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‘Playful Ants’ that Change the World

Ryohei Ikeda
(Life Designer / Business Planning Fellow at ADDress Corporation/ CHRO & General Affairs Executive Officer at KOBIRA Corporation)

‘Envisioning “new richness for the future” from local frontier’

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 08 – Ryohei Ikeda(Life Designer / Business Planning Fellow at ADDress Corporation/ CHRO & General Affairs Executive Officer at KOBIRA Corporation)

Many of you may have felt an increase in the number of friends and acquaintances who are taking “workation” or “living in two locations between the city and the countryside” in recent years due to the COVID-19 influence. Some of you may be actually engaged in such activities yourself.

Mr. Ryohei Ikeda, featured in this episode, is the one who used to promote such ‘multi-location lifestyle’ at ADDress, a start-up which proposes monthly subscription-based ‘co-living service at nationwide locations.’  It was at the end of last year in 2021 when Mr. Ikeda left Tokyo with his wife and two small children and moved to the countryside.

I asked Mr. Ikeda why he decided to move and how he currently envisions his future. 

Supporting others to realize a high quality of life based on his own experience of financial hardship

Mr. Ikeda: Originally, I was a life planner at a Japanese life insurance company. Simply put, my work was to think with my clients about how each of them could live richly through life insurance as the core of the solution. 

It was triggered by my own experience that I had a very difficult time with money. I had to borrow money after my father’s company went bankrupt when I was a student. Then, even after I started working, I had to take on more debt due to my lack of knowledge about money. Also, because of a serious injury, my income was cut off for some period. The power of money is incredibly strong. This is the lesson I learned through my own experience of financial hardship. 

When people are put in a situation where they must struggle with money, they inevitably become unable to properly understand the situation and thus it is extremely difficult to come up with any good solutions to work themselves back to financial stability. Having deepened my understanding of human weakness through my own experience, I found it rewarding to help clients make effective use of the money they earn as compensation for their work and support them to live full lives.

However, as the way people work and live became individualized and diversify in a changing world, I have come to believe that I need to shed light not only on the economic aspects of people’s lives, but also on their daily lives in order to support people’s life of abundance. 

With this in mind, I joined ADDress, a startup company that proposed “multi-location living,” three years ago. As a corporate sales representative, I was in charge of proposing and promoting plans for corporate clients to offer multi-location living as a way for companies to support their employees’ rich lifestyles. To be fully confident of this service, I thought I myself need to understand the beauty of multi-location living, so I stayed with my family at homes that contracted with ADDress around the country, living a life that connected me to various local locations. Especially, the house in Minami-Boso, our favorite place, was so important to our family that we could call it our “third family home.” My son even thought that the old housekeeper, whose mustache was his trademark, was his real grandfather (laugh).

Although my family had experienced the richness of life in local areas and deep inside myself yearned for it, I had given up the idea of leaving Tokyo because my wife was working for an organization with its headquarters in Tokyo.

Changing the way you live and work adapting to changes of the environment

Mr. Ikeda: I believe that the change in our thinking was largely due to the change of our stage in life. To be more specific, when our second child was born this past year, my wife took a year and a half leave of absence for childbirth and childcare. As I, along with my wife, raised our children and focused on the family, our own values, which had revolved around work time, changed dramatically and unexpectedly. In addition to that, I think the dramatic progress in stay-home and remote work as a result of COVID-19 also influenced our values. Through these unexpected changes in our personal and professional lives, we began to think, “It is only our own assumption that we can’t leave Tokyo. Rather, we should use this change in our environment as an opportunity to change our own way of life itself,” and we decided to leave Tokyo.

The place Mr. Ikeda and his family chose as their destination after leaving Tokyo was Kagoshima Prefecture, the farthest point on the Kyushu mainland, the area where Mr. Ikeda himself had visited only twice in his life. Considering that the distance in a straight line is nearly 1,000 kilometers, a long way from Tokyo, there must have been other “easier” regions, such as Atami or Karuizawa, a bit closer and more popular. Why did they decide to wander around such a far place?

Mr. Ikeda: There is a camp which is organized once a year by an NPO in Kagoshima Prefecture called SELF (SATSUMA EMERGING LEADERSHIP FORUM), and I happened to have the opportunity to be a speaker at the 2020 camp. Though I had only a short time to meet the organizers during the camp, at that time I felt that were many interesting people in Kagoshima! I found they shared a strong love for their hometown and were passionate about it. It left a strong impact on me, and when I started thinking about moving to the local region, the memory came back to me vividly.

Also, the fact that I could raise my children in a wonderful environment was another major reason. In Kirishima City where I moved, both the sea and mountains are within walking distance, and we feel very close to nature. Another reason was that I strongly wanted to send my child to Hiyori Nursery School, which focuses on nutrition education for its students.

Mr. Ikeda has lived in Tokyo for a long time in his life, including his student days. What kind of view does he get once he actually enters a local community from the so-called outside world?

Mr. Ikeda: First and foremost, I feel that “the connections between people are very strong.” Tokyo is a place where various people from all parts of Japan gather and are connected. In Tokyo, within the framework of capitalism, people are connected based on some specific purposes or interests to generate money, or something like that. In Kagoshima, on the other hand, I feel that people are connected with the platform of Kagoshima as a common foundation, and with the purpose of how to improve that foundation and how to live by helping each other on that foundation. In other words, people seem to appreciate exchange economy and non-monetary capital, different from capitalism.

Implementing new richness to a locality as an outsider

It is often said that “it is the strangers, the young, and the foolish who bring innovation” when it comes to local development and regional revitalization. Then, what new value does Mr. Ikeda intend to bring to the community as an outsider from Tokyo? 

Mr. Ikeda: Upon moving here, I befriended a person who shares the same generation as me and who is the fourth president of a local company with a 110-year history in Kagoshima. He is a man who has taken on bold challenges before taking over the company, such as studying abroad, working at a consulting firm, and launching several agricultural startups. His company has grown from its origin as a blacksmith shop to a current regional trading company by actively embracing the changing times and diversifying into energy, trading, and IT software development domains. I sympathized with his aspiration to establish a corporate identity as a “new long-established company,” not only looking at short-term profits, but also thinking on a long-term scale of how to create the next sustainable 100 years while succeeding the past 100 years. 

I joined the company as an executive in charge of the human resources and general affairs department from this March. In this role, I’m curious to think and realize what kind of new organizational image we can establish within the company and what kind of new richness we can bring to the regional platform through our new business. And in my private life, too, I’m thrilled to seek how I will raise my two children who are about to enter elementary school. While combining these public and private themes, I would like to tackle the big proposition as “life design that values non-financial capital,” which has become my purpose throughout life.

Mr. Ikeda: Though this is based on my own experience of struggling with money when I was young, I believe that “richness comes from the range of experience.” Especially, I think it is important to experience and learn from the wide range of the lower half such as unexpected hardships, failures, and setbacks. From these experiences, I believe that we can gain “capital in the form of experience,” which cannot be obtained by taking the shortest path to success. In order to enrich my own life with this capital, I would like to continue wandering around in life with the thought, “not of how to avoid head wind carefully, but of how to make the most of it playfully.”

Post-Interview Reflection

Listening to Mr. Ikeda’s story of his major life change of moving to Kagoshima, the image of a sailboat sailing comfortably across the ocean came to my mind.

It’s said that a sailboat can move forward even if it takes a head wind. Of course, if it takes it head-on, it cannot move forward. Instead, by catching the wind on the sail at a slightly slanted angle, a sailboat gains a driving force, and by frequently repeating the change of direction, known as tacking, it can steadily move forward toward the destination.

Sometimes our lives are compared to a journey across the ocean. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing, sometimes it’s calm, sometimes we get caught in a big storm, and sometimes we hit a headwind. A tailwind suddenly becomes a headwind when the destination changes. Sometimes our own past experiences and accomplishments can become stereotypes that prevent us from moving forward.

A sailboat can move forward even in headwinds. So is our life, too. No matter how strong and terrible the wind is, we can turn it into a force that drives us forward by changing the way we perceive it. To learn how we can turn the wind into power, rather than being tossed about by it, depends on whether we’ve wandered freely in the ocean and run around in all kinds of winds.
Stay Playful. 

『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. 

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.