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Demachi: A place for open coverstaion between students and the community.

Demachi: A place for open coverstaion between students and the community.

Content Partner

The WEB magazine "greenz.jp" is a non-profit media launched in 2006. We cover cases of "A symbiotic relationships" all over Japan and around the world, and publish them as articles that anyone can read.

Content Partner

The WEB magazine "greenz.jp" is a non-profit media launched in 2006. We cover cases of "A symbiotic relationships" all over Japan and around the world, and publish them as articles that anyone can read.

Are you involved in the community you live in?
 
Whether it’s your hometown, a town you’re interested in that you’ve visited or heard about in the news, or even the town you currently live in, you may not always feel as if you are “involved.”
 
Students who have left their parents’ homes to live alone may be too busy with their studies and co-curricular activities to find opportunities to connect with the communities they live in. Initiatives to connect students with the communities they live in have kicked off around the nation.
 
Today, we would like to introduce you to DeMachi, a cross-cultural shared space in an old shopping arcade that connects students and communities. Located in downtown Kyoto, this place doesn’t just connect people from town. It connects the countryside with the city. Each day, students stop by to mingle with locals and people from the shopping arcade.
 
I asked the manager, Mr. Shinya Saiba, about DeMachi, a place used for various purposes including as a shared office and event space.
Shinya Saiba
Mr. Saiba was born in Yosano Town, Kyoto Prefecture in 1986. He is a board member of the Applied Art Institute. Since he was a university student, he has been involved with the Kawada Art Camp operated by the institute since 2006. After graduating university, he worked in the design department of a paper processing company in Tokyo. He left the company and joined the Applied Art Institute in 2010. After working at the Fukui headquarters, he was put in charge of planning and operating Kyoto X Camp and moved to Kyoto. He currently manages DeMachi, the institute’s satellite office. He is in charge of connecting the youth with their local community.

A hub where a diverse range of people, regions, and cultures can intermingle

Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto—On a corner of the Demachi Masugata Shopping Arcade, where unique grocery stores and general stores line the block, there is one place where people of all walks of life including students, children, and senior citizens are seen coming in and out.
The entrance of DeMachi. During business hours, the shutters are up, always welcoming visitors.
This is DeMachi. Owned by a clothing store on the shopping street, the location is also used as a storage space for the shopping street association, so naturally, this is where the townsfolk and shopping arcade workers mingle.
The spot itself officially opened under the name DeMachi in December 2012 as a hub for students from the Kawada Art Camp and Kyoto X Camp.
One of the defining features of the Demachi Masugata Shopping Arcade is the large number of universities around it. It’s a part of the city where particularly many students come and go, including those who attend Kyoto University, Doshisha University, Kyoto Institute of Technology, Kyoto Seika University, and Kyoto Sangyo University.
 
DeMachi takes advantage of its location to create a place that serves as a starting point for students to get involved with their community by conducting joint student events and other activities.
 
Currently, DeMachi serves a variety of purposes. It is used as a shared office that can be used 24 hours a day, as a co-working space rented by the hour or month, as a meeting place for local festivals and shopping arcade events, and to hold seminars and lectures on community development.
 
To connect Kyoto’s urban areas with its agricultural communities, DeMachi hosts one-day bars run by lovely bar owners from various areas around Kyoto. They also hold markets selling regional produce.
When local festivals are held, DeMachi is used as a meeting place. DeMachi is also actively involved in shopping arcade events, such as the Tanabata Festival (a traditional Japanese festival that celebrates a myth about two deities who are separated by the milky way. The festival takes place once a year on July 7th) and Mochitsuki Festival (one of the Japanese traditional New Year celebrations where people get together and make rice cakes, to mark the coming of a new year).
Snack Kyoto no Dokoka (meaning ‘somewhere in Kyoto’) is a project in which charming bar owners from various areas around Kyoto prepare delicious local alcohol beverages and bar food and share stories at a one-night “snack” bar event. A guest bar owner from Kasagi-cho, Soraku-gun was invited for the memorable first event.
Furthermore, DeMachi sets out to towns, being involved in the Shutter Museum Project (sponsored by the shopping arcade association) in which art students paint the shutters of the stores, and holding events such as the Demachi Town Walk Course where participants learn about the area’s history.
A student painting shutters in the shopping arcade.
Single people, couples, and parents with their children can learn about the town’s history in a fun and casual way.
In many ways, DeMachi is not just an event space. By managing various projects that allow people of the shopping arcade and students to naturally interact with each other, DeMachi fulfills its role in sparking opportunities for exchange between communities and people, and even between people of different communities.
A scene from a lecture session titled “Community Development for Those Who Have Grown Tired of Community Development.” Students and others involved in community building projects conducted a community development experiment over the course of six months. Additional courses are still being held today by volunteer participants.

A starting point for students to get involved with their community

DeMachi is operated by the Applied Art Institute, a company that takes on community-building projects around the country from their headquarters in Fukui Prefecture.
 
The first encounter with the Masugata Shopping Arcade happened in 2007, when the institute’s head Koji Katagi became involved in the Kyoto City’s 2R Eco Town Construction Project promoted by a council dedicated to waste reduction. In cooperation with the shopping arcade and students from Kyoto Seika University, they worked to reduce the amount of trash produced when shopping.
 
Afterward, the institute developed projects in various areas, including the Kawada Art Camp introduced on greenz.jp, and Kyoto X Camp, in which students work towards the revitalization of rural agricultural communities in Kyoto.
 
As the scope of their efforts broadened, a gateway for students to join became necessary. That’s when they came across a vacant warehouse with closed shutters in the Masugata Shopping Arcade. Thus, DeMachi was created to function as a space where young people can gather freely as well as for the institute’s base in an urban area.
 
The manager Mr. Saiba explains DeMachi’s concept.
==
The “De” in DeMachi comes from the Latin prefix ‘de’ which signifies escape, and it symbolizes being away from the heart of the city.
 
It’s a fascinating space where what is normally separated in architectural aspect can coexist. For example, an art student might have a chance to encounter a fish vendor at the shopping arcade, or an old man from the shopping arcade might stop by during a meeting at the office.
 
By design, this place where people of various walks of life and different communities coexist allows for cross-cultural interactions to arise by chance.
==
New encounters happen in the alley where DeMachi is located.
“A stylish, air-conditioned place would be fine, but that’s not something that a spot like DeMachi, based in a shopping arcade, needs to strive for,” Mr. Saiba continues.
==
Anyone can access it from the street, and those who have come in can create something good in the nearby shopping arcade area. We wanted to create a system where people can respond to these creations, and the creator can receive something for it and then put it right back into the community.
==
To that end, Mr. Saiba decided to hold events on a daily basis. Six months have passed since DeMachi opened, and the events are mainly planned by Mr. Saiba, but the goal is to have shop owners, students, and locals from the shopping arcade bring their own plans so that events are held 365 days a year.
==
There is a bookstore in Tokyo called B&B. They hold events without missing a day but the events always attract people. I really like that place. But neither in Kyoto nor Osaka, there aren’t any places that hold daily events yet.
 
Through our events, more and more people are responding and learning about DeMachi. Those people then use DeMachi for their own purposes and interact with the shopping arcade and the students. In this way, I want DeMachi to continue to be a starting point for community-building.
==
Students who work in rural agricultural communities have held meetings night after night.
There are several bases for community development within the city of Kyoto, but what’s appealing about DeMachi is the way students are deeply involved.
==
For students involved with Kawada Art Camp and Kyoto X Camp, DeMachi serves as a base for activities in the city. They hold meetings and briefings, and they stay until late at night working on their activity notebooks.
 
There are also students who hold events for the public as part of their co-curricular and seminar activities, and the shopping arcade also becomes lively during these events.
==
The atmosphere of a town changes depending on the people who stop by. The presence of DeMachi, where students gather, has started to spark small changes in the shopping arcade and the local community.

Encounters with adults led me to the world of community building

The Kawada Art Camp, which led Mr. Saiba to take the path of community development.
Since his years as a student, Mr. Saiba has been involved in community development from the perspective of art. But he wasn’t always interested in this path. A variety of encounters brought him to where he is now.
 
==
I was involved in Kawada Art Camp since my sophomore year in university. At first, I participated because I thought I would be able to create and exhibit works outdoors, but after being involved in the project throughout my junior and senior years, Mr. Katagi, the director, taught me all about the future for these activities.
==
 
At the time, Mr. Katagi was an associate professor at the Department of Architecture at Kyoto Seika University who also worked as the general director for the Kawada Art Camp. “In those days, in 2006, there weren’t many programs like that, and its future seemed hard to grasp,” Mr. Saiba explains.
 
==
While discussing how to proceed, what to do after graduation, and how to accelerate the local economy, I gradually gained interest in community development.
==
Students are even selling local specialty products that they came across at the Kawada Art Camp.
After graduating, Mr. Saiba found a job in Tokyo. While working in design, he could not keep his hometown, Kyoto, or Fukui (a place he got to know during his student years) off of his mind.
 
That’s when he met Meiten Corporation’s Wataru Kainuma, who worked to bridge youth and traditional crafts in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture through an NPO called ETIC., which supports internships and entrepreneurial activities.
 
==
“If you notice a problem in your community, take responsibility and do something about it,” Mr. Kainuma told me. I don’t think he remembers telling me that. At the time, though, his words had an impact on me.
 
People around me were telling me how they wanted their own fields they belong to in the countryside. I had Fukui, as well as my hometown of Yosano. In a certain sense, I misunderstood and thought, “Wow, I have to take this chance!” There weren’t many people doing that kind of thing at the time, so I thought of it as a business opportunity.
==
 
He knew locals from the Kawada Art Camp, and he had friends in Kyoto. As if being propelled forward by those who paved the way for community development ahead of him, Mr. Saiba joined the Applied Art Institute only a year after landing a job in Tokyo, and headed straight for Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture.
 
Mr. Saiba started connecting students with agricultural communities as a director for the Kawada Art Camp and Kyoto X Camp. When the opening of DeMachi was officially decided in February 2015, he was selected to be the manager, and as a result, he turned around and headed back to his hometown, Kyoto.

Creating opportunities to make something out of nothing

Students go about their independent activities in the shopping arcade. These students are selling tomatoes they harvested while working with farmers in Yosano.
Currently, around 200 students frequent DeMachi. Mr. Saiba had this to say about his involvement with such a variety of students.
 
==
I want to bring something out of students who have never been to the countryside and have no interest in it.
 
I want those who have high potential but don’t know what to do and those who don’t have anywhere apply their skills to find a place to flourish. I want people to realize that there is more than one place where they belong.
 
In the end, they can decide if they want to go to the country, or the city, or even overseas. I want DeMachi to be a place where people can gain that kind of perspective.
==
 
The idea of moving to the countryside has gained interest as of late. Some say that DeMachi has a role in promoting this kind of migration, but Mr. Saiba is focused on creating opportunities from scratch. He does not want to impose any unnecessary pretenses on the students. Thanks to this stance, there is an atmosphere at DeMachi that enables people to come in with a relaxed attitude.
Many people came to see the Yosano produce market, which was held in cooperation with the Masugata Shopping Arcade.
Mr. Saiba adds that he would like to expand DeMachi’s function to promote urban-rural exchange in the future.
 
==
I want people to be able to move between the country and the city more freely.
 
Even if you find a place fascinating, you are likely to only visit once if you don’t know anybody there. But if there are people there that you like, you’re bound to visit more than once. It would be nice for there to be more places where people can cherish each other.
==
 
Many people seem to be under the impression that community building is something one can only do in one’s hometown or by moving somewhere. But listening to Mr. Saiba speak, you begin to realize that you just have to loosen up and start getting involved in any way you can.
 
==
I want people who want to return to their hometown or move to rural areas as well as people who are busy with work to be able to get involved in their community in whatever small ways they can.
 
There’s no need to strive for results. It doesn’t have to be now. I think it’s enough for people to start thinking about what they can do within the boundaries of their current situation.
==

A place where young people and people from different regions are free to build relationships

It’s been half a year since DeMachi opened. As you observe shop owners and locals greeting people who pass by and students walking freely, you sense that the DeMachi community is gradually approaching the ideals set forth by Mr. Saiba.
 
==
Every day, there is something going on at DeMachi. Students, people from the shopping arcade, and locals come and go and intermingle. I want DeMachi to be a fun, lively place. I want it to be a place where more and more students can start caring about the community.
 
Of course, it makes me happy to see more people involved in community development, but for example, a student who cares about the community may find a job after graduating and be able to apply their experiences as a student to their work at the company. I want to create an atmosphere where each person can get involved with their community in their own unique ways.
==
 
DeMachi is still just getting started. What kind of people will it bring together? What kind of new projects will arise? Will the shopping arcade and the students change? The future holds a wealth of potential.
“Kids from the neighborhood often come to play,” Mr. Saiba says.
“I want to be involved with my community.” If you’ve had this thought before, why not try stepping foot in your local shopping arcade? You’ll find cheerful fish vendors, greengrocer ladies who care about your health, and young people opening their own shops. You’re certain to meet someone who you will want to see again.

 

These kinds of encounters may encourage you to get involved with your community and help you find out how you want to live your life.

Author: Yui Kitagawa
Address
67 Isshincho Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu 602-0824
Website
http://demachi.aai-b.jp/

Read more article on Partner’s site

The WEB magazine "greenz.jp" is a non-profit media launched in 2006. We cover cases of "A symbiotic relationships" all over Japan and around the world, and publish them as articles that anyone can read.