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Number 1 Shimbun

Hiroaki Fujii on the making of Marunouchi

THERE GOES THE

NEIGHBOURHOOD

Hiroaki Fujii on the making of Marunouchi



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Marunouchi today from Google Earth.

 

SUVENDRINI KAKUCHI

 

Like many of his colleagues, FCCJ associate member, Hiroaki Fujii has started working more days at home, a trend that, he expects, will only expand against the backdrop of the Corona virus. The change, however, has not fazed the veteran employee whose career at Mitsubishi Real Estate now spans over three decades. On the contrary, he cannot believe his good fortune. His new office in Tateyama nestles into the northern Alps.

“I spend eight hours a day at my desk with a cool breeze wafting through my window, listening to the songs of nightingales,” he muses.

Fujii, a law graduate, has long worked in real estate development across Japan, a deeply rewarding task, especially when it revitalizes old cities and attracts new residents. Given his experience in the corporate world, he views the change in today’s working culture as a new era. This era embraces teleworking and flexibility and rejects tired management models tying employees to gruelling commutes and long office hours.

“Take my own situation. Right now, I work four consecutive days in Tateyama. I no longer have a tiring commute to the Tokyo office from the suburbs. People like me appreciate the freedom of working remotely. It is liberating and more productive,” says Fujii.

 

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Marunouchi in the mid-1960s.
Both the Kokusai Building and the Yurakucho Building are under construction.
The Yurakucho Denki Building has yet to take shape.


Office vacancies

Indeed, social distancing has affected Japan’s corporate world and that includes new challenges facing Tokyo’s lucrative real estate market. A recent Bloomberg article points out the capital’s office vacancy rate has risen to over 3 percent, the highest since January 2018 and Morgan Stanley, quoted in the article, forecasts it could climb to record levels over the next five years (Japan Times October 8th 2020, from Bloomberg).

To cope, says Fujii, whose company is the lead developer in the capital’s posh Marunouchi vicinity, the focus is on innovative approaches to repurposing space. He points to the potent example of the transformation of the Marunouchi Naka Dori street linking Yurakucho to Tokyo station and Otemachi. The avenue, familiar terrain for foreign correspondents, has shed its dour business image of dark suited salary men to emerge, in the last year, into an airy and sophisticated counterpart dotted with open cafes and green walkways.

As Fujii sees it, the Covid pandemic has accelerated changes that were already underway in younger, more tech-savvy business communities. “Their demands are the next growth opportunity,” says Fuji. He should know. Fujii is now the executive director of OMY Area Management Association, a non-profit organization established to foster interaction among businesses in the locality. The office, a FCCJ neighbour, hosts get-togethers for the business community. As he puts it, “Cultivating a sense of belonging and collaboration is an important service in today’s commercial property market.”

 

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Hiroaki Fujii
(Photo Courtesy Of Mitsubishi Estate Company Ltd.)

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Banishing the 80s gloom: leafy boulevards and al fresco dining in Naka Dori
(Photo Courtesy Of Mitsubishi Estate Company Ltd.)


Within the walls

Historically, Marunouchi, literally ‘inside the circle’, historically within the (castle) walls, was the site of the former Edo castle, constructed with a moat for Tokugawa Iyeyasu. In 1890 the land was bought from the Meiji government by the enterprising banker, Iwasaki Yasunosuke, creating the domain of Mitsubishi Shoji.

During the massive construction boom of the 1970s and 80s, when Fujii entered Mitsubishi, Marunouchi was a natural host for banks and offices and a natural destination for that post-war samurai, the salaryman. Two decades of drab, low-ceilinged offices followed, and the area exuded the gravitas of the work ethic. For real fun, office workers gravitated to the bars and restaurants of Ginza or Shimbashi, and Marunouchi after dark was little more than a ghost town.


Out of the shadows

Today, that past is barely a memory. The Naka Dori project has cut road traffic and encouraged pedestrians. The paved streets host regular street markets and food fairs. Diverse business models are also increasing share office spaces and learning labs that host seminars and webinars, such as the ongoing sustainable development campaign, a collaborative venture including the Norin Chukin Bank, another member of the Marunouchi neighbourhood. The aim is to generate start-ups and attract clients with a difference. “Relying on office rentals per se is a precarious model,” maintains Fujii.

Still, the spotlight on a hybrid working system remains the most enthralling development for Fujii. A sports fanatic – he runs marathons and cycles for miles on uphill roads - his life could not be more rewarding. “I now live in a larger space and have more time for my family,” he said. Eating out is also a different experience. Instead of squeezing into expensive Tokyo watering holes, he now prefers to relax at the small diners in his neighbourhood and get to know his neighbours.

With the increase in satellite offices or ‘hubs’ outside urban areas, Fujii sees cities attracting people for unique and exotic business opportunities. “We live in exciting times,” he says. “Tokyo has become a place for learning new things and meeting new people. I look forward to the future.”


Suvendrini Kakuchi is Tokyo Correspondent for University World News in the UK.

Published in: November 2020

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