Mitsubishi Estate had mapped out the urban development of the Marunouchi area (Otemachi, Marunochi, & Yurakucho) for 2020 onwards in its Marunouchi NEXT Stage plan. The vision was to facilitate people-friendly urban development that would lead to new innovation and the identification of and solution-finding for societal issues.
Then the Coronavirus crisis hit. The working patterns of people based in the Marunouchi area changed enormously, and the number of people coming and going from the area dropped dramatically. From the perspective of an urban development company, the reduction in footfall was troubling, but it also contained opportunities. The working patterns in Japan that have long resisted change are now being forced into reform, leaving us with no option but to think about the “next stage” in its true sense.
We spoke with Mitsubishi Estate Executive Officer Toshiyuki Inoue about his view on the current Coronavirus crisis, and what our offices and neighborhoods will need to be like once the crisis has passed, and we find ourselves in the new normal.
Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Co., Ltd. General Manager of Commercial Real Estate Strategy Planning Department & General Manager of City Planning.
Graduated from Tokyo University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Urban Engineering in 1989.
Joined Mitsubishi Estate, and since 2005 has been involved in the redevelopment of the Marunouchi area and the development of Grand Front Osaka on the north side of Osaka Station as a member of the Building Development Planning Department.
From 2014, Inoue led the development of MM21 as the business officer manager of the Minatomirai 21 Yokohama Branch.
In 2016, Inoue was appointed development manager in charge of city planning and area management of Otemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho.
Since 2019, Inoue has also served as the development strategy office manager in charge of overall development strategy formulation.
Since 2020, Inoue has been appointed executive officer and now serves as both general manager of the Commercial Real Estate Strategy Planning Department and as general manager of City Planning.
Awareness of how Coronavirus has dramatically changed working patterns
The state of emergency declaration in April 2020 led to a dramatic reduction in people working in the office in person. This meant that there was simultaneously a dramatic increase in the number of people working remotely. Despite encouragement in both the public and private sector, uptake of remote working had remained sluggish in Japan, but suddenly there was no other option. In the wake of this state of affairs, Inoue had the following to say about what the results of a Mitsubishi Estate survey revealed about the changes in people’s attitudes.
Inoue: “In June, we carried out a survey of 15,000 people working in Tokyo that asked about their preferred working patterns in the post-Corona age. Our survey found that approximately 70% of people wanted to do at least half their work in their office and preferred to have in-office meetings. While close to 70% said they felt there were advantages to working remotely, not even 10% said they wanted to work 100% remotely once the Coronavirus crisis has passed.
“These results demonstrate that although most people feel the need to work in the office, they don’t necessarily want to be there all day every day Monday to Friday. In other words, rather than coming in everyday, they will want a place or environment where they can see others face-to-face for meetings and discussions.”
In the post-Corona age, offices will need to fulfil a different role to the one they played before the crisis, but neither the parties that use nor those that supply offices have found a clear answer as to what that will be. However, Inoue argues that the way buildings are leased will have to undergo an unprecedented rethink.
Inoue: “Before now, the widely adopted leasing method has been for one company to lease a certain space for their exclusive use for a certain number of years at a certain price. However, as remote working becomes more popular and people aren’t always physically in the company office, I am sure there will be demand for shared office space between multiple companies. If that happens, there will absolutely be strains on the product design from before. Rental contracts in their current form cannot handle detailed demands, so we are going to have to develop “leasing menus” that can handle the needs of various companies.
“When multiple companies share the same space, the arrangement of furniture and the space’s layout become important things to think about. If you only have one company renting a space you can leave the arrangement of furniture up to them, but when you have multiple companies sharing a space you need to come up with proposals for the furniture arrangement and space layout that facilitate each company’s work. I think we need to move away from being a business that merely leases out spaces and become one that offers attractive and conducive working environments.”
As the relationship between individuals and companies becomes more ambiguous, so too does the scope of what constitutes the physical company. Added to that, Coronavirus is changing the way our neighborhoods look and function.
Inoue: “The Marunouchi area is home to various forms of transport infrastructure, and it’s not just a place where people go to work; it’s often used as a place for people to meet. Even people whose work places them in rural areas or who mainly work in the suburbs might have the opportunity to come into the city once a week. And when they do, lots of people choose the Marunouchi area with its convenient transportation links.
“An area will be even more attractive if there are convenient onward transport links after leaving the bullet train station. For example, moving around by bicycle has been encouraged since the state of emergency was declared, and this trend will only continue to grow in popularity once the Coronavirus crisis has passed. In the future, it seems likely that new forms of personalized mobility will become mainstream, such as electric mobility ridesharing.
The Marunouchi area will easily adapt to these sorts of new trends in the new society, and I think it should be first in line to offer this accessibility and flexibility. As well as it being easy to get to the Marunouchi area, making it easy to get around once you’re there will make it even more attractive as an area and help to increase footfall.”
Creating smart cities, neighborhoods mixing people and art
The Coronavirus crisis is significantly changing working patterns and what the office needs to offer. With these changes, what is Mitsubishi’s NEXT Stage vision for the neighborhood?
Inoue: “Our keyword is “smart cities.” For example, up until now, people have had to go out in search of information themselves. However, in the future, the information people need or are interested in will naturally coalesce, and they will be able to choose their course of action from multiple pieces of information. This is the Marunouchi area’s vision of the smart city.
“This coalescing of required information will make the Marunouchi area into a place people want to visit even if they don’t work there. If people view the area as somewhere they can go and meet people or as somewhere they can walk around and have a great time, then it will be a neighborhood that attracts all sorts of people and companies.”
If people view Marunouchi as a place where they can meet and greet people and have interesting experiences, then naturally people will choose to be there. Inoue goes on to explain why the Marunouchi area is such a hotspot for interesting people.
Inoue: “The Marunouchi area is already home to all sorts of companies and people. What’s more, the heavy presence of investment companies and banks in the area mean there’s all sorts of money around here too. This facilitates the concentration of new business activities, and the concentration of people with interesting business ideas. Because it’s a place where people with these interests gather to talk, the area will obviously attract people who want to offer their advice and people who want to get involved with new businesses.
“With all this, the Marunouchi area will steadily become the sort of place that offers new and engaging experiences. These experiences will be the seeds for new business ideas, becoming part of the chain. The thing we need to do is create a structure that will stop that chain from being broken.”
Inoue: “If we look back at how Marunouchi was 30 years ago, it was mostly just offices with the only shops around being the places where working people went to get their lunch. Since then, all sorts of shops have appeared in the area that make it more attractive as a destination for people who don’t work there. The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum was established to offer a deeper element of culture and art to that trend. Going forward, I want us to build on that trend of incorporating art into the neighborhood. In the future, businesses are going to need to take artistic approaches. As a business moves forward, there are times when logic alone won’t be enough to get to the next level. In such moments, art is the driving force for innovation.
“But we’re going to have to fully consider how to go about incorporating art into the neighborhood. It’s not a simple matter of just dotting art pieces around the neighborhood. The display of art works certainly has its place and is important, but I think what we need to do is incorporate art in a way that resonates with people’s intuitive decision-making.”
The idea that art is essential to the urban development of the Marunouchi area is by no means unique to Inoue. There is a longstanding discussion about how to use art in urban development.
Inoue: “The Marunouchi area has a council formed of owners of the area’s buildings, and it includes a committee that meets to discuss how to bring art to the area. As well as landowners and academics, the committee invites people working in the art world to come and discuss ways of pursuing urban development through art.
“For example, there is an existing movement to incorporate art in Yurakucho. Yurakucho has plenty of old buildings, and quite a few of these need to be rebuilt. Rather than just knocking down the old building and putting up a new one in its place, there is a project to rebuild the old structures in a way that keeps them alive. I’m currently thinking both about what we can do with some of the buildings we have, and also what we can come up with from new projects.”
Aiming for a neighborhood that is attractive for work and play.
Marunouchi currently has a strong business image. However, Inoue says it is important for the Marunouchi area to be an attractive destination to people who do not work in the area.
Inoue: “Up until now, Marunouchi has been a place where around 280,000 people come to work from Monday to Friday. But as remote working becomes more popular and people have more options when it comes to how they work, the number of people working there Monday to Friday is going to go down. When this happens, it will be important that we get people who do not usually work in Marunouchi to come and enjoy the area.
“The key concept here is MICE. MICE is an acronym for meetings (e.g., company meetings), incentive travel (reward/training trips provided by companies), conventions (international conferences held by international institutions, organizations, and academic societies), and exhibitions (exhibitions, trade fairs, and events). Marunouchi is currently mainly used as a place to hold meetings, but my ambition is for it to be used for travel, international conferences, and events as well.
“That will help it become a neighborhood where rather than there always being the same 280,000 people, there will be 1,000,000 people coming and going for all sorts of purposes and events. If we can deliver these new interactions, they will help lead to new value.”
A neighborhood visited by one million people is an attractive proposition, but it will need the functionality of a city if this vision is to be turned into a reality. That’s why trials are already underway.
Inoue: “We recently carried out a social experiment project that we called MARUNOUCHI STREET PARK. In the project, we divided Marunouchi Naka-dori into three concepts to explore new lifestyle ideas that don’t involve closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings.
“For a limited time, the roads were closed to vehicles for exclusive pedestrian use, and we used people flow sensors to show how many people were in a certain space at a certain time in realtime on the Internet. If this technology develops, then even after the Coronavirus crisis has passed, we will always be able to see what places are busy and what places are empty.
“This means that people will be able to choose to be in their preferred environment when they’re in Marunouchi; they can go somewhere that is empty if they want to be alone, or somewhere that is lively and full of people if they want to meet up or talk with someone. In the future, people will be spending less and less time sitting and working in front of their desks, so we need to develop the whole neighborhood in a way that makes it an attractive choice for people to work for its comfort and convenience.”
The Marunouchi area will become a place that is great for both work and play. Inoue also talked about his ambition to develop the surrounding area at the same time as making the Marunouchi area attractive to visitors.
Inoue: “I spoke before about how good the transport links are in the Marunouchi area, but it’s also really easy to get here from places like Kanda without needing to get on the train. By adeptly creating links with surrounding areas, we can make the Marunouchi area a convenient choice for people.
“For example, a block of rental apartments in Kanda that recently came onto the market has a co-working space on its first floor, and there is a plan to move the utility poles on the street that the building looks out on underground like on Marunouchi Naka-dori to make the street better for pedestrians. The people living in the building can work at home or they can work in the co-working space on the first floor if they feel like a change in mood. If they need to meet someone, they can get to the Marunouchi area in minutes by bike, so they have plenty of flexibility in terms of how they work.
“By coordinating our working lives and personal lifestyles in this way, we can create neighborhoods that are attractive places both to work and live. What I want to see is the creation of more facilities like this outside of Kanda too, to deliver urban development from a broad perspective.”
・According to a survey carried out in June, around 70% of people said they wanted to do at least half of their work in the office and said they wanted to have meetings and discussions in the office.
・People will want places and environments where they can meet face-to-face for conversations and discussions.
・Inoue thinks there is a need to move away from being a business that merely leases out spaces and become one that offers attractive and conducive working environments.
・The Marunouchi area’s vision of the smart city of the future is where the information people need naturally coalesces, and people can choose their course of action from multiple pieces of information.
・Art is the driving force for innovation, and needs to be incorporated in a way that resonates with people’s intuitive decision-making.
・Desire to create a neighborhood where rather than there always being the same 280,000 people, there will be 1,000,000 people coming and going for all sorts of purposes and events