Abe pushes innovation, investment in Silicon Valley tour


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started a three-day visit to California on Thursday with plans to check out some of the region’s tech innovations, tighten commercial ties and promote the shinkansen in a meeting with the governor.

In a speech at Stanford University, Abe said Japan needs to emulate Silicon Valley’s style, risk and innovation.

“We would like to capture the dynamism of Silicon Valley,” he said, announcing plans to send representatives from 200 Japanese companies to “sail into the rough waves” of the region during the next five years.

He compared the effort to sending Japanese baseball players to the major leagues.

He also said 30 entrepreneurs would be sent to pitch ideas to Silicon Valley investors.

Abe met executives at social media giant Facebook and visited carmaker Tesla Motors, which is building electric cars in a plant first opened by General Motors over 50 years ago.

Traveling to San Francisco later in the day, Abe met with Gov. Jerry Brown and invited him to try a bullet train simulator that accompanied Abe’s delegation, said Takako Ito, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. Brown is pushing for a $68 billion rail project that would connect San Francisco with Los Angeles.

Abe’s schedule included a round-table with business leaders at a resort on Sand Hill Road, a busy stretch of street known as the epicenter of venture-capital firms that have launched Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and more.

“This Japanese administration has been focusing on changing its economy to a growth-based system built on innovation,” said Japanese economic researcher Takeo Hoshi, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “This is probably the best place in the world to look at that.”

The region, including San Francisco and its peninsula stretching south to San Jose, is home to Google, Apple and other leading tech firms that help drive the U.S. economy. Today, the economy is booming; last year, employee earnings averaged $116,000, compared with $61,000 nationally. Venture capitalists invested $14.5 billion in businesses, and 76,450 new jobs opened up.

Abe planned to meet with researchers Thursday evening including Nobel-winning stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka at the University of California, San Francisco-affiliated Gladstone Institute.

Earlier in the week, Abe made the Washington rounds with a White House dinner and a congressional address.

While speaking to Congress on Wednesday, Abe declared “history is harsh” and offered condolences for Americans who died in World War II. He stopped short of offering an apology sought by U.S. lawmakers for Japanese conduct during the war, including over the ordeal of the “comfort women” — females forced to provide sex to Imperial forces in Japan’s wartime brothels.

Congressman Mike Honda, a Japanese-American Democrat representing Silicon Valley, was among those pressing for a direct apology.

Abe’s “refusal to squarely face history is an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women from the Asia-Pacific who suffered during World War II,” Honda said Wednesday.

About 50 people protested outside the auditorium at Stanford where Abe spoke Thursday, chanting “Abe go home!” and carrying signs that called him a “war crime denier.”

  • Liars N. Fools

    This is Abe Shinzo pandering to Obama administration interests. John Roos, the Obama administration’s first Ambassador to Japan preached a lot about exporting a Silicon Valley vision of innovation and entrepreneurship to Japan but got only modest polite response. That is primarily because Silicon Valley is about a free wheeling culture, with iconoclastic university cultures, and, above all, immigrants with new energy and new ideas. Abe represents just the opposite.

    There are innovative and entrepreneurial companies in Japan even without a Silicon Valley model. The problem is that Japan has problems reviving their dynamism and fostering their replacements and creating disruptions. Abe cannot bring that about. Energy is a case in point. There are very innovative and pioneering enterprises dealing with alternative energy, materials science, renewables, batteries, fuel cells, and so forth but the Abe administration is wedded to nuclear as the key element. Open ideas meets closed government policy-making.

    Yamanaka Shinya and other Japanese scientists got their best inspiration after departing Japan for several years. Only then did Yamanaka return to Kyoto even while maintaining his ties to San Francisco.

    • tisho

      The biggest problem for Japan is the enormous bureaucracy and regulations, this is the biggest reason why there is no Silicon Valley in Japan, and there are no Oracles and Googles in Japan and there never will be until that bureaucracy remains. Something that takes several hours to be done in the US would take several weeks, sometimes even months to be done in Japan. There are too many regulations, too many rules, too many restrictions, too many paper work. A small company cannot afford to focus on growing their business and at the same time spending days and weeks and tons of money into filling useless paper works. That’s why anyone capable enough of starting a company would move to the US because its easier to grow a company there, regardless of the fact that the US bureaucracy has been growing in recent years and a lot of companies have been protesting against the regulations, but still it is nowhere near the insane level of bureaucracy in Japan. Free culture and individual initiative etc. all that comes when you have a free market in which the gov. does not acts as a wall stopping you from growing your own business the way you want and burdening you will useless regulations. All Japan has to do is kill the bureaucracy and just watch.