How Coworking is Bringing Business Back to a Forgotten Corner of Japan

Daniel Klose neatly sums up today’s startup-anywhere, work-without-walls mentality. He has just launched a new coworking and co-living space in rural Japan, in beautiful South Okayama.

“I’m originally from Germany, my wife is Japanese. We lived in Berlin where I was a Project Manager, but I didn’t enjoy the city life as much as I did when I was in my twenties. So we decided at some point to drop it and just move to Japan.”

Initially, Daniel ran a café alongside his wife with the intention of opening a guesthouse. “Okayama used to be a popular Japanese tourist spot when the money was still around. After twenty years of depression you now have a lot of empty guest and holiday houses, without tourists — but it’s still a breathtaking environment.”

While doing some freelance web development work, he met his would-be business partner Aimable who moved into the town while working on his own startup, Mobayilo.com.

“We talked a lot and both agreed that it’s a shame no one is coming down here anymore, because these empty guesthouses would actually be a great place to build a digital nomad incubator.”

After “a lot of talking”, the pair eventually decided that a coworking space in Okayama would be an ideal retreat for companies. “This seems to be the hot thing nowadays, and so many companies are looking for unique places to bring their teams.”

The idea soon became reality, leading to the launch of Startup Retreat Japan.

According to Daniel, live/work retreats barely exist in Japan. “Companies, guesthouses and holiday houses just don’t understand the principle of it. Our space is open for everyone, but we believe it mostly caters to remote working startups who want to meet-up with employees at unique places.”

Daniel isn’t the only entrepreneur seeking to create a pocket of inspiration in a tourist-friendly destination. The model has been tried, tested and proven in the Spanish Canary Islands by Surf Office; in Costa Rica by Outsite; in the surf village of Taghazout in Morocco by Sundesk; in the rice paddies of Bali, and more. Sende is also bringing the ‘startup retreat’ to a tranquil corner of Northern Spain, transforming “old Galician houses into creative spaces optimized for collaboration and getting work done.”

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Startup Retreat Japan is still in its early days. Daniel explained that it’s currently at a pre-seed funding stage, so they “try to be as lean as possible” and are working with other local guesthouses to provide individual spaces for teams.

“We are working with the city office and we have received a lot of positive feedback so far, but it’s still unclear in which direction the project will develop. So we work with what we have.”

Following a launch on ProductHunt in September, Daniel says they received a “stellar” early signup conversion rate. While bookings have yet to materialise, the signs are encouraging, and Daniel is hoping that Startup Retreat will appeal to teams seeking inspiration in a place as yet untouched by the “hot” trend of work/live spaces.

However this isn’t just an opportunity to inch closer to work/life balance, nor is it a get-rich-quick plan. For someone who left a career in one country to chase a dream in another, it’s easy to understand his motivations. It’s a chance to breathe new life into his beloved corner of the Japanese countryside.

“From a business point of view, places like Tokyo and Osaka would of course make a lot more sense. There’s a Taco Bell now in Tokyo, you know?”

“But I believe the real beauty of Japan can be found in the countryside. We believe in Okayama, and we want to help it grow.”