After Milan, New York, London and Shanghai, we close our first series of articles focusing on the world’s big cities with a look at the new normality in Tokyo. The Japanese government is implementing policies to help people reconcile work with private life, facilitate remote working and decrease the need for travel – hence reducing traffic in the world’s most populous city, with a population of approximately 37 million. A push for change in a particularly traditional culture which nonetheless has a vocation for innovation: Japan has always led the way in information science and digitalisation. A new, smarter organisation of labour could be one of the strategic keys to guiding change.
I A city with a population of 37 million
Changing the metropolitan lifestyle is essential if we consider that by 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will live in a big city: a trend driven primarily by three countries – India, China and Nigeria – with Delhi on track to become the world’s most populous city by 2028. The record is currently held by the greater area of Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, with a population of 37 million. So say the UN World Urbanization Prospects drawn up before the pandemic.
According to John Wilmoth, director of the UN’s Population Division, progressive urbanisation could prove to be a positive factor for both the economy and quality of life. "For densely settled urban populations,” Wilmoth confirmed at the launch of the report, “services can often be provided in a more economical and less environmentally damaging way". People who live in cities "have better access to healthcare and education” than people living in rural areas. Concentration of the population in big cities can help "minimise our environmental impact on the planet", provided that city governments develop policies and practices preparing for the huge influx of people. And the pandemic has suggested a new model with a focus on proximity, minimising commuting and encouraging slower mobility.
II A shorter working week,
less traffic and remote working
The Japanese government has decided to encourage the nation’s enterprises to allow their employees to decide whether to work 4 or 5 days a week, to allow them to improve the balance between work and private life.
This new possibility has been included in the guidelines for the annual economic plan, aiming to increase productivity rates by offering employees an opportunity to upgrade their professional skills while giving them more free time to fulfil their family responsibilities and, at the same time, reducing vehicle traffic. On the basis of a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), though they work less hours on average than people in countries such as Italy, Australia and Canada, Japanese workers take less holidays during the course of the year, and the level of efficiency and flexibility of Japanese companies is much lower. The government is studying a system in which workers will be able to decide on the plan that best suits their expectations in relation to their company’s requirements.
III Smart working… is a cultural matter
In Tokyo, where workers stay in the office until late in the evening, it won’t be easy to change the routine imposed by employers. In July, finance minister Yasutoshi Nishimura asked companies to allow 70% of their employees to switch to working from home, and to encourage commuting at different times and make sure employees were not dining together in large groups. But the country continues to deal with customs that represent a barrier to new forms of organisation. For example, use of the traditional hanko, a personal seal which is required to validate various kinds of official documents, from contracts to medical prescriptions, requires employees to remain at their desks. If the bond with the office is loosened, as required by policies for preventing the spread of the pandemic, and as most workers would like – according to a survey conducted by the Japan Productivity Center, more than 60% of interviewees would prefer to continue working from home after the pandemic is over –, Japanese working culture and habits will need to change all over the country.
IV Hotels and co-working spaces,
combining work with fun
Like other countries, Japan is experimenting with new ways of working from unusual locations, and the hotel industry has been one of the first to respond to this new demand, along with co-working centres, reorganising their spaces and activities. The Prince Park Tower Tokyo offers a Family City Workation - 33 hours Stay plan for a one-night stay with a check-in time of 9 am and a check-out time of 6 pm the next day – hence the name 33 hours. Accommodations are in the Park Suite, while the Twin Deluxe room may be used as a separate office. After working hours, guests can go to the Tokyo Tower, one of the city’s best-known landmarks, while brunch is served in Prince Shiba Park, right inside the hotel. The Odakyu Hotel Century Southern Tower offers remote working access at the counter of the Southern Tower Dining hall, with one of the city’s most beautiful skyline views. Guests may book up to three hours of working time between 10 am and 4 pm, and are offered a snack made by the chef and a free drink while they work. While for the truly nomadic, .andwork offers a monthly subscription for use of seven different locations all over Japan, two of which are in Tokyo: one in the amazing Shibuya district, and the other in the Azabu-Juban area. The chain of casual workplaces promotes creativity and new encounters while playing billiards or enjoying a drink.
V The new miniature home office
The world of design is responding to the new trend toward working from home with a solution specifically intended for the extra-small size of Japanese homes: Hanare Zen a mini-office 1.80 metres long and 91 centimetres wide, featuring a connection, electrical sockets, a workstation and a small filing space. The company that developed it responded to the needs of many workers who require a quiet, sheltered space for working without interference from the rest of the family, as most Japanese families live in very small apartments. The office can be built adjacent to the existing home, or even on a balcony, and its features are summed up in the name chosen by the company that produces this miniature prefabricated unit: “Hanare”, meaning separate, and “Zen”, in the sense of a space for peace and meditation.
VI A mobile workspace for working nomads
During the virtual edition of the Tokyo Auto Show, Nissan presented a proposal for people who really want to be able to work anywhere. An extreme, unusual and thought-provoking solution! NV350 Office Pod Concept is a new version of the commercial vehicle of the same name with modified bodywork featuring three-dimensional panels similar to the façades of contemporary buildings. Nissan adds a pod inside the vehicle which slides out on tracks.
The office space can thus be slid out of the rear end of the vehicle to overlook the worker’s favourite view, or perhaps a less relaxing space close to the office building. The vehicle is perfect for living and working outdoors, surrounded by nature. The floor is a screen on which to display images of water or other natural elements, and even the rooftop luggage rack – with a sunbed and umbrella – allows you to escape the routine of video calls to enjoy a cup of coffee, made by the built-in coffee machine offered by this unusual van for the working nomad.