The Kojima Residence before (left) and after (right) a 2017 restoration.

Kawagoe City in Saitama has converted two historic merchant houses into co-working spaces under a trial run. It is hoped that the recent telework trend might have the positive effect of utilizing long-empty buildings as well as preserving the traditional townscape.

The trial will run until the end of February 2021. It if proves successful, the city will consider expanding their efforts into creating co-working and shared office spaces.

With financial aid provided by the national government’s regional revitalization provisional subsidy, NEC Capital Solutions, a leasing and credit company related to electronic giant NEC, will operate the two working spaces. 

The Kojima Residence (c1901) was hidden behind an ugly post-war facade extension until 2017 when it was restored to its original glory. The work space opened on December 8. The Ayabe Residence will open in early January. The two spaces will be able to accommodate around 20 teleworkers. 

Traditional machiya-style merchant houses like these are often converted into hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and other stores catering towards tourists. Using them as work spaces is a relatively new concept.

Kawagoe’s entire Ichibangai warehouse district is a Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings, but property owners outside of this district can also apply to the city for heritage listing that will make them eligible for financial aid for repairs and maintenance. Many historic buildings have been restored and operate as restaurants and small retail shops. According to the city, there are now 300 heritage-listed properties, but there just as many without the listing.

Buildings down quieter side streets without foot traffic are often demolished by their owners as they offer little appeal to shop and restaurant tenants. The decision to preserve or demolish ultimately lies with the property owner, as the right of ownership outweighs heritage protection laws. The city, unfortunately, does not have the budget to buy up these old buildings.

Source: The Nikkei Shimbun, December 11, 2020.