The University of Tokyo has embarked on a quest to unearth Japan's latent assets that could be worth more than ¥700 billion — big data held by the public sector.

The nation's most prestigious school, also known as Todai, has opened what it claims is Japan's first university research center specializing in studying open data — the concept of sharing data hitherto owned by the central and municipal governments, such as demographic statistics, geographical information and meteorological data that can be used freely by private companies.

Making public data available to the private sector is beneficial in that it provides transparency for public sector activities while giving more options for data sets to be seen by the public, said Noboru Koshizuka, director of University of Tokyo Open Data Center (UTODC), which opened this month in Bunkyo Ward.