By sharing, we thoroughly design spaces that accelerate self-fulfillment. At U Share, we transcend the concept of design from the design of physical space, to designing the growth and experiences of its residents. The founders, Ueta and Inoue, discuss their thoughts and desires for U Share.
Interviewer: Riona Kunimoto
Masa: I strongly believe that for future generations, the biggest proposition is, "How to live and share" We, the founders of U Share, have experiences studying abroad in the U.S. and U.K., and staying in dormitories. By living together with global talents from all over the world, communicating in one common language (English), and sharing unique moments and environments together, I was able to bring myself up to a level that I, myself could never have imagined.
Taka: From such experiences, we started believing that "Everything begins with sharing." For instance, even if you have dreams or worries that people would laugh at you for, there are always going to be people that understand and support you. By sharing homes and moments together, getting to know each other better, and inspiring and learning from each other, people grow, together. This kind of place and world where positive chain reactions occur by sharing, is what I want to create.
Masa: Also, I want U Share to be an engine, an origin for dreams. From the founders of Facebook to Microsoft, the triggering place for leaders to talk about their dreams, find companions, and share their ideas to the world was Harvard's student dormitory.
Taka: Ueda and I also spent many days and nights, sometimes at the Ueda family housing's lounge, other times at my dormitory's common room, developing plans for U Share through numerous trials and errors.
The experiences of creating business plans that would potentially change our society. I believe that for such experiences to happen on a daily basis, therein lies a place to connect people, and a positive attitude towards sharing proactively.
Masa: By living at U Share, you'd have the opportunity to break language barriers in daily life. Living in Japan, it's easy to get by without having to speak English. However, for a Japanese individual desiring to maximise their possibilities in the world, language barriers are the first walls you have to break through. What we want to provide are: discussions skills in English, project promotion skills, and personal-connection establishing skills. With such skills, a variety of challenges such as studying abroad at top universities and establishing world-class careers could become a reality. Above all, you'd be able to pursue your possibilities globally. Let us live and grow together, until we can say "Language is just a Language".
Taka: Other than educational and language services, U Share is also planning to provide career support services. In addition to the natural interactions between members, we're hoping that staff members of U Share, who have experienced a variety of careers, can help address worries and build an ideal career for each individual.
I personally started my career at an investment bank, jumped into the world of design, got employed in America, and even started my own business. In a society where yesterday's correct answer can be today's incorrect answer, I want to provide opportunities for people to realize that "The world is vast, and within it are multifarious ways to work".
Masa: This is something that can be said for both educational/language services and career support, but we believe that access to the "Right people, Right Information" is vital.
I personally had to spend a lot of time trying to find the right way to study and connect myself with people similar to me, that have experienced studying abroad. From this experience, we will provide not only coaching on suitable programs or how to get scholarships, but also for the specific materials for applying such as essay writing, standardized test preparations, and interview practices. In other words, we will coach the Right Information. Furthermore, we can also directly contact current students at institutions and programs you are interested in. This was something I struggled with when I applied to the Fulbright Scholarship, but with U Share, there's an immediate connection with the right person.
Masa: Exactly. Kenichi Omae once said, changing your residence, the people you hang out with, and the way you spend your time can lead to self-fulfillment. As the saying goes, Takafumi and I have grown remarkably from our experiences at Harvard's student and family dormitories. And I think many people have had similar experiences. What we desire is for members of U Share to feel and experience this as well. Instead of the conventional way of paying the owner house-rent fees, it should feel more like monthly installments for opportunities to gain knowledge and opportunities, and a place to prepare for studying abroad and building an international career, all of which lead to self-fulfilment.
Taka: There's actually one more unique characteristic about U Share: an online resource platform that only members have access to. Within the platform, members can, for example, get advice about studying abroad from an experienced person, access educational content meeting their needs, and find people with similar interests/ dreams.
A real environment in which people can live together and learn together. And an online platform, "U Plat", that helps accelerate people's growth. In an era where it's easy to mix up reality with the online world, we hope to provide opportunities for "education", "career-building", and "network-forming" on a global scale with the real environment of U Share as the core, and online services as a complement.
Taka: At U Share, we hope to complementalize individual space and shared space. While securing individual space, we also design shared spaces and flow lines that cultivate self-growth and friendly rivalry. There are various types of shared spaces, so the fact that members can use them creatively depending on things such as purpose and time, is also another characteristic of U Share.
Moreover, I was a part of developing campuses and student dormitories in the U.S., the birthplace of campus-planning. Therein the center of design always lay the question of "What kind of learning/ living environment should we arrange to enrich the lives of students"?
For example, in European and American universities, it's normal to have student dormitories on-site, with undergraduate students required to live together in these dorms. Furthermore, common rooms are set on the first floor where many people come and go, kitchens are spacious, and corridors are purposefully made narrow in order to naturally cultivate interactions. In this way, there are deliberate "designs" scattered about.
Masa: I think that spaces have a somewhat magical power to create lifelong communities. When I was studying at Harvard, I experienced living in both Perkins Hall, a single household dormitory and Peabody Terrace, a family housing unit. Within both of them, I spent memorable moments with the residents and got involved in numerous activities with them.
Studying together in discussion rooms that are open 24 hours. Hosting parties to teach how to make sushi and teaching each other about our own cultures in shared kitchens. Enjoying table tennis tournaments at tech-related leading companies. The activities always had a great balance between relaxation, self-growth, and interaction. Within the family housing units, there were nursery schools and kids-rooms where families from different countries interacted. Even after coming back to Japan, I still keep in touch with the families I met there.
Taka: I also resided in student dormitories when I was studying at Edinburgh University and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Of course these dormitories had common rooms and libraries, but they also had university-operated cafeterias and even pubs. Through literally living under the same roof, I developed my relationships with the people around me. I still keep in touch with the people I was close to back then, and had it not been for the sharing of "space" and "time", I do not think the results would have been the same. This is exactly the power of space and design.
Masa: Something else we are particular about is material. At U Share, we plan to implement the same bricks (Cambridge Bricks) as the ones used for Harvard's facilities. The atmosphere of the city of Cambridge, where Harvard and MIT are located, is also produced by the bricks. With its density and texture, the bricks are of high quality and can withstand centuries. We are very proud to be the first to import the bricks to Japan.
Taka: U Share also works as a base for connecting people and invigorating local communities. In addition to daily life, the monthly-held events will generate interactions that transcend age, nationality, background, etc. With the increase of energetic and diverse members of U Share, the atmosphere of the local communities should be affected as well. For example, let's say a young American student falls in love with Japanese dumplings and becomes a regular customer of a small, local Chinese restaurant. Imagine the owner of the restaurant trying his very best to communicate with the student within his limited vocabulary. Or perhaps hosting an international food festival within the local community to represent the diverse countries from which the students came from. Just imagining these things makes me all hyped up, but U Share is the kind of place that can encourage such organic connections between people and cities to form.
In urban planning/ design, we call such bases of influence "Nodes". U Share is a perfect example of that. But U Share won't just stop after creating one Node. In order to maximize its effect, we will continue to increase the number of Nodes, one by one. Connecting dots makes a line. And in order for numerous lines to connect to make a surface someday, we hope that the connections between people and cities formed from U Share will be organic as well.
Taka: Through my experiences of living in the U.K. and U.S., I strongly feel that Japan lacks spaces where people can live, learn, and inspire each other. For example in Japan, universities are often thought of as places to learn. However, in the U.K. and U.S., living together is also an important aspect of university life. Recently, there are institutions and majors in Japan that have required residential life, yet the state of development still remains far behind world standards.
Masa: Increasing the number of highly skilled foreign workers settling down in Japan through residences. Increasing the number of Japanese students who think it's only natural to go abroad for self-updating. We act based on our firm beliefs that these solutions will lead to true globalization.
Taka: As Masa mentioned, Japan will face a transition point soon. As the population decreases, the number of immigrants will increase. Contrary to the U.S and U.K., Japan has a homogenous population, with a clear distinction between the "inside" and "outside", "public" and "private" affairs. Therefore, Japan could have a hard time with the inclusion and acceptance of diversity. That is why the existence of key players who can connect ethical groups, races, and cultures together is vital in Japanese society.
Being in an environment where people are exposed to a diverse group of people and sense of values daily, will surely inspire people to be more flexible (thought-wise, and personality-wise) and stimulate intellectual curiosity. Having a global perspective, respecting diversity, and solving social issues. We hope that U Share can be a place where people with such global talents can go out into the world.
Masa: We're planning to build three U Shares by the end of 2020: two near the Nishi-Waseda area for students, and one in Minami-Aoyama for young professionals and families. Within two years, we're also planning to focus on areas around Keio University's Mita campus and Tokyo University's Hakusan campus, building ten in total. After constructing a model centered in Tokyo, we're planning to expand our project to the Kansai region, and other major cities, multiplying to twenty in total within five years. At the same time, we're also going to start this project in the original city of Cambridge in the United States and other emerging cities in Asia. In time, the U Share network will be constructed with Asia, Europe, and the U.S. in the center. It'll be possible, for instance, for a U Share member from Denmark to learn about Japanese gardens and landscapes at Kyoto while staying at U Share Kyoto.
Masa: We live in a world that's inclined to divide. However, I strongly believe that the everlasting strong U Share alumni network will find solutions to overcome such situations. I dream of a day when members of U Share exceed any problems that may arise, finding solutions to global scale problems such as poverty, disparity, and environmental issues.
Taka: In any generation, stories are what remain as memories. By all means, I hope for you to share an enriching "time" with diverse members of U Share. And during that process, I hope you form friendships that will last a lifetime and create lots of stories with them. If you gather up the courage to take one step forward, there'll be a new world waiting for you. You only live once. Why don't you enrich your life, together with us?
"U Share" - Everything begins with sharing.
Text: Riona Kunimoto
Masamichi is a licensed architect (first grade) / developer with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Waseda University and a Master of Architecture degree from Osamu Ishiyama Laboratory in Waseda University Graduate School.
After he graduated from Waseda University graduate school, he won the Azusa Ono Memorial Award. He was involved in the startup stage of the nendo design office. He engaged in the CRE, PFI, large-scale development inside and outside of Japan at Kashima Corporation Design Headquarters, urban planning group.
As a Fulbright scholar, he received a Master of Real Estate Design degree from Harvard Uniersity Graduate School of Design.
After study abroad, he was involved in the real estate private equity business at Morgan Stanley Capital KK. and Angelo Goldon. From the experience of Lehman collapse, by making use of the architectural development method which integrating "long-term and socially conscious real estate investment" and "added value through design", he aimes to create the sustainable place where people can act lively through real estate development at urban or rural area.
He engaged not only in the activities in the business world but also in the non-profit activities.
He also gives lectures about real estate design at Keio University SFC campus and Waseda Univeristy.
Received various awards; the Azusa Ono Memorial Award, SD review award, Good Design Award, Reconstruction Special Award.
His hobby is cooking. He can make Edomae-Sushi.
Takafumi is an urban planner, with a Master of Urban Planning degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 2018. He is a current member of the American Planning Association (MA Chapter).
His current work focuses on examining the relationship between tangible and intangible assets in the built environment. He is particularly interested in the real estate developments, which properly reflect the existing local identities and cultures to maximize the uniqueness that each place has.
He has professional experience in mergers & acquisitions and the equity offering business at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. After having engaged in developer's finance projects, he returned to Harvard to study the issues in the urban arena. He holds a B.A. in Policy Management from Keio University - Tokyo, Japan, where he graduated as a valedictorian (top student). During his time at college, he spent a year at The University of Edinburgh as an exchange student.
Fluent in Japanese, English, and French.
Belongs to the American Planning Association.
Hobbies include walking around town, watching Rugby, and playing the piano.
Riona Kunimoto goes to the Waseda University, major in Political Science and Economics. She got 940 score on TOEIC and she obtained Grade 1 in the EIKEN Test in Practical English Proficiency without having the experience of living abroad. After she spent a year at Babson College in Massachusetts, United States, during her time at Waseda University, she helped start the U Share project and she worked on business support, such as creating content for services.
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