Three very different collaborative spaces in Tokyo

It feels like there’s a new co-working space opening up in Tokyo every week! It’s quite an exciting trend and even though I didn’t purposely seek it out, I happened to visit three collaborative spaces, all in the space of a week.

  • Terminal
  • Tokyo Hacker Space
  • co-lab Nishiazabu


Terminal in Harajuku is the new, cool kid on the block. It’s basically a very nice 24hr Internet cafe with no stalls, with the same type of loose membership system that requires a physical card. You can get wifi, comfortable seats, free refills for great coffee and soft drinks, electricity outlets at every table, and hot paninis (600JPY).


Its launch was brilliantly executed:

  • a teaser site that got a lot of Twitter love from the Tokyo creative community
  • a great opening party
  • masterful copywriting that piggybacks on the nomad working boom
  • pre-mentions and reviews on the right sites

There’s an event space on the first floor. It just was a stripped down, skeleton space when I was there, but I can imagine some exciting events being held there.

Tokyo Hacker Space

I’ve been curious about this space ever since hearing about it at Bar Camp last year. Paul and I hopped over to join the weekly Open Meeting.

Interestingly enough, it’s a “real” house in a quiet, residential neighborhood. There was no signage and we spent a good five minutes peering into houses and glaring at Google Maps.

Tokyo Hacker Space
Tokyo Hacker Space

I say this with the upmost respect – this was the geekiest place I’ve ever been in! It’s a fabulous example of community building; a dynamic atmosphere that’s filled with mutual respect and joy in helping to bring each other’s projects to life.

The focus of the Space fluxes depending on its residents. Currently, there’s a strong hardware focus because Safecast is camped out there, building radiation sensors for deployment around Fukushima prefecture.

co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab Nishi Azabu
co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab is a series of collaborative spaces around Tokyo. It’s probably the largest and most established of creative, co-working spaces in Tokyo, and one that’s dear to my heart since Tokyo Art Beat used to be headquartered at the Sanbancho office for a few years.

Purely by chance, the Nishi Azabu building is a 60 second walk from the current AQ/TAB office.

The Nishi Azabu space also hosts furniture giant Kokuyo‘s incubation center for their inhouse designers, called “KREI open source studio”. This brings a much stronger corporate flavor to the space, although there doesn’t seem to be a natural mixing of the KREI people and co-lab residents.

The underground salon area, which is where the non-permanent residents can work, turns into a wonderful event space. We dropped by a talk event organized by the ticketing service Peatix, in co-lab’s underground event space.

Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu
Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu

A small hack for a rainy day, delivered to our doorstep

The office doorbell rang in the middle of a typhoon. It was the delivery man. High humidity had melted the small bit of adhesive on the delivery slip, making it stick completely to the box. The slip started tearing when the delivery man tried to peel it off with his fingernail. He asked for a box cutter, which I brought out from the cupboard.

Getting down on his knees, the man carefully cut out a rectangle around the slip, taking with it the top most layer of the cardboard box.

When I marveled at his ingenuity, he replied “Actually, another customer just showed me how to do this!”. I signed his slip and he went on his merry way.

People on the ground, day in and day out,
will incrementally build up smart workarounds.

Guessing from the way he used his scanner, this man was probably new to the job. He was doing things by the book, checking and double checking that each step was right.

Will a service provider improve a small inconvenience such as this one? Maybe, maybe not. I bet this man will start carrying around a box cutter, though. Maybe just on rainy days.

Chugging out of the harbor, smooth sailing ahead

“On⇔Offline in Tokyo” is the best experience that I’ve had with a new blog, a re-design or a re-boot.

Note: A re-boot is when you let your blog gather dust and then start by apologizing to the non-existent audience that you’re back.

I’d gone back and forth on whether to go with yet another installation of WordPress or taking the opportunity to learn another CMS. During this dithering, I was opening up iAWriter on my laptop during the commute and just typing, typing, typing. This happened half a dozen times in the last two weeks.

With a few hours before going to bed yesterday, I decided to take the plunge because my draft documents were piling up. I didn’t want anything to clog the writing that was happening naturally!

And you know what? The out-of-the-box experience of WordPress 3.2 with Twenty Eleven was so good that I spent five minutes installing WordPress and… went back to blogging.

Note: When I first installed WordPress way back in the day, I spent countless weekend installing and hacking at plugins and themes. While definitely fun and very educational, it took 6 months to start writing.

These were my somewhat arbitrary requirements, which WordPress brilliantly fulfilled.

  1. multiple formats for single blog entries
  2. big header images customizable per single blog entry
  3. pull quote styles
  4. adaptive to mobile devices screen sizes

My advice for a smooth start? Write 3 articles in your text editor that you’re happy with, before setting up your blog system. Content first.