I am Norio Itabashi, CEO of Discovery Japan.
Discovery Japan opened its website in June 2016 based on the concept of selling Japanese products overseas, but you probably have no idea about the original motivation for opening the website or about the site's owner, me.
No one buys things from a website or person they know nothing about. Therefore, in this message, I would like to introduce myself and also share a little about this company with you.
Age 24 - 35
I was born in 1978 and grew up in Japan, attending a Japanese university and majoring in comparative religion before working as a company employee for about three years. Up to this point, my life was the same as that of any young Japanese person.
In 2002, when I was 24, the Internet gradually came into my life.
At the time I was a company employee, and the Web was introduced at the company. From then on, I was determined to create a website myself, so while working I also attended a vocational school (now Digital Hollywood University) to study IT for one year. At the vocational school, I studied a lot about the basics of IT and computers, and then on my own I learned to build websites using HTML coding, Web programming, and databases.
In 2003, when I was 25, I started a Web system development company, and for about five years we worked on contracted system development for businesses. Alongside that at the same time, we were working night and day challenging ourselves with the development of an original ecommerce idea.
In 2008, when I was 29, I used the experience with ecommerce technology I had developed so far to release a multilingual ecommerce site called Live Commerce based on Japanese, English, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese. (I will explain the motivation for this release below.)
Usually, when smaller Japanese companies wanted to sell products overseas online, they had no choice except eBay, but with the appearance of Live Commerce, it was possible for smaller companies to launch cross border ecommerce sites as well, and we were able to expand the cross border ecommerce business until there was a cumulative total of 1,100 such sites in 2015, with yearly distribution amounts reaching ¥12 billion.
In 2015, we stopped working with the contracted development model business and focused solely on the development of Live Commerce, beginning to expand our users even further. At that time, over 1,000,000 products were already registered with Live Commerce, and our company began to construct more and more new online businesses allowing customers to sell Japanese products overseas.
That was the moment when I felt that I had built an infrastructure allowing Japanese products to actually be sold, through the Live Commerce solution of ecommerce. Every day, Japanese products were bought not by Japanese people, but by foreign people. Through Live Commerce there was a structure which allowed for online sales, which, when the Internet did not exist, were international business transactions limited to only certain people.
Age 36 on...
I started to wonder if we could summarize the large number of Japanese products registered with Live Commerce and provide some added value, or, as Japanese people, give more of what Japan has to offer to other countries. This was the fundamental reason for starting Discovery Japan. I felt that, as a Japanese person, I must deeply understand the roots of products created by Japanese people and why they wanted to sell it on Discovery Japan, first being convinced of it myself.
Normally, you absolutely cannot recommend a product that you are not sold on yourself. In other words, I would only place products on Discovery Japan that at least I myself could confidently recommend.
Therefore, in order to understand the roots of why we had gathered such products and why Japanese people had created them, I read all kinds of literature about Japanese people. Also, why are Japanese products said to be high quality, and why are Japanese products admired throughout the world? As a Japanese person, I began to want to know more deeply about these roots.
To know Japanese people
Japanese people do not often share their individual opinions in universities, workplaces, or international conferences, but when they work together on group work or research, it is said that they show a great increase in ability. On the other hand, Americans, Chinese, and Indians have strong individual opinions compare to Japanese. Why do Japanese people do so well with group work, despite having no special training?
I would guess that it is probably from living a communal lifestyle in families, schools, companies, etc., where we unconsciously come to learn the unspoken rule that we must work together without being selfish. This is part of Japanese culture, and particularly in production, which requires the cooperative work of many people, this kind of cultural quality which values the group manifests as a strength.
A mottainai spirit adds value to products
When Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental activist who was the first in her field to win the Nobel Prize, came to Japan in 2004, I was very impressed that she knew the Japanese word "mottainai." I searched for words in other languages which corresponded to this word, but I could not find a word contained the same love or respect for natural things, so I decided to spread the word "mottainai" itself to the world as part of a common language.
Mottainai was originally a Buddhist term expressing grief and regret for the loss of the "essential form a thing ought to take."
For example, the raw materials for today's industrial goods, metal, oil, coal, etc., are mined from underground. Although we have begun to dig up these raw materials that nature spent millions of years creating, because our technology is immature, they are thrown away as inferior products, and we have not been able to realize the "essential form a thing ought to take" as a product useful to the world. The regret, grief, and guilt we feel toward nature for that is mottainai.
Many of Japan's production engineers are rooted in this mottainai spirit. I think with that as their driving force, it is because they want to make items that can be used for as long as possible that they can create products of higher quality.
My desire to share the products made by Japanese people who grew up in this kind of environment was the beginning of Discovery Japan.
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