It’s hard to imagine life without a smartphone and in Japan, it’s equally hard to envision a smartphone without Line. The man who brought us the messaging app is Akira Morikawa, who was CEO of Line before he quit to start his own operation called C Channel in 2015. Widely acknowledged as one of the most influential IT entrepreneurs of our time, Morikawa is also a great advocate of building up your English language skills.
“Launching a new project means getting out of your comfort zone and talking to people with different nationalities and backgrounds. You have to hone your communication skills and put yourself out there. This is vital for business but many Japanese tend to shy away from this,” says Morikawa. “They’re good at following directions and improving on what’s already there — among themselves. But that won’t give us the edge necessary to compete in a global market.”
Morikawa always practices what he preaches, and for the past five years, he has been actively engaged in mastering the English language. First, he enrolled in a language school in Cebu. He attended pronunciation classes and signed up for online English courses. He studied avidly at a weekly English school run by fellow entrepreneur Takamasa Totsuka.
“In a little under two years I got my TOEIC score up to 800-plus,” says Morikawa. “And the more I learned, the more I became convinced that English is THE tool necessary to navigate today’s business world.”
While many Japanese would agree, most of us don’t have the means or the time to pursue that goal and still work full-time.
“I think the Japanese mindset needs rejiggering, especially with English education,” says Morikawa. “Everyone thinks English calls for a lot of work and suffering. And most people want to avoid that, which is understandable. But what if learning English wasn’t all that hard? What if, in order to talk with a foreign business team, one of the first things you had to do was smile, or discuss things over a meal? The important thing is to break the ice and get to know each other.”
Morikawa adds that communication is a means and NOT the end.
“The end is achieving a business goal, or winning a negotiation deal, or forging ties,” he says. “To do those things the Japanese need to learn to communicate in a straightforward, decisive and relaxed way. And bear in mind that in the global market, people are most interested in those who can share their ideas, and in a language everyone can understand.”
After his departure from Line, Morikawa became interested in a more diverse and flexible approach to digital communication. This led him to launch C CHANNEL, a fashion webzine for young women with instruction videos on everything from cooking and clothes to makeup and dating.
“I became fascinated by how women, particularly Japanese women, think and communicate,” explains Morikawa. “This idea isn’t new, as marketing trends had always lived and died on the desires of young women. But then I learned that developing a digital product specifically for females came with enormous challenges. It’s actually hard to apply digital logic because women think in ways that defy speculation and marketing strategy.”
Morikawa says the inexplicable quirks in how women think and express themselves may provide clues in developing AI technology — one of his personal passions.
“I have the feeling that women are far more advanced than men when it comes to receiving and sorting information,” he says. “They have the power to think beyond the box and customize data to fit their individual needs. They’re also better at communicating with people from all sorts of backgrounds. They’re not afraid to try and fail and that’s so much more important than not trying at all.”
Morikawa summed up by saying that, one day, “English will be nothing special because everyone will speak it. It’s like riding a bicycle. Life is better if you can ride one, but you don’t have to be a professional cyclist. It’s the same with English. Once you learn to use it, life is more fun and open to possibilities.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to remember
森川 亮（もりかわ あきら）
1967年、神奈川県生まれ。1989年筑波大学卒業後、日本テレビ放送網入社。2000年ソニー入社。2003年にハンゲームジャパン（現LINE株式会社）に入社。2007年LINE取締役社長に就任。2015年に退任後、女性向け動画メディアを展開する C Channel 株式会社を創設。