3.11 Japanese female entrepreneurs
By Nobuhiko Hibara
On the late Friday morning of March 11, 2011, I woke up in a hotel room in the central area of Tel Aviv, Israel, and switched on CNN as usual. But the broadcasting service brought me unusual live pictures of Japan. Also I noticed my inbox was receiving a lot of email from Israeli entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, university professors, lawyers, and policy makers who I had met in the last couple of days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for research about how Israel turned into a successful “Start-up Nation.” They were asking: “Did you hear anything from your family members in Japan after the earthquake?”
At the same time, Eriko Honda felt the shaking in central Tokyo. She had flown back from Paris in the middle of February. She was going to stay there for the coming few months because she wanted the Tokyo air to recover from an emotional deadlock in France. “I went to Austin, Texas, in 2006 and spent two years there. I was then back and forth between Austin and Tokyo for my dad’s illness and other matters. Then I moved to Paris in the summer of 2009. Although my Paris life was satisfying, I was not able to discover an exciting roadmap for my future either professionally or privately. I was back in Tokyo perhaps with a sense of zero,” she said.
After the earthquake occurred, she repeatedly encountered many sad anecdotes from the Tohoku region. One day in late March on TV she was watching a man who lost his wife, who was found embracing her eight-month baby, saying “Every day I have been searching for our baby because my wife was probably still trying to find her.” Honda became speechless and aware that her sense of “zero” could be nothing compared to his deprivation.
From Magnitude 9 to Magnitude ZERO
In April, Honda heard from a friend that a project for cheering up Japan had started in France. The publication project was called “Magnitude 9,” in which 2,700 illustrations related to the current Japan and heartening to us were collected from all over the world in only three weeks. The friend, Jean-David Morvan, was actually the central person of the French project. Honda strongly sensed a mission to do something similar in Japan. She believed that everyone who survived this tragedy should be responsible for truly living out their days. She decided not to go back to Paris as scheduled.
While she joined and worked for a trading firm in Tokyo, she started to explore the possibility of publishing a similar collection of illustrations to cheer up people in the region. After the summer, she held a series of brainstorming meetings and asked many people to get involved in this initiative. She then established her own “MindCreators” (http://www.magnitudezero.com/) as a limited liability corporation (LLC) for the project on Nov. 11. The initiative began rolling, and the publication project emerged as “Magnitude ZERO,” in which there were 60 illustrations newly created by Japanese artists along with 60 works from the original “Magnitude 9.” All the works directed huge passion into their love for Japan.
Japanese environment for a brand new entrepreneur
According to research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), Japanese entrepreneurial activities have been ranked as one of the lowest among countries surveyed. Since the late 1990s, many government policy initiatives to promote entrepreneurship have been in place. However, they did not effectively spur people to start their own businesses over the last 20 years. Because the famous Japanese life time employment system, though recently weakened, still dominated people’s minds _ Japanese men or women did not take the risk to choose to be independent from their employers.
After the earthquake, however, the tendency seems to start changing. The “MindCreators” case described above may be a typical example of the new trend. Behind the change, there are several new features that attract our attention.
First of all, female entrepreneurs are now more active than ever. Japanese women may be more able to be responsive and resilient to the current crisis than men. Also, many new programs, created after the earthquake, appear to be directed toward female entrepreneurs. For example, the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) has a special business plan exclusively for female entrepreneurs in the middle of March.
Secondly, many in their 30s and 40s who have more than several years experience outside Japan are now around central Tokyo. Their number has been increasing and seemingly reached the critical mass level recently. In the “MindCreators” case, Honda herself was abroad for long time and is fluent in both English and French. Her supporters have also the same characteristics. This distinguishing human feature enables a new business project to be beyond borders easily.
Thirdly, people are now more pessimistic than ever about Japanese big enterprises particularly in the manufacturing sectors such as home electronics. Their recent performance is much below expectations and people expect that there will be much outflow of qualified people from big corporations in the near future.
First Anniversary Day
This Sunday is the first anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake. People all over the world as well as in Japan have been in condolatory mood in this month. For the condolences, the book “Magnitude ZERO” was available from March 7, last Wednesday. Marking the release of the book, there was a press conference and a reception party held at the French Embassy in Tokyo on Feb. 28 where many artists and others participating in the project gathered. Honda told them, “I cannot believe that we actually made this happen in such short lead time. As a next step, I would
like to offer more varieties of media platforms where Japanese artists and creators can provide their works.”
I remember that one Israeli entrepreneur told me one year ago, “Because Israeli people everyday feel a stronger sense of being unsecured, so we value an hour and a day more than people in other countries do. We are more willing to take a business risk to live out our lives.” Now this may be the case for Japanese people as well.
Nobuhiko Hibara is an associate professor of finance at Waseda Business School of Waseda University.