Japan was once home to companies that dominated industries and outperformed global competitors. However, Japanese companies have been criticized in recent years for losing their innovative edge and creative spirit.
Today, startups as well as established companies throughout the country are trying to revive its glory days by adapting to a fast-paced and changing business environment.
Our list of 4 innovative Japanese companies that are shaking up their industries
Founded in 1997 by Japanese entrepreneur Hiroshi Mikitani, internet service company Rakuten has grown to become one of the world’s most innovative companies as it seeks to “Empower society through the Internet”. Although it is often referred to as the Amazon of Japan, the company offers much more diversified services – Rakuten operates in fields ranging from online shopping websites to online travel reservations, from e-reading and CDs sales to smartphone apps including the Beauty°C Navigator, which uses the temperature of a woman to predict the best time for her to conceive a baby.
In essence, Rakuten runs three major businesses: internet services, financial services, and communications. The company holds the majority of its e-commerce activities through its primary marketplace Ichiba. The platform hosts a wide variety of stores that ranges from electronics to fashion. According to Bloomberg, one in four online purchases in Japan is made on Rakuten Ichiba, which makes it the largest e-commerce platform in the country.
The company’s financial services include brands such as Rakuten Bank, Rakuten Card, Rakuten Insurance and Rakuten Smartpay. Those services let the users deal with online payments, face-to-face, and online live insurance issues and allow them to do their credit card transactions on smartphones and tablets.
The diversified and innovative services provided by Rakuten has resulted in the company emerging as a clear leader in Japan’s internet industry. However, Rakuten is little-known outside of Japan. It currently investing in a number of small businesses overseas in an attempt to reinforce its brand globally. Last year, Rakuten acquired messaging app Viber, and recently announced that it will invest $100 million in Fintech companies around the world.
Wearable devices are on the rise. Much has already been said about the smartwatches, but a company called Logbar is forging a new path in the form of smart rings.
Founded in 2013 by Japanese developer Takuro Yoshida, Logbar produces rings that allow the users to control other gadgets and devices in the home just by waving their fingers and drawing gestures in the air. The ring uses a software that connect with smart devices, which are compatible through Bluetooth 4.0 or Wifi and infrared signals. Presently, the ring lets users perform over 20 actions, including playing music, sending tweets, taking photos and turnings lights on and off. The device works with preset gestures that command each task, but users also have the possibility to customize gestures and add customized tasks using the Ring app available on Google Play and Apple App Store.
As of today, the Ring Zero model is available to the public and is sold for about $150. The project was well received by investors as the company reached its goal to raise $250,000 in only one day via Kickstarter and almost $1 million at the end of the financing round. CEO Takudo Yoshira claims that their idea also won the attention of big companies like Google and Samsung, but the company prefers to perfect its product first before thinking about expanding into big partnerships.
Fintech startup Money Forward is disrupting the Japanese financial industry with its online personal accounting service for individuals and businesses. Founded in 2012 by its present CEO Yosuke Tsuji, Money Forward now controls the largest share of the Japanese personal finance market. Users can connect their bank account, credit cards, and other securities from the Money Forward platform and perform a number of financial management and accounting tasks. Today, the company claims 2.5 million customers in its individuals-oriented services and 400,000 customers for the businesses-oriented services.
Money Forward’s business-oriented platform has recently garnered attention with the company launching a highly-publicized cloud accounting solution for enterprises. This allows companies to take advantage of a cloud-based payroll service. The company plans are to expand and develop this service for SME’s so that it can become the number 1 cloud service provider for businesses throughout Japan.
Although Money Forward is a platform that is completely in Japanese for Japanese consumers, that hasn’t stopped investors from buying into the idea. The company partners with several banks in Japan and has recently raised $13 million in a Series C financing round.
Although it is little known around the world, Japanese components maker Nidec is a leader in the comprehensive motor manufacturing industry. Founded in 1973 by Shigenobu Nagamori and three other engineers, the Kyoto-based company develops, produces, and sells a wide line of motors and electronic components, ranging from small precision machinery to supersized motors. The units produced by the company are integrated in everyday devices such as smartphones, televisions, cameras, and cars.
The company’s operations can be divided into four different segments: Motor, Machinery, Electronic and Optical Component, and Others.
The motor segment produced a range of fan motors that are used in game machines, home appliances, industrial systems, as well as small vibrating precision motors for smartphones and automotive motors for vehicles. Nidec is currently the global leader of the smartphone vibration motor market and the supplier of key components in the new Apple watch and iPhone 6S. The company plans to invest over $827 million to boost its vibrations motors production.
As the company constantly develops new products and components that closely follow industry trends, it plans to produce sensors and electric pumps that it hopes to supply to next generation tech devices such as self-driving and electric cars.