Design Ecosystem in Tokyo

{ 🗼 } – Japan’s Hardworking Capital

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Of Asian cities, so far, we’ve only covered Singapore and Taipei in our Design Ecosystems series. Now it’s time to explore a place recognized the world around for its specific approach to aesthetics – Tokyo.

Japan is known for its meticulous and hardworking culture. We decided to look at how this reflects on the digital design industry. Here is our take on the design community in Tokyo.

Working as a Designer in Tokyo

The Japanese design market is relatively closed – if you don’t speak Japanese and have a strong work ethic, you may have a hard time in Tokyo.

As Jin Zhaoli explained to us: “Tech companies are generally fine. They provide both good salary and working environment. In a traditional Japanese-style company, a designer may have to face the unreasonable culture of long working hours and have difficulty in improving design skills.”

Yuko Sakazaki has a similar perspective: “[…] I see a lot of foreign designers coming to Japan to work, but I hear a lot of difficulties to work in Japan. Company culture is very conservative – lack of communications (because of the language issue), long working-time, etc. My foreigner friends who do business in Japan love living here, but they always try to avoid to work with the pure Japanese companies.

From a Japanese perspective, we want to try new tools or services from abroad, want to learn more from there. But I hear and see that we are very shy and afraid to make mistakes. So I feel like there is always a big gap between Japanese and foreign designer communities (not completely though!)”

 Saito also sees room for improvement in Tokyo’s design ecosystem: “It’s getting better, and the social status of being UI/UX designer is becoming higher. But Japan is pretty much behind in the world of freelance, crowdsourcing, etc. So there are fewer opportunities to get some projects for Japanese designers.”

Panorama of Tokyo
Panorama of Tokyo

The Design Community in Tokyo

Regarding the local design community, it’s a bit behind compared to the western markets, but it’s slowly getting there. As Jin explains:

“[…] Tokyo’s design community has a good foundation – it’s diverse and actively evolving.

Japanese people care about aesthetics and respect designers. That’s why there are so many famous designers from Japan (compared to other Asian countries.) This culture creates a strong foundation.

Diverse because Japanese are xenocentric and they use many loanwords nowadays. Knowing both Japanese and Latin typography is a must for Japanese designers.

Actively evolving because many great UX design books from western countries are translated into Japanese only 1-2 years after the original was published.”

In terms of design events, Tokyo turns out not to be the best place either. “I hardly found a UX conference to recommend in Tokyo. Most speeches there are too generic to be useful/unique. It seems that conference sponsors/guests try to promote their companies by all means except sharing real stuff,” says Jin.

But this doesn’t mean there are no design events at all: “However, I like typography meetups/seminars in Tokyo. The one I participate most is TypeTalks. Type& held by Monotype Japan is also nice” – Jin added.

Yuko also provided us with his recommendations: “If you want to reach out to Japanese people: UX DAYS TOKYO, Godpatch or UX MILK. If you want to reach out to international people in Tokyo: UX Talk Tokyo, Le wagon Tokyo. A bit more mix: Hexagon UX Tokyo.”

And Yusuke mentioned his favorites as well: “I recommend UI Crunch, Designship, and CXO Night”.

The Shibuya Crossing
The Shibuya Crossing

Places to work from in Tokyo

One of the city’s biggest strengths is the number of places you can work from that are suited to nomads and expats.

If you are on the hunt for a co-working space in Toyko, the most recommended ones are PAX, Creative Lounge MOV, iiOffice, Yahoo Lodge, and PoRTAL.

There are also a few nice coffee shops where you can get some things done. I found Niko and…, Streamer Coffee Company, Lattest Omotesando, and Deus Ex Machina particularly interesting.

Yusuke also recommended us a lounge at the Trunk Hotel which he compared to the Ace Hotel in NYC.

There you have it! Our take on the design ecosystem in Tokyo. If there is anything else you’d like to mention about the city, you’re welcome to let us know on Twitter. We have also created a list of Tokyo-based designers there.

If you want to contribute to next the issue of Phase Magazine, just drop us a line:

Nick Budden Avatar

Nick Budden / CEO @ Phase

Designer, and sometimes-writer. Canadian in Taiwan ✈ Berlin. Trying to help people enjoy being creative.