Crowdfunding: An attractive way of securing research funding in Japan

By Yone Sugita

I work for Osaka University, one of the major research universities in Japan. It is generally assumed that the university provides me with all the funding I need for conducting my research. I currently receive around 300-400,000 yen per year from our graduate school for research purposes. This covers items such as expenditure on books; annual membership fees for academic organizations; domestic and overseas travel expenses; use of the photocopier; toner for printers, etc. However, this amount does not cover all my academic expenditure in full. The graduate school is well aware of this and encourages us to apply for external funding where appropriate (for example, grants-in-aid for scientific research and academic foundations). I decided to try crowdfunding. I googled “crowdfunding” and “academic crowdfunding” and found several sites, which I reviewed carefully. In the end, I decided to approach READYFOR (https://readyfor.jp/).

Back in 2007 I edited two volumes of color photographs taken during the Allied occupation of Japan and the 1950s. Unfortunately, because the publisher went bankrupt, these volumes subsequently went out of print.

However, because these color photos are so exciting and interesting, I wanted to see them republished in an upgraded format (more photos and more detailed explanations, for example). To do this, I needed funds to cover expenditure such as the licenses to reprint the photos; the field work to determine the precise locations where the photos were taken; and research at the Diet Library to write more detailed explanations, etc. I estimated that I would need around one million yen to complete the task. So I made an online application to READYFOR.

One of READYFOR’s most attractive features is that each project is overseen exclusively by one individual from start to finish. In my case, Ms Saki Ariga was in charge. We communicated closely via email and phone. READYFOR has an “all-or-nothing” policy: the crowdfunded amount raised needs to reach a specified target for you to receive your cash. For example, if you set a crowdfunding goal of one million yen, but only achieve 999,999 yen, you do not receive anything at all. Ariga and I consulted carefully and set a target of 370,000 yen; I was willing to fund the rest out of my own pocket. See here for more details on my project: https://readyfor.jp/projects/Japan 

The end result was unbelievable. I raised 1,074,000 yen. This was significantly beyond anything I had hoped for.

I wanted to find out more about why this project was so successful from Ariga.

Tell me about READYFOR. What is it? How many projects has the company handled so far? How much funding have you raised?

READYFOR is Japan’s first and largest crowd funding service. So far, it has overseen more than 5,300 projects, successfully raising in excess of 3.2 billion yen (about $28.4 million). Our projects are structured on an “all-or-nothing” basis. We only receive a commission fee if a project succeeds in raising a pre-set target amount. In other words, anybody can try READFYFOR without taking on any risk for themselves.

What were your first impressions when you reviewed my project application?

I knew this project had significant historical value right from the outset. I had a feeling that if we were able to get the message across about the significance of these photos, the project would be successful. As I looked through the pages and found out more about the photos and Dimitri Boria, the photographer, my feelings changed into a strong conviction that this project would succeed.

In your opinion, what is the most important reason why this project was successful?

A major reason for its success was that the reproductions of the photographs were of extremely high quality – for instance, the picture showing Emperor Showa with a big smile on his face. This is the sort of color photo that was very rare at the time. You are a well-known researcher, and these books had already been published once before. So the project appeared very viable and I had great confidence in the outcome.

What went well with the project? What were the challenges?

The best thing is that the project resonated with so many people. The funds raised surpassed the initial target, and came close to the full amount required to proceed with the project. What we worried about to start with was that we did not see much support beyond those whom we originally expected would back this project. In the end, it was photographers and photography specialists themselves who appreciated the real value of these color photos. They leveraged their networks and helped us reach a far larger audience than we originally expected.

No doubt many of Japan Today's readers would be interested in trying READYFOR. What kind of people and what kind of projects does the platform work best for?

The people who have been successful with us share this characteristic in common: a determined “can do” attitude and a willingness to do what it takes to achieve their goal. Whatever your project, there is someone out there who shares your interests and will support you. If you feel a bit shy about asking for support, or if you just leave it to others to do the work for you, and don’t do much yourself, your chances of success are low. In my view, you need to feel like you own the project, and that you want to make a success of it right until the end.

If somebody is interested in using READYFOR to raise funding, what should they do? Do you take applications in English?

Please access READYFOR’s webpage and click either “Mazuwa Sodan shitemiru [Begin consultation]” or “Purojekuto wo Hajimeru [Begin project].” Then just follow the instructions on the website. If you are still in the process of formulating your idea or project proposal, we can contact you and discuss it with you over the phone. Feel free to contact us any time. At the moment, though, we only correspond in Japanese.]]

Saki Ariga graduated from the College of Art, Nihon University, and has worked in various fields, including education, welfare, and entertainment. She came across READYFOR’s mission statement (“Building a world where people can achieve whatever they want”) and realized that this was the role she had been looking for. She primarily works as a curator for the company, helping people to fulfil their ambitions and achieve their projects.

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