Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

As of December 30, 2008, I am a legal resident of Dubai, UAE.

When Della Van Heyst invited me to a conference in Bahrain in 2007, I decided to go because I had never really been to the Middle East and realized that I needed to understand the region better if I one of my goals was to be a global citizen. The meeting was interesting and only reinforced my view that I was completely ignorant about the Middle East and Muslim culture. After Bahrain, Jay took me to Dubai where he was about to relocate to and introduced me to some people including his friend Balall.

My work at Creative Commons includes supporting the spread of Creative Commons globally. We have had success in Asia, Latin America, North America, Australia/New Zealand and Europe. While we have met some great people and are moving forward in the Middle East and Africa, these two regions continued to be difficult for us. Last year, we appointed Donatella Della Ratta as the Creative Commons person in the Middle East and Donatella along with my small (but increasing) number of Muslim friends have tried to coach me and navigate my understanding of the region.

However, I soon decided that trying to learn about the Muslim world remotely wasn't going to work. At the risk of making vast racial stereotypes, I felt that I understood most of the major cultures in the world, but the Muslim culture was one that I simply couldn't "grok" well.

As with most of my important decisions in life, I decided to jump in feet first based on my intuition and spend much more time in the region by moving my home base to Dubai. After considering various ideas, I decided that Dubai was a fairly safe, liberal and convenient location from where I could operate. While it is wildly different in many ways than anywhere else I've been, basic infrastructure such as medical facilities, airline travel and banking seemed to work and there appeared to be a critical mass of friends who could help me assimilate. Also, as part of my mission to fill in my gaping blind spots, Dubai seemed to make Africa a bit closer as well.

As someone who doesn't spend "the majority" of my time in any place except in airplanes, "moving to Dubai" basically means setting up a residence and shipping most of my "stuff" here. My main business is investing in early stage consumer Internet companies all over the world and my main non-profit work is Creative Commons, which are both global. I intend to spend my "spare" time here (except maybe in the hot summers) working on my academic work and learning Arabic. Keio University is trying to develop relationships here and in the region and I'll do my best to support these efforts as well.

While there are some very interesting people in Dubai and I'm slowly meeting many of them, I think that a great deal of my work in the region will be in other Arab countries and Africa. Dubai will be sort of my hub and I will explore from here.

Mizuka's mother and our extended family in Chiba will hold down the fort in Japan and Mizuka will probably spit her time between Japan and Dubai. I will continue to spend a fairly large chunk of my time in Japan, US and Europe.

Finally, I want to thank Jay, Renu, Ballal and Nazia all of their help in my ongoing transition to Dubai. I also want to thank Ambassador Hatano and Maria for providing me with a lot of context and support in connecting with the academic community here.

There are still many things in the air and I haven't really "turned off" any commitments that I have elsewhere so I don't expect my behavior our profile to change too drastically to the casual observer, but I can already feel some interesting changes as I start calling Dubai my home.

Note: I realize that I use Muslim an Middle East interchangeably and that there are many other faiths in the region. However, I spent my life growing up most non-Muslim faiths so the Muslim part makes up the biggest chunk of my ignorance.


Wish Mizuka and you the best of luck on your life/learning adventure. We will be learning with you. Take lots of pics.

I agree Dubai is good choice as ti is "designed" to be hub for world and ME. it is cosmopolitan and liberal area even if sometimes emiraties want to show a respect of strict local customs (always we should make difference between islma and customs rules).
it is difficult to know what term to use, arabic? but there are minorities in Me. muslims? but there are many religions minorities too.and even ME is colonial word. so complicated region :)
and yes we need CC in Africa and we need much effort there.
and me too I say that tokyo is my home :)


PS as I said before you move is typically Warcraft, make a base in other area for conquest :)

In other words, you went there for the low income tax?

Lower taxes is one of the "sales points" of moving to Dubai. Rent/property is also reasonable depending on where you compare it to. Generally speaking, Dubai is historically a trading post, focusing on supporting its over 80% expat population and providing "free zones" where the government stays mostly out of the way, including not charging tax or overly regulating. The idea is similar to Hong Kong or Singapore. It's really a "hub", which makes sense for businesses as well as individuals who interact with a variety of other countries.

Wow, what an amazing move. I wish you two the best and I can't wait to see some of your pics of your new place of residency.

"Liberal" is an interesting word to use about Dubai. Some headlines:

  • Woman hospitalized in Dubai and given painkillers, arrested at airport for it
  • UK Tourist Arrested in Dubai Airport for Melatonin, Imprisoned Without Charges
  • Anti-Narcotics Officer Jailed for 4 years for Trace Amounts of Drugs
  • Italian Tourist Sentenced to 4 Years for 1/100th of a gram of hash
  • 15 year old tourist accused of homosexual acts after being gang raped

I note, without endorsement, the existence of this site and this Times article.

Gerv: Yes. Dubai does have its issues as do most countries. However, it is liberal compared to just about any other city in this region. Also, the city and many parts of the region are generally headed in a "more liberal" trajectory, although obviously it's much more complex than that. Learning about some of the "issues" is also part of my interest in this area.

Joi, good luck and all the best for your start in Dubai. Please tell us about Internet access there. AFAIK there is only one ISP controlled by the government, Internet traffic is filtered and the availability of Internet access is not that great (mind Africa is given less Internet connectivity than what is usually provided at the Chaos Communication Congress each year in Berlin, Germany).

There are two ISPs, one more filtered than the other.

BTW, a good resource/book on Internet filtering around the world:

It's really exciting to hear about you moving to Dubai.

By the way, we are doing a small WordPress gathering tomorrow with Matt Mullenweg:

It will be great if you can make it too, giving us the chance to meet two of the 25 most influential people on the web The Adviser and The Publisher :)

Oh! I didn't realize Matt was in town. That's today? I'll follow up over on the Facebook page.

Sounds like an exiting move, good luck. I have one question, and you don't have to answer if you don't think this is the appropriate forum. Given the setup you mention, do you think you will get non-resident status in Japan from a tax perspective? Very curious.

Shane: Taxes are relatively complicated as you know. I will continue to file and pay taxes in a number of jurisdictions including Japan, but I will no longer be a resident of Japan. I will still have my family registry in Japan and my Japanese citizenship. Being a resident of more than one jurisdiction, speaking from experience, causes extreme headaches.

interesting to hear Joi, and i commend you on the reasoning & perspective.

Q: do you feel like you have a reasonable understanding of 3 other large language/culture universes: India/Indosphere, China/Sinosphere (guessing u do there due to Japan proximity), and Hispanosphere? aside from US/English & Japan (due to wife & kids), i feel like those 3 groups in addition to Arabic/Muslim world are important to understand.

funny this came up this morning... i was just looking at Wikipedia info on world languages, populations, and GDP by country. this article on "world languages" is also interesting:

(note: French is also notable, altho native speakers are a much smaller #. Russian, Portuguese, & a few others like Bengali & Malay as well)

in addition to Japanese & English, we decided to emphasize Mandarin & Spanish for our kids as a result of looking at where the world was headed, altho i think Arabic, Hindi, & Portuguese would also be good to learn too.

Dave: Yes. I've been exposed to a lot of Indian culture through tons of Indian friends, an Indian room mate in college and a huge influence of Indian culture on our region through Buddhism and other things. I'm clearly not an expert, but I feel like India is within my "comfort zone" in terms of culture.

China is similar. I've had a Chinese roommate, have spent time in China, share many cultural elements in Japan and feel like China is also in my "comfort zone".

Hispanosphere, slightly more foreign to me, but again, from living in the US, visiting Latin America a few times, it doesn't seem as "foreign" as the Middle East does to me.

Also, I think these large clumps miss huge "minorities" and some aspects of Muslim culture are completely "comfortable" for me, while others are not. I guess what I'm starting to explore right now is that there is huge complexity where I saw only simplicity and there is lots of meaning and order where I only saw chaos. It's this huge rate of surprising learning that I feel after every interaction or dinner conversation that sort of convinced me that I had a much bigger "missing link" in my brain than I thought. I don't feel that with other cultures at the moment, although I suspect Africa will be similar.

Thats incredibly intriguing. I hope you can write an update in 12 months to let us know how it works out.

I agree. Dubai feels like the center of the universe right now and the logical location for a "citizen of the world" to reside. I would move there is a hot second if given the opportunity. Perhaps one day I will just take control of my own destiny (as you have done) and move there anyway.

Good luck and please blog about your experiences there.

Shannon Norrell

this is an amazing opportunity;
i hope you learn a lot about islam and the middle east.

Your reasons for doing this are so inspiring. Same reason I'm planning to move to India for a while. Just wanted to say thanks for continuing to be a role model for me.

Dear Joi,

It's a massive win for the Middle East on your decision to move to Dubai. A warm and enthusiastic marhaba.

As a private equity investor who has invested in regional telecom, IT services, and internet sectors among others, I find the fundamentals for growth in the region quite compelling.

1. Young demographic in earnest search for quality jobs
2. Government liberalization efforts (eg Saudi accession to the WTO)
3. Government investment in infrastructure (along a similar vein to Obama's purported stimulus plan)

I will be curious to see how your perspectives evolve over time in the post-credit crunch world.

Sajjad Jaffer

It doesn't surprise me that you can't staple the Muslim world with other parts.
Have you noticed how every other group, besides the one with Muslim background, incorporates itself well in society? Do the research...
In the muslim world sooner or later, the extreme beats the mild ''changing'' force, and then you have states like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
We in Europe have a problem with the Muslim minority, because they don't incorporate good in our societies. And in mind of their natality rate they will soon be able to push for change of our laws. Do you know you can't critizise Islam here, but can't bring a plain Bible there? Do you know what Islam says about Hindus and people of other faiths?
Have you heard that Sharia law will be probably placed (for them) in the UK? There are many issues with this group Joi, and they haven't sucked it out of the air.
They create a cell of Islam everywhere. It's like cancer. And it is the fastest growing religion.

People all over the EU, especially in Britain, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, are becoming aware of this, and experiencing it.
Don't be angry because of this. You will learn that not everybody can be friends. And that there are different thoughts beneaf their smiles. Research it.

so you accuse me and other muslim fellow to be extremist and maybe terrorist? come in friend you are just saying racist statement which can punishable by the european laws itself :)
please stop the conspiracy theory and accusing muslims minorities in europe. they are just people who want to live decently and discretely but people like you and more far-right wing politician used them for election purpose and forget to fix real problem.
I like the france example during all migrations waves French politicians accused immigrants: it was polish and italian then spanish then portuguese and now subsaharian, north african and turkish. it is like anti-semitism, like to accuse jewish to be the most dangerous minority for europe during 19th and begining of 20th.
islam said ntohing about hindus and quran ask to respect the faiths and beliefs of others. islam didn't create inquistion or pushed people to convert like in latin america during spanish imperialism. islam never killed portestants or massacred them but catholics yes. islam didn't create pogroms. in many ancient islamic kingdoms there were christian and jewish ministries when in europe in many countries they still mind if muslim can be deputy or join a governement.
there is cancer but it is of stupidity, ignorance, racism and intolerance, sorry to say to you this truth

It's incredible how narrow minded you are. Do you even know the history of Islam, your religion that you are so strongly defending? Do you know about Muhammeds activities?
In modern times not only would he be considered a vicious criminal with war crimes against humanity, but a pedophile too, Aisha anyone? Learn about it in the Hadiths. You can't deny these truths.
And do you have any idea what happens when ideas like Islam acquire power? It's nothing new. The Turkish empire and invasions on Europe, the Mongol empire.... or in recent days, the changes in Egypt and Iran. And about the Crusading wars, the pope started them because of Muslim violence on the pilgrims in Jerusalem.

There are so many horrific verses in the Kuran that will astonish an educated reader. One site example:

It is incredible how ignorant you are about your own faith. You simply don't know I suppose, which makes you not Muslim enough. A complete Muslim is a dangerous one. Read about it.

We in Europe and the West, are people of comfort and pleasures, accepting everybody, not knowing, but we are starting to be aware of this danger. Just go ask some sensitive people in the northern Europe, about their life 10 years ago and now.

Remember it is the people of your religion that have moved here, not we to you. And we made that mistake of accepting everyone unfortunately.
Please don't get this wrong. Distinguish my criticism against Islam.
Sometimes it takes incredible courage to stop doing the wrong thing, and discovering and accepting the facts.
I hope you don't live in a country where there is a death penalty if you stop being a Muslim. They have that you know.

You can argue with me on this all you want, but I know the history and the present of this gigantic issue. I did the research. My college graduate paper was this topic. The violent behavior of your people today and in the past wasn't sucked out of the air and ''the customs'' as we like to think. It's all in the Kuran.
And don't call me a Christian just because I live in Europe. I'm more Hindu, believing in many God persons and avatars. And also in self realization - becoming a saint, avatar, a.k.a. God in human. What does your religion, which in name means ''subordination'', say about that?
Again to discredit you I need just one source, the Kuran. It is full of verses - violent orders against all other folk than your group. ;-)
But you can start here too:

I think this discussion is a bit too heated and detailed for me to participate in considering I am just getting started on my work. However, I believe there is compassion in every person and there are a variety of interpretations of any text. I think that paint a whole people with a broad brush is very dangerous.

I hate racial and social stereotypes and would hate to start my exploration with any strong bias in any direction. I wonder if we could defer this in depth discussion until I'm a bit more along my path and can participate more. I'm sure there are more appropriate forums for this kind of debate than my post about how ignorant I am. ;-P

of course joi but I want to point that Kresimir accused infamously my beliefs and religion and don't have the right to reply.

Rafik, your response was justified. I just don't want this to turn into a longer "debate" about Islam. By the way, I the talk page of the Islam article on Wikipedia always interesting to read as an example of a way to have this discussion.

The practice of Sharia law is allowed to a certain extent in small communities here in the UK. There is absolutely no case where Sharia law trumps UK statute law. And it is highly unlikely that it ever will.

Great for you! The best way to learn new things and throw yourself into a steep learning curve is obviously to move abroad like you're doing.

But what about Internet access for WoW et cetera?

Does Joi even play wow? LOL

Suddenly I thought of a Chinese idiom, which in English is: In the face of difficulties, if you don't move forward, you'll fall behind.

Totally agree ^^

Yes. I still play wow. ;-)

Wish you all the best exploring the Middle East. It's actually a nice place to be, not as bad as those westerners think of.

Welcome to Dubai. I am sure your insight will be of great help to the guys that need here - the tiny minority that is trying to inculcate innovation and entrepreneurship - in order for Dubai to remain the 'hub' and rise from the 'trading post' mindset. Hope to be able to see and interact more with you.

Welcome to this part of the world. Please do let me know if you happen to drop in to Pakistan. Will try to catch you when I'm in Dubai. Best of luck.

good for you joi!
all the best to you and your family

Is your place in Chiba for sale?

No. ;-) Mizuka's mom, Mizuka, dogs, cat, and sometimes Mizuka's sister, brother-in-law and kid will be in the Chiba house.

Should be a fascinating experience during a really interesting time. I hope this also means you will be spending more time in Israel too. Pulling to together the talents of the "fertile crescent" is something you could really influence. I have little doubt you can make a real difference there.

Yes. Definitely visiting Israel as well.

Good move. Don't forget to take advantage of your proximity to India as well. Cheers.

Visit IRAN, This is great country to see for a visionary like you. I wish i was there to be your guide

Aha, a truly great place. :))
Iran. Y-y great place for women, gays, and ''other folk''. :) Visit soon!

I actually do intend to visit Iran sometime. It's on my list.

I've been reading your blog for years. I live in Doha and go to Dubai often. I think you will find it very interesting, as living there/here is very different than visiting. I can tell you its been a huge culture shock for this boy from Michigan.

Best of luck to you!