With 2.6 million residents, Kyoto’s population is roughly one fifth the size of Tokyo’s. While Tokyo is known for its skyscrapers and trains packed with salary men in suits, Kyoto elicits images of temples and geisha wearing kimono. The city is marked by a notably high number of foreign visitors and residents looking for the traditional heart of Japan. The coworking culture in this city naturally reflects Kyoto’s eclectic environment and distinguishes itself from the rest of Japan and the world.

Cowaki was the original coworking space opened in Kyoto. Its clients are mainly entrepreneurs and freelancers working in IT as engineers, designers, and translators. Furnished with both a Japanese style tatami room along with a conventional work space, Cowaki is also notable for its regular foreign clients. Besides coworking, the space
is often used for seminars and other events such as regular card game tournaments. My first visit to work at Cowaki ended with a few unexpected games of Settlers of Catan late into the night.

Cowaki most recently hosted a meeting focused on Appcelerator’s Titanium development platform. Programers unfamiliar with the platform paired with experienced developers and designers. After a few hours of introduction, each group built an original app, which they presented at the end of the day. Because Cowaki’s manager, Daisuke Ikeda, is heavily involved in iPhone and Web Application development, advice regarding both business as well as technical details is readily available from the staff.

To cater to foreign coworkers, Ikeda-san plans to host English days, encouraging more collaboration between natives and English-speaking visitors. He hopes Cowaki will become “a location from which ancient Kyoto can reach the world.”

The KRP Machiya Studio, managed by Kyoto Research Park, was established to provide support for entrepreneurs. The traditional Kyoto townhouse built over eighty years ago immediately sets itself apart from any other work place. After walking through the courtyard, visitors enter the gallery foyer where currently bolts of fabric for kimono, handmade by a local artisan and Machiya client, are on display. Establishing this unforgettable atmosphere is Machiya’s goal, catering to clients from out of town looking to experience the essence of Kyoto.

While Machiya provides rental share office space upstairs, the majority of its clients come for the events hosted on the first floor. From standard business meetings to independent film screenings to study sessions the unique location attracts clients from all fields. The Machiya Bar events held each month offer opportunities for exchange in an open environment for everyone. Last month’s topic was titled “Transforming the World from Kyoto: Startups, Web, Design, Smartphones, Geeks, and Silicon Valley.”

At a recent Machiya Bar I attended, local farmers brought in some of their vegetables to share. A visiting chef was able to prepare in the kitchen for everyone to enjoy with wine selected by a sommelier at the event. The whole process was completely spontaneous and really illustrates how Machiya works as a birth place for all varieties of collaborations. Machiya’s manager Yuuya Tanaka explains that his objective is to provide a fresh and comfortable setting to foster the development of new ideas and relationships. Machiya is currently offering free visits on Thursdays. Future plans for Open College will provide a forum for experts in any fields to hold open learning sessions.

share KARASUMA is a backup incubation share office provided by Future Venture Capital Co. Ltd.  share KARASUMA is centrally located at one the the busiest intersections in Kyoto for easy access for both local business and visitors. The management provides an array of options to satisfy both individual clients and growing companies. Both open work spaces and private meeting rooms are available for use.

Frequent exchanges and learning sessions provide clients an ideal venue for networking among engineers, designers, and VC’s. share KARASUMA actively participates in many events in Kyoto such as Startup Weekend Kyoto where they provided winning teams with support and free work space after the weekend. Recently a third floor addition has opened for the development of the SOHO Share office. The SOHO space is oriented for workers looking for an open environment to easily collaborate with other entrepreneur.

Oinai Karasuma is Kyoto’s newest coworking space. In Kyoto’s regional dialect, “Oinai” means “Welcome.”  Oinai Karasuma’s distinction is it will not simply be limited to IT centric startups.  Rather it is a place focused on facilitating exchange between the city’s more traditional industries. For example, Kyoto’s textile manufacturers and Web developers may want to collaborate here on some new venture.

For the purpose of attracting sight seeing foreigners to drop in, the office is located right in the heart of Kyoto’s downtown at the intersection of Shijou and Karasuma. Oinai Karasuma is planning to open in the summer of 2012.

Each of these coworking spaces in Kyoto set themselves apart from those in other locations around Japan. While they convey a strong sense of “Kyoto-ness”, these spaces are oriented to serve both Japanese and foreign professionals from a variety of fields beyond IT. If you get the chance to come to Kyoto, how about dropping into one of these coworking spaces?

This article is written by Kenshin Fujiwara and Evan Grossman from Coworkify.

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