Last year, serial entrepreneur Soji Nagano began contemplating ideas for a new business. Nagano, an energetic polyglot who runs two consulting companies, "wanted to do something new, something tangible" that would provide an antidote to the big data and IT-focused work he was used to. He found the answer at the bottom of a glass of Lithuanian craft beer that his Swedish colleague, Jokke Nurminen, brought back from Europe.

Before going into the IT industry, Nurminen had owned a bar and liquor shop in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and brewed his own beer at home. He had wanted to open a bar in Tokyo where he could serve his favorite craft beers from Scandinavia and the Baltics and approached Nagano about starting an import company that would specialize in products from the region. Together with another partner, Lauri Lofveblad, they founded J.L.S. Trading and began bringing in unique brews from Lithuania, Estonia and Denmark this spring. In the coming year, the company plans to expand its offerings to include beers from countries such as Finland.

"We want to establish a platform for importing craft beers from microbrewers who have never thought of exporting to Japan," Nagano says, noting that most craft beer on the market is produced domestically or in the U.S., while few brands from the Nordic countries — and even fewer from the Baltics — are sold in Japan.