Will makers do their shopping in dedicated shops instead of paying their dues to a fablab? As Techshop Tokyo officially opens its doors this month, Makery went to browse the new maker megastore, as well as two of its Japanese competitors.
Tokyo, from our correspondent (words and photos)
Will the world follow Tokyo? Beyond the fablabs, will makers increasingly do their shopping at dedicated supermarkets? Currently, Tokyo counts at least three big shops dedicated to artisanal and digital fabrication, all well equipped in machinery, all located in the city center and open to the general public. People pay for training or to make at their own pace, without having to speak or justify themselves to anyone. And so, it was as a silent but curious observer that we reported from the trenches.
Techshop, the stylish boutique
Ever since its very first shop opened in Silicon Valley in 2006, Techshop has multiplied its franchises: 10 in the United States, one in Abu Dhabi, one in Paris with Leroy Merlin, and the newest shop in Tokyo, in partnership with Fujitsu, which officially opened its doors to the public on April 1, 2016. Just a few steps away from the U.S. embassy, Techshop Tokyo occupies 1,200 square meters of the 3rd floor of a small shopping complex in a business and luxury area between Akasaka and Roppongi.
The mothership’s “Build your dreams here” slogan is applied with the same ultra clean brand image: the robot and the gears, the primary red and blue accents, the vast white walls of the main room on an almost industrial scale, saturated with natural light during the day. Beside the reception desk are long bookshelves displaying a collection of Make / Maker Faire publications; in the coffee corner, the signature free popcorn machine. Nevertheless, the arsenal of CNC machines is impressive, including everything you need to work with wood and metal in dedicated rooms with protective goggles, all sorts of materials and textiles (cork, vinyl, leather, silk…), machines for printing and soldering your own copper circuits, printing in UV and 3D, laser-cutting, plastic vacuum molding…
Since its pre-opening on February 18, Techshop Tokyo has been offering training classes for the most popular machines (laser cutter, 3D printer, UV printer), and most are full. Saturday, the small lecture room hosts a full audience for a local designer. The atmosphere is young, free, trendy, welcoming and promising, but above all, professional.
Fee: ¥3,000 (24€) one-time membership + ¥18,500 (146€) per month
Daily: ¥3,000 (24€) one-time membership + ¥4,500 (35.50€), from 10 AM to 11 PM
DMM.make Akiba, the corporate studio
Launched with the slogan “Open Share Join”, DMM.make Akiba is like the fabcafé extension of the huge DMM (Digital Media Mart) corporation, better known for its distribution of pornographic videos and games. Open in November 2014 on the 10th and 12th floors of a tower in the heart of Akihabara, a.k.a Tokyo’s electronic or otaku city, the renovated space is accessible via two offset elevators, linked by a glass lobby overrun with black suits.
So it’s not hard to recognize the staff of DMM.make, dressed as blue-collar mechanics. Inside, the faux brick corridors are as surreal as the launch TV commercials, featuring the comedian and filmmaker Beat Takeshi (Kitano), looking just as perplexed as we are in front of all these machines out of context. DMM.make Akiba boasts an important stock of machines, from simple digital sewing machines to voluminous CNC. However, the space itself is compartmented, either into partitioned cubicles or cellular offices teeming with visible wires and electronics, not quite the image of the open, fluid makerspace. And on the day of our visit, all the potential clients on the tour were middle-aged men.
Open to members 24 hours, DMM.make Akiba (Hub) is potentially more oriented toward incubating start-ups for hardware development. In any case, the 10th floor is reserved for “team rooms” and coworking spaces, although almost everyone present on that particular Friday afternoon was working alone on their laptop, many plugged into headphones.
Fortunately, the large, bright café area gives the studio character, with a solid menu, a motorcycle “specimen” at the entrance, a live corgi dog on a leash, an inviting decor and an open space with a panoramic view of the neighborhood.
Fee: ¥30,000 (one-time membership) + ¥15,000 per month (access to studio space and machines) (240€ + 118€)
Daily (12 hours): ¥5,000 (access to machines only) (39€)
Makers’ Base, one-stop shopping for the creative community
Under the slogan “Personal brand supporter”, Makers’ Base Tokyo opened in August 2013 in a dedicated building along the Meguro river south of trendsetting Shibuya. The small vertical building with its wooden stairs is the complete opposite of its competitors and instantly seduces visitors with its art-house environment.
However, on April 16, Makers’ Base Tokyo will move to a new 800-square-meter space, with elevator and permanent café, on the campus of Tokyo Metropolitan University, in the western suburbs. Also this month, the company will open its third space in Hakata, following Makers’ Base Sapporo, opened in August 2015.
100% made in Japan, the Makers’ Base brand is focused on design and craft, where all the cold machinery and geekiness disappear behind the pure beauty of the final products. Here, the staff is dressed in hoodies and jeans, identified by laser-cut wooden name tags, as are the member cards, which collect colored blocks according to the various training acquired along the way. The atmosphere breathes with hands-on projects, lively collaborative workshops and many young participants, especially female, engaged in active, enthusiastic exchanges. Everywhere we see samples, trials, potential inspirations.
Saturday, amidst this joyful community, we observed a couple women preparing paintings to scan upstairs, while downstairs a workshop was in session to make wooden chopsticks. Next door in a separate room, some people were working the machines to shape metal pieces of jewelry; in yet another dedicated studio on the ground floor, a few individuals were huddled around a pottery wheel… After a rigorous online registration and a mandatory 90-minute on-site tour, 100% of the dozen visitors present opted to become members that same day, thus benefitting from the special promotion membership fee.
Fee: ¥1,080 (one-time special) (8.50€) + ¥16,200 per month (128€) (10 AM to 10 PM)
Daily: ¥1,080 (one-time special) (8.50€) + ¥3,240 (25.50€) (10 AM to 10 PM)
Are fabshops the Kinko’s of the 21st century or the opportunity to create a new urban dynamic, driven by design, to acquire skills and co-work with others?
If in the Japanese capital, Tokyo Hackerspace is de facto dominated by expatriates, it seems that local fablabs and even more so fabshops are patronized by Japanese makers… Are fabshops the future of mainstream digital fabrication?