It’s hard to believe that more than five years have passed since Tonchidot first presented its smartphone AR solution Sekai Camera (or “world camera”) at TechCrunch 50 back in 2008 (see video above). The company’s founder Takahito Iguchi proposed that we change our smartphone habits, and “look up, not down” to see tags and information about the world around us. But regrettably the Sekai Camera service will soon be closed down, according to an announcement on the company’s website.
I had a chance to interview Iguchi-san about Sekai Camera back in 2009. It’s one of those futuristic services that is just initially awe-inspiring. As we all know now, Iguchi-san has moved on to other things at Telepathy, proposing a Google Glass-like solution that ostensibly is far better suited to AR than holding a smartphone up in the air all the time . These glasses still have a long way to go (I’ve heard many people use the word ‘vaporware’ when talking about them), but I’m glad that Iguchi is moving on from Sekai Camera.
At the same time, I think the presentation above is special for a few reasons, and worthy of reflection:
- Iguchi-san did not give a f*ck – Many Japanese startups I speak to have an irrational lack of confidence when speaking or pitching in English. Very often the Japanese people I know are very good at striving for ‘perfect’, but too often that strategy keeps them from being good . Just know an outline of your talking points, and even if your English is poor, you can let your enthusiasm do the rest. (Not enough enthusiasm about your product? Time to quit.)
- It was inspiring – I can’t help but wonder how many geo-location and augmented reality ideas were inspired by that particular presentation? How many went on to make similar solutions? 
- The West loves to love Japan – Part of the appeal of the pitch was that Tochidot was from Japan, and had brought some secret glimpse of the future with it. Even now in 2013, ‘made-in-Japan’ is still a cool, futuristic brand, full of robots and bullet trains and octopus tentacles and ninjas and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. If you aren’t sure about its potential, go ask Tokyo Otaku Mode.
I’m still a little skeptical about Telepathy’s ability to bring their product to market. But regarding that initial pitch back in 2008, I think it’s a fun part of internet history worth reflecting on as Sekai Camera closes.
It clearly shows that despite the many obstacles facing a Japanese startup looking abroad, there are lots of things in your favor too.
Japan is cool, with lots of imagination. And the West wants to love you.
I imagine that your arm would get tired after a while. ↩
Also check out the video from the TechCrunch 50 Q&A session, which is as hilarious as it is awesome. ↩
I’m a huge fan of Kyoto’s Yesterscape, a similar AR solution that has an interesting timeline element. ↩