Week One in Tokyo: Expectations vs. Reality

I knew little about Japan when I boarded my flight from SFO last week — I naïvely envisioned a land of avocado rolls, compact cars and Pokemon. With Lost in Translation as my only point of reference, what I expected of Tokyo and what I’ve experienced have been completely different. Here are my pre-conceived notions of Tokyo, and what the reality has been.

What I expected:

· What do you eat: Sushi, Sushi, Sushi

· What do you drink: Sakebombs and Sapporo

· What do you do: Anime and Pokemon

· Where do you work: Old electronics companies and car manufacturers

· Where do you live: Condensed skyscrapers, tall apartment buildings with little greenery

What I’ve found:

An age-old economy getting an entrepreneurial jumpstart:

In Tokyo, traditional corporates still dominate, but start-ups are starting to hit stride. While corporate venture investing has long ruled the start-up financing world, silicon-valley style venture has just recently started to enter the economy over the past two years providing a platform for a growing start-up culture. In 2014, $960mm was invested as venture capital, vs. $48bn in the United States. Angel stage investments were no different: Japan saw $1bn vs. $24bn in the United States. But times are a-changing. Tokyo’s mature economy, built on traditional heavy industries, chemicals and electronics manufacturing is getting a boost from pent up domestic intellectual capital and investment. Top tech talent, cheap capital and the growth of mobile gaming have led to an explosions in start-ups throughout the land of the rising sun. I am experiencing this start-up culture first hand as I am helping grow Art of Sake in both Japan and abroad. This new model is poised to be the next growth engine to Japan’s mature economy.

An ultra-clean city laced with greenery:

2016 marks the finish of Tokyo’s “10-year project for a green Toyko” plan, an effort to help cut greenhouse emissions. And it shows. There are over 40 registered parks dotting Tokyo’s lush downtown that provide a beautiful greenbelt running throughout a bustling metropolis. The parks are filled with those out for a walk, baseballers and of course, those chasing Pokemon.

The Japanese enjoy their drink, and their dinners:

In the United States, restaurants try to drive turnover, moving people in and out quickly to serve as many customers as possible. Here in Japan, top restaurants boast a turnover of 1.2 parties per table per night — with an average customer dinner length of 3.5 hours. All dinners are started with a glass of beer — with dinner, the sake is poured and the evening begins.

I am eager to see how Tokyo de-bunks my expectations next.