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AUG 27, 2018

Japan’s Unexpected Gateway to Europe

With Daisuke Kudo, Cristian Vlad

Photo credit: iStock.com/omersukrugoksu

New hubs of entrepreneurship are popping up across the world, driven by advancements in technology and innovation. Daisuke Kudo is a Ph.D. candidate at Romania’s Babes Bolyai University, a sister university of GLOBIS. Mr. Kudo shared his observations on the rising tech savvy society in Transylvania—inspiration for more than Bram Stoker’s imagination!

CV:      How do businesses in Transylvania innovate?

DK:      Ah, the golden question. Let me put it this way. Innovation doesn’t just come when you press a button. You don’t just become innovative overnight. You need to consciously invite inspiration from all sides—meeting people, reading, traveling… For me, it’s a combination of these, as well as the environment in which I work. Here in Transylvania, I feel inspired by everything—all the opportunities I have had the honor to be part of.

CV:      You sound busy.

DK:      Yes, busy and constantly inspired. There is so much conversation about innovation, about technology, about just making things happen around here. It is really contagious! Downtown Cluj is full of digital cafés, ateliers, and innovation projects. I attribute most this to the get-up-and-go mentality Transylvanians seem to have.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Rainer Lesniewski

CV:      Tell me a little about your experience in Romania.

DK:      This is a country where all politics and commercial opportunities were heavily centralized until 1989—only 29 years ago. Then all of a sudden, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, the local people woke up and realized they had to start making a living with whatever was left after the communist regime.

My first visit to Romania was in 1999, ten years after the revolution, but I was still impressed by the creativity and survival skills of the people I met here. Back then, even the global business scene was unfamiliar with the terms “innovation” and “transformation.” Now, Transylvania is becoming a strong tech hub for the region with an ecosystem of innovation. It’s just packed with creativity studios, acceleration programs, R&D centers, design laboratories, and such.

CV:      How does the country approach diversity?

DK:      I travel a lot for my work, and I must confess that I have not encountered a more inclusive mindset than I have here in Transylvania. Everyone is so genuinely humble and eager to learn from diversity.

There are three local languages spoken in Transylvania: Romanian, German, and Hungarian. English only comes in on top of that. Nowadays, students come to study at local universities or work at local technology startups from practically all over the world. Although everyone is different, everyone is welcome.

CV:       How does this experience compare to Japan?

DK:      Coming from a generally homogeneous society in Japan, I have been inspired by the way Transylvania has managed to turn diversity into opportunity. I personally have learned here that diversity is a key competency for innovation, transformation, and meaningful growth. Many foreigners have come here, settled down, and made Transylvania their home. There were three main factors that helped me decide to do so:

The first and the most obvious one is related to geopolitics. Located right next to the Hungarian border, Transylvania is the gateway to the central and western European markets. This geopolitical advantage drives investments and international businesses to the region, especially in the manufacturing sector.

Second, the people played a tremendously important role. There are some prestigious national universities located in this region, and these universities are constantly sending digitally savvy and highly competitive fresh talent into the medical sector and, more recently, the technology sector. Cluj-Napoca is Romania’s leading smart city and is nearing the completion of a seven-year development strategy. The economic momentum and impact created by the medical, technical, and service sectors here have been enormous. In fact, Cluj-Napoca has the same GDP level per capita as the capital city Bucharest, although it is nearly three times smaller, which is a clear indication of the amount of development going on here.

The third factor is timing. People who have succeeded here tend to tell us that they were in the right place at the right time, and they all like to keep their recipe for success a well-kept secret. As for me, I’m still working on many different recipes, so I don’t mind sharing my perspective. Being one of the few Japanese people living in the area, daily life isn’t always convenient. Sometimes, it can be very challenging. However, this turned out to be a good thing, as it has been easier for me to connect with the local representatives of the Japanese government and businesses, as well as key players in the local business scene, local authorities, students and public employees. Sometimes it helps to be different from everyone else, to be coming from a country that everyone wants to know more about.


Photo credit: Cristian Vlad

CV:       What advice do you have for finding business opportunities in Transylvania?

DK:      There are hundreds of different ways, if not thousands. Sometimes you just need to connect some dots. For me, as an independent Japanese businessperson with international experience, some are obvious. I am now working with local startups and venture companies in Transylvania to create new collaboration opportunities with Japanese organizations, such as internships for students from Japan who are interested in experiencing a truly multicultural work environment.

CV:      What differences have you noticed in the approach to the digital age between Japan and Eastern Europe?

DK:       I myself am not a digital professional. Perhaps because of that, it is fascinating to witness the rise of East European digital tech hubs. While Japan is still admired worldwide as a technologically advanced nation, modern technological innovations are currently taking place faster in other countries. Many Japanese businesses, unfortunately, are still stuck in the manufacturing age and face problems such as employees lacking in basic digital skills. Without an immediate and strong commitment to revamp education and develop globally minded and technologically savvy generations of modern talent, new businesses in Japan will suffer. To my mind, what is absolutely necessary for a business to grow is a healthy growth mind set, not the perfectionist mindset that is still the default for many businesses in Japan.

What I find constantly mind-boggling here in Romania is seeing elderly individuals proficient with smartphones. They’re active on Facebook, Skype, WeChat, and even LinkedIn. You can have a basic tech conversation with almost anyone, from the postman to a grad student at Babes Bolyai University about to join a global tech giant.


Photo credit: iStock.com/RossHelen

CV:      How do you see the future of Japanese-European relations?

DK:      The Japanese-European business corridor seems to focus mostly on geopolitical impact and macroeconomics. Japan and the European Union have recently signed the EPA and SPA agreements—the kind of move that will definitely make a positive impact in the near future. These are examples of innovation conducted by government authorities.

Now, micro figures are more relevant and interesting, if you ask me. If you have ever run a business or acted as a manager, you’ve probably realized that business is all about people. For example, it was people in Japan who decided that American products were “different” and “cool,” then later turned around and attached those labels to Italian, French, and Scandinavian creators. Meanwhile, the perception of Japanese culture in Europe have recently come to be associated with terms such as “premium” and “unique.” With this in mind, despite our geographical distance, European and Japanese people will be nurturing closer and closer relationships, including more intimate business collaborations.

CV: So what message do you have for GLOBIS students in Japan?

DK: Don’t follow digital trends—start them! Learning is only valuable if it is connected with a social reality and serves a practical purpose. Go out and explore! Try new things, and don’t be scared of failure. I am interested to hear how GLOBIS students see the world. I believe that learning can happen every single moment, at any occasion, and depends only on our curiosity and personal interests. Just get up and go!

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