Until COVID-19, few of Japan’s iconic “salarymen” and women had ever experienced working from home. The pandemic has since changed that dramatically, with millions of Japanese employees shifting to remote work. But while some have felt the benefits of remote work, it has also become clear that this radical new approach to work isn’t for everyone. Many find it difficult to concentrate on work in a home environment — a place normally reserved for relaxation and family time where square footage is at a premium — and have found themselves seeking alternative ways to work in isolation.
Meanwhile, Japan’s travel industry — one of the hardest hit by the pandemic — is also facing a conundrum. As borders remain closed and much of the nation remains hesitant to travel, accommodation facilities across the country are largely unoccupied and eerily quiet.
Enter Rakuten STAY. This handy service allows property owners to put their own rooms on the market without the hassle of managing branding and promotions or trying to solo-navigate Japan’s stringent private lodging regulations.
Standard-fitted with living features such as free Wi-Fi, a full kitchen and washing machine, the properties are geared towards longer stays. But following a sudden mass exodus from Tokyo’s offices, Rakuten STAY properties have found an entirely new purpose: Teleworking.
The service is trialing affordable packages of up to 30 nights at properties in 18 locations around Japan. Social distancing protocol is being followed to the letter, with virtual check-in/out and an electronic key system, while room facilities are regularly disinfected.
Demand for these temporary remote offices has so far been strong: Despite declining travel trends around the world, initial offerings of the Rakuten STAY packages nearly sold out — and it isn’t hard to see why.
Lunch break plans: Jog along Katakai Beach
To the east of Tokyo lies Chiba Prefecture. Boasting a total of around 300km of coastline, eastern Chiba is home to the seemingly never-ending Kujukuri beaches that straddle the Pacific.
Early risers can wake up to a beautiful sunrise and pop down to the beach for a quick jog before the first video conference of the day. Once the day is done and the laptop is closed, fresh seafood awaits at the local eateries that dot the shoreline.
Just over Tokyo Bay: Kisarazu
On the western side of Chiba Prefecture lies Kisarazu, known to many Tokyoites as the first town you see when emerging from the Aqua Line tunnel that burrows under Tokyo Bay.
While the Aqua Line tunnel makes it a very short trip from Tokyo, Kisarazu definitely feels like you’ve made it out of the city. For anyone living near the Tokyo side of Chiba who might be reluctant to undertake a longer journey, the southwestern side of the prefecture may just be the ticket.
Deep into the mountains: Nikko Kinugawa
North of Tokyo lie the World Heritage temples and shrines of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. Nestled in a nearby riverine valley is the hot spring town of Kinugawa Onsen — and another of Rakuten’s scenic getaway offices.
Wi-Fi, a nice big desk, and a cool mountain breeze through the open window — Kinugawa Onsen seems like a dream home office away from home. With a projector, a barbecue and space outside for the kids, it might not be a bad idea to bring the family along, too.
A new way to work and travel
Judging by the initial success of this new Rakuten STAY initiative, it’s clear that teleworking solutions are in high demand, and similar programs promise to follow suit. Rakuten LIFULL STAY’s Vacation STAY vacation rental and accommodation booking site has also begun compiling lists of facilities geared towards remote working and long stays, complete with useful lifestyle information about the area.
As summer approaches, Japan’s tourism industry is evolving to accommodate a totally new style of travel. And so far, the approach is working.