Updated December 5, 2023
Hackathons in Japan: A Deep Dive
As a foreign IT professional in Japan, networking is invaluable.
Meetups are great for keeping up on the latest trends and finding job opportunities. But what if you want something more engaging? That's where hackathons shine.
A "hackathon" is an event where software engineers compete to build a project in a set period of time. They're great for those who'd prefer to build something rather than just socialize. And they tend to be more exciting than a typical developer meetup.
I did a deep dive into hackathons in Japan, and I'll share what I found below. I'll share recurring hackathons plus the best networking groups that hold regular hackathons.
Now let's jump right in.
Hackathons in Japan: A Brief Overview
As I mentioned in various other posts covering Tokyo meetup groups, as well as Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto) and Fukuoka tech communities, Japan is not short of networking opportunities for foreign professionals, but they’re somewhat limited.
A hackathon, in this regard, is a great alternative as it gives you a chance to not only meet like-minded people but also showcase your skills. However, these events are nowhere near as common in Japan as they are abroad.
In the United States, for example, you’ll find that hackathons are held almost every week in various cities. The concept has been popular there for quite some time, and it’s deeply rooted in the country’s startup culture. It serves as a great way to find apt collaborators to create and innovate together, build product prototypes, and find startup investors.
However, this hasn’t exactly been the case in Japan. Although hackathons are becoming increasingly commonplace nowadays, they’re still nowhere near as common.
What’s more, while great products are pitched and developed in hackathons all over Japan, an environment that supports the development and release of subsequent products is yet to be seen.
So, while hackathons aren’t as entrepreneurship-focused given that releasing a real product and building an actual startup doesn’t seem to feasible, they still serve as a place to “create new value.”
Be it a mere idea or a concept, these events allow you to come up with something new that may be worth developing further at the very least. This is why Hackathon events in Japan are also a great way to scout out entrepreneurial ideas with low barriers.
More Hackathons for Beginners, Students, and Young Professionals
All that being said, hackathons are undeniably rising in popularity here in Japan.
In fact, even the Japanese government and local governments are organizing hackathons of their own now.
Right now, these hackathons are targeted more toward young professionals and students to foster a culture of innovation in Japan. Some events are even organized with the help of well-known companies in Japan’s IT industry to highlight and scout out young, promising talent.
I’ll introduce it more extensively below, but for instance, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is among the government bodies that support innovation and startups in Japan, and organizes an annual hackathon event.
What’s more, while most of the hackathon events in Japan have been held online for some time now because of the pandemic, the hackathons are slowly returning to a physical format once again.
Also, in addition to beginner-friendly, student-focused hackathons, there are a lot more advanced hackathons events too. Companies like Mercari even organize their own in-house annual hackathons for their engineers.
Currently, most of these events targeted toward professionals are held in Japanese and aren’t the most foreigner-friendly. Still, recent years certainly saw an increase in international hackathon events held fully in English and tailored for people of all ages, so things are definitely improving.
Now, onto our selection of hackathons.
Best International Hackathons for Foreigners
Japan is no short of great hackathons with an international demographic. What makes the events I’ll introduce below great is the fact that you can attend even if you don’t speak Japanese.
Below are some of the best foreigner-friendly hackathon events in Japan where you can participate in English.
BUILDER’S WEEKEND is an English-language hackathon held in Tokyo that welcomes people of all backgrounds who are creating the next cutting-edge technologies of tomorrow. As it’s open to all, students and hackathon novices are welcome too.
Given that the primary language of the events is English and most of the attendees are English speakers, the hackathon doesn’t require any Japanese skills. This makes BUILDERS WEEKEND Tokyo events an exceptional opportunity for foreigners to network and make friends.
For now, it’s unclear how frequently the hackathons will be held as the first event in the series was held just a few months ago, in July 2023. To be informed of the latest events, you can keep an eye on the official website, as well as follow the official X (Twitter) and LinkedIn pages.
The event is backed by well-known names in Japan’s tech and startup scene, the most notable of which are Kraken Technologies, which contributes as a hack partner, and Monstarlab, which acts as a community partner.
Part of a global series, ETHGlobal Tokyo is an event tailored to blockchain enthusiasts and anyone who works closely with Web2 technologies or wants to learn Web3 technologies.
Held in English in Tokyo, the blockchain hackathon caters to a diverse range of participants. Beginners, experienced tech professionals, and even students are all welcome here. That being said, I should note that as the content is technical, experienced people are prioritized when they’re selecting applicants, and the demand is usually high.
But ETHGlobal Tokyo offers more than a learning experience; it's a significant networking event, particularly popular among foreigners in Japan, making it a great place for meeting professionals in your field.
As this is a global event, the hackathons are held at least once a month all over the world. So far, two events have been held in Tokyo in April 2023, but more will be announced on the events page of the official website.
Just a heads-up for those interested in this hackathon – Reazon Holdings, a Japanese company, is offering prizes for ideas and products that contribute to the mass adoption of Blockchain technology.
Move Hackathon by WebX
Dedicated to the Move coding language, Move Hackathon is a free-for-all, open-to-anyone event that welcomes anyone who’s interested in programming, including students.
The event is organized by WebX, which is the largest Web3 conference in Asia, and is the first Move-focused hackathon event organized in Japan.
The event series made its debut in 2023, and the next event hasn’t been announced yet. Still, to get an idea, you can read up on the material shared on GitHub and join the official Discord community where you can catch up on the latest updates.
Lastly, the event is held completely in English to include everyone, making it a great networking opportunity for foreigners.
AngelHack’s Global Hackathon Series is held annually, and all events are held at the same time all over the world. In Japan, the events were held under the name AngelHack Tokyo from 2015 to 2019 with the support of the Japanese company Givery, an IT business that offers recruitment support solutions.
However, the events are currently on pause. The organizers state that they hope to bring the series back to Japan in the future.
Still, AngelHack is a great community for networking, and the best part is that it’s open to people of all backgrounds and levels of expertise as long as they’re passionate about innovation and creativity. You can follow the community on LinkedIn to get the latest news from AngelHack and the global startup scene.
Tokyo Web3 Hackathon
Tokyo Web3 Hackathon is an annual hackathon event that’s dedicated to all things Web3 and aims to promote the development of Web3 technologies.
As you may already know, Web3, or Web3.0, is a term used to describe a better Internet, and is all about utilizing it in ways that aren’t yet discovered or streamlined with the goal to provide more convenience in our lives. The event is focused on bringing together people of all backgrounds and skill levels to create and innovate in this endeavor and also to raise funding for noteworthy projects.
Everyone from beginner to expert level is welcome here, and in fact, the hackathon even provides a study session on Discord to catch participants who may lack the knowledge to participate up to speed.
Also, it’s useful to note that the event is fully online, it’s held in both Japanese and English, and participants from all over the world can attend.
The first one of the events series was in the summer of 2023, and the next event has already been announced and will be held in April 2024.
International Track, or The Presidential Hackathon International Track, is an event series that made its debut in 2019 and has been an annual affair ever since. The events are held in Taiwan.
This is an inclusive event that welcomes people of all backgrounds, ages, or nationalities and is aimed at social change.
Essentially, participants are expected to use open data and their programming skills to create solutions for social problems. As the event is held in English, foreign participants are welcome to attend as well.
While this event isn’t in Japan, it can still be a great networking opportunity for meeting people in the international tech scene. Besides, it’s open to anyone, so it’s a great opportunity regardless.
In fact, the participation of foreigners is encouraged, and up to two people from the winning team will be invited to Taipei with free flights and accommodation! Teams of three to five can attend as a group, but at least one of the group members has to be a foreigner who’s not a Chinese citizen.
Best Hackathons for Japanese Speakers
The hacthons I introduced so far are all accessible to foreigners and therefore don’t require any Japanese language skills.
That being said, if you speak Japanese, there are even more events accessible to you in Japan where both foreigners and natives are welcome. So, check out these hackathons below that are great for Japanese speakers.
Open Data Hackathon (都知事杯)
Open Data Hackathon is a government-funded event that’s organized by Tokyo City. The events are officially called Tokyo Governor’s Cup Open Data Hackathon, and have been held annually since 2021.
The hackathon focuses on creating solutions for social issues using technology and open data, and aims at creating a better future for the city. Participants of all ages and backgrounds are welcome, as well as companies and organizations attending as large groups.
As the hackathon is organized by the Tokyo government, the event is held completely in Japanese. However, since it’s open to all, it might still be worth attending for networking purposes, even if you don’t speak Japanese well.
The last installment of the event series was held in August 2023, and the next event for 2024 will be announced eventually. You can check back on their official website or Twitter to be notified when it does.
Startup Weekend Tokyo
There are at least two hackathons held in Tokyo each year, but unfortunately, they’re only in Japanese. Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity for hackathon newbies, as there are no specific requirements to attend other than being able to speak Japanese.
In fact, you’ll see people of all ages at the events, and both beginners (including students) and experienced developers are welcome here.
What’s more, although the event is held in Japanese, there are pre-events before the hackathons, as well as other networking events held by Startup Weekend Tokyo where foreign professionals can network and make friends.
Junction Tokyo Hackathon
Junction Tokyo Hackathon is an event hosted by Junction, one of the largest Nordic hackathon organizers, and the event is also a part of the largest Startup festival Slush, held in Finland.
While Junction consistently held annual hackathon events in Tokyo from 2016 to 2019, the series was put on hold recently. Even though no new events are planned, Junction wants to eventually return to the Tokyo hackathon scene.
Junction’s Tokyo Hackathons welcome participants of all backgrounds, and the events are expected to maintain their inclusive nature once they pick back up again. That being said, it’s still important to note that the events were held in Japanese only, and it’s currently unknown whether they will make a return in English or continue in Japanese.
NRI Hackathon is a well-established annual app development event held in Tokyo since 2014.
Each year’s event has a different theme and focuses on app-based solutions for the given topic. For instance, the event held in November 2023 was focused on traveling-related issues and challenged individuals to come up with creative travel solutions using their programming skills.
Individuals of all backgrounds are welcome at the events, and you’ll find both professionals and students/beginners. That being said, this event may not be the best for foreigners who don’t speak the language as it’s held primarily in Japanese.
Still, the NRI Hackathon events have a more fun and casual tone than your average hackathon, so it can’t hurt to give it a chance, even if you don’t feel confident in Japanese.
To be notified of future events and become a part of the community, follow the NRI Hackathon on X (Twitter).
Mercoin Hackathon is an event organized by one of the best-known startup success stories in Japan, Mercari. The company is also known for being the first unicorn startup (a startup that reaches a value of 1 billion USD) in Japan.
This hackathon is for students only and is aimed at prospective engineers and product managers. Held in Tokyo at the Mercari offices, the hackathon requires participants to work within a certain theme to develop a product or function. To give you an idea, the previous event’s theme was creating a new future of value exchange.
The one thing that should be noted with this hackathon is that it’s entirely in Japanese, and you need to speak proficient (CEFR - C1) Japanese in order to attend.
While this event is great for domestic students, it’s more about the opportunity to have your work recognized on a large platform rather than networking. It can still work well for making friends with people of common interests, though.
The first Mercoin Hackathon was held in 2019, and it has been an annual event since. The latest event is in December 2023, and the event involves a monetary prize as well.
While it’s not open to the public, in addition to this hackathon, Mercari also holds a separate biannual event called Hack Fest, where they have a hackathon competition among the company’s engineers.
JPHACKS is one of the largest hack events in Japan aimed at students. The first installment of the annual event series was held all the way back in 2014, and since then, several cities in Japan served as hosts for the hackathon.
Since 2019, the events have been held online, but 2023 will see the hackathon returning to the offline medium with simultaneous events happening in four cities: Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kobe, and Nagoya, as well as a separate online event for participants across Japan.
Again, as a student event, JPHACKS doesn’t offer anything to professionals, but it’s a great opportunity for students to put themselves out there and meet people they can collaborate with. A good reminder here, however, is that the event is held completely in Japanese.
If you want to be notified as soon as the event for 2024 is announced, I recommend following JPHACKS on X (Twitter).
Geek Ten (技育展）
Geek Ten is another student-focused hackathon event that’s open to all students living in Japan regardless of their nationality, as well as Japanese students living abroad.
The hackathon is more officially a “pitch contest” that’s been held annually since its conception in 2020. Titled “Technical Education Exhibition,” it’s essentially a student contest with the objective to develop a solid product and pitch it effectively.
There’s a monetary prize, which is 1 million Yen, and participants from seven different regions in Japan can attend the pre-elimination events. Those who are selected for the finals compete in Tokyo for the winner’s prize.
As is the case with other student events, this event is more about having a platform to showcase your work and skills, but it’s also a great way to make friends in the tech field.
Open Hack U
Open Hack U, or simply Hack U, is a hackathon event series organized by the well-known Japanese company LY Corporation (formerly known as LINE, under the corporate umbrella of Yahoo!).
This hackathon is for students only and is organized in collaboration with selected educational institutions, i.e., public universities and private colleges. This is why Hack U is perhaps one of the best beginner-friendly hackathons, as it’s specifically crafted to be a learning experience.
What’s more, throughout the whole process, LY Corporation employees personally provide assistance and consultancy to participants, helping them get the most out of their experience.
The events are usually held in collaboration with Tokyo universities, which is why they’re organized in Tokyo, but meetings are conducted both offline and online. Make sure to check each event description for specifics, which you can access on the hackathon’s events page.
The hackathons are held monthly, usually starting from June until March of the next year. You can attend either by yourself or with a group of up to six people. While the event is open to foreign participants, it’s held in Japanese.
Another student event, RESAS Hackathon is organized by the Japanese government. “RESAS” is short for “Regional Economic Analysis System” and it’s a project of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The project’s aim is to revitalize individual regions of Japan, and the hackathon shares the same goal.
While the last event was held in 2017 and the hackathon is currently on pause, it’s still a noteworthy event to look out for as it’s quite unique.
Basically, the hackathon is all about developing products and concepts that resolve issues related to regional revitalization. What’s more, the works created at this hackathon can be submitted to the RESAS App Contest where participants can get prizes for their creations.
During its run, the hackathon events were held in various cities in Japan, and meetings were held both offline and online, mainly in Japanese.
As it’s a student event, participants of all skill levels and backgrounds are welcome to participate, that is, of course, once the events pick back up again.
Another beginner-friendly hackathon comes from Hack’z, a company formed by student engineers in 2018. The main goal of the event is to provide a platform where promising students and other brilliant minds can have equal opportunities for learning and gaining experience in engineering.
With the same goal, Hack’z organizes the Hakkutsu Hackathon, in which students and programming beginners can participate and learn together. It’s open to Hackathon newbies even if they are not students, as the environment is more collaborative than competitive, and assistance from partner companies is also offered at the event.
While it’s not a guarantee, Hack’z also states that they may even provide internships or other job opportunities for participants who are exceptionally promising.
The hackathon is held every three months (in March, June, September, and December) in Fukuoka, and is organized in collaboration with notable names such as LY Communications, formerly known as LINE Fukuoka. The next event is happening in December, and you can check out the event page on Doorkeeper.
Accommodation and meals are provided by the organizers, but the event is mostly in Japanese, so non-Japanese-speaking participants likely won’t get much out of this event.
Geek Camp (技育CAMP)
Geek Camp is a beginner-friendly event that aims to educate and inspire students and programming novices. The program, titled Technical Training Camp, is essentially a bootcamp with hackathons and study sessions.
As the primary aim is to educate, Geek Camp’s events are perfect for beginners. Participants don’t even have to take an active role in all of the activities, as they are allowed to take a backseat and just observe until they feel confident.
This event is also great for forming study groups, networking, and making friends. That being said, I should note that this event is fully in Japanese.
Still, Geek Camp is a great platform to follow for engineering students and beginners, as they have over 20 hackathon events in total each year. There are monthly online hackathons, and also caravan hackathons that are organized in person in different cities in Japan each month.
KC3 is short for Kansai Club Conference, an organization that hosts computer science-focused events for students studying in universities in the Kansai region.
KC3Hack is the hackathon event organized by KC3, and is held from February to March every year. The first of the event series was in 2019 and the next one is already announced for February 2024.
As you may have already guessed, this is a student event, so university students can either attend by themselves or with a group of up to five people.
Unfortunately, one downside of this event is that it’s limited to the students studying in the Kansai region. So, even though most of the meetings are held online – with the exception of the final presentations being in person in Kyoto – it’s not accessible to participants from other regions. Also, the hackathon’s primary language is Japanese.
This hackathon is also worth mentioning as it’s backed by well-known Japanese tech companies, the most notable of which is LY Corporation, which was formerly known as LINE Fukuoka.
Ishinomaki Hackathon is a beginner-friendly hackathon event organized in the Miyagi Prefecture that invites anyone who’s interested in programming.
Inclusivity is perhaps the strongest suit of this hackathon as the organizer states that even young people in elementary school can attend. Participation is not limited to students, either, as professionals are welcome to attend as well.
The hackathon aims to educate participants and provide equal learning opportunities to those living in rural areas. The themes are usually selected as abstract concepts to avoid limiting creativity and make the event fun for all participants.
The event has been held annually since 2012, and the 11th installment in the series has already been announced for 2024.
Web x IoT Makers Challenge PLUS
Web x IoT Makers Challenge PLUS is an event series hosted all over Japan that’s sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The target demo is students, but beginner-level software engineers are also welcome as the program is tailored to be a safe and easy learning experience.
What’s more, there are even participation prizes at the events to promote attendance, and participating teams get to take home neat little devices, such as a Raspberry Pi Zero or a control sensor.
The next Web x IoT Makers Challenge PLUS event will be held in Tokushima, and you can check out the event page for more details. As this is a beginner event, there’s no entry barrier other than a 500 Yen participation fee.
Final Word on Hackathons in Japan
As you can see, hackathons are becoming more and more commonplace in Japan, and there are even quite a few government-backed events. It seems that, albeit a little late, hackathons seem to have caught on in Japan.
So, while all of the hackathons I presented above are great examples, you’ll find many more, including smaller, more local ones and brand-new ones, if you check these sites regularly using the tag “hackathon.”
Other than that, if you’re looking to create a network in Japan and meet professionals in your field, my posts on Kansai region (Osaka and Kyoto) meetups and communities and Tokyo and Fukuoka startups may interest you as well. Alternatively, my open-source scene in Japan post is a good read if you truly want to become a part of Japan’s programming community.
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