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Before heading to South East Asia, I had been living in Japan for more than 4 years. I got to explore the coworking scene there and even talk with the pioneers of the movement in Tokyo, like Kyo Satani.
Kyo opened the first coworking space in Tokyo, the second in Japan. As one of the true pioneers of the movement in Asia, he has been traveling to spread the word and animating local communities. He also wrote and published books about it, like Coworking: Working as Partying.
Pax, his coworking space is a wooden open space, located on the upper floor of a three storey building in the Kyodo neighborhood.
It is early in the morning and the street after the salarymen rush hour is quiet. The members have not arrived yet. There are around 20 of them, on a monthly plan. Now the business is good, but it has not always been easy when it started.
It was back in 2010 and Kyo remembers it vividly.
“I’m running the restaurant downstairs and of course we serve food. We serve パクチー food. パクチー (pa-ku-chi, read paxi) means coriander. Coriander food. But we not only serve food, we also provide friendship and communication.
I mean, my background… I traveled more than 50 countries. I understand the atmosphere of a guest house. Travelers travel just one by one, and at the guest house naturally, they start talking. It’s like coworking. They start discussing and sometimes they make a friendship and sometimes they make their own business together.”
Kyo’s restaurant was founded almost 9 years ago. It was his first attempt to tackle a social problem in Japan.
“The problem of contemporary Japanese society is the lack of communication. There are many people, especially in Tokyo. Since you came here, maybe you met more than 10,000 people but you won’t talk to them.
We meet so many people but there aren’t many opportunities of communication. But a guest house is a very nice place to talk. It’s easy to talk to others. And I thought that we need that kind of communication more.
That’s why I started the restaurant. It’s easy. Everybody, everyday, eats and drinks and I just added the communication aspect to the restaurant.”
Going further into communication, the idea of coworking space arose years later.
“The restaurant was going well, lots of friendly people coming. And they started making friends and some of them started working together and made their own company together and I was thinking about working.”
Before embarking on the entrepreneurial adventure, Kyo had been a salaryman in a Japanese megacorp and also an innovator in a startup.
“Working alone, in general, is not very hopeful. For most people, working is boring. They don’t want to work. But after working in a big sugar company in a similar situation for ten years, I understood that. We should enjoy working.
Actually, I’m a restaurant owner, so, even when I drink, I’m working. When I talk with my guests I can get many ideas. So, those ideas teach me about working.
And people eat for two hours, three hours in a day but they work for ten hours a day. The working part should be improved. So, I just created the office upstairs and the concept is absolutely the same.”
I basically learned how to speak Japanese in restaurants myself because it’s a limited vocabulary, the structure of the conversations is basically the same all the time and you can split and process the sentences and words with little variation. It’s a good environment to practise and I went there a lot.
And from my time there I have observed that Japanese workers eat fast, really fast.
“When I was working in the big company, my lunch time was 10 minutes including the time to order. But I didn’t like it. Now, our restaurant opens only at night.
I have tried the lunch time. We served curry rice, rice and curry. We recommend our guests to eat with their hands, India style. If people eat with their hands, they eat very slowly.”
But along with developing his philosophy about restaurant, working and coworking, Kyo has been building his community from the ground up.
Being a pioneer in Japan, he recalls his research time.
“Actually, before opening, I had never visited any coworking space. I just got the information on the coworking Google group. I just discussed and got a hint.
Over the past 5 years, since 2010, the coworking group community has very much been improving. There was no coworking before that. People started exchanging ideas much more. Coworking was born five years ago for me, in a mailing list. It’s very recent.
Once, I found on a website the guy who was going to establish a coworking space in Kobe, the first coworking space in Japan. I just made a phone call to him and talked maybe two hours about coworking.
I studied about coworking for three months in this mailing list and discussions on the Internet and the following July, I opened this coworking space.
But I quickly found out that nobody knew about it so…
And I started thinking about how to spread the concept of coworking. I think that for the first two weeks I was really alone here. No music, maybe only this furniture.”
And there was a hint of the key ingredient for a coworking space success, long before I got the confirmation from all these places spread around Asia. It all depends on the communities and the events organized to keep it alive.
“After two weeks I hit upon the idea of having Jelly. I knew that Jelly is a first concept and coworking is about the place. I’ve studied. But I’ve never heard about Jelly so I decided to do Jelly here. And I think that that was the first Jelly in Japan. I talked to so many guests in the restaurant about what Jellies are about.
And I didn’t know how to enjoy the Jellies but in the first Jelly I shared a lot and I met people I can talk to and exchange ideas. After that, I had Jellies maybe twice or three times a month. We often do presentation, writing, talk, discussion and work. And try to talk about coworking, how the coworking is. And it took about six months to get a new member.
I thought I could create a community after making the coworking space but it takes time. On the contrary, I’ve visited a coworking space in Paris, La Mutinerie. They had started to talk about it one and a half year before opening the coworking space and the moment they opened the coworking space, they had already 40 members.”
Kyo has also created a friendly culture around his coworking space. Newcomers are taught naturally the rules, which could be common sense but are carefully enforced by a cheerful crowd.
“Three important things: greeting first, install them then drink… I’m the owner, owners should do that but it is not enough. Also, the other guests should do that, they should also do the greeting. It’s part of the culture and the place.
As a community member they voluntarily do that. And, if the working space is very silent all the time, it’s a very boring coworking space. Of course, each of us has to do our own job but, sometimes, we need to relax. Coffee break, tea time…
But actually, we have very few rules.
For example, if a newcomer comes in everybody says おはよう - ohayo. They learn, this is how you do. The next time he will do that, that’s like a culture.”
I got curious about what people were talking about in the coworking space.
“For example, Japanese people like business cards. Business cards say:”I’m working and actually earning by this” or something like that.
But everybody has a background. We have family, children, we like traveling, music or something like that. But this is not written on a business card.
When we are at coworking spaces, we talk, then we go to lunch. And at lunch we don’t give any business cards, we just talk about everything. About that it’s Friday, about how was your weekend, Oh, I go somewhere with my wife!
So, people are not earning from what they want, they just have to work. But most people have things they want to do but they don’t.
At a coworking space, we can share the ideas which are not written on a business card. Sometimes we start discussions about our interests. For example, I’m thinking about education by traveling. I go to many places with my children. So, we’re having the discussion on education while traveling.”
As one can guess, Kyo is not a typical Japanese person, as he spends lots of time traveling.
“I started traveling by myself when I was in the University. I traveled 20 countries in the University days. And, like most people, I thought I had to quit traveling because I had to work. Every Japanese believe they have to quit after graduation.
Some people keep doing it but they will quit some time when they get married or when they have kids. For many Japanese people, graduation, marriage and childbirth are a reason to quit something. But, I met so many travelers, especially European travelers who started after graduation, marriage or having children. It’s quite different. I loved traveling so I’ll never quit traveling. I had to do that. So, when I got married, I started traveling with my wife and, after I got kids, I started traveling with my kids as well.”
Family is really important for Kyo and kids are welcome in Pax, but there is no kid corner.
“No, no kids’ corner. We never divide the space. If kids come, it’s all right, kids can come everywhere. Actually, members know each other, about their situations, so if some guy is too busy, we don’t talk to him. And, if kids come, everybody respect it.“
Coworking space business is expanding at an impressive speed in Japan. In less than 5 years, more than 150 places opened in Tokyo only.
“In the beginning members would come from all Tokyo area. But now they live around. There are lots of new convenient places in Tokyo
Actually, also in Japan there are big coworking spaces, they are starting. It’s good but it’s not a great deal. For me, it’s just boring. Because, ok, it’s a beautiful place, it’s very big but it’s like if you talk to somebody in front of the station, you’ll be talking to a stranger. It’s just a space. I don’t like it. I want to spread the concept of coworking.
Every company and every restaurant can do that if they try. But they don’t know the concept. So, I want to spread it.
Unfortunately, sometimes coworking pioneer stop their coworking space, like in Newark city, last June (2015).
The office work is changing and not so many people want the community, they just need a beautiful place so they stay. But it’s boring. I think they are going to start a different movement of coworking. I don’t know, maybe coworking will be the next step.”
Indeed big corporation are making a move toward coworking in Japan.
I know, I went to interview two managers of the two most important office sharing companies offering new coworking services.
But that will be for another time.
Hubud is located in Ubud, in the middle of the island of Bali, Indonesia.
Hubud is the coworking space you could see in school books, if there were school books about coworking. Many people have already been writing about Hubud, and it pops up quite often when you follow travelers. This is why I wanted to talk to the people taking care of the place myself.
Its community is vibrant, the place looks fantastic, it is ideally located on a paradisiac island with a really nice sun and its business is good.
Sisie has been community manager at Hubud for two years.
Before that, she had been living abroad for a couple of years in Vietnam as a journalist and writer and she was looking for an excuse to come back to Indonesia when a friend invited her to join “A Shifting experience in Bali to gather people, connect and collaborate”. This friend is Daniel Ziv, a documentary filmmaker, and a founding member of Hubud. He also told her she would be the face of this revolution in Bali. And there she joined.
“It is very fascinating”, Sisie says, “we have seen so many changes happening in two years. Some people are freelancers, others are entrepreneurs and all they want is to work in a place where they can be productive but also be social, meet other people, and you cannot do that at home.
Because at home, you have lots of distraction and you get lonely sometimes. If you go work at a coffee shop, there are so many people changing every day and you cannot find a community. Coworking space is there to solve that kind of problem.”
The coworking space is a two-story building with strong wood furniture and classic office equipment. The ground floor is divided into one big open space with air conditioning for members and an outside coffee shop for people choosing a more temporary solution. The top floor is another space for members, with meeting rooms and soundproof booths to give phone calls without disturbing. The Internet network is backed up by two providers to be able to handle failures. People without shoes working there seem like a group of friends working on exciting projects at home.
But having a great installation in the middle of wonderland is not enough, real quick the Big Question arose and as Sisie puts it really simply: “People come to the coworking space, bring their laptop, they work, but then, how we build the community?”
Hubud founders and staff found out, after trying out different methods, that their success would be built through regular events. There are more than 30 events organized in Hubud each month, with various topics and concepts: brainstorming sessions, skill-sharing talks, unconference, networking events and even Yoga classes. Hubud members come and connect naturally and everybody is free to suggest and organize a talk.
Let’s say that you are an UX designer, you can host a skill-sharing talk for one hour, you share your experience, ideas. After that, people know what you are doing and the next time you meet it’s a great conversation starter!
During brainstorming sessions, our members can come with their ideas and ask for feedback and attendees would be brainstorming for one hour and help out.
We organize events very consistently and regularly and after we started to do that, everything started to roll. People keep coming back.
It seems to be all about making it easier for people to break the ice, communicate and share.
If you are working in a place like Hubud, a rule of thumb is that you have to be open to share, because it’s a coworking space, right? Sharing your skills and experience in hosted events or just when people ask you questions.
Generally, the more you share, the more you will get.
One could think the community only lasts as long as the visa validity in Indonesia; for instance, people would be members for two months then go back to their home country. But whenever they come back to Bali they always come back to Hubud, “it’s a community really”, Sisie adds with a smile. The staff does surveys regularly and Hubud has different membership options, which give member flexible hours package to use in a month. Members generally stay for one or two months, some more than three.
And, yes, it is very easy to go back to Bali and Ubud, once you have experienced the mass-tourism places to avoid. The living there is really easy, good organic food is everywhere.
It’s easy to get healthy in Ubud and people like to have this quality of life. Ubud itself has also its strong community and it’s a very unique place to be. And it doesn’t hurt also, because it’s beautiful.
And the place is truly beautiful. On a workday like any other in Hubud, you would start your morning, while having a walk through the monkey forest just across the street. It would be quiet and you would see the sun rays through the leaves and monkeys jumping from tree to tree, “it’s a good start for a working day, very inspirational”. You can be in the office in 5 to 10 minutes.
If it is a Wednesday, you could have free yoga classes with a fresh coconut juice. “You already are in a good mindset I guess, and you can be very productive.”
Lots of people do their meetings in the garden, “in the sun, it’s very comfy.”
It is the very opposite to working in a corporate office. So many different things could happen, and interactions. People feel free and are drawn to be in a place like this because of the freedom.
On the downside, if you come in August and September, with the tourists, the situation can be not as ideal as planned. There are crowds everywhere and prices get higher.
We get also really packed in Hubud for the European winter because people come here. There is almost no tourist though because it’s off season, so the rent is cheaper. December to March is the good time, although it’s a bit rainy, but it’s still nice.
There are more coworking spaces opening in Bali right now. Sisie doesn’t really see them as competition because she thinks that the more people know about coworking space, the better. Everybody is contributing to the ecosystem. The shared goal as she sees it is to raise awareness about coworking space and the coworking revolution among the population. She wants people to think of coworking as an alternative and a valid option to shift the work paradigm.
“Coworking is changing the way people work, it’s also changing the way people think. […] How companies are hiring, the way people see the work-life balance. ”
Hubud has several ongoing projects with other coworking spaces, innovation spaces and even governments.
In January 2015, they hosted the first coworking unconference in Asia. More than 135 coworkers, coworking space owners, founders came from all around Asia (Singapore, Japan, Thailand, South Korea…) at Hubud to share ideas about coworking. Everybody agreed to say that the ecosystem is growing and the way of working is really changing.
They also have a partnership with the Jeju island in South Korea. The government is actively looking to support the coworking ecosystem, because they see a great benefit in it. If lots of independant workers are coming to their island, not only tourists, they stay longer than one week, they use the infrastructures, they exchange knowledge with locals. Everybody wins.
Jeju island representatives came themselves to Hubud to have meetings with the staff, and they really want Hubud to help building the ecosystem over there.
The obvious success of Hubud on an international level could be explained by their will to reach out for existing foreign communities from the start. When they opened Hubud, there were other coworking spaces to help them.
Hub Singapore, they are doing really really good things there, it’s beyond space. Because to me, space is just the hardware. It’s about what you do with it, how you build towards community, how you connect all these people, and Hub Singapore and Grace Sai, the founder, have been helping immensely. And there is also Hubba, in Thailand, they are really interesting people. Hub Australia were also helping us.
And now they are giving their best to help other spaces in return.
We had quite a lot of spaces coming at us to start the conversation, ask about tips, how we do this, how we build the community, and our general idea about this is, yes, please come in, visit us, we’ll chat!
This article is part of a series of adventures written for Coworking.Coffee relating to a coworking tour around Asia in 2015.
Exciting news everyone!
From October 2015, Fabien, CEO of CoWorking.coffee, is embarking to a coworking tour in Asia and Europe with his backpack and laptop.
He will be talking to coworking space community managers and people working in coworking spaces, as well as developing business in Asia.
If you’d like to meet Fabien during his trip, please feel free to join him at one of the location listed below if you’re around at the same time:
September 21 - October 4: Tokyo and Japan
October 5 - 10: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Coming soon and subject of change:
October 10 - 27: Bali, Indonesia
October 28 - November 5: Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
November 6 - November 14: Bangkok, Thailand
November 14 - November 21: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
November 21 - November 28: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
November 28 - December 10: Nepal/Burma ?
Not Asia, but still going to coworking spaces:
December 11 - December 20: Paris, France
December 20 - December 30: Lisboa, Portugal
December 31 - January 10: Edimburg, Scotland
Meet you on the way?
And we even have written a newsletter about it. And forgot to update the blog.
Here is the newsletter in case you missed it: http://eepurl.com/bfI1u1
The beta test went nice and we are growing quite regularly since. The goal is to reach 300 places all around the world and having a nice base of community before crazy about communication. Which according to the prevision (yes, we have statistics and KPIs!) should be in the end of April. Wohooo!
Thanks for your support!
After three months of intense work*, we are finally ready for the beta test.
We are counting on you to give us your honest feeling about this website:
There is not so much data in there yet, so it would be great if you could also pin your favorite coffee shops to work.
Looking forward to be heavily criticized,
* : a lot more in fact, but we will come back on this later.