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.”