In search of the elusive Japanese unicorn.

On 13 July, the government of Japan announced four regions of the country to be Global Base Cities, which are to be essentially the Japanese equivalent of the US’s Silicon Valley, where rampant tech innovation is fueled by intense investments from venture capital firms.

In doing so, these four areas will become the focal points of start-up investment and also beacons for Japan’s youngest and brightest minds to gravitate towards. Sounds like it would be an awesome way to improve Japan’s tech reputation while also revitalizing some of Japan’s rural areas that are currently teetering on the brink of extinction due to severe depopulation.

So, let’s take a look at the proposed regions:

  • Tokyo and surrounding areas Yokohama, Tsukuba, and Ibaraki
  • Central Aichi Prefecture, including Nagoya and Hamamatsu
  • Kansai Area, including Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto
  • Four cities around Fukuoka yet to be determined

By the way, Japan’s most populous cities are Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Kobe, and Kyoto. So, the parts of Japan where most business is done and most people from rural areas move to… um, I guess will carry on as usual, but get even more support from the government?

▼ Just imagine, someday this cow pasture in Shibuya will become totally developed with large buildings and crowds of businesspeople bustling about

Fine, okay… But at least facilitating a business environment similar to that of Silicon Valley will be helpful to Japan’s economy in the long run. And sure, the real Silicon Valley was the product of over a hundred years of contributions from the US government, academia, and the military, all of which was also shaped by decades of gradually changing social trends, but I don’t see why Japan can’t just fart out that same magic in five different locations in less than 10 years.

That is the time frame that the government set up for each area to establish five or more unicorn companies, which are companies valued at over a billion US dollars before going public. Of the 475 unicorns in existence as of this writing, Japan is home to only three, compared to China’s 123 and the US’s 225.

▼ Current Japanese unicorns are AI firm Preferred Networks, Crypto-trading app Liquid, and the app SmartNews, which comedy duo Downtown really seem to enjoy getting coupons on

One would assume these companies are called “unicorns” because they are as rare and unpredictable as the magical horses themselves, so mandating that certain amount be established in a given time frame seems misguided. And if I’m wrong, someone tell me how to get a real unicorn in time for my daughter’s birthday next month…and without using hot glue because I don’t want to get bucked off again.

Nevertheless, some people in Japan are welcoming the government’s initiative. Either that or they’re being sarcastic. It’s tough to tell sometimes.

“Japan’s time has come!”
“Oh good, Tokyo is really in need of help.”
“That’s too many. They should just focus on one area.”
“But, I’m already in Tokyo.”
“This is about 50 years too late.”
“Hopefully, this will revitalize Shibuya.”
“Silicon Valley is on the other side of the country from New York and Shenzhen is on the other side of the country from Beijing. So why are we putting ours in Tokyo?”
“Hokkaido gets screwed again…”

This might sound overly cynical to some readers, but to many here in Japan this is all eerily similar to the Cool Japan project that was established in 2013. Billed as a government funded investment initiative to put Japan’s best – or at least “coolest” – foot forward and promote its pop culture around the world, Cool Japan instead sunk billions of yen into abacuses and an overpriced department store in Malaysia.

I really hope I’m wrong, but based on the Cool Japan fiasco, I’m going to call it that in 2025 we’ll see the fruits of Japan’s Silicon Valleys to be an AR version of FarmVille and an abacus that lights up.

Source: NHK, Sankei News, Kinisoku
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!