Kyoto’s bold challenge

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Kyoto’s bold challenge

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Winter vacation changed the life of Chao Hengwei, a Taiwanese national. He came to Japan to study in 2013. Chao was studying business management at Ritsumeikan University, and before graduating, he went to China over the break.

When he went to a restaurant, he was “shocked.” The restaurant was big, but there were only a few employees. Orders were taken on smartphones, and customers paid via smartphones. It was completely different from what he was used to in Japan.

Chao wanted to try the venture in Japan. With five other foreign students who shared the vision, he prepared for a start-up in 2019. He created an app to order with QR codes or get delivery. The problem was the visa. He needed a special business visa to start a business in Japan, but the terms were difficult to meet. He needed to hire more than two employees and have 5 million yen ($36,500) in funds — nearly impossible for an international student.

Chao heard good news in 2020. Kyoto was introducing a start-up visa. Foreigners will be allowed to stay for a year to prepare and set up a company when they submit a start-up proposal. He received legal assistance from the government for the visa submission process and opening a bank account. Funfo was established in October 2020. After graduating from the one-year start-up visa, Chao now runs a start-up with 17 employees with a 20-million-yen investment from an investor in Hong Kong.

Kyoto, a famous tourist destination, is changing. The city is home to game company Nintendo and renowned parts and materials companies Kyocera and Nippon Computer. Kyoto University also produced Nobel Prize winners. But just like other cities, students left for bigger cities like Tokyo.

After an initial struggle, Kyoto introduced the start-up visa for foreigners to pursue new ventures. It benchmarked how immigrants and foreigners established new companies like Google, Zoom and Uber in the United States. According to the Japan Trade Promotion Organization (Jetro), young foreigners began 10 start-ups in Kyoto in less than 2 years.

There are concerned voices that there are not enough jobs in society and that not only will the population decline but cities will also disappear. I hope even one politician would listen to Hiroki Ooi from Jetro Kyoto Trade Information Center. “When we invite excellent foreigners and they play an active role in Japanese society, we can turn into a vibrant city,” he said.
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