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Japan’s Mago Channel helps grandparents stay connected with far-off grandkids

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See the original story in Japanese. These days, many people have smartphones on them all the time and it seems that the distance between people has been lessened. However, the “distance” (gap) in contrast between the smartphone-savvy generations and those who aren’t has grown. Mago Channel from Tokyo-based startup called Chikaku forms a link from the younger to senior generations. Check out grandchildren on TV from home Mago Channel directly broadcasts videos and photos to TVs that grandparents usually watch. One photographs / videos oneself on a smartphone on the specialized app for broadcast to one’s home TV. Since the communication lines are built in, one needs not have the Internet or a wireless LAN to use it. Grandparents can watch their grandchildren just like when watching a program/photos on a TV channel. Mago Channel has only three steps needed for setup. Plug in the terminal’s power cable, connect the HDMI cable to the TV and turn it on. That’s it, then Mago Channel will be added to the home TV lineup for selection, accessible using a normal TV remote control. Chikaku CEO Kenji Kajiwara explained: It doesn’t force you to be aware of things like the Internet but you…

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See the original story in Japanese.

These days, many people have smartphones on them all the time and it seems that the distance between people has been lessened. However, the “distance” (gap) in contrast between the smartphone-savvy generations and those who aren’t has grown. Mago Channel from Tokyo-based startup called Chikaku forms a link from the younger to senior generations.

Check out grandchildren on TV from home

Mago Channel directly broadcasts videos and photos to TVs that grandparents usually watch. One photographs / videos oneself on a smartphone on the specialized app for broadcast to one’s home TV. Since the communication lines are built in, one needs not have the Internet or a wireless LAN to use it. Grandparents can watch their grandchildren just like when watching a program/photos on a TV channel.

Mago Channel has only three steps needed for setup. Plug in the terminal’s power cable, connect the HDMI cable to the TV and turn it on. That’s it, then Mago Channel will be added to the home TV lineup for selection, accessible using a normal TV remote control.

Chikaku CEO Kenji Kajiwara explained:

It doesn’t force you to be aware of things like the Internet but you just have to connect the terminal then you get a channel added. What we aimed for was to offer an experience that can be used easily by the grandparents generation which may not be familiar with digital products. Elderly people can enjoy it just like watching TV, but it acts as a channel for watching grandchildren like a channel added to conventional channels.

Technology cozies up to grandparents

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The Chikaku team – L to R: Kenta Kuwata, Kenji Kajiwara, Michi Sato

Those parents and grandparents who live far away are not using their smartphones fully, so it is often not easy to maintain contact. Unfortunately, one can make contact once every several months. Although it is said that the world has become convenient because of the technological revolution, there’s a gap being created with those who can’t keep up with technology.

Kajiwara was born and raised on Awaji Island and is the last of three generations spanning from his grandparents, to his parents to him. His grandparents have passed away already, but he is in a situation where he is located in Tokyo with two children and his parents are still on the island. His family can only go home once or twice a year. So, he tried the existing services such as digital photo frames to try getting his grandchildren closer to the grandparents, but none of them were easy for use by the grandparents.

Kajiwara continued:

I was made to realize that there’s no product or service for the elderly like my parents’ generation in this IT world. IT products are made with the expectation of people being able to use smartphones and PC’s, so there are few ways for users with limited IT knowledge to “come closer.” I thought about what it would like if really easy-to-use items from my grandparent’s viewpoint were made available and that led to this channel being born.

Close communication that ‘brightens up home’

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Kajiwara continues by noting that since they began developing the Mago Channel service, the Chikaku team has heard a lot about existing services like digital photo frame. There are quite a few stories where people gave digital photo frames as a gift, but they stopped using them after a while. The reason was that one couldn’t tell if the products are in use, one can’t know if the recipients are really checking the photos and there is no instant feedback coming through, so one gets less motivated to send photos.

On the other hand, the Mago Channel icon is designed to look like a house. When photos and videos taken by the specialized app come through, a ‘house-shaped’ window lights up. It’s as if it tells one that the grandchildren have returned home to the distant grandparents’ place. Also, when grandparents start watching the Mago Channel, the app sends a push notification that they have started watching the Mago Channel to the “broadcaster” (grandchildren’s guardians).

Kajiwara added:

We focused on the communication between families and grandparents who are apart so they can feel closer to each other naturally in their daily life. “Oh, they are watching, well let’s send more. Let’s phone (call) them because they are watching now.” Things like that, we worked on the communication mode to promote increased contact between families who live apart.

In a recent campaign on the Makuake crowdfunding site, the Chikaku team has raised almost six times the initial goal of 1 million yen (about $8,100).

Mago Channel’s pre-order is no longer available but early-bird bookings were priced at a special 21,260 yen (about $175) for the initial year; 12,800 yen for the Mago Channel inbox and 980 yen ($8) for the regular monthly fee are free to use during the first three months.

Chikaku said that they will go into mass production of setup boxes in response to foreseen demands and service needs highlighted by trial marketing.

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda

Myojo Waraku: Japan’s rendition of SXSW begins in Fukuoka with showcasing prominent startups

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Myojo Waraku is an annual festival taking place in Japan’s western city of Fukuoka with a flavor of America’s South by South West (SXSW) festival, showcasing prominent startups, digital media and music performers from the land of the rising sun. The first edition took place in 2011, followed by holding of the festival’s global versions in Taipei and London. This year’s event was kicked off with a pitch session today where five Japanese startups delivered a pitch to a crowd from the local startup community and investors from outside Japan. Here’s a quick rundown of startups showcased at the event: Capitalico by Alpaca Alpaca has developed a forex trading platform using the deep learning technology called Capitalico. Based upon image recognition deep learning technology, the Capitalico platform allows users to easily find a forex chart from an archive since 2001 as well as a live forex chart which is similar to what you have on hand so that users don’t need to acquire programming skills to backtest their trading strategies. See also: Japan’s deep learning startup Alpaca raises $1M to launch AI-based forex trading platform UnlimitedHand by H2L H2L has a haptic game controller called UnlimitedHand. With a bandage-like device having motion sensor…

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Myojo Waraku is an annual festival taking place in Japan’s western city of Fukuoka with a flavor of America’s South by South West (SXSW) festival, showcasing prominent startups, digital media and music performers from the land of the rising sun. The first edition took place in 2011, followed by holding of the festival’s global versions in Taipei and London.

This year’s event was kicked off with a pitch session today where five Japanese startups delivered a pitch to a crowd from the local startup community and investors from outside Japan.

Here’s a quick rundown of startups showcased at the event:

Capitalico by Alpaca

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Alpaca has developed a forex trading platform using the deep learning technology called Capitalico. Based upon image recognition deep learning technology, the Capitalico platform allows users to easily find a forex chart from an archive since 2001 as well as a live forex chart which is similar to what you have on hand so that users don’t need to acquire programming skills to backtest their trading strategies.

See also:

UnlimitedHand by H2L

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H2L has a haptic game controller called UnlimitedHand. With a bandage-like device having motion sensor and muscle displacement sensor around the arm, it allows users to input their hand motions into a game. The device has a functional electrical stimulator that gives users a virtual touch, allowing users to “feel” the impact or the touch of a character in a game.

See also:

Symax

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Symax is a sensor device that can be attached to western-style toilets, telling users their health condition by analyzing their urine on a daily basis for a monthly charge of about $10. Based on a unique analysis algorithm, their technology detects lifestyle diseases such as gout and diabetes with 99% accuracy.

The team won at a startup competition at Health 2.0 Asia in Tokyo earlier this month, looking to acquire companies which want to optimize medical cost for their employees as well as nursing homes and condo developers which serve elderly people in particular.

Skydisc

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Skydisc has developed a variety of sensor devices and the cloud for storing, then analyzing data from these devices. Their device typically can detect temperature, humidity, three-axis acceleration, carbon dioxide concentration, and PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5) concentration so that it can be applied to environment managing businesses, logistics and distribution, agriculture, and other business sectors. The company is expecting to secure funds worth 110 to 150 million yen (about $897,000 to $1.22 million) by the end of this November.

Soracom

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Soracom is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) focused on distributing SIM cards, allowing IoT developers to distribute SIM cards for 3G or 4G (LTE) cellular data connectivity under their brand to customers. In this way, it aims to help IoT developers shift their business model from from hardware sales to recurring subscription-based charging.

See also:


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Following the showcase on the stage, four venture capitalists from different markets discussed what they expect from the Japanese startup scene. Participating investors are:

  • Chee-Kong Choun, Pavilion Capital, the north Asia-focused investment initiative by Singapore’s state-run Temasek Holdings
  • Steve Jang, San Francisco-based angel investor
  • Tina Cheng, Partner and Chief Representative of Taiwan, Cherubic Ventures
  • Keith Nilsson, co-founder and Managing Partner Visionnaire Ventures

This panel was moderated by James Riney, the new head of 500 Startups Japan, the regional microfund by US-based startup-focused investment fund 500 Startups.

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Keith Nilsson

Keith explained that many investors in the US are looking at the Japanese market, exploring investment opportunities especially in key categories like hardware development, one of the strengths in the Japanese startup scene.

Tina pointed out that Japanese angel investors are looking for opportunities outside Japan, encouraging more entrepreneurs to gain a mindset of risk-taking.

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Chee-Kong Choun

Chee-Kong says, one of the key values in transitioning trends in the region is that more investors have begun investing in startups because of their company or product quality rather than the conventional criteria of their founder background or experience in business.

Steve says that many Japanese companies have turned to Silicon Valley and spend a week or more there to meet up with local entrepreneurs, which is very useful for both sides in understanding each others. In addition, he also pointed out that more startups from Japan and Korea are starting by forming a multilingual team, developing products targeting the global market from the beginning, in contrast with conventional startups starting the global expansion after stabilizing the sales in their home turf market.

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Steve Jang

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Bizer, cloud-based back-office service for SMEs, raises $815,000 in funding

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See the original story in Japanese. The progression of cloud migration of small and medium sized companies is predicted, and a variety of players are acting on this trend. BizGround, providers of the small to mid-sized company geared cloud-based back-office service Bizer, is also one of these players. Tokyo-based BizGround recently announced that it has fundraised 1 million yen (about $815,000) from Salesforce Ventures, the investment arm of Salesforce.com, as well as from Incubate Fund. See also: Bizer mitigates company registration paperwork, leveraging crowdsourced professionals Launched as a platform for businesses to get counseling from professionals such as tax accountants and lawyers, Bizer subsequently added features for automatically generating paperwork and forms that are to be submitted to government offices as well as features to take care of other tasks involved in business operations. Gradually the service is becoming a total support back office platform. Along with the announcement of this round of funding, the company has announced a large scale site renewal as well as support for smartphone and tablet users, a 30-day free trial plan, and more. The screens of each feature have been completely redesigned for clarity and ease of use as shown below. CEO Yuichi Hatakeyama…

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See the original story in Japanese.

The progression of cloud migration of small and medium sized companies is predicted, and a variety of players are acting on this trend. BizGround, providers of the small to mid-sized company geared cloud-based back-office service Bizer, is also one of these players.

Tokyo-based BizGround recently announced that it has fundraised 1 million yen (about $815,000) from Salesforce Ventures, the investment arm of Salesforce.com, as well as from Incubate Fund.

See also:

Launched as a platform for businesses to get counseling from professionals such as tax accountants and lawyers, Bizer subsequently added features for automatically generating paperwork and forms that are to be submitted to government offices as well as features to take care of other tasks involved in business operations. Gradually the service is becoming a total support back office platform.

Along with the announcement of this round of funding, the company has announced a large scale site renewal as well as support for smartphone and tablet users, a 30-day free trial plan, and more. The screens of each feature have been completely redesigned for clarity and ease of use as shown below.

CEO Yuichi Hatakeyama says that in managing BizGround he feels there are two main values they must offer, those are “optimizing business with the cloud” and “crowdsourcing support”.

Hatakeyama commented on the necessity of human support and contractors as a small to medium sized business aimed service:

“We’re getting users who no matter what can’t get the cloud to work for them, but by also offering the human power of the “crowd”, I think we can expand the ways businesses get aid. Makitori, another service specifically focused on paperwork around hiring and retirement, is also seeing increased use.

From this I also feel that there are a certain number of users out there who are in need of this kind of human power. Moving forward we will continue strengthening the two main pillars of our services, “cloud” and “crowd”, but we also plan to strongly reinforce the human power support of the “crowd” part. Soon we are planning on releasing a new human power service, and we are also thinking about expanding the scope of our offerings.”

For small to medium sized businesses who haven’t made the move to the cloud yet, support to help handle that transition is indispensable. It seems that this may be Bizer’s biggest strength, as they focus their attention on their “cloud” and “crowd” hybrid service.

With this latest funding, aiming to strengthen the management system of the company, staff member Akiha Tanaka will take the position of company director while Keisuke Wada, a partner of Incubate Fund, will assume the role of external director. Currently the company is supporting the establishment of over 150 new companies, with requests for company establishment increasing monthly. Through this recent funding, the company will be strengthening their marketing efforts as well as offering their services to more people who are preparing to start companies.

In Japan, around 100,000 companies are established annually. As for Bizer, they have helped in the establishment of 10,000 companies, 10% of the year’s total, and in the future they are looking to help bring Japan’s business foundation rate up from the present 5% to 10%.

Translated by Connor Kirk

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten launches $100M fund for FinTech startups worldwide

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Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten announced today the launch of Rakuten FinTech Fund, which is valued at $100 million. According to the announcement, the new fund will invest in FinTech startups in London, San Francisco, New York City, and Berlin, operated by the fund’s managing partner Oskar Miel. He has been working closely with FinTech startups and Rakuten’s financial services units, having led investments in Bitnet and WePay for Rakuten. The fund was formed by and received funds from FinTech businesses under the Rakuten group, such as Rakuten Card, Rakuten Securities, Rakuten Bank, and Rakuten Life Insurance. Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Kurt Hanson

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Rakuten Chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani

Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten announced today the launch of Rakuten FinTech Fund, which is valued at $100 million.

According to the announcement, the new fund will invest in FinTech startups in London, San Francisco, New York City, and Berlin, operated by the fund’s managing partner Oskar Miel. He has been working closely with FinTech startups and Rakuten’s financial services units, having led investments in Bitnet and WePay for Rakuten.

The fund was formed by and received funds from FinTech businesses under the Rakuten group, such as Rakuten Card, Rakuten Securities, Rakuten Bank, and Rakuten Life Insurance.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Kurt Hanson

Startupbootcamp FinTech FastTrack lands in Tokyo, opening to early-stage FinTech startups

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. All photos in this article are courtesy of the Startupbootcamp FinTech’s Mentor Augustus Loi. On the 10th November, leading FinTech accelerator Startupbootcamp FinTech arrived in Japan and got the opportunity to speak in the 7th FinTech Meetup, a large “mixer” near Tokyo station with several hundred participants hosted by FinTech Association Japan. Japanese fintechs were informed of the opportunity to gain “fast track” as startups, by pitching ideas for receiving feedback from experienced mentors from financial services, angel investors as well as the opportunity to get on the ‘watch-list’ for Startupbootcamp FinTech’s 2016 accelerator program. Interestingly, on the opening day of train-focused mass transit fair near Tokyo where many startups are participating in order to “get on track” in that business sector, the Startupbootcamp FinTech held next day on the 11th their FastTrack pitstop in Tokyo together with partner PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The event attracted startups focused on the different aspects of FinTech: cryptocurrency, wealth management and capital markets. This half-day event opened its doors to these innovative early-stage companies looking for expert advice and exposure. They are given direct access to an…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


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Startupbootcamp Fintech’s Steven Tong

All photos in this article are courtesy of the Startupbootcamp FinTech’s Mentor Augustus Loi.

On the 10th November, leading FinTech accelerator Startupbootcamp FinTech arrived in Japan and got the opportunity to speak in the 7th FinTech Meetup, a large “mixer” near Tokyo station with several hundred participants hosted by FinTech Association Japan.

Japanese fintechs were informed of the opportunity to gain “fast track” as startups, by pitching ideas for receiving feedback from experienced mentors from financial services, angel investors as well as the opportunity to get on the ‘watch-list’ for Startupbootcamp FinTech’s 2016 accelerator program.

Interestingly, on the opening day of train-focused mass transit fair near Tokyo where many startups are participating in order to “get on track” in that business sector, the Startupbootcamp FinTech held next day on the 11th their FastTrack pitstop in Tokyo together with partner PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The event attracted startups focused on the different aspects of FinTech: cryptocurrency, wealth management and capital markets. This half-day event opened its doors to these innovative early-stage companies looking for expert advice and exposure. They are given direct access to an international network of mentors and partners to pitch to and get valuable inputs for one-on-ones.

Startupbootcamp selected Tokyo as one of 14 Asian destinations for the FinTech FastTrack tour after witnessing the robust growth in financial innovation for Japan.

When we first held a FastTrack in Tokyo 9 months ago, we found hardly any FinTech activity with very few startups and limited interest from the financial industry.

Now we see an influx of interest from finance professionals and investors, more noise being made by entrepreneurs and many events dedicated to FinTech and startups rising from Japan. The development of FinTech Association is a good sign to help grow this exciting industry and we are excited to be back in Tokyo.

Markus Gnirck, Global COO of Startupbootcamp FinTech commented on the quick ascension of FinTech.

FastTrack events are a bite-sized glimpse into the value of a Startupbootcamp program. Startups will have the opportunity to connect with top mentors, get feedback from other startups and meet the Startupbootcamp FinTech team. One-on-one sessions with local industry experts in the finance, investment and entrepreneurial space will provide advice on how to improve their product, business model and pitching skills.

By participating, startups also gains access to the Startupbootcamp FinTech global community. After the FastTrack tour, Startupbootcamp FinTech will select 10 startups to take part in their three month intensive 2016 FinTech accelerator in Singapore. StartupBootCamp FinTech’s last FastTrack tour resulted in 2 startups receiving investment based on connections they made at the events.

Marcus von Engel, Partner at PwC said,

In the ultrafast-paced world of disruptive technologies in the financial services industry, there are significant opportunities for financial institutions, startup companies, consulting firms and other industry stakeholders to compete and collaborate upon achieving success. Fast Track sessions are an important catalyst for bringing together ideas and industry experts. PwC is proud to be a part of this effort where we can also offer our insights in Fintech focus areas, whether it is cybersecurity, payment systems, peer-to-peer financing and new customer experience approaches in the new Digital World.

Steven Tong, Managing Director of Startupbootcamp FinTech said,

We are only on our second leg of the FastTrack and we have seen promising startups that we are keeping an eye on and want to mentor to be accelerator-ready. We encourage startups, at whatever stage in their early development, to apply to join us for the unprecedented opportunity to connect with Startupbootcamp FinTechs global community and access worldwide opportunities.”

Successful FastTrack startups will join the watch list and have the potential to be selected for the Startupbootcamp FinTech accelerator program, in addition to receiving:

  • Extensive mentorship from 200+ entrepreneurs, investors and partners
  • Access to top markets in Europe, US and the Asia-Pacific region
  • 3+1 months’ free office space
  • 24,500 Singapore dollars (about 17,000 US dollars) in cash per team
  • Exposure to 200+ Angels & VCs
  • Invitation to the Startupbootcamp global alumni network and growth program

For more information, visit the Startupbootcamp FinTech website.

Here are some of startups which delivered their awesome pitch at this event:

Quick Money Recorder by Smart Idea

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Quick Money Recorder, provided by Tokyo-based startup Smart Idea, is an app for household account book with the very concept of ‘simple is best.’ It focuses only on simple input of articles and money amount, while other similar apps have been enhancing automatic reading receipts or cooperation with online systems.

See also:

One Tap Buy

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Previously known as MyBanker, One Tap Buy has been focused on developing mobile app which specifically helps people manage their savings and investments more easily. The company has fundraised from Mobile Internet Capital (backed by NTT Docomo and Mizuho Securities), DBJ Capital (the investment arm of Development Bank of Japan), Mitsui Life Insurance’s Sansei Capital, and other undisclosed VC firms.

Crowdify

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Launched by Tokyo-based New Zealander Michael Q Todd, Crowdify is to help startups grow by gathering together a community of 5-10,000 influencers in major cities in the world about several categories of technology such Cleantech, Mobile, Ecommerce, Fintech, Biotech, and Healthtech.

Japan’s Kamarq wants to disrupt ‘fast interior’ industry by ‘smart’ ideas

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See the original story in Japanese. Ken Machino, the originator of the Antenna curated news app, and Shuwa Tei, notable designer and architect known for the renovation project Claska and designs for home electronics brand Amadana, are joining forces to launch a high quality furniture brand which links into the Internet The aforementioned duo is being joined by CyberAgent Ventures‘ leading light Hirofumi Kondo. In addition to these three, there’s another person who’s joining up, Naoki Wada at PT. Matsuzawa Perita Furniture Indonesia which holds an overwhelming share in the furniture component industry. So now the stage is set for the new furniture brand Kamarq, meaning ‘my room’ in Bahasa Indonesia, to be launched. Their target is not just simply to sell furniture over the Internet, but just as planning is needed to make a room, they will provide new valued ideas. Why furniture? Machino, who is at the center of business operations for Kamarq, outlined the reason why the attention has been turned to furniture: I turned 40 and when I thought about what I should be doing next, I came up with the idea of making a brand that would be accepted around the world. However, this could be difficult using a single IT function. But, like GoPro, a new tangible creation together with IT would probably work and the possibilities would grow. When I met Wada – who…

kamarq_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Ken Machino, the originator of the Antenna curated news app, and Shuwa Tei, notable designer and architect known for the renovation project Claska and designs for home electronics brand Amadana, are joining forces to launch a high quality furniture brand which links into the Internet The aforementioned duo is being joined by CyberAgent Ventures‘ leading light Hirofumi Kondo.

In addition to these three, there’s another person who’s joining up, Naoki Wada at PT. Matsuzawa Perita Furniture Indonesia which holds an overwhelming share in the furniture component industry. So now the stage is set for the new furniture brand Kamarq, meaning ‘my room’ in Bahasa Indonesia, to be launched. Their target is not just simply to sell furniture over the Internet, but just as planning is needed to make a room, they will provide new valued ideas.

Why furniture?

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From the left: Ken Machino, Shuwa Tei, Hirofumi Kondo

Machino, who is at the center of business operations for Kamarq, outlined the reason why the attention has been turned to furniture:

I turned 40 and when I thought about what I should be doing next, I came up with the idea of making a brand that would be accepted around the world. However, this could be difficult using a single IT function. But, like GoPro, a new tangible creation together with IT would probably work and the possibilities would grow.

When I met Wada – who has lived in Indonesia for over seven years and works in furniture manufacturing – I thought I should focus on furniture; after that, I thought I should create a business with furniture and more.

Thanks to the widespread of 3D printers and design crowdsourcing, the clothing and the accessories fields have become highly flexible. However, in the furniture world, flexibility is not really there yet. Well-designed furniture is expensive and even if you find such a piece of furniture, you often can’t get the color you want. The sizes are limited as well. It’s not untrue that people even move homes because the furniture they want doesn’t fit in their old place.

The Kamarq team thinks the first step is to look for furniture designs publicly on the Internet, by using the voting platform. It will be a crowdfunding site where customers would want to choose furniture based on its design. Any furniture that gets a certain number of votes is accepted for sale on the Kamarq platform and the company will share the revenue with the designers. The Kamarq team will first provide a function where purchasers can choose the colors and sizes, then set up a system where customers can eventually order completely tailormade furniture. They aim to be priced similarly with stores that provide ‘fast interior’ items.

The second step is to blend furniture and IT. They want to develop furniture products that make sounds by incorporating speakers made of thin vibrators inside. Switching on the sound or connecting and adjusting sound volume can be processed through the Kamarq mobile app that can be connected with furniture via BLE (Bluetooth low energy). The range of applications will be infinite, including beds and chests as well as tables. The team is looking to gain popularity with the app through this IoT (Internet of Things) furniture, there are other business plans envisaged for the future, but I can’t give out details at this time.

Furthermore, as the third step, they are developing a ‘smart door’ that has a variety of sensors connected to the Internet. PT.Matsuzawa, owned by Wada as I mentioned before, has the largest share in the door component industry in Indonesia, so he could potentially uncover huge possibilities for smart door sales in Southeast Asia.

From furniture making to space making

Tei explained:

Japanese creativity has a global reputation as being very good. I myself have been working in fixtures, wall furniture and infrastructure home electronics, so by mixing all the ‘components’ both material (like the aforementioned fixtures and electronic parts) and not (such as setting and ambiance), we can offer a new user experience.

Our furniture will let you choose sizes, so it is suitable for the home renovation market from the standpoint of creating new towns in both Jakarta and Tokyo. It’s not about pursuing technology, what we’d like to provide is great experiences.

The Kamarq team is now developing a website that blends their own media with an e-commerce storefront, with which they aim to repeatedly attract people and brand the product. For that, Machino’s experience will be utilized as a professional of curated media. Meanwhile the manufacturing will take place at an Indonesian self-owned factory without any big marketing costs for selling directly via own site. Low pricing of high-quality furniture products can be realized, thanks to Wada.

Machino explained:

Turning the furniture industry into smart furniture will actually promote cost compression.

The technology geeks aside, I’m not sure how much of a smart furniture market there is for general consumers, but if good design and high-quality furniture cheaper can be provided, there’s no inconvenience for consumers who find out that they’ve ordered smart furniture by chance.

Machino continued:

It will start with easy orders that allow you to select only colors and sizes, but eventually we will be able to take orders for completely tailored furniture with no minimum lot restrictions. It’s basically BTO (build-to-order) for furniture. We’ll build a system where you can check the status from ordering to delivering, like Dell’s ordering system. It will take a bit of time to receive the products, but consumers won’t mind waiting a month for their complete selected products.

Also, the participation of Tei who has produced a lot of popular architecture and products in the world will be very interesting to observe and to see how he can influence Kamarq.

Tei concluded:

Furniture is something that originally differed greatly between brands. What one wants to aim for is pricing that people like, for items one wants to present and show people.”

For each property where Kamarq’s furniture is placed in, an infinite number of different patterns and tastes for each space can be created. There’s much meaning to developing the brand for supporting Japanese designers in expanding globally.

We were told that Kamarq will start its sales operations very shortly. Can they be a player disrupting the ‘fast interior’ industry dominated by IKEA?

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo Motor Show 2015 indicates game changes for automotive sector

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. This is a part of our coverage of Tokyo Motor Show 2015. The Tokyo Motor Show 2015 opened for its two-week run on October 28th. “Innovation” was pegged as the central theme this year, with an opening discussion by executives from the main players in the Japanese automobile market regarding this issue from the industry’s standpoint. The content of the show which followed did indicate that – in reflection of the first-ever tie-up by this show with the consumer electronics confab in Tokyo earlier in October – there were major shifts in driving technology, with a marked gravitation towards things electric and electronic/info-tech. As Dr. Heinz Goddar, the German doyen of the patent world on a visit to Tokyo this time noted, there seems to be “game-changing moves” in the automobile sector. One very high-profile topic this year at the Tokyo Motor Show is automotive safety. Although the past several shows did in particular highlight the safety aspect as related to “intelligent transport systems” – especially with the holding of 2013 ITS World Congress in Tokyo – this year has…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


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Toyota Body unveils its personal mobility product called Coms Connect, designed by Japanese mechanic designer and anime director Shoji Kawamori.

This is a part of our coverage of Tokyo Motor Show 2015.

The Tokyo Motor Show 2015 opened for its two-week run on October 28th. “Innovation” was pegged as the central theme this year, with an opening discussion by executives from the main players in the Japanese automobile market regarding this issue from the industry’s standpoint. The content of the show which followed did indicate that – in reflection of the first-ever tie-up by this show with the consumer electronics confab in Tokyo earlier in October – there were major shifts in driving technology, with a marked gravitation towards things electric and electronic/info-tech. As Dr. Heinz Goddar, the German doyen of the patent world on a visit to Tokyo this time noted, there seems to be “game-changing moves” in the automobile sector.

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Toyota Motor East Japan’s Patra Four

One very high-profile topic this year at the Tokyo Motor Show is automotive safety. Although the past several shows did in particular highlight the safety aspect as related to “intelligent transport systems” – especially with the holding of 2013 ITS World Congress in Tokyo – this year has seen much activities weaving the sensor/IoT system into vehicle operations.

It appears in the wake of Google’s Self-Driving Car concept unveiling in 2014, along with convergence of “robotics” with the motor industry thanks to increased electrical platform usage, the trend toward automated driving has been jumpstarted.

Not only major car manufacturers like Subaru and Toyota that are leading the push for “collision-free” vehicles but also intrapreneurial moves at smaller firms as exemplified by U-SHIN (TSE:6985) were showcased this time around. The Hiroshima car parts provider has now taken on the challenge of developing sensors that ensure safe operations as well as open the trunk or hatchback when a person has one’s hands full. Moreover, it has realized door lock sensors that the driver/passenger can easily gesture to unlock automatically, with minimal error rate such as from mistaking the movement of falling raindrops. Furthermore it is attempting to develop a compact car-use radar system.

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U-SHIN presents its power closure system and stepgate.

U-SHIN actually is following the trend begun by international CES 2015 show in Las Vegas this January. The usual staple over the past several years of smartphones, tablets and “K level” TVs was shored up by the appearance of connected cars and drones as well as “the Internet of Things” (IoT). In particular the connected cars appeared ready to take center stage henceforth, as borne out by Volkswagen Golf Touch R‘s popularity at Las Vegas. Though VW has taken a low profile in Tokyo “dieselwise,” others are building upon the gesture control and connected features conceptualized by the German carmaker.

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Apparently the Smart City initiative pushed for the third time by the show sponsor Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) finally hit the mark by channeling in firms aiming to plug themselves into the “grid” and the clean energy cycle. New entrants like the venture business “ex machina” all-electric concept car were trying to match Toyota group counterpart efforts looking to link in Kirobo as a “navigation aid.”  Others were seeking to leverage the tech prowess they gained under the traditional auto industry setting, finding applications from Augmented Reality to Vehicle Information Communication System for “personal transport units” among other items.

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“ex machina” all-electric concept car (Photo by Jerry Suppan)

In addition to automobile manufacturers the Smart City section had entities running the gamut from Asahi Glass marketing its bus/train-use products to Tokyo FM touting its broadcasting services for travelers intent on in-car entertainment participating in the section, along with such companies as those involved in assisting the elderly as well as the disabled in terms of mobility (more of this in a earlier story centered on startups in this field).

Returning to the “Connected Car” concept this year, major manufacturers like Toyota and Mercedes Benz were – beyond resorting to use of robots – promoting the use of the car body (including window panes) as well as accessories as means of being linked to information from both outside the vehicle like upcoming traffic or potential hazards plus inside such as in-car environ, engine and tire conditions. Obviously the Cloud has increased the selection of services much more.

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Daihatsu’s Noriori concept car

However the idea of “connected” in some cases have gone beyond to that of having the automobile become part of the setting, as with Daihatsu producing a concept car which could be altered into a pseudo-“park bench”… an extension of its “Universal Design” Noriori car. As regards the Noriori concept car, it enables facilitated transport of wheelchairs as well as baby strollers and of course those temporarily on canes and crutches, not to mention others wanting to make accessibility available to those physically challenged.

In reference to the disabled drivers an automated driving system including voice command would of course go a long way to assisting them in terms of increased mobility. But, there were also many efforts aimed at preventing the elderly drivers from misoperating the vehicle, not just be making traffic signs and directions clearer but also by making it more a deliberate process.

One Japanese gear manufacturer turned the manual gearshift into a “turntop” style (think “childproof bottle cap”) that gives the elder driver to think about the operation. Meanwhile ZF of Germany exhibited a car that can park at an angle due to the extreme angle at which the front wheels can turn; it is a common problem among elderly drivers to try parking on smaller lots.

Forward-looking activities abound this year as well, with the TPP agreement apparently having stimulated activities in Canada for it to have a motorcycle outfit showcase northern-made vehicles.

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Yamaha Motor’s YXZ 1000R

Yamaha also unveiled its buggy-type machine, seen being used in more rugged terrains. Speaking of rugged terrains, other manufacturers with line-ups of such equipment like Suzuki and Honda (in the latter’s case even publicizing its U.S.-made jetplane – unlike Kawasaki, doing a dismal job at publicity this time where queries were met with a blank stare and “Too bad, no info here.”) were quite frenetic, while Jeep taking up the “space exploration” image was actively promoting its cars, along with other Fiat group lines. Hopefully by the next Tokyo Motor Show more start-ups and intrapreneurs will be participating in this wideranging sector.

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Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock

Japan’s Mobingi, automating cloud management, secures $125,000 from 500 Startups

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See the original story in Japanese. Mobingi, a Japanese startup based in Tokyo and Silicon Valley, announced on Friday that it has fundraised $125,000 from 500 Startups and is participating in the 15th batch of the 500 Startups acceleration program beginning October 13th. The latest funding follows their previous seed funding from Digital Garage back in January of this year. Mobingi provides an automated app maintenance platform for users of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other cloud services. Targeting small and medium-sized enterprises, typically unlikely to arrange engineers specifically for maintaining cloud or server environment, the company wants to enable more systems development focus by them through elimination of DevOps tasks. According to Mobingi CEO Wayland Zhang, his company plans to make the Mobingi platform compatible with other cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Softlayer and Google Cloud Platform, but first they are focusing on AWS and trying to spread word of the service through AWS user communities. They have acquired outstanding companies as clients such as Yamada Denki (major consumer electronics retailer chain in Japan), Digital Garage, University Press Center of Japan, Digital Cube (providing system integration focused on content management system) and Japanese gaming developer G&D. Graduated from the…

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The Mobingi team. From the left: Wayland Zhang, Shingo Yoshida, David Siaw, Yasuhiro Horiuchi, Reina Mochizuki

See the original story in Japanese.

Mobingi, a Japanese startup based in Tokyo and Silicon Valley, announced on Friday that it has fundraised $125,000 from 500 Startups and is participating in the 15th batch of the 500 Startups acceleration program beginning October 13th. The latest funding follows their previous seed funding from Digital Garage back in January of this year.

Mobingi provides an automated app maintenance platform for users of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other cloud services. Targeting small and medium-sized enterprises, typically unlikely to arrange engineers specifically for maintaining cloud or server environment, the company wants to enable more systems development focus by them through elimination of DevOps tasks.

According to Mobingi CEO Wayland Zhang, his company plans to make the Mobingi platform compatible with other cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Softlayer and Google Cloud Platform, but first they are focusing on AWS and trying to spread word of the service through AWS user communities. They have acquired outstanding companies as clients such as Yamada Denki (major consumer electronics retailer chain in Japan), Digital Garage, University Press Center of Japan, Digital Cube (providing system integration focused on content management system) and Japanese gaming developer G&D.

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Mobingi management screen for deploying the environment
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Mobingi dashboard

Graduated from the 9th batch of the Open Network Lab accelerator, Mobingi participated in the Tokyo preliminary event of the Slush pitch competition in October last year, followed by incorporation of Mobingi K.K. and securing of seed funding (2 million yen or about $16,000) from Digital Garage this January. They have been exploring another funding opportunity in Japan for further service development, but they recognized it’s hard for cloud or PaaS (platform as a service) developers to gain funds in Japan and subsequently set up Mobingi Inc. in Silicon Valley to fundraise in the US. While they are participating in the latest 500 Startup incubation batch, many members of the engineering team are working out of Tokyo.

The members of the Mobingi team are a dazzling selection. Graduating from University of Toronto in Canada, CEO Wayland Zhang joined the country’s largest online ad platform Clicksor.com. Subsequently he founded several startups in Beijing as a serial entrepreneur. Yasuhiro Horiuchi, former CTO of Japanese mobile gaming company Gumi (TSE:3903) who is also known as a former AWS evangelist, had been serving Mobingi as an advisor but he joined the board of directors this time around. Shingo Yoshida, formerly evangelist at AWS-focused system integration company Iret, also joined the team as a senior advisor.

According to the Mobingi engineering team, what differentiates Mobingi most from other similar platforms is the database clustering feature. While load balancing for web apps are relatively easily installed on many cloud services, database clustering typically requires a lot of work as well as time for installment and configuration. By simplifying this process, Mobingi helps engineers secure fault tolerance and performance of service maintenance.

In addition to the Mobingi platform, the company also provides a freemium PaaS (platform as a service) for freelance developers, called moCloud with the intention of marketing services.

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moCloud

The “AWS Japan Mafia”

We’ve recently seen more than a few cases of evangelists and engineers from AWS Japan founding businesses or changing jobs to startups. The diagram below shows you how they are migrating in the Japanese startup scene including Mobingi. Horiuchi said a cloud engineering-ecosystem of startups are being formed in Japan, where they change jobs to cloud-focused startups or move to a cloud-oriented department at a big company.

See also:

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Click to enlarge.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Tokyo Motor Show 2015: Lots of Misses, Nuts & Bolts but a Lot Amiss

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. This is a part of our coverage of Tokyo Motor Show 2015. The 60th anniversary of the Tokyo Motor Show saw it take place from the end of October through early November (adjusted back from the last time it was held in 2013, much later in November prompting General Motors to opt out) but there was a lot missing, not only the American presence. Although Jeep was back, Chrysler is now owned by Fiat; Volvo in the meanwhile only had its trucks on display. Of the Americans not only GM which in 2011 at least had the Bolt Electric Vehicle and Ford which last time at least “had a presence” via Mazda but also Tesla and Harley Davidson – the latter having exhibited its EV concept motorcycle earlier in October at CEATEC, which this year is “collaborating” with the motor show – were not to be found on the Tokyo oceanfront venue despite the numerous vehicle manufacturers plus car parts providers. See also: Japan’s Seven Dreamers developing the world’s first laundry bot with Panasonic, Daiwa House It is true European…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


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This is a part of our coverage of Tokyo Motor Show 2015.

The 60th anniversary of the Tokyo Motor Show saw it take place from the end of October through early November (adjusted back from the last time it was held in 2013, much later in November prompting General Motors to opt out) but there was a lot missing, not only the American presence.

Although Jeep was back, Chrysler is now owned by Fiat; Volvo in the meanwhile only had its trucks on display. Of the Americans not only GM which in 2011 at least had the Bolt Electric Vehicle and Ford which last time at least “had a presence” via Mazda but also Tesla and Harley Davidson – the latter having exhibited its EV concept motorcycle earlier in October at CEATEC, which this year is “collaborating” with the motor show – were not to be found on the Tokyo oceanfront venue despite the numerous vehicle manufacturers plus car parts providers.

See also:

It is true European firms, from Britain and France through Germany and Italy among others, were active but missing were all the Korean carmakers. Even the Kobot concept car from Kyushu in Japan, by the Kowa-Tmsuk joint venture, seems to have gone into hiding and Bridgestone Cycle as well did not “show its flag” as in 2013. At least the Canadian and Indian exhibitors did provide this year with some international feel.

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Asahi’s alcohol-free beer with the event’s name on it was distributed to attendees.

What’s more, there appears to have been less talk of intellectual property rights (IPR) in the automotive sector. It is ironic that on the discussion on this topic centered upon Asahi Brewery which was passing out samples of its alcohol-free beer since the show was opened having won against Suntory regarding patents related to the very beverage the brewer was promoting. However activities related to additive manufacturing patents and design rights could be sensed by the more keen-minded during conversations that abound among the professionals in attendance.

The next Tokyo Motor Show, slated to take place in 2017, is seen becoming even more tech and IPR-oriented, not to mention a more marked trend towards sports-connected activities – although as the “photo nuts” hope a bit more of the midriffs covering may be missing the next time around.

With an Eye to 2020?

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Whill

There were many wheelchairs and other personalized “vehicles” on display at Tokyo Motor Show 2015, many born from venture firms. Of special attention is Whill, the all-terrain electric wheelchair which in 2011 was just a concept displayed at this venue. It was incorporated in 2012 and the equipment modified in addition to gathering venture business funding . It is the first time this year as a company to exhibit its product.

Whill is also of interest because it applied the Soracom SIM in order to keep tabs on the wheelchair passenger’s conditions from a remote location, so should something occur while the Whill user is incommunicado and out-of-sight alone as long as the person is on the wheelchair information can be collected by the “monitor” or other such entity. As an aside Soracom has in addition to unveiling a scalable SIM platform now has a customized DNS service which can help personalize other items for the Whill user.

See also:

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Another wheelchair or rather a hybrid bicycle/wheelchair vehicle, ZieD which has the wheelchair-bound in front as passenger and the driver behind, was also at the show nearby. First displayed at the 2013 show as a concept, ZieD has now been modified for improved communication between the two seats and readied for trial runs.

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ZieD C1

Speaking of chairs, Honda had a corner at the Smart City section for demonstrating UNI-CUB. Smaller than Segway or Toyota’s Winglet it is a portable “personal vehicle” that looks like an oval chair with flaps that open up for use as footrests. Meanwhile, “Ninebot One” – which is one of the two personal transportation robots showcased by the namesake company – is of a similar style as UNI-CUB; the other robot is more like a lightweight Winglet.

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Honda’s Uni-Cub

Beyond these Yamaha for example unveiled its “power-assisted” race and mountain bicycles as concept vehicles. Ostensibly these can be modified for paraplegics who may be allowed to use these as part of the Paralympics competition should rules become more accommodating. The same could be said of the wheelchairs as they may be usable for future competitions.

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Yamaha’s YPJ-MTB

Former Adways exec launches e-commerce platform delivering Japanese products to Asia

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See the original story in Japanese. Hayato Takano founded Adways Indonesia in 2011 as a local subsidiary of Japanese internet giant Adways (TSE:2489). He has been serving as CEO of the Indonesian company but surprisingly he announced in September of last year that he would step down from the position. People in the startup community, not only in Indonesia but also in Japan, had been curious about what he will do next, but it has been unveiled today. Tokyo-based Chapter8, the company that Takano founded and leads, launched a mobile e-commerce platform called Jselection today. Jselection is focused on selling Japanese products to overseas market, especially targeting mainland China and Southeast Asia. Available in English, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia, it also allows users to compare prices of products showcased in their local currency based thanks to an automated Geo-IP detection. After coming back from Indonesia, Takano had been managing Leyifan.com, the shipping forwarding service for e-commerce users in China run by Adways Japan, where he had been seeing a bunch of iPhone 6 handsets and Japanese beauty products had been delivered to Chinese consumers for about half a year until founding Chapter8. Generally speaking, almost 90%…

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See the original story in Japanese.

Hayato Takano founded Adways Indonesia in 2011 as a local subsidiary of Japanese internet giant Adways (TSE:2489). He has been serving as CEO of the Indonesian company but surprisingly he announced in September of last year that he would step down from the position. People in the startup community, not only in Indonesia but also in Japan, had been curious about what he will do next, but it has been unveiled today.

Tokyo-based Chapter8, the company that Takano founded and leads, launched a mobile e-commerce platform called Jselection today. Jselection is focused on selling Japanese products to overseas market, especially targeting mainland China and Southeast Asia. Available in English, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia, it also allows users to compare prices of products showcased in their local currency based thanks to an automated Geo-IP detection.

After coming back from Indonesia, Takano had been managing Leyifan.com, the shipping forwarding service for e-commerce users in China run by Adways Japan, where he had been seeing a bunch of iPhone 6 handsets and Japanese beauty products had been delivered to Chinese consumers for about half a year until founding Chapter8. Generally speaking, almost 90% out of all items delivered to a forwarder are purchased and shipped from Amazon. According to Takano, even Amazon Japan adopted the US-based SKU (stock keeping unit) coding scheme, which eases even non-Japanese speaking users to choose or order items online regardless of language barriers. However, typical Japanese e-commerce sites describe selling items in Japanese only and associate each of them using the Japanese coding scheme, which are unlikely to attract non-Japanese online shoppers.

Jselection, the platform launched this time, procures items from Ponpare Mall, an e-commerce site of Japanese internet company Recruit Lifestyle. Describing items in several languages using machine translation, it will allow users from China and other Asian countries to choose and buy items on their mother tongue. Chapter8 is responsible for shipping and payment while Recruit takes care of responding to inquiries in aforementioned several languages, in addition to providing selling items. Chapter8 plans to work with other suppliers in the future.

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The Jselection scheme

Takano explained:

I live in Harajuku after coming back to Tokyo. I pass Takeshita-dori of Harajuku every day where I witnessed many retailers targeting high school girls have been shutting down but many retailers having signboards in Chinese or Korean have been recently popped up there. The street is filled up with Chinese shopping spree.

Looking at crepe shops which are very popular on the street, the ones having English signboards are drawing customers ‘so-so’ but the ones having Chinese or Korean signboards are crowded with foreign tourists. We need to face up to this reality.

Jselection is optimized for mobile users, planning to market using product listing ads, Google AdWords, as well as Chinese internet services such as Baidu or WeChat in addition to receiving user traffic from some mobile apps for inbound tourists to Japan. The platform targets not only China but also Southeast Asia including Indonesia because it’s probably Takano is familiar with the region.

In this sector, Chinese mobile cross-border e-commerce app Bolome secured $30 million funding from several internet companies and VC firms in China and Korea in late October while Tokyo-based Zawatt fundraised $2 million from several VC firms in Japan and Singapore back in June.

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Chapter8 founder and CEO Hayato Takano

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy