"I expect that entire business models and manufacturing systems will have to change to adapt to the 3D printer," Asami said at a seminar for start-up businesses.
If history is anything to go by, Asami's and Abe's task will not be easy. After World War II businessmen built companies that turned into the likes of electronics giant Sony Corp, but since then Japan has not produced a new global technology powerhouse as people have become less tolerant of risk and of failure.
Abe, who took office almost a year ago with bold promises to end almost two decades of economic malaise, wants to encourage innovation and make Japan an easier place to do business. But he is trying to shake up a political and economic system largely built around well established industries.
Expectations were high for deregulation that would tear down barriers broadly across sectors, but Abe's economic growth strategy in June left many areas unaddressed. He has struggled to push through bigger economic reforms, such as making it easier for companies to hire and fire, which analysts say would allow for a more dynamic economy.
Earlier this year the government revived a nationwide subsidy scheme for start-ups that had been mothballed for about six years. So far this year, the scheme has granted subsidies to 77 percent of all companies that have applied.
The number of firms applying for funds is also growing rapidly, from 15 in April to 2,302 in June. When it comes to 3D printers, the economy ministry sees potential. It is pushing for 4.5 billion yen ($44 million) to be included in the budget to subsidize development of high-end 3D printers. Tomoko Mitani, principal analyst at technology research firm Gartner, doubts the sector will spawn another Sony-like company but as the technology improves, it should make it cheaper for Japanese manufacturers to develop specialized goods.
The technology is likely to spread to medical devices, non-manufacturers and lead to the creation of new companies and services, which will benefit the economy, she said. "Companies are providing 3D printing services over the Internet, which could allow some manufacturers to order goods and have an interesting economic impact," Mitani said.
"The real value is this can inspire people and lead to new ventures in the future," said Sakaguchi, chief executive of Open Cube Inc, which makes personal 3D printers that melt plastic thread and deposit the resin to form an object.
Sakaguchi, 39, who works from a small office in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, said one of the main obstacles for entrepreneurs is a culture that favors getting a secure job at a big Japanese company, many of which do not tend to reward creativity. New ventures have also found it difficult to get bank loans, navigate the application process for government subsidies and even rent office space. Only a very small number of companies, such as on-line retailer Rakuten, emerged successfully from Japan's last wave of technology entrepreneurs.
Most other firms faded away, which has discouraged other start-ups, Sakaguchi said. If Japan's nascent 3D printer industry can produce some success stories, the field could really take off, he argued. Internationally, the 3D printer market is already dominated by the United States and Germany, with 75 percent and 15 percent market share, respectively. Japan's share is just 0.3 percent.
Gartner's Mitani is skeptical, partly because products made by personal 3D printers that use plastics are still somewhat crude, especially when compared to a high-end printer that can fuse metals and ceramic powder. That may be the case, but first the government needs to create an economy where entrepreneurs can flourish, said Mariko Obayashi, 50, who runs a 3D printer business.
"Japan needs a more fluid labor market, where people can quit a major company, start their own and get re-hired somewhere else if they fail," Obayashi, who spent 26 years at camera-and-printer-maker Canon Inc before starting her 3D printer business Smilelink last year. "A lot of Japanese people think entrepreneurs are strange, but they are good for the economy."