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Soma Suzuki (Spatial Pleasure)

August 29, 2023

The founder of Spatial Pleasure, a startup that develops DMRV software with the vision of building a meaningful urban civilization, spoke about the current state of urban development in Japan and the benefits of starting a business in Japan.


Please introduce yourself.

I was born in 1993 in Osaka, Japan. I majored in physics at Kyoto University, but I didn't go to the university much and spent most of the day working part-time. Then I realized that I was already in my third year of the university.
I was placed into the Quantum Materials Dynamics Laboratory while I was absent from class, and I felt that it did not fit with what I wanted to do. So, I took a leave and went on a backpacking trip abroad for three years.
As I visited various cities, I became interested in the movement of people. For example, Barcelona is a city of grids, so I played a game of guessing which way people would move, and I began to think deeply about why they went to the right or left. I started interpreting one went the particular way because “the road is wider,” “it smelled good,” or “a pretty girl was there.”
In the process, I began to think that simulating all human movements within a city would be possible when urban space is parameterized with human data collected and loaded into a computer, even if some aspects are not readily available. I was a freelancer at the time, so I had a lot of time to ponder.
So, I did some research and found that Bartlett CASA, UCL had published a paper related to this. I thought it was interesting, so I went back to Kyoto University and asked a professor to write a letter of recommendation in this field because I wanted to do urban research. So, I went to graduate school and started that research.
But when I started going to graduate school, I lost interests. My goal was to parameterize and simulate everything in a city. But in the end, the only variables in my graduate school research were household income, age, and nationality. And based on these variables I could only consider where to place hospitals and train stations. However, I thought that people living in a city were not that simple, so I started research from a different perspective in order to look at the city with more diverse indicators.
Since consulting on analysis would be nothing more than the work the client asked me to do, I decided to create a product by focusing on a specific area. The "transportation x environment" area was growing among the many, so we decided to take on only analyses focused on this area. For example, we decided to analyze how much buses and shared bikes would contribute to decarbonization.
At the time, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism had published a "Blue Carbon" report, so I thought that urban planning could also take a blue-carbon approach. And after interviewing some people in that area, I decided to commercialize the project as "urban planning (transportation planning) x carbon credits."


How would you compare Japan’s and other countries’ urban planning and decarbonization in terms of their measures and differences?

Regarding decarbonization in Japan, you need to know that there is a thing called Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC). This is one of the indicators used in setting targets for global warming countermeasures and indicates the cost required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one additional ton.
This indicates how difficult it is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and Japan is considered the country with the highest cost, putting us in a very difficult situation.
This is because if we fail to meet this decarbonization goal, we will have to pay huge fines. For example, in the Kyoto Protocol 2005, Japan committed to a 6%-reduction rate of carbon dioxide. In reality, however, it only achieved a 1.4% reduction. For that 1.4%, the Ministry of the Environment purchased 160-billion-yen worth of carbon credits. The current target is based on the Paris Agreement and requires a 46% reduction.
This target is very difficult to achieve. It is impossible for Japan to achieve this goal alone, so we need to look overseas. Japan has introduced a mechanism called the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) into the Paris Agreement to support GHG reductions in countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam by exporting Japanese technology and having their reductions count as our own national emissions.
So, I believe that we should also participate in this initiative. In cooperation with the Japanese government, we will export our traffic analysis system to Indonesia, Vietnam, and other countries. Then we will use the system to optimize traffic, reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Indonesia, and make it tradable as carbon credits.
Japan is in a difficult situation and will not be able to make sufficient reductions. A reduction rate of 46% is a very big target.
Next, we are working on decarbonizing transportation, and we believe that there is more potential for this outside of Japan than within the country. Let me explain why.
Transportation decarbonization can be divided into two broad categories: energy shift and modal shift. Energy shift refers to a shift in energy sources, such as the transition from gasoline to electric vehicles. Modal shift refers to the shift in means of transportation. This includes switching from private cars to public transportation.
We believe that our transportation decarbonization efforts have more potential overseas than in Japan. The specific reason is that decarbonizing transportation requires data. And now that we have access to GPS and other data, we can analyze it more accurately. Surveys used to be the norm, but they are expensive and less accurate. So, we would like to use the new data to assess the sustainability of cities, and then turn it into a financial instruments in the form of carbon credits for distribution.
Such an initiative sounds very profitable and interesting. In fact, several Japanese companies in various parts of Asia, involved in urban development and transportation planning, are working on projects to monitor the environmental benefits they gain from their activities and distribute them as carbon credits.
What we are interested in is where this initiative will change urban planning. In the past, when we prepared new indicators, they were just numbers. But this time, there is less room for error because the indicators could actually be traded. This is the interesting part.
Other indicators should become tradable like carbon credits gradually. For example, we should be able to carbon credit areas such as biodiversity and urban wellbeing. In the future, it would be desirable to make various indicators tradable in order to optimize them over time.

What are some of the attractions of Japan that you would recommend to foreign entrepreneurs?

I think Japan is a very exciting country for work regardless of where you live, and if you can guarantee a visa in Japan. The cost is low while the quality of life is high, and I think the culture and food are outstanding.


What is your vision for the future? 

Right now, we are collaborating with transportation companies. But in the future, I would like to simulate urban development and urban planning as a whole. It would be nice to be involved from the initial stages when major companies are planning to build cities. And I would like to work with them while making proposals such as how to create this kind of flow of people. I would also like to monitor the flow of people after the city is built and distribute the carbon credits that result. I would like to continue to build cities in the future.


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