While sitting around with some friends in Hong Kong over a few drinks, we were surprised that we had very few connections into Tokyo’s startup scene. Wanting to learn more, starting with coworking spaces, I sent some introduction e-mails out, and found many were receptive to an interview. From my visits, I found many organizations were creating some very unique spaces suited for many different types of entrepreneurs.
Coworking spaces were a rarity in Japan as recently as just three years ago (2012). Today, the people I spoke with put the estimate at almost 300 (!) spaces in Tokyo alone. What’s even more surprising is that the majority of the occupants are Japanese, unlike Hong Kong, where most companies start as ideas and people from abroad. The spaces I’ve chosen to write about are very different from each other and for those reading my blog who might want to start something in Japan, were chosen because they offer decent English capabilities, support and a unique perspective as well.
For those looking for something B2B business focused or require extra support services, I think Compass would be a great choice.
Compass Offices + Compass HABITAT
Level 2-9, MG Meguro Ekimae Building, 2-15-19 Kamiosaki, Shinagawa-ku
Compass Offices is an international, serviced office organization, with its Asia operations headquartered in Hong Kong. In Japan, they have two offices: one in Toranomon, a key and prized location for many multinational companies in Japan. Their other space, HABITAT, is located Meguro, a neighbourhood that’s more residential and light industry focused in nature. HABITAT looks and feels more the traditional coworking space found worldwide. I met the Manager there, Hiromasa, who explained that they noticed a shift in need from traditional office spaces to more collaborative spaces, which was the basis of creating HABITAT. Hiromasa also explained that being a Compass member meant more than just having a desk or office; the Japanese teams at Compass were committed to helping their members navigate the sometimes difficult waters of Visa and company incorporation paperwork, which can be quite troublesome for foreigners in Japan.
We also had a great chat about the cultural shift between the younger and older generations in Japan. Traditionally, career paths in Japan were for life, with many companies becoming as integral to your life as your family. I found this interesting since this is a stark difference from the new start up and entrepreneur style of employment, where a company change might happen every couple years. Hiromasa remarked that there was a tradition in the way career structure works in Japan that is being disrupted. He mentioned that many companies experience difficulty in finding a good fit in new hires. There is a perceived impatience and lack of career focus in the younger generation makes it sometimes difficult to create effective dialogue and between the younger and older generations. I was very appreciative that he was so candid about his view and it really made me think about the dichotomy of change and tradition happening in Japan.
2F, Mori bldg, 7-5-4, Ginza, Chuo-ku
The Snack is located in the heart of Ginza and in a very hip, alternative space, immediately recognizable by the taxidermied deer head wearing sunglasses at the front door. If that wasn’t enough proof to its hipness, there’s also a Bitcoin ATM set up inside. It was a very cozy place, complete with a cafe and dedicated barista. It felt very much like a big living room. We sat down with Shuma, Koji and Shin and chatted about The Snack. While you’d assume the space would cater to a younger demographic, I saw all types of people walk through the door during my time there. Must be the Ginza effect.
When I asked the Shuma, Koji and Shin about the type of companies or services seem to be hot in Japan’s tech right now, I was told that platforms that curate content and services are quite big right now in Japan. The Snack was buzzing with people making deals, chats over coffee, over-caffeinated coders typing furiously banging on their keyboards and the ever present whirring noise of the coffee bean grinder. It’s not the quietest place for those who need to take many meetings, but definitely a place full of energy. I’d even recommend a stop here just for the top-notch café!
1-25-18-3F Kyodo, 156-0052 Setagaya-ku
PAX coworking was a bit removed from central Tokyo – the space is located in a rural neighbourhood in Kyodo. I met Kyo Satani, the founder, who gave me an incredible story of how PAX Coworking came to be. Originally, PAX started as a restaurant concept. An avid traveller, Kyo had been travelling the world when he happened across some incredible coriander dishes in Cambodia. Coriander is not an everyday staple food in Japan. Eventually, Kyo settled down and found himself unable to travel as much as he wanted to, however he always remembered the communicative nature of travellers. He started Paxi Restaurant as a way to promote some delicious coriander dishes in Japan and found the space a place where people could open up, communicate and collaborate. After hearing that an entrepreneur pick up a successful idea from chatting up someone in his restaurant, he turned the floor above his restaurant into a coworking space, thinking it’d be a great way for entrepreneurs to communicate and collaborate on their passion projects.
Kyo believes that PAX was most likely one of the first Coworking spaces in Japan, opening in early 2010, when he couldn’t find any other spaces like it. These days, Kyo focuses on his restaurant, the coworking space and his newest venture, Cialthon, a social-based marathon where the focus is on participants discovering a city through movement. Instead of winning by time trial, winners are chosen from discovering the most interesting moments and city environments during their run.
Those looking for something quiet, are more focused on more artistic or collaborative endeavours, or enjoy a good coriander dish in Japan would find PAX Corworking great.
2-11-3, Meguro, Meguro-ku
Tokyo HUB was the coworking space I found with the most focus on actively building a global community as well as focus on providing startup and entrepreneur educational resources, especially focused on sustainability. The space felt very familiar to me and very functional, similar to the ones we have in Hong Kong. Sebastian, the Manager there, explained that The HUB started as a single, humble location in London. It’s now a global network with more than 11,000 members and 63+ locations. The office itself has great private meeting rooms, lounges, a huge event space and awesome kitchen in case you’re incredibly hardcore and just want to live in Tokyo HUB. Sebastian also mentioned Impact HUB is currently looking for a way to integrate global base membership into all its HUBs for members, allowing you to visit any HUB space through a single membership.
The day I was visiting, the HUB brought in speakers from Silicon Valley to speak about social impact investing, where the investment focus is on tackling negative social issues have just as much weight in the investment decision as ROI. It was a good example of the power of a entrepreneurial global network and their focus on sustainability that the Tokyo HUB is successfully creating.
Tokyo HUB would be a great spot for those focused on social sustainability issues or those looking to meet, interact and collaborate within a global network of entrepreneurs and startups.
A big “thanks” to everyone in Tokyo who gave me their time to check out their spaces!