- Mariko Oh
- BBC News – Japan
Japan’s Tokushima prefecture has always been seen as a backwater, so it’s not where you’d expect a new school for young tech-savvy youth to open.
The sleepy county, located in a rural area of southern Shikoku Island, is not known for being a thriving place.
But this region, which has suffered for decades from an aging and declining population, will soon open its arms to a young and vibrant population.
In April next year, it will open a technology entrepreneurship school, the first of its kind in Japan, in Kamiyama, Tokushima Prefecture.
Students, aged 15 to 20, will study engineering, programming and design, as well as business and financial management skills such as marketing. They will also learn how to present their ideas and plans for new projects to investors in order to obtain the necessary funds to establish those projects.
The person credited with founding the school is Chikahiro Terada, director of Tokyo-based start-up Sansan, which specializes in the digitization of business cards, which continues to play a major role in Japan’s corporate world.
Terada is not from Tokushima Prefecture, so what made him choose that region? The story began in 2010.
“12 years ago, I opened an office here because I heard that Kamiyama is an interesting town, where its old houses have high-speed Internet,” says Terada. [الفارغة]”.
Terada visited the town and met a local businessman named Shinya Ominami, who was responsible for providing the town with high-speed internet.
“I thought I might be criticized for wanting to open an office here without providing any services to the town,” recalls Terada. So Terada offered to teach the elderly locals computer skills.
But Ominami just wanted to prove to Terada that an IT company in Tokyo could have an office here. After Sansan’s success, other companies followed suit and opened offices in Kamiyama, which has a population of less than 5,000.
“It was exciting to see how the town is rejuvenating,” says Tirada. “Then I started wondering what I could do to help the community, so education came to mind.”
“I became an entrepreneur after graduating college, but I don’t remember learning any of the essential skills I needed to start a business in school.”
To build the school, Terada was able to raise a donation of 2 billion Japanese yen (US$15 million) through a government system called “furosato nozi,” or “hometown tax.” Under this law, middle- and high-income people living in large cities can donate money to a rural area of their choice in exchange for reduced income and residence taxes.
There are also more than 30 companies that are currently providing financial assistance to the new school. Most of these companies are Japanese, but some are international, such as accounting giant Deloitte.
Traditionally, Japanese youth prefer to join a well-known big company as a safe option for their future career.
But Terada says that many young people now have a desire to start their own businesses, and his plans to set up the school have attracted a lot of interest from potential students, with more than 500 students from all over Japan attending his information sessions and conferences. attended to learn more about the first 40 venues that will be offered. The school.
The school is also committed to an equal ratio of women and men, which is a step in the right direction in a country where entrepreneurship and the workforce in general are still dominated by men.
This comes at a time when the State Pension Investment Fund is scheduled to invest in the best start-up projects and companies in the country.
“For many years there have been some obstacles standing in the way of start-ups in Japan, but this will now change,” says former digital minister Karen Makishima.
The focus will be on companies [الرقمية] Newly built. We encourage them to start, not only in cities, but also in rural areas.”
But while the government expects the new companies to be high-tech, the country still has the highest aging population in the world.
While many things have been digitized in Japan over the past 20 years, the elderly – who make up about 30 percent of the population – have been left behind.
“No, I never know how to use a smartphone,” says Ms. Sasaki, 83.
I met her and three of her friends not far from the new school grounds while they were waiting for a mobile supermarket called Tokushimaru.
As the name suggests, this new venture, which is a lifeline for thousands of elderly people in Japan, was also born in this region.
When the project was launched 10 years ago, it was two local trucks. But there are now 1,000 of its trucks on roads across Japan, and its annual turnover is 20 billion yen (US$150 million).
More than 90 percent of its customers are over 80 years old.
Once a week, Junichi Kishimoto, a Tokushimaru delivery manager, goes to Kamiyama and remembers the things each resident buys.
“He remembers what I want every week,” says Sasaki. “He comes on Saturday, and when my grandchildren come to visit me on Sunday, I ask for something special.”
For many customers, some of whom live alone after the death of their partner, it is a chance to meet friends as everyone gathers in one group outside their homes to wait for the truck to arrive.
As for Kishimoto, 38, the purpose of his work was to help the elderly and not just to get a paycheck.
He says: “I used to work in a nursing home, and I realized that some of the prisoners came to live there because they were worried about buying food every day. In my opinion it was better for them to live at home, so I thought what I could do to help them, then I discovered Tokushimaru.”
The idea for the project came to the founder of the company, Tatsuya Sumitomo, because his parents were in their 80s and found it very difficult to buy their daily food and groceries.
“When I started working at Tokushimaru, I knew the market was going to grow over the next 20-30 years because there is definitely a demand for it,” says Kishimoto. [الخدمة التي تقدمها]And society offered no solutions.”
But the company is starting to evolve to keep up with the times, as it is currently testing a smartphone app that it hopes will be available for use within the next two years. Competitors are catching up, and Sumitomo understands that the next generation of customers will be more familiar with using new technology.
“The fifties who are now in their seventies will soon become our main customers, a generation with better Internet knowledge, so we are mixing the mobile supermarket with online shopping,” says Sumitomo.
Mr. Sumitomo is an entrepreneur who has launched several projects over the past 30 years.
Sumitomo has high hopes for the new school opening in Kamiyama, where he pays tribute to local businessman Shinya Ominami. It’s amazing, he says, that “in a country town one person can make such a big difference.”
Mr. Ominami was not available for conversation when we were in Tokushima, but he and Chikahiro Terada, director of Sansan Corporation, have a vision to turn Kamiyama into Asia’s Silicon Valley.
It may be a somewhat elusive dream, but seeing someone else revitalize his town by introducing high-speed internet may have brought the town a much brighter future than he had hoped for.