From November 13-15, the first ever Y-SHIP Convention was held in Yokohama, Japan, bringing together innovators, businesses, academia, government, and thought leaders to one of the most international cities in Japan to discuss the future of sustainable urban solutions, innovation, and powering the future. The English-language convention was a resounding success, with thousands of attendees traveling to Yokohama to attend in-person, and many hundreds tuning in online as well to hear key speakers including the Mayor of Yokohama, the Governor of Bangkok, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan, the World Bank Global Director, the Director of OECD Tokyo Centre, multiple speakers from embassies in Tokyo, and many more!
The four major themes of Y-SHIP Convention 2023 were “Green Transformation” (GX), the “Asia Smart City Conference,” Yokohama as an “Open Port City,” and “Y-SHIP Youth.” Green Transformation, or GX, is a Japan-led term that refers to adopting new approaches that focus on decarbonization and sustainability. The Asia Smart City Conference is an event that has been hosted annually by Yokohama City for over a decade, bringing together cities from across Asia and the rest of the world to exchange best practices and collaborate on solving urban issues, and this year was held in conjunction with Y-SHIP 2023. “Open Port City” refers to Yokohama history of being a welcoming, international city to foreign businesses interested in expanding into the Japanese market, and at Y-SHIP 2023 this tradition continued through pitches, business matching, and exhibitions of global startups in Yokohama to jumpstart their foray into Japan, supported through sessions powered by the Drivery. Lastly, the “Y-SHIP Youth” sessions focused on showcasing talent in the next generation, providing students from Yokohama-based schools and universities opportunities to connect with an international audience, make presentations in English, and engage with global businesses.
During the opening remarks, Mayor of Yokohama Takeharu Yamanaka welcomed the attendees, and discussed Yokohama’s history of embracing open innovation—allowing inter-organizational exchange and ideas to flow freely to better facilitate the generation of new opportunities—and its efforts towards achieving zero carbon emissions by 2050, including in the port and rapidly-expanding Minato Mirai 21 district, through the introduction of next-generation energy. Mayor Yamanaka also introduced two other large, upcoming international events that Yokohama would be hosting: TICAD 9 in 2025, and GREEN x EXPO 2027, focusing on African collaboration and sustainable solutions respectively.
Raymond F. Greene, Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, spoke next on Japan’s wave of innovation, especially in Yokohama, and emphasized the importance of collaboration between Japanese entrepreneurs and American investors. “Yokohama hosted Japan’s first foreign trading port, first daily newspaper, first railway station, and first power plant,” Green noted, saying, “This illustrious history serves as a reminder that Yokohama has embraced transformative technology in the past and is once again positioned to become a leader during the next phase of Japan’s innovation.” He finished his remarks by saying, “Just as Yokohama led Japan out of seclusion in the 19th century, I have high hopes that Yokohama can lead the next generation of transformation in Japan.”
Yutaka Matsuzawa, Vice-Minister for Global Environment at the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, was the last speaker during the first day’s opening remarks, and emphasized the need for integrated solutions for climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. “Cities are the starting point for this transformation and cities are at the front line of concrete actions towards net zero.” He also discussed regional decarbonization roadmaps developed with local governments, and ended by stating, “The city of Yokohama is leading transformation change toward decarbonization by implementing advanced decarbonization efforts in the decarbonization-leading area [Minato Mirai 21], and by providing international support through city to city collaboration programs, and finally by organizing this international event.”
One exciting panel discussion of note that occurred during Y-SHIP Convention 2023 was the “Establishing Startup Ecosystems Via Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration” session, focusing on startup ecosystems, including Yokohama’s own, featuring a panel of entrepreneurs and startup supporters. Topics touched on included what it’s like to be a foreign entrepreneur in Japan, and what it’s like working with Yokohama City. Aaron Benedek, CEO of Yokohama-based startup Nekotronic, noted the ways Yokohama has helped his company gain footholds in Japan, saying, “Yokohama has been very supportive of Nekotronic and our mission to help enable a safe transition to urban air mobility beyond just field tests…Yokohama introduced us to Japan railways, and we joined their mobility consortium earlier this year,” later adding, “Yokohama supported us to go global with [our] technology, and we have applied for patents in offices around the entire world,” and noting his gratitude towards the city for its support.
During the same panel discussion, Yumiko Namiki, Global Programs Specialist at the DMZ, a tech incubator in Toronto, discussed programs that promote entrepreneurship education and provide opportunities for students to work or build startups, noting the importance and success of their own initiatives with Japan that support Japanese companies expanding into the Canadian market. She also mentioned her fondness and connection to Yokohama, having attended a Yokohama-based university.
Ayano Kagami from CIC emphasized the importance of building connections among stakeholders in Japan’s startup ecosystem, to better support startups’ internationalization. She also spoke on Japan’s recent enthusiasm to support Japanese startups’ global expansion, and noted that she sees the potential for Yokohama to become a global hub due to its international history.
The last panelist, Arnold Ackerer the Deputy Head of ADVANTAGE AUSTRIA Tokyo and Co-Founder of TechBIZKON, noted how many good opportunities he’s had to work with the City of Yokohama, noting that as a second-largest city in Japan by population, there are a wealth of companies and ideas in every tech sector, and also that Yokohama hosts a lot of specialized tech fairs out of its international convention center. He also noted that sometimes valuable hubs like Yokohama and Austria get overlooked due to the sheer scale of nearby giants like Tokyo and Germany, and discussed strategies to make the city stand out even more on a global stage.
As the second day of the Convention opened, Mayor Yamanaka of Yokohama introduced the topic of sustainability and green transformation, bridging the gap between Y-SHIP and the Asia Smart City Conference. He also introduced more honorable speakers to the stage, including Sibi George, the Ambassador of India to Japan, who spoke on India-Japan relations and their collaboration on clean energy initiatives like green hydrogen and electric vehicles, and Dr. Sanjay Sarma, a professor at MIT and the CEO/President of Asia School of Business in Malaysia, who focused on technological solutions for reducing CO2 emissions, including the use of different types of hydrogen as a fuel source.
Y-SHIP 2023 also saw the announcement of a new join declaration from Yokohama City, Bangkok, and 43 other participating cities and organizations across Asia: the “Yokohama Declaration: Asian Cities Together Towards Zero Carbon.” In the Joint Statement session of this year’s Y-SHIP, Yokohama Mayor Takeharu Yamanaka took the stage again, alongside Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Governor Chadchart Sittipunt, to introduce this new declaration which will see participants committing to collaborate to reduce carbon emissions and share best practices, using Yokohama’s and Bangkok’s prior 2050 carbon-neutral goals as the foundation, aiming to ultimately realize a sustainable and resilient zero-carbon future in Asia. This session of Y-SHIP was a landmark moment in Asian sustainability efforts.
Featuring a rich dialogue studded with real-world technical knowledge, invaluable insights, and next-generation ideas, Y-SHIP Convention 2023 had something for everyone. After a successful launch of Y-SHIP Convention in 2023, keep your eyes on Yokohama as we head into 2024, and be a part of the next dialogue that will shape the future of innovation in Asia.
Recordings in English of all of Y-SHIP 2023’s sessions are now available!
Links to Recordings by theme:
- Keynotes and Opening Remarks
- Green Transformation
- Asia Smart City Conference
- Open Port City
- Y-SHIP Youth