October 05, 2011
Efforts to rebuild the Tohoku region following the devastating earthquake have taken many forms, including a highly promising project in a field not normally associated with Tohoku… cutting-edge IT.
“IT de Nihon o genki ni!”
(Revive Japan with IT)
The founder of this “IT de Nihon o genki ni!” (Revive Japan with IT) project is Kenichi Sasaki, charismatic CEO of TripodWorks. Sasaki established TripodWorks in Sendai City, Miyagi prefecture in 2005 to resolve various “gap” issues related to the IT market and create new business opportunities. It is Sasaki’s belief that despite its rapid progress, IT does not necessarily guarantee a more prosperous or comfortable lifestyle and he has set out to find solutions to the communication, skill and regional gaps linked to this ubiquitous technology.
This mission took a dramatic turn when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11. However, while acknowledging the incredible tragedy, Sasaki has chosen to use his skills to help rebuild Minami-sanriku, one of the worst affected areas, more strongly than before the disaster. Even before the quake, the district was experiencing a gradual loss of young people due to poor employment prospects, while an undeveloped communications infrastructure also significantly limited opportunities for future growth.
Thus far, Sasaki and TripodWorks have been focusing on immediate measures to speed up recovery. This has included joining with partner companies and relief organizations to, for example, equip evacuation shelters with computers and other hardware, and advise people on using mobile phones and other IT devices to source information via Web applications such as Twitter and Facebook. Sasaki is, however, also looking to the long term and recently staged a key seminar designed to bring together the area’s leading IT professionals.
Landmark IT Seminar
The IT de Nihon o genki ni! seminar, held in Sendai City, Miyagi on September 12, brought together some 130 people representing the main regional IT players as well as other interested parties. The event kicked off with presentations from 11 companies, which shared practical details of their current projects and how they are working to overcome challenges and achieve a successful outcome. This was followed by a talk by Akira Kitamura, entrepreneur and chairperson of NPO Japan Venture Research.
Kitamura spoke on several topics that are at the heart of the IT de Nihon o genki ni! concept, including efforts to make the Tohoku region a global IT innovation platform, build a creative ecosystem for local innovation, activate startup funds and generate new innovation, and also develop a new market with a clear vision. The event was then rounded off with a panel discussion featuring the editors in chief of several major IT-related magazines such as BCN, Shoeisha and ADNet Japan.
The discussion covered a range of issues affecting both the IT industry in general and Tohoku region in particular. On the industry front, the panel addressed topics such as providing cloud computing services through to attracting skilled Android developers. Looking closer to home, they also attempted to define Tohoku’s essential strengths and put forward new IT models, including how to incorporate smart technologies. They also emphasized the need to release information in English while the world is focused on the area.
New IT Paradigm
Sasaki has said he is more than happy with the outcome of the seminar, which he believes was required even before the earthquake. Due in part to its relatively undeveloped IT infrastructure, Tohoku has a low profile even within Japan. However, the disaster has created a distinct paradigm shift and people are now thinking about how to create original products and services utilizing IT. According to Sasaki, the earthquake could in fact be a watershed moment for IT in Tohoku, providing people with the motivation to rebuild on a much higher level.
His optimism is borne out by local people who see the need to create a communications hub connecting them both regionally and worldwide to support the rebuilding. Developing advanced IT will also help to attract younger people who can sustain the recovery. For example, planning is already underway for new-energy research, which will require sophisticated IT. As Sasaki implements his vision, the area is set to become what he calls “cutting-edge countryside,” an urban/rural community seamlessly connected to the world through advanced communications technology.