In the heart of downtown Tokyo, there’s a nine-story building made from beautiful red bricks imported from New England. The neighborhood is alive with local shops and restaurants—in fact, this building, U Share Nishi Waseda, is soon to open a café of its own on the first floor. The remaining eight floors, plus a basement lounge and a rooftop, are contributing to the community in a different way.
U Share Nishi Waseda is a share house with a strategic purpose. Waseda University, just a five-minute walk away, recently set an ambitious goal leading up to the 2023 academic year: to ensure all students experience study abroad at least once. In conjunction with other goals set out in the Waseda Goes Global plan, this means the school (one of the top private universities in Japan) will send over 10,500 students abroad—and welcome nearly as many into Japan.
All those kids are going to need somewhere to stay. That’s where U Share Nishi Waseda comes in.
Takafumi Inoue, urban planner and chief operating officer of KUROFUNE Design Holdings, opened U Share Nishi Waseda as an independent dormitory where living and learning enrich the local community through globalization. How can a local urban planner hope to impact globalization? According to Inoue, any profession can globalize your career impact, as long as you commit to expanding your job description, your field, and your values.
Expand your job description for an inclusive global perspective.
Most people think of urban planning in terms of architecture or real estate development, but Inoue’s definition is a little different. He explains it as “building an environment where diverse people can thrive.” That “environment,” he says, can be anything from a physical environment like a park or a town to an intangible community. But building it successfully requires a secret ingredient: inclusivity. It’s a matter of engaging and embracing multiple stakeholders and diverse backgrounds.
Inoue never expected community engagement to be such a huge part of his work as an urban planner. But resisting the unexpected would have cost him valuable career development opportunities.
Inoue first realized his chosen career was bigger than he thought after graduating from Harvard. As a new grad, he took a job at an American company that exposed him to various projects, from master planning and district planning to campus planning. During this work, he realized community engagement is an essential part of urban planning.
“In the Sates,” he says, “community engagement is much more an essential part of urban planning simply because people have different interests in a particular space and community. I remember once in East Boston where we tried to develop an adaptation plan for this ‘Gateway Cities’ project. The area was filled with a huge, socially vulnerable immigrant population. There was conflict among the communities, and one of our jobs was to solve those conflicts by encouraging dialogue.”
Being an active, influential part of our global community means we can no longer stay inside the tidy, 150-word parameters of a job description. Job roles are changing everywhere at an exponential rate. Journalists have to find ways to work with AI to keep the news cycle fresh and accurate. The shift to systemic marketing means everyone in a company gets involved in the marketing process. And urban planning means you don’t just get to sit at your desk all day with blueprints.
So ask yourself: What is my job, really? How is this job defined elsewhere, and how should my role change for the future of work? These questions can help you develop a more global perspective.
Expand your field by exploring opportunities.
Once you’ve defined some ways to expand your job description, it’s time to explore the new opportunities that present themselves. Put yourself out there and try new things. From there, you can start to expand your field.
Inoue is still an urban planner, but most of his energy these days goes into running U Share and doing consultation work. People might see him as just a property manager, but his exploration of his job has led him to a revelation: He is in the education field.
In 2020, Inoue returned to Japan to build U Share. As he and his Harvard friend, Masamichi Ueta, began to gain traction on their share house idea, Inoue quickly found his experiences with community engagement to be invaluable. After all, U Share is meant to be more than a share house—it’s a place where people coexist and learn from each other. In that sense, his role as property manager makes him an educator.
In April and September, when new student residents arrive, U Share Nishi Waseda holds a “Grand Welcome.” This event includes a team-building walk around the local neighborhood to help newcomers discover and understand the local community. Inoue has more ideas for a post-COVID-19 world, including collaborations with local cafés and shops to really integrate residents with the Japanese community.
Promoting that diverse atmosphere is central to Inoue’s work at U Share, and that’s why he sees himself as working in the field of education. “A simple title like ‘property manager’ doesn’t explain what we do here,” he says—no more than “urban planning” fully describes his field.
Seeing your job from a wider perspective opens new opportunities, but it’s seizing those opportunities that will truly expand the scope of your work.
Expand your values for positive impact.
As your visualization of your job and field grow to encompass new possibilities, you’ll likely feel your values grow, as well. Those refined values will help you find your place in the global community and realize lasting impact.
U Share Nishi Waseda’s mission isn’t just about accepting diverse residents. It’s about connecting diversity with the local community under the core concept of “Living together, growing together.”
“I want to create a world where you share, meaning you are the one to take action,” says Inoue. “Your first thought should not be what you can get if you give. You should take a step forward to understand the people around you, no strings attached.”
U Share Nishi Waseda promotes mutual understanding through simple daily interactions, workshops, and events. One of these is “Share Your Story,” a regular monthly event where residents talk about where they come from, what they’re doing in Japan, and what the future holds. This is more than a meet-and-greet mixer. Inoue wants U Share to be a safe and secure space for any topic of discussion. Japanese and Korean students, for example, might talk about history—a touchy subject they might not bring up on campus.
Inoue makes a point to embody the openness of U Share and lead by example. He has weekly office hours to make himself available, during which he talks with the residents about anything from their school life to personal matters. The staff office has a glass door, inviting anyone to look in (and drop in) from the moment they get off the elevator.
As a third step to expanding your career, consider your values. What matters most to you? How can you integrate that into your work? And how can you become a role model for your vision?
The Spirit of “You Share”
Whether you work on a local or global scale, it’s possible to globalize your career impact—though it won’t be easy. It takes a change of mindset on three levels: your job, your field, and your values. And it requires ambition.
The strategy of U Share is ambitious, to say the least. U Share Nishi Waseda accommodates up to 28 students, but the company aims to expand for up to 700 residents in its properties over the next five years—and 7,000 across Japan by 2031. Waseda isn’t the only university expanding its plans for international programs, after all. Every learning institution wants to nurture students for a globalized future. The market is huge, and the impact will be huge.
Transforming your career with a mission is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be exhausting. Inoue emphasizes balance: “Challenge yourself, and keep challenging yourself. But stop and smell the roses, as well.”
Once the café of U Share Nishi Waseda opens and U Share spreads across Japan, many locals will stop by to smell the roses, proving change can happen.