Catering to Creative Minds in Tokyo

A couple of months ago, we blogged about a really interesting exhibition called “Materializing”, that showcased art made with the help of various innovative devices such as laser cutter and 3D printers.

Fab cafe, Shibuya, DIY, JApan

Many of the devices used to produce the artwork for “Materializing” are machines that you might expect in labs or factories. But fellow hobbyists behold, they have finally been liberated and are now available to the public, though their prices remain rather prohibitive: at approximately 7,000 USD a piece for the desktop version, the laser cutter will not yet decorate our garages, though the slightly more affordable 3D printer from Cubify might.

Cubify, 3D printer, Pen case, Fabcafe, Shibuya, Japan, DIY

This fact has spurred on a new type of business in Japan: Providing space and machines to the creative people out there who won’t or can’t get them for themselves. Here is why:

First, Japan is known for having issues with space. Japanese houses and apartments are quite small compared to their European or American counterparts and more often than not do not have garage space. And if space wasn’t enough of an issue already, the obligation to return any space you rent in the exact condition you got it is another: just setting up an easel in your apartment is not recommended. So providing people with space to make, to create and let them know about it is already a good business idea. Japan is also a rental society much more than other countries (bands jam together in rental studios not home basements).

Maker Base, Meguro, DIY, Ring, Japan

Second, thanks to the effort of the Japan DIY association that was founded in 1977 and incorporated in the METI in 1980, the “Do-It-Yourself” culture in Japan is developing. From the traditional scrap-booking or knitting to more heavy DIY such as ceramics or woodwork, you can make about anything in Japan….as long as you have the space for it.

And now creative people do with no less than four different maker spaces being born in Tokyo alone from 2009 up to today. Ranging from the hipster Fab Cafe in Shibuya, where you can sip a glass of ice-tea as you 3D print or laser cut, to the full blown recently opened, Maker Base in Meguro with wood-work and metal-work machines and several laser cutters and 3D printers, through the techy Hacker Space in were you can learn about and make everything from robots to your very own small computer with a raspberry pie or the Fablab, Tokyo based DIY lovers and hobbyist can create to their hearts content.

Tokyo, Hacker Space, DIY, Tech, Prototype, Japan

Tokyo, Hacker Space, DIY, Technology, Robots, Japan

But the most important part is that not only can they create, but they can also find help and new ideas thanks to a growing community and helpful staff members. It can be courses to get the hang of a machine like in Maker Base or a technology like Hacker Space, or it can be offering a retail platform for your product like Fab Cafe and Maker Base. It can just be a place to connect people that need something and people who can make and help the sparks fly and it can create beautiful stories….like the man that came to Maker Base to train and make an engraved engagement ring for his fiancee or this author who made a personalized 3D printed pen for a friend’s birthday, at Shibuya’s Fab Cafe.

Fab Lab, DIY, Shibuya, Creations, Art, Japan

FabLab, Shibuya, Tokyo, DIY, creation, Tokyo, Japan

And to top it all of, the 22nd of September, the last piece of the puzzle came into existence with the opening in Meguro of Rainbow Soko operated by T-plaster an interior remodeling company, that uses and converted an old under-ground factory space into creative space. It offers up for rent small office like rooms, where people can set up anything they want, from a drawing/ painting space to a music room.

Rainbow, Soko, Factory, DIY, Rental, Tokyo, Japan

Finally it is important to point out that not only these spaces have become very popular, featuring frequently in the Japanese and Foreign press as well as on television and participating in interesting event such as the up coming Maker’s fair, but they also provide a competing presence on the online D.I.Y market places field by not only providing the platform but also a physical outlet to make products in, giving them an advantage over competitors such as Etsy.

About the Author

Alice is Mandalah Japan's latest intern hailing from France and a soon to be graduate of Asian Business masters degree from Science-Po Lyon.