If you were asked to describe the philosophies of Yuta Oka, Akihiro Matsui, and Takahiro Homma—the three 30-something visionaries behind K5—you might offer up such hands-on phrases as “improve quality of life”, “revitalize neighborhoods”, “create multiuse projects”, or “build communities”. And you wouldn’t be wrong, as each of these Tokyo natives has made an important name for himself in the Japanese business world by being both proactive and inventive. But more than just buzzwords, these value-rich actions see this trio challenging the traditional ways that things are done in this country.
With his company InSitu, Yuta Oka is a pioneering force behind coworking and co-living spaces that speak to a new, hyper-mobile generation looking for alternatives to the office-based working model that defines much of Asia. Akihiro Matsui is a cofounder of Media Surf and one of the leading minds behind several pioneering projects in Tokyo that use community-driven ideas to foster cohesion and increase quality of life. And Takahiro Homma is the Representative Director of Ferment Inc. and founder of Backpackers’ Japan, which creates spaces that serve as a gateway to local life for global nomads.
Yuta Oka: All the restaurateurs, bartenders, and chefs affiliated with K5 are part of the younger 20- or 30-something generation. Theirs is a sharing mindset that greatly impacts the guest experience at the hotel. And, yes, this extends to our desire to form and take advantage of partnerships. For example, our restaurant (Caveman) had a collaborative event offering very traditional Japanese cuisine. However, traditional chefs hate to collaborate as they are very possessive of their recipes. But Cavemen broke the mold and brought in a long-established eel chef, causing a ton of people to flock to the restaurant and have a truly rare experience. This collective mindset naturally spills into the neighborhood, too. Recently, a patisserie opened close to K5 and without any conversation other than a quick handshake, it was agreed that our guests could hang out at their shop and their guests could take their pastries and coffees into our café to work, relax, whatever. Those are small examples, but it’s the kind of mindset that we are trying to instill in the community. And it’s why this part of town is becoming much more interesting.
Akihiro Matsui: Yes, that’s right. Kabuto had always been quite boring. I was born and raised in Tokyo, but still I had never been there. I didn’t even know where it was! That’s why we are bringing in new elements, changing it from super gray, to more diverse, colorful, and playful. Yes, youth creates new culture, but we are also respecting the old and the traditional. In addition to K5, we have opened a number of bars and restaurants here, a French bistro, a wine/coffee stand, with more things coming. Diversity is very important.
Takahiro Homma: Absolutely. But the younger generation is the one most invested in the idea of change. Youth has a natural sense of what is important for the next generation, as they have to survive in the coming decades. I always believe the younger generation is right for the current era.
YO: Ultimately, we understand that culture is not something that is created overnight, but rather fermented over time—the more elements you throw into the pot, the more interesting and deeper the thing is that you get out of the pot. And, yes, in the Kabuto district, we see change driven by youth, but with a multigenerational target. Craft beer, wine joints, and so on, they are all catalysts to start the fermentation process. And Kabuto was the perfect pot to use, since it didn’t have much color. We don’t know what it will all look like in 10 years, but we do know that because it had a singular identity as a financial district, the more color we put in, the more diverse and interesting it will become.
AM: We often talk about that topic! We try to connect people. We are open to anyone. Diversity is the key. It has to be diverse.
YO: It’s stimulus. That’s the key to the whole K5 community. And Matt (Akihiro Matsui) has a style of placemaking and community building that has greatly affected how I think about hotels. I come from a branding background, and the more I interact with Matt, the more I learn that hotels are strong pressure points within a neighborhood, that they can turn around the entire atmosphere and vibe of an area. So why not be part of the master design of a neighborhood and community?! I think it’s unique and really exciting for one particular hotel, in this case K5, to be a driving part of a neighborhood-making process.
TH: On a personal level, I think community is really something quite simple: It’s a group of friends who I can say hello to with a natural smile.
TH: When I traveled overseas for the first time, I stayed in a youth hostel in Australia. And on the first night, a German guy came up to me and said, “Hey, you wanna drink?” I’m from the Fukushima prefecture, which is a very suburban, small, and closeminded area in northern Japan. So this guy offering me—a complete stranger!—a beer and approaching me like I was a friend was a huge shock. That experience made me see the hotel business as a lifetime calling.
YO: When I travel, I like to go to a place and find the community leaders. Then I like to collaborate with them and become a part of that place, not just a visitor or a bystander. Traveling to collaborate, to contribute, is definitely a new type of travel. And by that same token, if an international traveler visiting K5 or a local chef, artist, or even a stock trader wants to collaborate on an idea with our hotel, we are open to it. Anyone can approach us through Instagram or Facebook. We love to meet new people and work with them, as we did with that traditional eel chef. Again, we believe that this sharing mindset will positively impact our guests’ experiences.
YO: Well, to that question, I ask another: Is business and leisure travel sustainable? I think the responsible traveler will slowly become the less-frequent traveler, someone who will stay local, more in his or her own community and neighborhood, and for longer periods. I hope the travel trend will be that instead of traveling to 10 cities over 2 or 3 weeks, people will pick one community and stay there for weeks, perhaps even months. And once there, they will contribute and be a part of the community. To me that is a whole new travel experience, and one that will become much more prevalent in the future.
TH: The responsibility of the traveler today? For me, that’s an easy one: To know, to feel, and to love this world.
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