The significance of "being there" as the basis for regional cooperation in urban development


In the last post, we introduced the TokyoYard PROJECT's concepts of "collaborative project" and "experimentation", as well as the Partner Base, a facility that serves as a gateway to learning about the project.
>>Overcoming urban challenges and creating a town that implements "collaborative development" and "experimentation”

In this post, we would like to introduce the "TokyoYard Building," a base of operations to allow partners to become more deeply involved in the Shinagawa development project after they become aware of it through Partner Base.

Why did we set up an entire building to serve as a hub for regional cooperation four years before opening for business in 2024, while other projects might only set up a single floor after business has begun? Continuing from the previous article, Naoki Watanabe of JR East's Shinagawa Development Project Team explains the thought process.

Naoki Watanabe (JR): East Japan Railway Company, Life-style Business-development Department, Shinagawa Business-development and Marketing Division, Chief officer. Naoki Watanabe has been in charge of the Shinagawa Development Project since July 2016. He is currently working for managing Partner Base Takanawa Gateway Station and TokyoYard Building. 

What will we do in the TokyoYard Building?

The "TokyoYard Building", the core of the TokyoYard Project, opened this spring. It will serve as a base for businesses and partners to get more deeply involved in city planning in the area, to create business and culture, and facilitate communication and exchange. It is a previously-existing building that we have purchased and renovated. It is a place where startups and other businesses can move in and interact with each other, while also hosting open discussions, gatherings and meetings for business partners.

One of the most important functions of the TokyoYard Building is to collaborate with the local community. Our "partners" are such figures as local government officials, company employees, and individual business owners. Our goal is to scoop up as many networks and desires local people in this area have to take action as possible, and to create a project in which the town is shaped spontaneously by the power of the community, rather than by what JR wants to do on its own.

At the same time as working with our local partners in “collaborative project” and “experimentation”, our mission is also to provide local residents with information and opportunities to interact with each other, and to work together to build a city while valuing its history and future. As part of this mission, we are considering: updates on the progress of the project, holding participatory events, and community building with local citizens.

“I don’t know what JR are doing, but they have put up another new building”. If people come to express these kinds of sentiments, that would mean that our project has abandoned the local community, and the meaning of building a town will have been lost. It is important to direct the assets of this building towards the future of the region, for example by bringing in local issues into discussion, and using the ideas of the start-ups housed in the TY building to solve local problems.

The significance of “being there” as the foundation for urban development


To the people of the area, the TokyoYard Building may seem like some unfamiliar building that has appeared out of the blue. Why did East Japan Railway Company decide to build the TokyoYard PROJECT's base of operations in the middle of the region, and to make the building a hub for regional cooperation even before the city was built? This is due to the discoveries we made and the problems raised when we reached out to the surrounding neighborhoods as part of the development process.

Through the fieldwork we did with the JR development team, such as walking the streets, we learned that there are some people who were not interested in JR's urban development projects and even unaware that a town was to be built in the area. At the same time, we also learned that the new station provides an opportunity for many people to rethink the future of the area: “what should we do with our town?”. We felt that our project was still missing the input of the people of the area, of which we were unaware until that point. 

The area around Takanawa Gateway Station is a mix of sophisticated business offices, residences, and long-standing shops, mixing together the diverse lives of local people. Rather than replacing "the way of life here and now" and "what should remain in the city" with the logic of real estate agents and driving a wedge between the city and its people, our goal in city planning is to protect the existing values of the city while producing an area in which the values of individual lives can flourish.


The most important thing to do is therefore to improve our understanding of life in the region, and in order to accomplish this, there must be a base of operations in the place where the development is to take place. If you are building a town, you must work there. The best means of doing so is to be at the center of the development, feeling the life and breath of the people living and breathing in the surrounding area, observing how the city is being built every day, and being sensitive to the changes that come from this.

In recent months, society as a whole has been promoting remote work, and many have surely noticed that you can work from pretty much anywhere. However, the physical proximity of being able to meet with local people at any time is something that a company like JR, which is in the business of infrastructure and mobility, must continue to value.

Speaking about our own spaces in our own words. Cultivating our imagination for an unpredictable future.

Every day, I realize just how difficult it is to embody the "global gateway" in our development concept while implementing important local ideas when thinking about the future of our towns.

I believe that the key to connecting the "global" and "local" lies in being able to tell the history and context of our own land in our own words.

On one occasion, when the JR Shinagawa Development Team visited a local elementary school as part of a school curriculum on the region, I was very surprised that children were able to talk about the history and charm of the area they were born and raised in. Typically, even most adults do not know the origins of their communities. We went there to tell them about what we wanted to do, but in fact it was us who were given a great insight into the area.


A JR employee teaching a class at Takamatsu Junior High School in Minato Ward, Tokyo

Children are the ones who will see these changes occur around themselves, four years after the city opens for business, and beyond as the city matures. The first step to making this city a global gateway is for them, when they have become adults, to be able to describe in their own words the history of their area and the ways in which they interacted with it themselves. 

It will be more important than ever for people to have the ability to play an active role in the international community and to imagine values that are different from their own. Not only in language, but also in diversity, sustainability, and other issues that should be considered from childhood; we will communicate these issues from different perspectives than those seen in the school classroom. We, as newcomers to the city, hope to humbly provide opportunities for local people, including children, to learn – even if this is just a small step at a time. This is how we will shape the identity of the city as a center for international exchange.

To achieve this, we must build a relationship of trust with local people, and the TokyoYard Building can only become meaningful once we have done so.

Inside the TokyoYard Building: the place where ‘Playable’ experimentation is born.


In order to see what kind of place it is, let's take a look at some of the floors of the TokyoYard Building.

After getting an overview of the project at the Partner Base, partners are first invited to visit the Playable Lounge on the top floor – a reception room where they can have meetings with a view of the city under development. 


10th floor – “Playable Lounge”: as an extension of the Partner Base, where visitors can learn about the project, this area functions as “Gate04”. The name of each floor incorporates TokyoYard Project's concept of "Playable".


“游 -You-“ on the 10th floor: A Japanese-style room for relaxed meetings and discussions with overseas partner companies.

“PlayGround" on the 2nd floor is the core space of the TokyoYard PROJECT, where we will communicate and exchange ideas with our partners and local residents who are active in this city. Discussions and conferences that transcend departments and positions within the company are already taking place here.


2nd Floor – “PlayGround”

We also house “StartUp Station”, a startup incubation base operated by the JR East Startup Corporation, a member of our group. The 4th floor, “PlayList”, is a conference room and project office for JR employees, tenant startups and partners.


4th Floor – "PlayList”

"Player" on the 3rd floor and "PlayAll" on the 5th floor are the project offices, which serve as the bases for the preparatory activities of the Shinagawa Development Project Team and the JR East Group's New Business Creation Program. On these floors, we engage in area management, promotion, regional co-operation, energy management, and other activities to promote city planning, all while watching the process of the town coming together before our own eyes.


3rd Floor – "Player”

In this way, we hope for the TokyoYard Building to encourage a cycle of collaborative project and experimentation throughout the building, and to serve as a link between the community and partners involved in the city planning process, but we have only just begun to operate. While we have already established connections with local residents, there are likely many others about whom we do not know, who are willing to think and work with us as partners in city planning. We hope to create a wide-reaching point of contact with the city at the easily accessible Takanawa Gateway Station, and we would like to invite more and more local partners to come to the TokyoYard Building. We would also like to proactively reach out to more people on behalf of JR.

Cooperation with Yoshiya Amanai, Konomi Honda from JR East
Interview and Edit by Takuya Wada
Translation by George Wollaston
Content Direction by blkswn publishers Inc.

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TokyoYard PROJECTでは、新たな文化・ビジネスが生まれ続けるための仕組みづくりの一環として、世界中からあたらしいものを生み出したい人たち、またそれを支えたいと思う人たちを集め、共創していくための取り組みを行っています。