Be Anywhere Now

A nomadic approach to life and work is taking root in Japan. With his company InSitu, Yuta Oka is helping pioneer hotels, co-working, and co-living spaces that speak to a new hyper-mobile generation.

Interview: Frankie Wechlser
Photography: Sean Marc Lee
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Can you talk about the way technology is affecting the way people live in cities?

Enabling people to have freedom to work from anywhere—through technology like mobile phones and high-speed internet—has literally changed everything. In the past, people would live in a single house, commute, go to a single office. But nowadays with technology, you can work from home, you can go to your favorite cafe or your favorite hotel lounge to work, and just show up at the office for five minutes and then go elsewhere.

We really see the future this way, as smaller business on a smaller scale, working together to improve the quality of life.”

Do you think this is changing what a city like Tokyo looks like?

Everyone talks about urbanization—by 2050, the majority of the population will be living in cities and urban environments. That's probably very true. It's also true that technology is allowing people to pretty much live and work anywhere, which means that people are no longer trapped in cities. So if the city is too dense and crowded, and you're only able to afford a tiny micro unit, that doesn't mean that that's your life. You could always find work or a place to work outside of Tokyo—or even have dual living locations one or two hour outside of Tokyo by bullet train ride—or in the future, it could be automated driving. You finish work at 5:00 PM you enjoy drinks with your colleagues, you get home at 10 and then you hop in your car and sleep. Then in the morning you arrive at your home, right in the middle of nature. And maybe that's where you work for the next few days. After you recharge in the nature, you go back to Tokyo and into your urban environment—into a micro unit again. So I don't think a single location or a single consistent way of living will exist in the future. And hotels need to adapt. Workspaces need to adapt. Technology and freedom are already there. It's a matter of how developers, operators, and the creators behind hotels, co-working spaces and public spaces approach that demand from the public.

Can you elaborate on this demand and how it can be met?

People are looking for a place to hang out, they want to find their own spot in town, not only in their traditional offices. Places like a hotel lounge, café, or co-working space. Those are exactly the places where you have everything you need to get your work done, and where you can also hang out with locals or international travelers, or people who you want to spend time with. Working outside of the office means that there is a very thin border between your work time and your private time. This allows both of those activities to play a more important role in a town.

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“We are doing social experiments all over Tokyo, and one important aspect is to see how to revitalize the neighborhood and even the whole city of Tokyo.”

What kind of role do you mean?

Well take for example a recent project in Tokyo. It’s a hostel called Nui in Kuramae, in the eastern part of town. You would ask a person from Tokyo about Kuramae, and most people wouldn't know where it is. There are a lot of old factories and old office buildings, and not many people have lived there. But they renovated an old toy factory in Kuramae—the lounge has a two-floor vaulted space with a wide window. There's a hotel, a cafe, a stage where you can hold music events, jazz and speaking events, combined with the restaurant and bar. So this multiuse lounge creates a scene that never existed in that town, with backpackers checking in. Local people who work there are coming there to hang out with their colleagues and with travelers. Kuramae was known to be a traditional warehouse district; now it has turned into an up-and-coming destination, where people who look at the scene, the landscape of Nui, think that maybe they can do another coffee shop or a restaurant or little speakeasy in the back corridor. As a result, there are a lot of new shops. It’s become one of the top areas for land appreciation in Tokyo over the past few years. For me, that’s a great example of hotels and public spaces playing a role in neighborhood or city development.