan is on the verge of a renaissance (Phil Libin in particular felt this way). He says that in June they are going to hold an sort of Abenomics convention, and encouraged everyone to join JANE. They hope to have strong communication with the government about how to help Japan progress economically.

18:15 – What challenges are Japan facing right now? Kumagai says that the tax rate is as high as four times higher in Japan, which puts them at a disadvantage in comparison to global competitors.

18:19 – Fuji’s Kameyama explains that Japan’s mass media is currently at a disadvantage in the face of things like internet video.

18:27 – Kameyama speaks on the role of mass media in the age of internet opportunity. He says that where goals overlap between companies, it’s of course best to work together with a common understanding. We have to research what these startup internet companies are doing and see [how to proceed].

GMO Internet’s CEO Masatoshi Kumagai, Fuji Television’s senior executive managing director Chihiro Kameyama
GMO Internet’s CEO Masatoshi Kumagai, Fuji Television’s senior executive managing director Chihiro Kameyama

18:30 – Keidanren (the Japan business federation which he famously left) acted as if it was the voice of the economic world. And that’s what people thought. But it became apparent that this is not necessarily the opinion of the business set.

18:33 – Mikitani speaks about lobbying the government to work on remote education, but encountering resistance because education in person was the norm. He says also that in pharmaceuticals, you can’t buy over the net, and abolishing this in-person regulation was something that was important.

18:35 – Morikawa says that society is always changing, and there are many cycles, including financial ones. In Japanese history, change was usually due to external pressures. But now we are creating an engine for change. But this is a culture that is difficult to change. It’s something like a revolution, and JANE is trying to do that in the internet space. [On partnering with Docomo] We need to compete globally, not really within Japan, trying to work together to create something new.

18:48 – Media used to be one way communication, but that has all changed. Now the individual has become more important.

18:50 – I think the internet will become like electricity. I think the many devices we use will simply be referred to by the size of their screens. I’m excited about wearable computers like Google Glass. I want one. I think in five to ten years, it might even be contact lenses. But the biggest content in that environment is communication, and social media will be the biggest part of that. I think the mass media should focus on that to, because in terms of speed, I don’t think you can compete with that.

18:53 – Mikitani talks about shopping as entertainment and communication. He says that his own shopping experience in the past in local markets, he really enjoyed speaking with the shop owners. In the states, even financial transations are becoming more like a social media activity. I think every activity in your life is becoming more social.

Line Corporation's CEO Akira Morikawa
Line Corporation’s CEO Akira Morikawa

18:56 – Morikawa: In Japan, the fact that people use trains a lot, gives people a chance to use mobile and play mobile games. In other countries where they have to drive, they don’t have that luxury. So I think in terms of mobile [this is an edge] and that’s the area we should focus on.

19:05 – Mikitani: The Japanese market is shrinking, and you have to go compete in the international market. But because Japan’s system is so closed, many talented engineers leave Japan. In the US there are 200,000 or 300,000 engineers. We are lacking in volume, and could bring engineers from overseas. But then there are visa issues to handle.

19:13 – Morikawa encourages Fuji’s Kameyama to create a drama where engineers or engineers get admiration. The audience applauds.