Zipping around Tokyo with a good amount of Yodobashi Akiba strapped to his body, LED lights flashing and cameras rolling, Joseph Tame is like an embodiment of Japan’s neon lights and ceaseless energy.
His elaborate, electronic outfits at marathons and running events have catapulted him to notoriety and brought him partnerships with brands like Nike. Out of his running persona grew a thriving media production company. But Tame was never out to establish himself as a famed, eccentric runner. In fact, he never really liked running to begin with.
Around 2008, while he was teaching English by phone and producing a podcast in his spare time, a friend tried to convince him to run around the Imperial Palace.
“I thought, ‘Five kilometers? No way!’” Joseph said. “Up until then, I’d never done any running or any sports. In fact, when I did run, I would get heart pain.”
But then the iPhone was released.
“I found that by combining sports with technology and social media, suddenly, it became fun,” he said. “It became interactive. I found this way to release my creative frustration.”
Joseph started live-streaming himself as he ran. At the same time, he began teaching himself video production, working with friends and underfunded startups.
In 2009, he ran a quarter-marathon and debuted his first quasi-costume: a simple headpiece to mount a phone, a precursor to the flashy, pinwheel- and electronics-laden costumes he now sports. Each subsequent year, Tame ran and livestreamed the full marathon, his costume evolving alongside his renown.
His reputation for live streaming the Tokyo Marathon slowly brought him other production work — everything from live streaming events to creating promotional videos — and eventually, he was able to quit his day job and start Wild Tame, a media production company.
Joseph has grown a business around his costumes but it was never a plan, not a calculated act of personal branding. Though he’s always had an entrepreneurial, do-it-yourself spirit, Wild Tame grew from just following what he found interesting and seeing where it took him.
“I was doing things that were fun,” Tame said. “The business grew from there. I think that’s key: Your business is inclined to take up all your time. You’ve got to enjoy it.”
Today, you’ll likely see Joseph in interactive costumes that flash messages or dispense candy. They aren’t just for races anymore, either — recently, he helped a popular idol group design and create their own costumes. Tame designs and builds the costumes himself, following a love of tinkering he’s had since childhood, and while they’re made for fun and whimsy, they’ve also built a personal brand for him that establishes trust with potential clients who recognize him.
And while growing his business has involved a lot of work, a lot of learning and a lot of challenges, breaking out from traditional foreigner jobs and into business ownership is doable, Tame says. You just need to learn your niche and learn the culture.
“It’s all about trust; it’s all about relationships; it’s all about introductions,” Joseph said. “Don’t expect things to go fast. It can takes months to come to agreements, especially if you’ve never worked with someone before.”
He recommends finding a Japanese business partner, or at the very least a mentor, to help navigate the intricacies of Japanese business culture. Joseph himself works with his wife, Satoko Tame, who, in addition to her role at Wild Tame, supports with minor tasks such as proofreading his email.
“If you want to make a small dent in the universe, Japan’s a good place to do it,” Joseph said, citing the country’s startup-friendly tax structure. “My advice is to keep doing what you love, notice people’s responses to it, and then think about how you could adapt it to make something useful that could grow into a business.”