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・Organized a redesign competition for local specialty products in collaboration with Ishigaki City
・Took on the challenge of building fans of the community through the process of manufacturing products.
・Taiwan - Ishigaki City - Tokyo. Project teams were formed that transcends the seas.

Situated about 1900km away from Tokyo, Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture is a semitropical island full of attractions, with the beauty of nature and serene and gentle inhabitants. In order to further convey and disseminate the allures of this Ishigaki Island, we carried out the “USIO Design Project” to redesign the island’s specialty products in collaboration with Ishigaki City Office.

We will look back on the USIO Design Project with the project members, namely, Mr. Shuntaro Kosasa of Ishigaki City Tourism and Culture Department (*at the time when the project was started), Shoma Terai, Senior Director, Loftwork Inc., Kazue Nakata, Communication Director, Loftwork Inc. and Tim, Co-founder of FabCafe Taipei.

Can the island still be a place that continues to be loved by everyone while maintaining its precious environment?

- Please tell us what inspired you to start the project.

Mr. Kosasa (Ishigaki City Office):Our island is located 400km further south of the main island of Okinawa and 270km from Taiwan. Yaeyama Islands are a group of small islands, richly endowed with nature, where people “live within their means,” with daily necessities within close reach. Although some agriculture and small-scale manufacturing exist, the core of the island’s economy is tourism.

Meeting with Mr. Shuntaro Kosasa, Ishigaki City Tourism and Culture Department for the first time at Ishigaki Airport

The situation surrounding tourism has changed significantly over the last ten years. With the completion of the new airport in March 2013, the island is quite lively now. I’m delighted about it, but on the other hand, there are also various concerns.

Is it really possible for the island to remain to be a place that continues to be loved by everyone while maintaining this precious environment? The current economic structure of the island is not exactly the one that benefits all people on the island, so what could be done to make the people on the island rich? In the first place, what are the essences that are uniquely Ishigaki Island or Yaeyama?

With this in mind, I felt that it is a very important time to explore “the next dimension.” Rather than the stereotypical approach as the so-called tourist destination, shaking up this existing format once again would be an important action.

- Please tell us the reason why you cast a spotlight on the redesigning of local specialty products.

Mr. Kosasa: I presented the following three themes as actions for “the next dimension:”

1.Would like to include the perspectives from the outside, with maximum incorporation of the power of design.
2.Would like to disseminate the allures of the island through goods, and leave the missionary role of dissemination to goods.
3.Would like to incorporate the perspectives of Taiwan which is deeply connected with Japan in both geographical and historical terms.


It is said that one third of travel consumption is for souvenir products, which, I thought, will directly benefit local economy. In doing my daily job, I always felt that a stronger communication emerges through goods as a point of contact, rather than through mere information.

With such thoughts on my mind I was browsing the Internet at midnight, and found information on Roooots, in which Loftwork is involved, on the blog of Mr. Masamichi Toyama of Smiles, Inc., whom I had always been a fan of. I was immediately inspired by the blog and the next day I found myself calling Mr. Toyama and saying, “I have such a plan and I would very much like you to play a part in the proposal!”

Thorough disclosure of processes; “creating topics,” which exhibits another dimension of Ishigaki Island.

- What kind of proposal did Loftwork make?

Nakata (Loftwork):I still remember the day when the office buzzed with excitement at the news; an inquiry came from Ishigaki Island! (Laughter) “Roooots Specialty Products Redesign Project,” which immediately inspired Mr. Kosasa, is a project that was held four times since 2008 in a manner to coincide with international art festivals (Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale/Setouchi International Art Festival) that took place in local areas. The project was intended to rejuvenate local industries by inviting visitors to art festivals held in regions struggling with depopulation, declining birth rate and aging population and selling local specialty products as souvenirs that were redesigned for target visitors.

In that respect, Ishigaki Island is “a very lively region,” already enjoying high popularity and recognition as a tourist spot with a number of people moving to the island. Of course there are issues specific to the region, but the USIO project needed messaging and a new approach in the island’s context, while using the same scheme as in Roooots.

So, the proposal we made was to make the redesign process thoroughly open using a special Web site and social media. While taking the form of a project of “creating things,” we aimed for “creating topics” to show another side of Ishigaki Island, by consistently providing detailed information on what happened while creating things. Events involving networks of creators were also proposed in conjunction with the team Taipei of the digital fabrication café “FabCafe,”

▲Special Web site (usioproject.com) and the Facebook page

Challenge to a new form of tourism PR through products and design at the three hubs of Ishigaki, Tokyo and Taipei. This is the direction shared by all members since the time of planning the USIO Design Project.

Tim(FabCafe Taipei):The USIO Design Project took a friendly and human approach in order to understand the culture of local communities and was trying to introduce the life of the region to many people in Japan and Taiwan through design, and so I remember I was very excited when I was asked about the possibility of taking part in the project.

- How was the name USIO was born?

Terai (Loftwork):USIO means “tides” in oceans. The project was so named because the episode about a “rip of currents,” which is the line where two different tides collide and create rich fishing grounds, seemed to fit the image of a beautiful sea which is the symbol of the island. The name expresses our desire to produce a new abundance through the collision of “views from outside” and “products produced, people working and knowledge nurtured in the island” with focus placed on design.

- With what kind of project team did you proceed with the project?

Terai:Compared to other projects by Loftwork, the composition of the USIO project team was quite unusual.

First of all, all members, including members from our client—Ishigaki City Office Tourism and Culture Department—participated in the project in a flat manner. Instead of establishing a “secretariat” somewhere, teams were set up in each of the Ishigaki, Tokyo and Taipei hubs, so that each of the teams has its own role and work organically to generate “a rip of currents” where different perspectives intersect.

Teams that are located apart in the three hubs of Ishigaki, Tokyo and Taipei and their roles

▲USIO Design Project Team From left, Tim (FabCafe Taipei Co-founder) of the team Taipei, Terai and Nakata of the team Tokyo and Mr. Kosasa of the team Ishigaki

Collaboration with FabCafe Taipei and Taiwan Design Center aimed at strengthening cultural exchange with Taiwan

- Why was the collaboration with Taiwan born and how was it realized?

Mr. Kosasa:Firstly, Ishigaki Island is geographically close to Taiwan, and there have been immigrants and cultural exchanges for a long time.

similar to brown rice milk and shisa (Okinawan lion dog) in Taiwan. We hoped that the collaboration with Taiwan will lead to an opportunity to freshly explore identities that are unique to Ishigaki and Yaeyama but different from those of Japan and the main island of Okinawa.

That’s why collaboration took place in each phase, such as inviting Mr. Chen Wenlong, CEO of Taiwan Design Center as a judge, actively organizing events and disseminating information for Taiwan in collaboration with FabCafe Taipei and eventually nominating a Taiwanese designer to work on “Ishigaki Tuna.”

▲Mr. Chen, CEO of Taiwan Design Center joined the design competition and led discussions that looked to the Taiwanese market, speaking about the typography that “it makes it feel very Japanese,” and about the masking tapes that “they are also popular among young people in Taiwan.”

The Web site supports Japanese, English and the Traditional Chinese (an official language of Taiwan) to accurately convey the stories behind the products to be redesigned

▲A kick-off party was held at FabCafe Taipei at the opening of the solicitation, providing opportunities for about 80 creators from Taiwan to experience the feel and taste of the products to be redesigned. Cooperation was also provided by Taiwan Designers Week in response to the call for entries.

Tim:In order to disseminate the USIO Project and the stories behind the ten selected products, the team Taipei approached creators in Taiwan through workshops and event, and by providing special menus at FabCafe Taipei. Local design communities in Taiwan also took a great deal of interest, so we asked them to widely spread the project using their design platforms and booklets.

Kosasa:As a result of these efforts, about 20% of the entries during the call for designs were from Taiwan.

The Second Part: Charm of the products. To be continued to the appeal of products, giving shape to the feelings of local residents.

Project Team

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