The Nordics and Innovation – Thinking on the Future of Japan through the Nordics

What is it with the Nordic countries that make them perform so well in innovation, although quite small populations? Is there anything Japan can learn from this? These were questions raised by Prof. Yuriko Shibayama at the faculty of Nordic studies...

What is it with the Nordic countries that make them perform so well in innovation, although quite small populations? Is there anything Japan can learn from this? These were questions raised by Prof. Yuriko Shibayama at the faculty of Nordic studies at Tokai University. To get more insight in this, a seminar on Nordic Innovation was organised at the university on March 12, with representatives from all the Nordic countries, and also the Nordic Innovation House Tokyo participating, which was launched 2020.

In Japan, high priority is given from political level for climate, digitalisation and innovation, not least towards transformative innovation. These priorities are also important for the Nordic countries, and the topics of innovation and digitalisation had special focus at the Tokai University seminar, with different aspects brought up by the five Nordic countries. The topics from the five countries were:

Finland – Digitalization and happiness

Denmark – Cooperation as the key to innovation and digitalisation 

Sweden – Innovation and Transformation

Norway – Human-centric digital transformation

Iceland – Innovation and addressing the gender gap

And in addition to this, the Nordic Innovation House gave an introduction of their mission and activities, and aspects of the strong Nordic innovation ecosystem.

The Nordic delegation was happy to arrive to the Tokai University’s Takanawa campus and take part in one of the rare physical events during the pandemic, with significant Covid-19 precautions. After greetings by Prof. Kazuhiko Hamamoto, dean for the School of Information and Telecommunication Engineering, and the organiser Prof. Yuriko Shibayama, the delegation was taken to the impressive VR laboratory for a virtual (!) tour around the campus, where they could move around with 3D-glasses.

When the seminar began, Prof. Hamamoto gave welcoming and introductory remarks, followed by Prof. Shibayama giving an introduction to the Nordic countries, with values and high performance in several different types of rankings.

The presentations from the Nordic countries had as a whole a joint focus concerning the importance of innovation and digitalisation as for societal development, transformation and competitiveness, and that Nordic values, such as gender equality, trust, human-centric approaches, and collaboration are important for the Nordics to perform very well in international comparisons. The countries also stressed the long-standing collaborations and good relations with Japan, and the potential for further deepening these.

Presentation on Swedish innovation

The Swedish presentation included comparisons between Japan and Sweden, with Sweden being a slightly larger country than Japan, but with a population of just a bit more than one fourth of Tokyo metropolitan area. Although the number of Japanese Nobel laureates are increasing at an impressive speed, Sweden is happy to still have a few more laureates. Sweden ranks among the absolute top nations in the world in innovation rankings, with position #1 in the 2020 European Innovation Scoreboard and #2 in the 2020 Global Innovation Index. Sweden is also ranked #1 in the 2020 SDG index for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Investments in research and scientific performance are fundamental for innovation, together with the plethora of Swedish multinational companies in many different sectors. In the presentation, the very vibrant start-up scene that has arisen the recent decades is very important for innovation, not least transformative innovations, and to Sweden producing several unicorns.

As examples of Innovation and Transformation in Sweden, Spotify was given for transforming the music industry from buying records to subscribing to (virtually) all music; Klarna for their digital means for simplifying payments and now also converting to a bank; and the two front-running Swedish initiatives to produce CO2-neutral steel through hydrogen, HYBRIT and Hydrogen Green Steel. Both of the hydrogen companies aim to be the first in the world in implementing this transformative shift for eliminating Sweden’s largest CO2 emissions, important for the Paris agreement as well as for future competitiveness and growth.

After the country presentations followed a panel discussion on the society in post-covid and the importance of human perspectives in innovation. There was a consensus on the importance of human perspectives, and also that Covid-19 has spurred many changes in society, not least in work structures and remote medicine, and that the new-normal when the pandemic resides, most likely will heavily be influenced by these. In the wake of new modes of working and living, there are also excellent opportunities for new innovations! A concern was raised that reduced human interactions may affect discussions and innovative ideas negatively, though. On the question “What can we learn from the Nordics?” initiating the seminar, there is one important aspect brought up – collaboration! Japan and the Nordic countries have long-standing relations and collaborations, and in the rapidly changing world, we can all benefit by deepening and increasing our research and innovation collaborations for mutual benefit and strengthened global competitiveness. We look forward to further deepening our research and innovation collaboration between Sweden and Japan!

Click and watch the seminar here!