Tokyo hopes to attract start-ups and investment as borders come down: Koike

Tokyo has ambitions of becoming a leading investment destination and start-up hub in Asia. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike hopes the resumption of visa-free travel to Japan from Oct 11 and the weak yen will draw potential investors to take interest in the city.

She told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "Especially with the weak yen which makes it a good investment opportunity, there are a lot of merits for people from overseas.

"We want to welcome people - the resumption of visa-free travel and easing of border measures will facilitate international investment as it removes barriers for people from all over the world to come and go."

She added that the capital did not lay idle while borders were shut amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tokyo has been rolling out initiatives in line with its ambitions of becoming a leading investment destination and start-up hub in Asia.

One such initiative was the launch of the Tokyo office of the Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC) in August.

Located in the business district of Toranomon, CIC Tokyo bills itself as a community of entrepreneurs, and will serve as a one-stop shop to address the needs of start-ups, regardless of industry or country of origin, Ms Koike said.

She agreed that there remain perceptions that Tokyo is a difficult market to enter because of the language barrier, bureaucracy and the slow digitisation of processes.

In the annual World Digital Competitiveness Ranking released last Wednesday, Japan was 29th out of 63 economies - its worst position since the list began in 2017.

This placed it behind other Asian economies like Singapore (fourth), South Korea (eighth), Hong Kong (ninth), Taiwan (11th) and China (17th).

Still, Ms Koike said that the obstacles are not insurmountable and that the CIC - which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is a stakeholder in - can listen to start-up needs and connect them to different channels of assistance.

She added that Tokyo will host the inaugural City-Tech.Tokyo conference on Feb 27 and 28, 2023 at the Tokyo International Forum.

The event is organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and has the backing of key business interest groups in Japan, including the influential Keidanren business lobby and the Japan Association of New Economy.

Ms Koike said that the conference aims to create sustainable and resilient societies through open innovation with start-ups, in what she dubs "sushi-tech", or "sustainable high-tech city".

The idea, she said, was to "attract accelerators, ideas and investments" both from within Japan and abroad.

Besides participating in a trade fair, start-ups can also join a pitch contest to put forward solutions that solve urban issues and "lead the way to a new vision of sustainable cities".

Shortlisted firms will have the opportunity to pitch their products or services to potential investors and collaborators for domestic or international expansion opportunities, with the winner receiving 10 million yen in cash.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.