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Coworking Spaces and Nomad Workers in Japan

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Arts & Culture, Ideas, Labor

Coworking is a growing worldwide movement, and Japan is no exception. Although known for its culture of long working hours and office-bound work style — traditions ingrained into the psyche of the salaried worker — the shift to coworking is not perhaps as surprising as it may seem.

The phase “nomad worker” hit mainstream consciousness with the publication of “You don’t need an office to work – The Nomad Workstyle” (仕事するのにオフィスはいらない – ノマドワーキングのすすめ [1]) by popular writer Toshinao Sasaki [2] in July, 2009. The conversation was taken to the next level by the earthquake on March 11th and the events that followed. With Tokyo facing several weeks of severely disrupted work and months of reduced electricity usage [3], the conversation around alternative methods of working naturally accelerated, from daylight savings time [4] to a renewed interest in freelancing. Coworking was among these.

Journalist/consultant Ken Kato defines [5] it this way:


In a nutshell, coworking is a new style of working that aims to generate a synergetic effect through the exchange of ideas, information, facilities, and skills in a shared working environment. Coworking offices, many of which have meeting rooms and event spaces, offer an inherent openness that make them different from existing pay-by-the-hour spaces such as rental offices. They're not just a venue but a community space.

Here is a shortlist map of coworking spaces in Japan. The green pins stand for spaces that allow both membership and drop ins, light blue is for shared offices (membership only), yellow is for cafe spaces (drop in only), pink is for corporate spaces (drop in only), and blue is for those that are not categorized.

View Coworking / Jelly! Map [6] in a larger map

New coworking spaces are popping up like crazy, mostly in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe. One such example is “The Terminal” in Harajuku, Tokyo. Blogger Ayako documents [7] her visit on its opening day this past August with a photo report.


Terminal, photo by Ayako on the Tokyo Nomad Work blog

Tomohiko Yoneda tweeted [8] his impression:


The incredible buzz around the opening reception for Terminal is indicative of great interest in the new coworking space. I truly feel that the interest in nomad workers and workstyles is growing day by day. We're living in an age where we are consciously working through interactions with other people, and without being tied down to a physical location!

Tony Bacigalupo, the co-founder of New Work, visited no less than four coworking spaces in Tokyo on a recent trip. He comments [9] about Paxi House, which is partly a restaurant specializing in coriander.

Seeing Paxi House combine restaurant and coworking space was an eye opening experience. To succeed and compete with their franchise chain counterparts, small cafes and restaurants must develop a strong following and a healthy community around their spaces. […] Coworking space owners would do well to pay close attention to how these existing business owners find success, not to mention how they cope with their small scale. Paxi House takes this analogy to the extreme by actually being both a small restaurant and coworking space. I would love to see more places like this popping up and succeeding.

Startup incubator Samurai Incubate just announced that it will open a coworking space for its startups, making it one of the country’s largest facilities of its kind. In an article [10] covering their announcement, tech writer Masaru Ikeda provides a map of [11] other startup-related facilities, saying:

In Tokyo, we now have quite a few incubator-supporting co-working spaces and incubation offices here in Tokyo.

Real estate developer Mori Building has also been in the game for a while, with a membership program for a shared library and coworking space in the skyscrapers of Roppongi Hills. Again, Tony Bacigalupo:

They are the boldest attempt I’ve seen at merging library with coworking. And the location we visited is perched on the 49th floor of a big office tower. And they’re huge.

Existing cafes and restaurants have also started to cater to this segment. @elm200 tweets [12] about a branch of the 45+y.o. mega-chain Renoir Cafe, which offers free wifi and power chargers to customers.

うーむ渋谷桜丘のルノアールの癖に客が多い…つかルノアールって数年前よりずっと流行っている気がするのよね。内装もきれいにしたし、ノマドワーカーを始め、PC を使うビジネス客をうまくつかまえている気がするね。

Hmmm, the Sakuragaoka branch in Shibuya is really crowded, even though it's a Renoir cafe…!? Now that I think about it, Renoir is much trendier than it used to be. The interior decoration has improved and it feels like they've succeed in getting the patronage of business people using laptops, starting with nomad workers.

Because of the nature of the open communication, there is a lot of information online about it. The Facebook group [13] sees active exchange of information about different spaces and events. People are constantly sharing their discoveries on nomad working, as can be seen by @TakuyaKawai [14]‘s tweet:


Hey, the McDonalds on the first floor of Roppongi Hills towers is an untapped haven for nomad workers.

The affinity with the Internet doesn't end with sharing information. On the Japanese crowdfunding platform Campfire [15], co-ba [16] recently raised funds to start their space, while Jelly Jelly Cafe procured decent chairs with a project [17] [ja] called “Save Our Ass”.

p_co-ba2 [18] from campfirejp [19] on Vimeo [20].

The relaunch of the mutli-social media client Crowy was a direct fruit of connections and collaborations [21]:

Today's big refresh happened because of a fortunate encounter this August. Another developer, Yuya Yoshida met designer Yutaka Fujiki at Open Source Cafe Shimokitazawa [22] and became connected. They started collaborating on Crowy together from August, also involving other coworking place participants as beta testers and source of feedback.

Kenji904 recently set up shop in PAX Coworking [23], the space adjunct to Paxi House. While coworking spaces are normally associated with freelancers, he opened a Tokyo sales office for his Aichi Prefecture based company that offers printing services for cloth material.

He explains [24] his reasons –


– The speed and quality of information in Tokyo is the best, and the scale is incomparable
– Knowledge about information technology and the web is becoming indispensable
– It's important to focus on creating new businesses instead of fighting with competitors
– It's important to collaborate with designers and the web industry

– and his take [25] on the idea:


Coworking spaces enable the casual relationships that we are unconsciously searching for. I think of it as the real world version of social network services.
In each coworking space is the space catalyst [26], who is like the head bartender. S/he shapes the culture of the space in the early stages, leading to a welcoming atmosphere for all newbies. By the time you've gone there a few times, everyone evolves into a catalyst in their own right.