This issue, The COMM sat down with Jimi Okelana, founder and creative director of Tokyo-based company ON-1, to discuss creative entrepreneurship in Japan. Jimi provides an insight on the current corporate landscape of professional creatives—and crucially, how it will impact the futures of young people. Check out the interview below for all the info!
Please introduce yourself! Who are you and what is ON-1?
I’m the creative director and founder of ON-1, Inc., an event-based collective of professional creatives in Tokyo, Japan.
What kinds of events does ON-1 produce?
Over the past year, ON-1 has aimed to make and support events that encourage project-based creatives to think less and do more. We bring together people with a shared interest in showcasing what they are working on with like-minded and motivated peers.
The events tend to be a collaborative effort in producing multiple projects into new, interactive experiences. Our community covers everything from performing arts, to machine learning. It’s not uncommon for projects created from our events to lead into paid work with companies looking for authentic, original ideas for product promotion.
What inspired you to work with young creatives?
I’ve had the privilege to do most of my “adulting” as a creative professional in Japan after moving here around 12 years ago. That experience took me from navigating the global economic crisis of 2007-2008, to now working with some of the most influential creative leaders in Japan.
Along the way I noticed that the potential of young talent was often underutilized, and that there was a growing gap between the creative economy and investment/corporate capital. As we start moving towards a new age of automation, industries will need to rely on optimizing the creative potential of the human workforce. That’s the core motivation of ON-1. We want to start an educational accelerator that protects the spark of fresh ideas and offers a new model for sustainable creative business.
What made you want to focus on Japan in particular?
I have benefited greatly from having the opportunity to live and work in Japan, and feel a sense of responsibility to contribute something back. There is unarguably a tendency to be conservative and risk averse in modern Japanese business culture, but how you tell the story can easily sway potential “no’s” into hopeful “maybe’s”. The combination of finding new ways to implement creativity, and mastering the art of storytelling as a business strategy is a motivating challenge for me in Japan.
What are some of the biggest challenges when starting a company in Japan? Is it more difficult if you’re a company working within the creative sector?
The biggest challenges in starting a company in Japan are also the greatest advantages. Creating long-term, professional relationships takes time, patience, and mastery of “the unspoken language/reading the air” that is half of communicating in Japan. Although it is not unique to the country, the educational and corporate systems are based on rote learning and quantifiable results. That makes it hard for most groups to conceptualize and find the qualitative value of 21st century thinking.
In this type of environment, having a creative mindset is extremely valuable. The hard part is learning how to create tangible and successful examples integrating both sides and making it an enjoyable experience for everyone. Everyone is convinced that the future is about creative business—the opportunity is in figuring out what that means for what you are trying to build.
What advice would you give to creatives living in Japan who are trying to make a career out of their passion?
Although most creative pursuits require a lot of self-awareness and working on individual skills, it’s really important to find a community of people who can support and motivate you to keep going. In addition to making sure that you surround yourself with like-minded creators, it’s equally important to figure out what your marketable skill is that you can develop alongside your passion projects.
What are your future goals and dreams?
My future goal is to continue to support creators in Tokyo through ON-1 by providing an alternative community, space to experiment, and converting our collaborative projects into sustainable products. I have recently noticed a growing need to focus on health and wellness within the creative professional network, so I am looking forward to exploring that aspect as well.
Any last words?
Think less, do more!
Introduction and questions by Choom.