Japan's innovation
Japan: The Once and Future Tech Superpower?

Can Japan regain some of the tech élan that once made its growth so robust many Americans feared it would overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy? Japanese officials and businessmen hope so. The Wall Street Journal:

“Japan has the talent and funds but lacks the necessary ecosystem to create its own Silicon Valley, so that’s what we’re trying to provide,” said Mr. Son, 43, who describes Mistletoe as a program to cofound new businesses.

The nation that created the Walkman and the bullet train before China even had a tech industry now lags behind as Chinese Internet startups like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. become global powerhouses. With its once-dominant technology industry struggling, Japan is counting on entrepreneurs to rekindle its hobbling economy.

The government is pledging to fund startups, top universities have launched incubators and venture funds to transform their wealth of knowledge into innovation and even Japan’s oldest and largest conglomerates, such as the Mitsubishi and Mitsui groups, are looking to nurture entrepreneurs.

Japan’s success was, in its way, a blue model phenomenon: a Fordist, highly-regulated, government-supported effort which birthed a mass middle class and then, suddenly, stagnated in the 1990s. Doubling down on that system is unlikely to deliver the kinds of results Japan saw in the 1980s, and Japan is right to be thinking it needs new methods.

But this article misses an important dimension of the story: the role of tech in military applications as Japan gears up for rearmament and arms exports. Japan’s best hope for government-driven technological advances may come not from publicly-funded start-ups, but instead from defense spending. Just as the seeds of Silicon Valley were planted by the Pentagon, so too could Prime Minister Abe’s new focus on arms and security lead to a tech resurgence in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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