Graduate Student Forum

Tokyo’s Startup Village: Carnivalism, Paternalism, and Bureaucracy

Tuesday, 6 July 2021 | 16:15 - 17:00 (JST)
Zoom Meeting
  • Bjol Frenkenberger DPhil in Anthropology, University of Oxford
  • Sawako Shirahase TCJS Director

His research focuses on how founders in Tokyo’s start-up ecosystem try to retain key stakeholders. He is interested in how trustworthy behaviour becomes defined differently by various groups (founders, VCs, employees) throughout the early stages of the startup lifecycle (seed stage, early stage, growth stage) and how this appears to underlie conflicts within startups and the startup ecosystem. Tokyo’s startup ecosystem, the village or mura, seems characterized by the negotiation of past ideals such as the strong social ties of the ‘ba’, new policy-driven demands for neoliberal meritocratic struggle, and a future-focused, anti-bureaucratic strain which defines itself in opposition to the corporatism and conservatism of the large corporate. He argues that the ‘traditional’ focus on paternalistic models demanding loyalty and commitment still appears valid in the mura but runs into problems related to different socio-economic structures that fail to provide incentive structures matching such demands. At the same time the appeal of such models is now explained beyond tradition alone and becomes related to expectations of ‘speed’ (or the experience of immediacy) which is enjoyable in itself and intertwined. These and other ideological claims are driven by time pressure and various ‘what-ifs’ (threats, temptations, hopes etc.) often posed by the demands of modern ‘audit cultures’. Tokyo’s startup space appears in this sense as one instance of Japan in ‘flux’, where traditional and new concepts collide, where hope comes into being and subsides.


Bjol Frenkenberger is in his last year of DPhil Anthropology at the University of Oxford under the supervision of Prof Roger Goodman and Prof D Hugh Whittaker. Before his DPhil, he has worked full time in Fuller, a Tokyo-based startup. He has further studied Musicology and Ethnomusicology at King’s College London (M.Mus., Distinction), and Music (Piano) at the University Mozarteum Salzburg (B.A., Distinction). His research interests relate to the study of contemporary Japan, in particular organizations, time, inter-subjectivity, and music.