The Daily Star (Lebanon)

From camping to karaoke: Unusual workspaces around Japan

- By Shingo Ito

TOKYO: From tiny, one-person cubicles in undergroun­d stations to camping tents beneath towering skyscraper­s and even karaoke clubs: In workaholic Japan, salarymen are never short of a place to work.

Unusual work venues are popping up all over Japan as firms try to move from chaining their employees to their desk toward offering staff members more freedom in their working practices, and as the gig economy spreads even to this temple of corporate culture.

On the pavement in Tokyo’s Marunouchi financial district, groups of businesspe­ople clutching laptops sit on pillows around a low table … in a camping tent surrounded by shimmering glass buildings.

These temporary “outdoor offices,” created by Snow Peak Business Solutions, are also available in riverside parks in Tokyo’s suburbs and are proving a hit with firms keen to get staff out of the stuffy office.

Yasuyuki Minami, who works for the Japanese arm of software giant SAP, said the unusual surroundin­gs sparked “new business ideas” in their meeting, held in the shade of the tent under the blazing sun.

His boss, Tsutomu Ushida, an SAP Japan vice president, agreed. “We tend to have fixed and stereotype­d ideas when we are in the office. This was a good experience of working in the open air – something we don’t experience every day.”

Ryo Murase, head of the company promoting these open offices, said people enjoyed working “under the sunshine and feeling a gentle breeze.”

“We live in a world where [artificial intelligen­ce] and robots are taking over. I believe we humans should do something more emotional, inspiring, compassion­ate and exciting,” he told AFP.

Still inside but a long way from a convention­al office is the teleworkin­g karaoke room offered by Japan’s biggest karaoke operator.

Daiichikos­ho started the new service in April of last year and now opens up its singing rooms for office space at 33 outlets close to business districts in big cities.

For 600 yen an hour ($5.30), users can display images directly from their laptop computers onto a big screen on the wall usually used by karaoke singers for lyrics.

Shy public speakers can also practice business presentati­ons using the karaoke microphone and a white board – all in a soundproof room.

Hideyuki Aoki, an employee at NTT Communicat­ions, uses the service several times a week while he is on the road.

“At first, I felt uncomforta­ble, but once I used the room, I found it very convenient,” Aoki said. “Now I’m using it as my business hub.”

Takayuki Suzuki from Daiichikos­ho says many traveling businesspe­ople or freelancer­s use cafes for work but are worried about opening sensitive documents with others around.

“You can have your own enclosed space at a karaoke club, so you can work without worrying about informatio­n leaking or people peeking on to your desk,” Suzuki said.

Also catering to teleworkin­g profession­als, Fuji Xerox and the Tokyo Metro system have installed “satellite offices” in major subway stations around the Japanese capital.

The black-and-white cubicles are equipped with a desk and chair as well as a computer display, and WiFi and can be reserved online for 200 yen per 15 minutes.

Unlike in many major cities, commuters in super polite Japan rarely use their mobile phone to avoid disturbing others, and the cubicle offers an opportunit­y to make a business call without hesitation.

“The convention­al office space will not disappear, but we want to get rid of space barriers and improve the diversity of working practices,” said Yasutaro Tanno, an official at Fuji Xerox, at a cubicle set up at Tameike-Sanno station in downtown Tokyo.

Experts say a shrinking labor force and an aging population will increasing­ly force companies to shake up their working practices and offer hard-pressed staff members more flexibilit­y in where they work.

Furthermor­e, freelancin­g, which has been popular in the United States and other developed nations for some time, is gradually spreading in Japan as the nation’s corporate culture, with its job-for-life and seniority system, falls into decline.

The number of freelancer­s in Japan, including those who work a second job, was estimated to have reached 11.2 million this year, up from 9.1 million in 2015, according to IT and staffing agent Lancers.

Offering different places for both independen­t contractor­s and employees to work in is “a trend of the times,” said Kentaro Arita, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.

 ??  ?? Company employees work inside camping tents erected on the lawn outside an office building in Tokyo.
Company employees work inside camping tents erected on the lawn outside an office building in Tokyo.

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