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When you think of the Japanese island of Okinawa, you think serenity, calmness, the origins of an ancient martial arts used in the Olympics, and the insanely huge Churaumi Aquarium. The last thing a regular Joe would think of about the beautiful island is a hotbed of small-scale tech businesses.

But appearances can be deceiving; Okinawa seems to be a ripe spot for having like-minded tech entrepreneurs set up shop. Not a believer yet? Here are the top five prominent startups and venture companies to watch out for in Okinawa:


#1: Nakagawa Laboratories
Nakagawa Laboratories is a venture company that researches and sells Visible Light Communications (VLC) technology. The short version: VLC is a new light tech that allows two-way communication using the medium of light. It’s also easier on the eyes; the light’s levels are toned down between 400 and 800 THz so that your eyes won’t be damaged if you look directly at it.

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The company offers VLC ID system development kits for other users between US$500 to US$1,000. The last time VLC tech was used was on LAMPSERVE, a tool that uses street lights as visible light communication devices.


#2: Jetrun Technology
No, the company is not doing anything related to aircrafts and high-speed air vehicles despite the cool name. Jetrun Technology has a self-coded engine that analyses text. This text-mining is perfect for something like a mobile phone or tablet with in-built cameras. Speaking of which, Japanese telcos NTT Docomo and phonetic recognition services like Apple’s Siri use Jetrun’s technology.

There is a small chance that the company will work closely with GPS navigation creators and robotics companies, though there’s no official announcement yet.


#3: Field System
Field System is working on a technology called Sound Code, wherein QR codes are converted into simple sounds and wavelengths. Field Systems will allow clients of Sound Code to put in their ads, websites and other promotional material for consumers to unlock. They would have to use an app similar to a QR scanner to decrypt it.

The company managed to have successful experimental trials to send Sound Codes to smartphones via telecast on the island. While it’s a cool way to send in quick messages and encrypt ads into sound, one does wonder how the telecommunication business and customer calling service will mishandle such a gift.


AZAPA is a company that manufactures the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for electric vehicles. Without an ECU, there is no way an electric vehicle can run properly or at all. According to them, any big or small company can make electric vehicles of different shapes and sizes, but they won’t be able to make a good ECU that can make sure that the  vehicle drives stable.

AZAPA is currently mass-producing vehicles in Okinawa to help promote sales to resort hotels and golf courses.


#5: Intelligence Dimension Service
Here’s a company that can help out the commerce industry in the long run. Intelligence Dimension Service is creating a new technology called ‘i-code’, which is a new type of POSDATA electronic payment service that makes it easier for users to mine Big Data from food produce customers (vegetables, fish, etc.). The Big Data acquired can help supermarket business owners figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their produce sales, compare national and local data, and keep up with market trends.

The business attraction of Okinawa
So why do it on the quiet island of Okinawa? According to Information Architecture Director Yoshihito Nagai, who knows the Japanese entrepreneur scene very well, the island’s environment and serenity helps to heal the souls of the people there and give them vitality. There’s also the fact that anyone with a previously huge employment or business background from mainland Japan can start off big on the island. “Even if Okinawa is a small region,” Nagai said, “if you are recognised and if you have clout, you will easily get information, money and networking. In a local area, you have a better chance for that than in a huge metropolis.”

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A small place like Okinawa spurts creativity, at least in selling yourself and your company. “If your company is set in a big city like Tokyo,” Nagai said, “you will have to sell your services or products in the most common and profitable way like everyone else. However, in a small market like Okinawa, you must come up with a new method. This challenge enforces innovation.”

AZAPA said that the island is suitable for creating electric vehicles and ECUs. It also helps that the island prefecture is working on a town project involving electric and hybrid vehicles that are economy-friendly.

Creating jobs
But what about the possible issue of disrupting the peace of the island? Nagai shared, “The unemployment rate in Okinawa is the highest in Japan (at least at 7.5 per cent for this year). With companies coming in and setting up on the island, any method of producing employment opportunities is always welcome.”

If all this sounds enticing to you to start trademarking company names in Japan, keep in mind that Okinawa’s public services, transportation and amenities are still in a development stage. “The island’s train runway will expand once more in 2020,” said Nagai, implying that Okinawa may not be the quiet village-style island that everyone once knew.

Would you think of opening up a base of operations in Okinawa? At the very least, there’s still a lot of real estate on the island before every other person catches wind of its potential.