Japan’s Best Startup Events for English Speakers

Pic by Peter Bihr used under a creative commons license.

Japan’s start-up scene is thriving. While the start-up sector is perhaps the most international in the whole Japanese economy, most events are (as you would expect) geared towards Japanese speakers. If you haven’t mastered Japanese yet but you’d still like to get a foot in on the scene, here are a selection of events that you should consider attending.

Hacker News Meetup

For the uninitiated, Hacker News is the news section of the Y-Combinator web site. The ‘Hacker’ in Hacker News is more in the sense of someone hacking together a product or being a disruptor in an industry. Naturally, Hacker News has a following in the Japan start-up community as well.

Organised once a month by the founders of Make Leaps, the event is usually well attended and very casual. Usually there are some presentations, preceded and followed by lots of socialising.

Venue: Super Deluxe
Schedule: Once per month
Web: https://hntokyo.doorkeeper.jp/

Startup Weekend Tokyo

Startup Weekend began in Tokyo in 2009 as an international event with a mix of international participants. As it went more mainstream, it unsurprisingly developed more of a Japanese flavor. Now, there are special “International Startup Weekend” events at which the main language of communication is English. Regular startup weekend events happen each month while international events are less frequent.

Venue: Various
Schedule: Every few months (international events)
Web: http://tokyo.startupweekend.org/

Tech in Asia Tokyo (formerly Startup Asia Tokyo)

The first incarnation of this event was in September 2014 when the top floor of Hikarie became a buzzing honeypot of innovation with lots of startups, VCs and companies providing peripheral services in attendance. There was an interesting array of Japanese startups as well as foreign startups with an eye on the Japanese market.

From 2015 onwards, the event has been re-branded to ‘Tech in Asia, Tokyo’ to closer align it with the organiser – the Tech in Asia website.

Venue: Shibuya Hikarie
Schedule: In September each year
Event page: http://eventr.jp/en/events/english-techinasia-tokyo//

TechCrunch Tokyo

The TechCrunch conference (as with the TechCrunch site itself) is more geared towards the corporate start-up scene – ie. companies with big VCs behind them. Consequently, tickets are not cheap and it can be a little hard to justify paying the high ticket prices.

Venue: Shibuya Hikarie (2014)
Schedule: November
Event page: Tech Crunch Tokyo

Bootstrap Lunch

Organised by the Tokyo Startup Circle, Bootstrap Lunch happens every two weeks at the Fab Cafe in Shibuya. As the name suggests, it’s an event for those who are currently or interested in bootstrapping their business. If you head along, you would do well to study up on the Lean Startup methodology. Numbers are very limited and the places are often taken 1 month in advance.

Venue: Fab Cafe
Schedule: Every second Saturday
Web: https://tokyo-startup-circle.doorkeeper.jp/

Mobile Monday

MoMo is one of Tokyo’s longest running tech events, recently celebrating their 10th anniversary – that’s the equivalent of 120 years in the mobile technology space. The events don’t follow a strict schedule, although they’re mostly (although often not) on a Monday. Given the prevalence of mobile in the startup space, it’s always a popular event with start-up founders although it takes in a wider audience.

Venue: Various
Schedule: Seemingly random
Web: http://www.mobilemonday.jp/

UX Talk Tokyo

As the name suggests, this event is about UX – not start-ups. However, there are always start-up peeps in attendance – and it’s at the offices of start-up darling Gengo. While not everyone is involved in start-ups, all those people essential to any tech start-up – designers, developers and UX professionals – will be in attendance.

Presentations (in English) are always interesting (disclosure – I’ve presented twice) and for the 500yen entry there is more than enough beer, chu-hi, chips and onigiri to go around.

Venue: Gengo Offices in Shibuya
Schedule: More or less monthly
Website: http://www.uxtalktokyo.com/ (not frequently updated – get on the Doorkeeper list for updates)

Ride the Lightning

This also isn’t strictly a start-up event, it’s an event for designers and developers. However, a large proportion of the presenters are from Startups doing crazy and interesting things. In particular it’s a great place to see early stage start-ups. When I attended there was a fascinating presentation from Waaaaay! on their map-less direction finding app. Typically, there’s lots of audience interaction.

They have also been known to serve exceptionally good Japanese craft beer.

Venue: AQ Office
Schedule: Once per month but seems to have been on hiatus recently

FuckUp Nights Tokyo

Tokyo too has been seduced by the cult of failure with the very first edition of Fuck Up Nights scheduled (at time of writing) to take place tonight at Tokyo Impact HUB in Meguro. The first event features four speakers presenting their not so successful ventures.

Venue: Impact HUB Tokyo
Schedule: To be confirmed
Web: https://fuckupnightstokyo.doorkeeper.jp/

Founder Institute Events

The Founder Institute is a 4 month long training program for start-up founders. To aid in networking and promoting the program, the Founder Institute holds regular free events. Events include a ‘Startup Pitch Bootcamp’ as well as more social networking events.

Venue: Various
Schedule: Varies

This post was originally published on Feb 12, 2015 and has been updated.

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