Food for thought

Serkan Toso, founder of, turned his passion for Japanese food into a business. Here’s his take on the future of Japan’s cuisine, travel and start-up scenes

Serkan Toso certainly loves food. Originally from Turkey, Toso came to Japan as a student with no intention to stay beyond graduation, but then he fell for the country’s food scene. He decided to channel his culinary passion into starting his own business, not an easy task for an expat. Here’s his manifesto for improving Japan’s food, travel and start-up culture.

Look for the opportunity

“My business,, started as a platform for Japanese food experiences, cooking classes, tasting events and dining experiences. Then I read that 70 percent of tourists come to Japan for the food, but only six percent of restaurants in the country take online reservations. If you are a foreigner and don’t speak Japanese, you cannot reserve most restaurants. It is a huge gap. Our system takes an online reservation request and turns it into an automated voice call to the restaurant which accepts or rejects it.”

Starting up in Japan isn’t easy…

“You need significant amounts of money to launch a company in Japan. There is an initial capital requirement and getting a business owner visa is really challenging. These barriers need to be lowered if Japan is to create a vibrant start-up culture. Some government initiatives are looking to make it easier, but even then there’s a lot of red tape. If Tokyo wants to become a financial centre, this country needs to become more friendly to small businesses.”

…But the opportunities are huge

“Maybe because the barriers to entry are high, there are lots of opportunities here. There are accelerator programmes and lots of investors who are actively supporting small businesses. Compared to the US, for example, it is a lot less competitive. When it comes to food trends, I think delivery services from restaurants, grocery stores and even home kitchens will take off.”

“Before Covid Japan reached 32 million travelers a year and the government wants to get to 60 million by 2030”

Food can power Japan’s tourism industry

“Before Covid, Japan reached 32 million travelers a year and the government wants to get to 60 million by 2030. I think it’s an achievable target, but over-tourism is a problem. Fifty percent of tourists in Japan stay only in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, and those sorts of numbers aren’t sustainable – we’ve already seen problems in Kyoto with places becoming too crowded. Encouraging tourists to get off the beaten path will help, and food is key. You can find delicious food in Tokyo, but I want people to go to local areas, have a deeper experience, and see the real Japan.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Takanori Ogawa | Richard Iwaki