See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Coworking Spaces and Nomad Workers in Japan

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) by popular writer Toshinao Sasaki 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, the conversation around alternative methods of working naturally accelerated, from daylight savings time to a renewed interest in freelancing. Coworking was among these.

Journalist/consultant Ken Kato defines it this way:

コワーキング(Coworking)とは一言でいえば、アイディアや情報・ファシリティ・スキルなどをシェアすることにより、オフィス環境を共有する相乗効果を生み出そうとする新しい働き方です。既存のレンタルオフィスのような時間貸しのスペースとは異なり、会議室やイベントスペース等を兼ね備えたオープンな空間になっているのも特徴で、単なる空間ではなく、コミュニティ・スペースであると言えるでしょう。

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 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 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 his impression:

今日オープニングレセプションがあった原宿のコワーキングスペース「ターミナル」は物凄い人で注目の高まりを伺えた。本当にノマドやワークスペースに大きな関心が寄せられていることを日に日に感じる。場所に縛られず仕事をしたり、人と交流する事に人々がどんどん意識的になっている時代。

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 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 covering their announcement, tech writer Masaru Ikeda provides a map of 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 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 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‘s tweet:

マクドナルド六本木ヒルズ店1階はノマドワーカーの超穴場。ボソッ

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, co-ba recently raised funds to start their space, while Jelly Jelly Cafe procured decent chairs with a project [ja] called “Save Our Ass”.

p_co-ba2 from campfirejp on Vimeo.

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

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 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, 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 his reasons –

・情報の最先端は東京にあるし、規模が大きい
・ITやWEBの知識がこれからは必ず必須になる
・競合から奪うのではなく、新規事業や新規業界を創る事が大切
・デザイナーやWEB業界などとコラボレーションは重要

- 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 on the idea:

何気なく自分の求めているゆるい人との繋がりを産み出してくれるのがコワーキングスペースなのかなと思っています。リアル版のゆるい繋がりをうむSNS的なイメージです。
そこにはその場所のマスター的なカタリスト(触媒)の人がいて、最初はいろいろ場所を形成してくれています。なので、初めて参加しても、何となくみんなが受け入れてくれるような場所の雰囲気が出来上がっています。
そして何回か行くうちにそこにいる人みんながそれぞれ触媒になっていく感じを最近感じています。

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, 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.
  • Pingback: Apollo » Blog Archive » Ne Kitajska, učinkovitost ubija službe

  • http://www.CoworkingGuide.com Genevieve DeGuzman

    It’s great to hear about coworking expanding in Japan! In a way it reminds me of PechaKucha…

    The great thing about coworking is that it allows freelancers, entrepreneurs, creative thinkers to network with others in an environment that supports community and collaboration. It’s better than work at home staring at the walls or in a coffee shop where no one really talks to each other, or even in a more conventional office where people are stuck behind their cubicle walls. In a coworking space, there are more opportunities to flourish, to take that creative idea and make it really innovative by discussing it with others, and even eventually teaming up on group projects…

    In an interview with Wired magazine, Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Coworking helps you make those connections…

    For those still curious about coworking, I recommend checking out “Deskmag’s Five Must-Read Books About Coworking” (http://www.deskmag.com/en/five-must-read-books-about-coworking-161). You can also read about coworking on Deskmag.com and Shareable.net.

    – Genevieve
    co-author, Working in the UnOffice (free preview at http://www.CoworkingGuide.com).

  • Pingback: Post to My Blog 10/26/2011 « chrisvermeulen

  • Misaki K. H.

    I really enjoyed the post, congratulations!
    My name is Misaki, I am of Japanese descent and enjoyed knowing that coworking spaces are growing in Japan, and Brazil, where I live today.
    For those who are coming to Brazil, I’ll take the hint of a coworking space so cool: Clubwork. The price is great and without bureaucracy.
    Their website is http://www.clubwork.com.br

  • elchapugabriel

    Great article! I wanted to introduce me to coworking in Japan, as we’re going on november this 2013 and wish to know the places there, for inspiration and networking for our own coworking space at Argentina, NOVA (https://www.facebook.com/Oficinas.NOVA). More days we’re at Tokyo, also some days at Kyoto, I would wish to know places and be able to cowork there when we´re in the city.

  • Pingback: Ko su coworkeri? | In Centar

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site