I get asked a lot about the best way to get involved with Japanese startups, how to connect with other founders in Japan, and for advice on how to start a startup in Japan. I enjoy answering questions and talking about startups, but I am at heart a lazy person, so I put this together to save some time and hopefully provide some value.
This is by no means comprehensive. In fact, we are barely scratching the surface, and with the startup scene expanding so quickly, it’s hard to keep track of all the new groups that are popping up, but the following resources will plug you directly into the heart of the Japan startup scene and help you connect with Japanese startups even if you don’t speak much (or any) Japanese.
This is a very personal list. These are events I attend, the services I use, the websites I read, and people I trust.
There are dozens of startup events in Tokyo, but this is the best place to start networking with Japanese and foreign startup founders. HackerNews is held monthly, and there is usually a good mix of Japanese and foreigners, and programmers and business types. If I’m in town, I usually show up. They also run an active and friendly Slack channel.
Venture Cafe is the community arm of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and they they meetup every Thursday evening. Calling Venture Cafe a “meetup” doesn’t really do it justice. They are structured events wit network events. There are usually a lot of CVC and government reps in attendance, and the CIC tie in ensures a steady stream of foreign startups looking at the Japanese market
A weekend-long startup simulator, and a great first step if you have never run a startup and want to understand how to create a good business plan and also gain some insight into the stressful team dynamics involved in starting a company. Startup Weekend is non-profit, run by volunteers, and laughably inexpensive for the experience you get. I volunteer as a coach or a judge occasionally. They run a lot of events and the quality varies considerably, but the “International” events are done in English and tend to be quite good.
Dev Japan is one of the best, lowest-stress ways to connect with other developers in Tokyo. Dev Japan runs in English, and while their meetups do have some short presentations, for the most part, they are just a group of designers and developers who get together on the weekend to hang out and work on their own projects.
FinTech Association of Japan
FinTech Association meetups have a good mix of finTech startup founders and representatives from larger, more traditional financial companies. You won’t have any trouble figuring out who is who. The site is in Japanese as are most of the members, but they are quite welcoming to foreign finTech entrepreneurs.
Business in Japan
Business in Japan is not just a startup organization. BiJ meetups tend to be casual gatherings of the Tokyo foreign business community, but plenty of people from the startup world attend as well. Everything is in English, so it’s a great place to meet people when you are new to Japan.
Tokyo Tech Startups
Tokyo Tech Startups is a very welcoming group of (mostly) foreign startup founders and aspiring founders. They have a high percentage of developers and designers and people who actually build things. These meetups usually involve one or two early-stage startups pitching to the group, a bit of Q&A, and lots of conversation.
Tokyo Digital Marketers
If your skills learn more towards marketing, Tokyo Digital Marketers is the biggest bilingual meetup of its kind in Tokyo and the membership seems to tilt heavily towards startups.
Founded by Paul McMahon, a foreign entrepreneur in Tokyo and now run by Jonathan Siegel, also a foreign entrepreneur in Tokyo, Doorkeeper is a great way to discover bilingual startup events in Japan. I monitor this site closely.
Even More Meetups
The very cool people over at JapanDev maintain a list of Tokyo tech-meetups that they recommend. Most of these are developer meetups rather than startup events, but there is a lot of overlap between those two groups.
This is the only section of this page that is shrinking. Most of the big international events have closed their Japan operations, but there are still two big, open, English-friendly startup events in Japan. So why are big events scaling down operations when the amount of actual startup activity is going through the roof? It has to do with sponsorships and the business model behind startup events that, Antti Sonninen, the Japan CEO of Slush explained in his interview.
Innovation Leaders Summit
Innovation Leaders Summit focuses on connecting startups to Japanese enterprises. There are presentations and discussions, but the focus of the event is startup-enterprise collaboration and networking. ILS is conducted in Japanese and without interpretation, but it is very welcoming to foreign startups who can pitch in Japanese.
TechCrunch Tokyo is not nearly as large or as over-the-top as the Disrupt events in San Francisco and New York, but it’s big. While the other large events are very international, TechCrunch Tokyo focuses squarely on Japanese startups and those who love them. The pitches and presentations are all in Japanese, but this is a great deep dive into the Japanese startups. TechCrunch Tokyo is usually held in November.
Wantedly has an English interface, but most of the content is still in Japanese. If you speak Japanese this is the place to find out which Japanese startups are hiring and to arrange to visit their offices. Wantedly is a hotbed for startups looking for employees and for aspiring founders looking for each other.
Justa is an English-language jobs board catering exclusively to the Japanese startup community. They are serious about serving Japan’s startup community. No English teaching or modeling jobs to be found here.
Jobs In Japan
One of Japan’s first and best job sites for people looking for work in Japan. Jobs In Japan is not particularly start-up focused but lists a huge variety of open positions available to those without strong Japanese-language skills.
Jobs for Hackers by Hackers
Shibuya Startup Support
The team at Shibuya Startup Support can make incorporating your startup a lot simpler. This is an initiative lead by the Sibuya City government, and the team is a mix of staff from the public sector and the startup world. They can help you with the paperwork and explain the details of startup visas.
We Americans have been conditioned to disparage just about anything developed by the government. JETRO, however, has put together an amazingly useful site. This is probably your best source of information about the laws and practices surrounding starting and running a company in Japan.