Every year, a number of Japanese students graduate from Stanford University in California, where Daniel Okimoto, 74, teaches political science. They all go back home as soon as they earn a degree, he notes.
On the contrary, students from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore usually stay to work at companies in Silicon Valley, home to some of the world’s largest IT companies, where build stronger connections.
“Japanese companies are not building enough networks in Silicon Valley,” Okimoto said. “A small country like Singapore is expanding its connections, and Japanese companies are failing to that.”
Okimoto wouldn’t be a fence sitter amid all these. The Stanford U professor emeritus, a second-generation Japanese-American, gathered like-minded individuals to form a non-profit organization to promote Japan-US collaboration in the IT industry.
Specifically, the NPO Silicon Valley Japan Platform (SVJP), which was formed in August 2016, aims “to be the bridge between the Japanese companies and Silicon Valley,” he said.
Many Japanese emigrants who have become successful are hoping that, by joining forces with Japanese companies and their hardware technology, they will enhance mutual competitiveness in the intensifying competition within the IT industry.
About 85 people from big tech companies, like Apple and Google, as well as founders of successful venture companies based in Silicon Valley, have signed on with SVJP. Half of the members are of Japanese descent, and the members are all working for the cause, not for personal profits.
Silicon Valley attracts many major IT companies in the software industry. On the other hand, the companies that stand out in Japan are the hardware companies making electronic devices and electronic parts. Lately, with the expansion of Big Data and IoT (Internet of Things), the IT industry is entering a period of change.
Okimoto strongly believes that collaboration between the two nations will “enhance mutual complementarity and synergy.” He added, “Japanese outstanding hardware technology and Silicon Valley’s vibrant software technology should be united.”
SVJP focuses on helping Japanese companies connect with key leaders and companies from Silicon Valley. It organizes conferences and seminars with entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley who are visiting Japan.
Okimoto’s drive is rooted in his upbringing, having been born during the Second World War and raised up in a camp.
His parents were dedicated Christians; his father was a pastor. They moved to the United States in 1937 and gave birth to their son Daniel on August 14, 1942. However, two months later, their lives changed completely. The war began and the family was sent to a camp as “enemy aliens.”
The camp they were sent to was in the deserts of Arizona, where world-famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi was also being held. They lived in plain buildings with “snakes and poisonous insects.” They had to suffer through hot summers when the heat went up to 50 degrees, and endured the cold winters. They had lost everything and the environment was harsh, but his parents never complained and kept their heads up.
On Daniel’s third birthday, the war finally came to an end. “It is up to you to let adversity render you useless or make you stronger,” Okimoto recalled his father always telling him.
“The first generations of Japanese-Americans are my heroes. They made great sacrifices for our generation. I couldn’t repay my parents for all they’ve done while they were alive, so I’m dedicating the rest of my life for Japan and the US,” he said.
An email to Abe
In 2014, Okimoto sent an email to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He wrote: “A Japanese Prime Minister has never visited Silicon Valley before. Now is the time.”
At that time, China was expanding its market in Silicon Valley while the Japanese faded away into the background.
In the spring of 2015, after addressing at the joint meeting of the US Congress, Abe flew to the West Coast to visit Silicon Valley for the first time and met with Okimoto and the local entrepreneurs to exchange ideas.
Okimoto says that his visit “regained Silicon Valley’s interests in Japan,” but thinks that a one-time visit would not be enough. “Indian Prime Minister Modi visits us constantly. I hope Prime Minister Abe will make regular visits too.”
There have been some difficult times regarding Japan-US relations, but Okimoto stresses the strength of the ties between the two countries. “This will play a decisively important role in all aspects of economy, politics, diplomacy, and security,” the professor said. “But I’m optimistic about our future.”
Shohei Mitsuka is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun International News Department
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)