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By taking the dangerous path, one just might be able to see a different world. This is much like how one would only be able to see the world for all the unknown it has to offer if he decides to take the risk and climb up the tree.

Human beings live on curiosity. Curiosity motivates one to take risks, and curiosity is also the very element that has been driving all human activities since centuries ago.

And, as if driven by this very instinct of ours, Yuko Fujiwara decided to leave behind all that she had held dear for another country - all while being aware of the risks.

We had the distinct opportunity to interview Yuko Fujiwara, who has joined Loftwork Taiwan, a relatively young company established just a while ago. Yuko's is faced with new challenges everyday as she strives to connect Japan and the rest of Asia. (Listener: Kennnosuke Yamaguchi from the Marketing Division)

Cases With Local Businesses On The Rise - Loftwork Taiwan, Now

-- Ms. Fujiwara, It's been a while since we last met! It's been exactly a year since you came to Taiwan. What is up with Loftwork Taiwan these days?

Fujiwara: Long time no see! Wait, so it's been a year...? That's fast. We have 7 people in total now, and it's Tim, our representative, and 3 of our directors who are mainly in charge of Loftwork Taiwan's projects. Our cases here are pretty much the same as those in Japan.

We work on developing websites for Taiwan's businesses, and we also work on developing product concepts for global businesses that are geared towards overseas market. Our business cases with local businesses in Taiwan have also been making a steady progress. Our local business partners include craft beer companies and brand designers from department stores, to name a few.

Yuko Fujiwara - Director of Loftwork Taiwan

-- Ms. Fujiwara, may I ask how you handle your projects?

Fujiwara: This is how it works for me: at Loftwork Taiwan, Tim, who represents Loftwork here in Taiwan, is responsible for taking care of all the projects, and I just follow his directions all on my own. We talk in English within our team, but I can't speak directly to our clients because I don't speak Chinese. And because of this language barrier, I do run into difficult situations when we try to understand what it is that our clients want, so that I can all arrive at a common ground that we are all happy with, and also so that we can divide up our workload accordingly. When we get all our cases over with, I try to come up with marketing policies, how to make the team group, as well as how to improve the quality of our work, to name a few.

The Risk of Not Taking Risks

-- It's only been a while since Loftwork Taiwan was established, and I think it takes some real courage to work at such a new company. Has it always been your wish to work overseas to begin with?

Fujiwara: Well...before I came to Loftwork, I was in NYC for about a year for studying. Through people I met there, as well as through my experience as an intern editor, I got the impression that life is all about taking risks. I went to NYC because I thought the city's lifestyle would be cool and perfect for an escape... that's my pathetic reason for going there. But then people I met there were all aware of "the risk of not taking risks", which is really different from how people in Japan think.

In Japan, the mentality of working at one single company for an extended period of time is still quite common. However, for people in New York, they think that working at one company while having only one skill is something very dangerous to do.

I think this is a world where people can only succeed as professionals when they take up on their challenges knowing fully well that they might fail. And I think it's precisely because I've met such people in New York and got inspired by them, that I started having the idea of working overseas.

My Short Stay in NYC: A Trip of Inspiration

-- That's right. I've been working at Loftwork for quite a while already, and I think this very fact might just be making me feel a little anxious in terms of what is is that I am truly looking for. What you experienced in New York really helped shape the person that you are today, wouldn't you say?

Fujiwara: Correct.

When I was in Japan, I used to think that it would be difficult to switch your career path once you are past 30. This is not the case, though, for New Yorkers; they just keep going from one job to another, and it was when I was there that what I thought was so "common sense" about the way we all should work went completely out the window. Something else that I think is important is that you have to do things with "your head up high". Say, even if you are just an intern without much experience, if you can talk to people unfazed, people will in turn treat you nicely. However, if you talk like you are lacking confidence, what would happen is that people won't even bother listening until the end what you have to say.

-- The common sense we hold does get challenged once we leave our country, right? I feel like we grow a bit more every time our common sense gets challenged.

Fujiwara: Well, I sure hope so. And as far as getting common sense challenged goes, I am getting mine challenged here in Taiwan.

-- Can you tell us about your everyday life in Taiwan?

Fujiwara: I've been studying Chinese at the university in the morning since 4 months ago. I've always loved languages so I am having quite some fun, but I do feel quite worn out everyday, but then I would just go to work like that. I really enjoy my workplace because this 3-year-old little girl always comes by to hang out. I would speak to her in Chinese for practice.

The Thrill of Placing Yourself In Chaos and Contradictions

-- In terms of how work is done, what do you think is different about Loftwork Japan and Loftwork Taiwan?

Fujiwara: The kind of work we do here is not so much different from what they do in Japan, but the way it's done and our respective teams are quite different. At Loftwork Japan, they already have a pretty good idea what everyone is responsible for and what everyone should do. At Loftwork Taiwan, though, I feel like everyone has just been going all over the place full-throttle. There was this one time when I said to Chiaki (Chiaki Hayashi, Representative of Loftwork), "man, it's such a chaos everyday"... and she just came back with, "but chaos is crucial to creativity!", and she even suggested that I read "What Is Creativity" by Jiro Kawakita (laugh).

-- Mr. Kawakita was the one who came up with the KJ Method. I am guessing that quite a few staff members at Loftwork got influenced by him, no?

Fujiwara: I actually share some of his viewpoints. Mr. Kawakita wrote in his book that we should place ourselves amongst chaos and contradictions, and try to figure things out by actually working on things. And then later on, when we look back upon what came out of all these experiences, it will all make so much sense that we will think that, all along, things were meant to happen the way they did. When I read this particular part of his work, I thought, "wow, that's exactly what's happening to me!".

My team has only just started, and I find it quite contradicting how someone like myself who doesn't speak Chinese has been made the project leader. But as far as working with my team beyond the language barrier and improving the quality of our work go, I try to pursue these my own way. Things might start from a total chaos, but then when we look back upon it all, there will definitely be satisfaction to be gained. That very thing that I am challenging myself with is probably that thrill of working at Loftwork Taiwan.

A Day At The Office

-- I am thinking about Loftwork from a while back. Just some 10 years ago, it was an era where we got our new clients while working on our projects. Gone is the time when our director was often in charge of client development.

Fujiwara: That's exactly how it is now. Let me ask you a question, though. As far as the good aspect is concerned, how it is different working at Loftwork back then versus working at Loftwork now?

-- The fact that we all worked collectively as a team running all over the place and working full-throttle is something good, isn't it? We all got pretty worn out while we were at it, but when we look back upon it now, we really feel that we came a long way. And the fact that we were able to work so closely with both Mr. Suwa and Ms. Hayashi, who founded the company together, is also an experience that we are lucky to have had.

Fujiwara: That's right. Working closely with the founder here was also a motivation to me. Tim, who founded Loftwork Taiwan, used to work in the city design industry in the States. As far as how to speak to our clients about design goes, I really learned a great deal from him. He always tells me to "Take your position!", because he thinks that a design would be meaningless if the design itself doesn't take a firm position. He's actually a very nice guy, but when it comes to business, he's all logical and serious.

We did get into conflicts quite often when we held different opinions, but I think those are great experiences, nonetheless.

-- Mr. Suwa and Chiaki had their fair share of arguments with each other when they held different opinions back then. But then, I think it's precisely because they were able to talk to each other so openly that the company was able to get to where it is today.

Fujiwara: Oh dear, I can totally picture how it was like when they fought.

Taiwan - What It Has To Offer

-- So, you do want to go back to Japan, don't you?

Fujiwara: Oh yeah, I think about that like every single day!

-- Every single day! But you picked this "risky" life yourself (laugh)

Fujiwara: It's actually not so serious, but every now and then, I do catch myself thinking about Japan (laugh). There are certain good aspects about the country that I didn't realize until I left it.

-- For example?

Japanese people really put me in awe with their ability to bring about "values" to their clients; people are looking to make their lives "more enjoyable", "more fun", "easier to get through" through things like movies or mangas, which are things that most people can get their hands on in their everyday life. From cuisine we eat everyday, to fashion, pictures, music, interior design - in such a niche-specific world, there are people who express their worldviews with such high quality, and every month there are all sorts of magazines produced just to satisfy people's desires. In an age where the so-called "soft experiences" dominate over the "hard experiences", Japan's ability to make these entertainment experiences so state-of-the-art is, I think, very crucial even in Asia. Living in Taiwan now, I find it a lot easier to see what Japan is good at.

-- How's Taiwan's economy doing these days?

Fujiwara: Taiwan's economy has been making a slow progress in terms of GDP, and it's supported by those OEM's with production plants in China that make electronics, as well as by the manufacturing industry. There are many IT start-ups around, too.

The problem is, though, that even the manufacturing industry hasn't been doing that well, either, and Taiwan is also facing the same problem that Japan is facing - an aging population with a falling birthrate. Taiwan is about to enter a period of time where the large companies, the start-ups, and the SME's alike will need to be able to provide their clients with values - and this challenge is one that Japan is currently faced with.

So, as far as coming up with values is concerned, I feel that Loftwork Taiwan will be able to bring about an open, interdisciplinary collaboration with local businesses here that have just started searching for their "values".

-- That's definitely quite interesting and seems like it's worth a shot. What do you find so attractive about Taiwan, and what possibilities does it have to offer?

Fujiwara: As a first step to working abroad, I think Taiwan has got quite a bit to offer for Japanese creators. From Taiwan's perspective, Japan is quite advanced in terms of its design and creativity. But then, it usually takes quite some time for Japan's design and creativity to become recognized, and people demand those creativity and design to sharpen up to an extent that these creativity and design can meet the demands from the niche market. And then I thought it would be nice if I could first start in Taiwan and gain some experiences, and then go back home with all these experiences later. "USIO Design Project" is a collaborative project between the Japanese city of Ishigaki and Loftwork, and the project primarily focused on Taiwan as its main target. Designers redesigned local specialties from Ishigaki Island, and those local specialties were awarded the Golden Pin Design Award, which is the most authoritative design award here. As young designers, we were very happy that we were able to be awarded such an honorable award.

-- In terms of how business is done, do you think there is any difference between Taiwan and Japan?

Fujiwara: Communications around here are honest and fast. I was quite surprised when Tim and our clients exchanged their Line ID's at their very first meeting. I think one could say that, in Taiwan, trust is established through direct interactions that happen between people like you and I, rather than through business done between companies. A lot of our clients here in Taiwan also refer other new clients to us.

-- In Japan, I guess people don't usually exchange their Line ID's for business purposes, right?

Fujiwara: That's right. But here in Taiwan, it's really easy to be honest with our clients, so when we are dealing with cases where we need to consider our "values" together, I usually feel like I don't have to struggle too much. As opposed to how things are done in Japan, where it's all about sticking to tradition, the norm, and common rules, I think I get a lot more freedom and tolerance here doing what I do.

Collaboration Beyond The Boarder And Across Fields

-- What would you like to do at Loftwork Taiwan later on?

Fujiwara: I would really like to work on "Creative Impact in Asia", which is a project sponsored by Loftwork Taiwan. The main theme of this project is to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, and various events are being held under this project. We are still at the exploration stage, though, where we are just giving shot to different things like holding talk events by creators from Japan and Hong Kong, and having artists stay here in Taiwan for a short period of time to make their artworks.

-- Are you guys collaborating with FabCafe Taipei?

Correct. FabCafe Taipei is located at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. As far as Taipei City goes, the Park is a great location and is usually abundant with people, and that's why we think that the Park is the best gateway for Japanese designers looking to expand their field of work overseas.

FabCafe Taipei Located At the Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Fujiwara: While Taiwan is indeed a foreign country to Japanese, starting from here is relatively easier for us. It would be great if Japanese designers could expand their field of work overseas. And if Japanese designers could work with local businesses here in Taiwan, that would certainly translate to their collaborating with Loftwork Taiwan. Personally, working with individuals from across different fields is something that I find really exciting.

Creative Impact in Asia vol.3 at FabCafe Taipei.

-- Looks like we've got more challenges down the way here. Last but not least, what do you find so interesting about working beyond your native culture?

Fujiwara: It's never easy when you try to overcome culture and language and try to do things. But then, that in itself is part of the challenge, and there will surely be people supporting those who dare to challenge. The more one tries to take down that "wall", the more support he will gain along the way. And, eventually, before he knows it, he will have his challenge over with, and that's when he will realize that it's actually not so hard to accomplish what he wants to do. Things that one can't do on his own will only make working with other members all that much more interesting.

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