with Us
Thank you!

Sign up to our newsletter and be the first
to hear about our products, events,
stories and exclusive online features.

‘Playful Ants’ that Change the World

Creative Director

‘Innovating Japan by Redifining the Journey’

Yasuhiro Karakawa, leader of the "Playful Ants Incubator” introduces people in Japan who are creating new values in the world via their unique lifestyles and work styles.


Playful Ant 01 – Lucas B.B. (Creative Director)

Lucas B.B. has been publishing the magazine “PAPERSKY” for nearly 20 years. Its key theme “Journey” has been expressed through a multitude of unique ways. One being ‘TOKYO TREE TREK (TTT)’—which proposes a new way of exploring Tokyo by visiting different trees via a 60km city trail that winds it’s way through Tokyo’s parks, backstreets and forests. Another unique Papersky project is the ‘Tour de Sandwich’—which explores local ingredients and individual stories by journeying to Japan’s National Parks and embodying each park into the form of a sandwich.

An old Japanese house which Lucas uses as his office and residence stands in the quiet residential area nearby Shibuya station. It has a calm, relaxed atmosphere, full of simple but playful items. Some of these items are things that Lucas has brought back from his journeys, while others are things he’s produced by himself specifically for journeys.

In his 27 year stay in Japan, Lucas has been bringing unique ideas—ideas that are often ahead of their time—to life. I wanted to listen to his life and his stories for this interview series, because, to me, he was and still is somewhat mysterious.

Creativity succeeded from his grandmother

During his childhood, Lucas was already in love with creative writing and layout designing. He started getting involved and helped develop his school’s newspaper articles and magazine at a young age, and expanded his interests into costume designing and styling for stage performances during college. What was his creative motivation? After a moment of silence, he recalled:

Lucas: My grandma was running a local print shop. I still remember the smell of ink and paper from my childhood vividly…

About 40 years ago, when Lucas was still 3 years old, his parents got divorced. His mom, who gained custody over Lucas and raised him, made up her mind to be strong for him and enrolled in law school. As a result, young Lucas spent much of his time with his maternal grandmother. That grandmother, whom Lucas loved, was nicknamed “Maxi”, and she managed a print shop on her own. She was smart, creative and active.

Lucas: I spent a lot of time with Maxi until I turned 8 years old. She really loved hiking, camping and taking me on both small and big journeys. I also have many memories of cooking together. We ate a lot of fish; making everything from Chesapeake Bay Crab cakes to gefilte fish.

Making use of the creativity succeeded from his grandmother, Lucas and his school paper were presented with several awards at a newspaper contest in California when he was a middle school student. Without an idea or two, a newspaper is just a blank sheet of paper. By adding his own ideas, however, it becomes his own work, as if it’s his own, customizable avatar. Thus, getting recognized for it was an extremely ecstatic experience for him.

Life is just a series of unexpected moments

At the University of California Santa Cruz, Lucas majored in American Studies and soon devoted himself to “new journalism”—which was a combination of fiction and non-fiction largely brought to life by one of Lucas’ favorite authors Tom Wolfe. He learned how to interconnect seemingly different themes such as history, literature, politics and art in order to see things in a holistic way. Through doing so, he started getting interested in overseas cultures.

Lucas liked to visit the ‘Kinokuniya’ book store in the Japan town in San Francisco on the weekends. Though he could not read Japanese back then, he was fascinated by the photographs, clothing designs and graphic layouts found in Japanese magazines. His interest in Japan continued to grow until he finally flew to Japan for his graduation trip in 1993.

Lucas: That graduation trip was a life changing experience. I originally planned to come with my close friend, but he couldn’t as he became sick. Although there was an option to not go, I decided to make the trip on my own. And so, my original 2 weeks trip ended up with me staying here for more than 25 years. I learned that small decessions  have the power to change not just your day but sometime even your life.

During his first few years in Japan, Lucas was a freelance writer at English media corporations such as The Japan Times, WIRED and TIME. Despite the fact that he gained opportunities to interview well-known organizations and celebrities, he actually found himself enjoying and attracted to exploring everyday food, life culture and ordinary people in their everyday lives, specifically in a way that Japanese people themselves could not notice.

Lucas: My strength is to dig up something that is interesting but difficult to comprehend. In other words, my strength is the skill to not get bored of anything.

As an answer to my question of where he believes he gained that skill, Lucas shared a story about his half-brother 10 years his younger. When Lucas was a teenager every time his brother joined a local baseball or soccer team, Lucas accompanied him, and coincidentally came to be assigned the role of head coach of each of his brothers team. That’s how he gained his life-long attitude of believing that every person has his or her own uniqueness, and to explore and elicit every person’s potential.

Live moments playfully even in a long lonely journey

Lucas’s aspiration to make Japanese people realize the beauty of Japanese culture has increasingly grown, and has reminded him of an old memory that he really loved expressing something on the new paper. That memory led him to establish his own company in 1996. The company’s magazine, “TOKION”, won its readers’ sympathy by grasping Japanese pop culture through Lucas’s unique lens.

Lucas has two criteria for his creative works. One is whether he can create a “new world” perspective or not. Lucas believes that he doesn’t need to create something that already exists. He focuses most of his attention in pursuit of new creative challenges rather than continuously thinking about how to increase circulation. The second is whether he can change people’s perspective and opinions of the world. He explained that he used “journey” as a metaphor, and that what it means is not to go far away, but to gain a new perspective of the world and explore one’s self even in everyday life. It was for this reason that in 2002, Lucas started ‘PAPERSKY’, a magazine with it’s central theme being ‘journey’ and created to introduce lifestyles around the world as well as around Japan that harmoniously blend nature and creative culture.

Readers of ‘PAPERSKY’ may agree with my opinion that the ideas in which Lucas envisions and embodies for the world are clearly different from those which create a big buzz. His ideas are surely interesting, but at first glance they seem so inefficient and sometimes even a waste of time and effort. For instance one of my favorite journey’s of Lucas’ is his endeavour to FOLLOW THE “IMO-JIZO”. 300 years ago Kichijuro Asami, who in his after life was given the name IMO-JIZO “the potato guardian,” made a treacherous journey from Omishima to Kagoshima to save his people from famine. Lucas and his friend Shinichiro retraced his 300km path to seek his redemption and turn his Potatoes into shochu. However, brilliant or far out Lucas ideas may be I can always see the joy flowing from Lucas and his love of molding those ideas into reality via his sorcerer’s magazine. Where does that joy come from?

Lucas: I got a serious, intractable disease when I was just three years old and it continued to plague me until early adulthood. I was constantly in a mental state of not knowing whether I would live or die. That’s how I realized that I was always on the borderline between life and death, and that I was just made to live. If I die, I can’t be disappointed. For me, living itself is already a joy. So, I enjoy every single moment as playfully as I can, even if it seems meaningless and wasteful. It’s simply that. 

Make a step led by the curiosity

One day when visiting the United States, Lucas went back to California for a to visit his grandmother. The day they met, she was fine, and Lucas enjoyed eating ice cream with her. The next day, Maxi passed away peacefully at the age of 90. While recollecting memories of his beloved grandma, Lucas shared with me one more thing.    

Lucas: There are so many things I succeeded from Maxi, but if I were to summarize it all in one word, it’s curiosity.

Post-Interview Reflection

Curiosity, at first glance, seems extremely common and obvious. However, this is actually one of the most important qualities for “Playful Ants”. While asking himself whether his own heart is moved or not, Lucas always walks a new path, seeking challenge after challenge. This is what others fail to imitate and replicate easily. Of course, there’s no point in denying that exploring new paths this way incurs many detours and, therefore, is far from being efficient and productive. However, as Lucas continues to embark on his new path and as he continues to accumulate moments step by step, a new journey which nobody has seen before unravels before him. This is Lucas’s way of living as a “Playful Ant”.

As a “Playful Ant”, we don’t have to worry about criteria such as “is it really interesting?” or “is it really profitable?” or “is it really meaningful?”. The most important criterion is whether we feel pleasant doing something. If we can, we can make our own small first step while paying attention to our set of values. Then, we continue to move forward, step by step, until we reach the boundary—once we reach it, we can create our own unique values.

If we, as people, slowly start to turn into “Playful Ants” this way, I believe that society can and will become more interesting and sustainable.

『The Playful Ants that change the world』

In an ant society, you can easily identify the herd of “Worker Ants”—the textbook definition of ants, the ones who continuously carry the food. If you take a closer look, you may notice that there’s a different group of ants walking about playfully in their own world. These are “Playful Ants”—ants and thanks to their curiosity, they at times stumble across an unexpected feeding ground or detect sudden threats in advance allowing them to warn the colony of danger in advance.

In this interview series, I introduce interesting lifestyles and work styles of different “Playful Ants”, in order to help incubate them into this world.

Each human being is as small as an ant. However, if each ant pursues his or her own path purposefully and playfully, that path can connect to an opportunity to explore and create something new. That can turn into the power to change the world in its own way. I’ve come to believe so after spending many years on designing and leading practical innovation projects, and working with many global and Japanese corporations as a consultant and coach.

Yasuhiro Karakawa (Playful Ants Incubator)
With a purpose of “incubating Playful Ants both in the corporations and the society” Yasu has been leading practical innovation projects with global corporations in more than 10 countries while also serving as a strategy advisor and a guest lecturer.