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.

Contents

Meetups

HackerNews

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

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

Shibuya Startup Support

The Shibuya Startup Support team hosts regular startup events and many of them are in English or bilingual. Show up to their Weekly Brunch meetup to chat with founders over free food and coffee.

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.

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 FinTech

Tokyo FinTech’s regular 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.

Startup Weekend

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.

Startup Lady

Startup Lady is an open, welcoming, international community for women founders, aspiring women founders, and those who want to support them. They have an busy event schedule and an active online community.

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.

Doorkeeper

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 both JapanDev and TokyoDev maintain lists of 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.

Big Startup Events

There are not nearly as many big, international startup events in Japan as most people imagine, but the number of English-friendly startup events is increasing.  So why is the number of events growing slowly 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 former Japan CEO of Slush and current head of Takeoff Tokyo explained in his interview.

City Tech Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched its big City Tech Tokyo in 2023 event as part of their Sushi Tech program. It’s one of the biggest startup events in Japan and it attracts a lot of overseas startups, and the 2024 event is looking to be even bigger.

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.

Takeoff Tokyo

In 2023, the team behind the massive Slush Japan events got together again to launch Takeoff Tokyo. The annual event is a series of presentations, networking opportunities, and a startup pitch content. It’s mainly in English and has a great cross-section of Japan’s startup ecosystem attending.

Startup Jobs in Japan

 TokyoDev

TokyoDev has become much more than a job-board since Paul McMahon started TokyoDev as a side-project back in 2014. The annual International Developers in Japan Survey is one of the best ways to lean about what it’s really like to work as a developer in Japan.

 Wantedly

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.

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

A number of small, independent, worthwhile, job boards are maintained by some of the leaders of the engineering community here. It’s a great place to look for English-friendly development roles at Japanese startups. Sometimes these sites come and go frequently, so be sure to tell me if you know of a new worthwhile site.

Fundraising

New founders ask me more questions about fundraising than on any other topic. Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest topics to give general advice on. I put together this Guide to Startup Fundraising in Japan to help you work out your fundraising strategy.

Once you have your strategy together, it’s time to start talking to VCs.  If you are comfortable pitching in Japanese, Kei Furukawa’s fantastic master list of Japanese VCs is a great place to start. In addiction, Tyson Batino of the Scaling Japan podcast maintains a list of foreign-founder-friendly VCs in Japan to help you prioritize.

Japan Startup News

The big media sites cover the unicorns and huge investments, but there is only a handful of sources for good information about Japanese startups in English. While Disrupting Japan is obviously my favorite, here are some other great sources of information.

Other Resources

JETRO

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.

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 getting a startup visa.

TOSBEC

TOSBEC is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center.  It’s old-school, but it does what it says on the tin.  The services focus on on-person consultation, and they can get your company incorporated and ready to do business relatively painlessly. They can even introduce you to consultants and attorneys willing to give free advice on Japanese labor law.