JETRO Global Connection -Accelerate Innovation with Japan-

The Innovative Collaboration Bringing Kyoto’s Zen Wisdom into the Virtual World

Apr 4, 2024

This past July, at a pitch event in Osaka, Japan, Christian Penaloza, with the Mirai Innovation Research InstituteExternal site: a new window will open., first learned about Kyoto Meditation Center and immediately saw an opportunity.

“When I saw Kyoto Meditation CenterExternal site: a new window will open., I realized immediately that this was a very good potential collaboration because we were building a technology that was not only related to the same target application, but also their content was very suitable for what we wanted to develop,” said Penaloza

Penaloza has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience Robotics from Osaka University, and has been leading the institute’s research into brain sensor technology using virtual reality.

“It’s called Wavex, and it's a brain sensing acquisition and visualization device that consists of different electrodes that we place in different areas of the brain,” said Penaloza. “We are able to visualize in real time the activation of different brain processes whenever the person is experiencing different stimuli.”

Mirai Innovation’'s Wavex technology during a test session (photo provided by Mirai Innovation)

Meanwhile, Kyoto Meditation Center, founded by Daisuke Sasaki, had been creating digital content and real world experience tours to bring zen meditation to a broader audience, addressing the growing issues of stress and overwork facing many in society.

Kyoto Meditation Center organizes in-person workshop in Kyoto (photo provided by Kyoto Meditation)

Their SanZen product, now available on your browser as a beta product, aims to bring practical zen wisdom into the modern world.

“Our mission is to promote the improvement of work-life balance,” said Sasaki. “I want to share the benefits of zen Buddhism and meditation to busy people, both physically and digitally.”

JETRO supported Kyoto Meditation’s participation in Techstars SCAP program and helped them develop their global strategy. But the collaboration with Mirai Innovation was made organically. The goal: bring Kyoto Meditation Center’s content into Mirai Innovation’s Wavex 2.0 VR and neurotech headset, and optimize it for a broader audience.

“What we are proposing is to expose the user to different types of immersive content within the VR environment, and then explore which meditation content has a better effect into the relaxation state,” said Penaloza.

In less than half a year, the partnership with Mirai Innovation has forced Kyoto Meditation Center to take new approaches, says Hiroyuki Kubo, a co-founder and Kyoto Meditation Center’s Chief Technology Officer. For example, in order to adapt their content for Mirai Innovations virtual reality hardware, Kubo’s team has had to shift to collecting 3D visuals, which has been a challenge.

“In the past, we only had 2D content only. So in that sense, 3D, virtual reality content was a challenge, and we have some difficulty on, for example, the format of the video, but now everything is under control,” said Kubo.

The goal, for both Mirai Innovation and Kyoto Meditation Center, is to integrate their technologies and provide a new, optimized, digital meditation experience to consumers.

Despite the potential, it will be a challenge to scale and attract customers. The wellness and meditation space is crowded, with numerous apps competing for attention. But Kyoto Meditation has several strategies to stand out and differentiate themselves.

First is their location – being based in one of the world’s most famous centers for religious and spiritual practice, with numerous world heritage temples located nearby. In fact, Sasaki, who spent three years working at a local temple, knows many of Kyoto’s most knowledgeable zen practitioners personally.

“I used to live in a first-class zen temple, so I know the special vocabulary and behavior to deal with them and that makes us very unique and special, because other corporations cannot have access to those UNESCO World Heritage temples,” said Sasaki, adding that “it's valuable to innovation, as well.”

Access to first-class zen temples in Kyoto is special (photo provided by Kyoto Meditation)

Second is their market focus – not to consumers, but to businesses, specifically, staff at North American IT companies.

“Many meditation products are just designed for relaxation, but our product focuses on those who are working in the office or at home, to help them recover and work effectively again,” said Sasaki. “So we are aiming mainly at corporate employees who want to regain their productivity after a short period of break.”

By integrating with Mira Innovation’s VR headset technology, they can not only provide a more immersive experience, but also get real-time data on relaxation and effectiveness. In fact, Mirai Innovation and Kyoto Meditation Center are in the process of testing.

“We need more investigation and research to improve the experiences of the customers,” said Kubo.

The big test will come next year, when Mirai Innovation will set up a booth at Osaka Expo 2025, and showcase Kyoto Meditation Center’s content. The opportunity to engage with potential customers and investors from all over the world is one that Penaloza, Sasaki and Kubo are all eager to take advantage of.

Kyoto Meditation Center and Mirai Innovation are planning to showcase their partnership during the 2025 Osaka Expo
(photo provided by Mirai Innovation)

“We have already been accepted in the health pavilion and I think this is a very good opportunity to showcase not only the technology, but also the power of meditation through Kyoto Meditation Center's content,” said Penaloza.

Profile of Dr. Christian Penaloza of Mirai Innovation Research Institute

Dr. Christian Penaloza holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience Robotics from Osaka University and specializes in AI and Nerotechnology. Currently, he is the Managing Director of Mirai Innovation Research Institute Japan. In 2016, the MIT Technology Review Magazine recognized Dr. Penaloza as “Innovator of the Year Mexico”. In 2018 and 2020, he received the “Excellence Research Award” from the president of the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Kyoto. In 2018, the Mexican government awarded Dr. Penaloza with the “Distinguished Mexican Citizen” award. In 2021, the Academy of Science of New York selected Dr. Penaloza as one of the 60 young researchers around the world with the most promising careers and assigned him to work in the Interstellar Initiative 2021-2022.


Profile of Hiroyuki Kubo of Kyoto Meditation Center

After earning his Ph.D. in Information Science from Kyoto University, he has gained a wealth of experience through research and development at a major domestic manufacturer and business development in the United States. Leveraging this experience, he co-founded the Kyoto Meditation Center with CEO Sasaki. As the CTO/COO, he has been leading the formulation of business strategies and the prototyping of digital solutions.


Profile of Daisetz SASAKI of Kyoto Meditation Center

He studied under a Zen priest in Kyoto and obtained a master degree in religious studies at a Japanese university to deepen his knowledge of Zen history and wisdom. He introduced Zen wisdom to hundreds of people, including executives from Western companies visiting Japan, and gave invited lectures at companies in Silicon Valley in the United States, along with the Zen priest. Through these experiences, he is capable of translating and conveying Zen wisdom to modern people.

Report by:
MAEDA Shusaku, Startup Support Division, JETRO
Shusaku Maeda is a business development expert who studied communications and information technologies at university. With strong technology background, he worked as a business development director at multiple Japanese and US companies, and successfully commercialized new technologies in a complex business environment. He joined JETRO as a member of Startup Division and is supporting Japanese startups to go global.

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