Japan Inc moves into unusual workspaces

The Japanese salaryman is never short of a place to work in, whether it is inside camping tents on a lawn (above) outside a Tokyo office building or, in the case of NTT Communications staff Hideyuki Aoki, in a rented soundproof room at a karaoke outl
The Japanese salaryman is never short of a place to work in, whether it is inside camping tents on a lawn outside a Tokyo office building or, in the case of NTT Communications staff Hideyuki Aoki, in a rented soundproof room at a karaoke outlet in Tokyo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The Japanese salaryman is never short of a place to work in, whether it is inside camping tents on a lawn (above) outside a Tokyo office building or, in the case of NTT Communications staff Hideyuki Aoki, in a rented soundproof room at a karaoke outl
The Japanese salaryman is never short of a place to work in, whether it is inside camping tents on a lawn (above) outside a Tokyo office building or, in the case of NTT Communications staff Hideyuki Aoki, in a rented soundproof room at a karaoke outlet in Tokyo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • From tiny one-person cubicles in underground stations to camping tents under 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 companies try to move from chaining their employees to their desks towards offering staff 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 business people 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 suburbs and are proving a hit with companies keen to get staff out of the stuffy office.

Mr 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, Mr 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."

 
 
 

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 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 (S$7.40) an hour, users can display images directly from their laptop computers onto the big screen on the wall usually used by karaoke singers for lyrics. Shy public speakers can also practise business presentations using the karaoke microphone and a white board - all in a soundproof room.

Mr 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," he said.

Also catering for 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 a chair as well as a computer display and wifi, and can be reserved online for 200 yen per 15 minutes.

Offering different places for both independent contractors and employees to work in is "a trend of the times", said Mr Kentaro Arita, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute. "The working environment will increasingly change as working practices evolve," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline 'Japan Inc moves into unusual workspaces'. Print Edition | Subscribe