U Share Founder / KUROFUNE Design Holdings Inc.
Chief Executive Officer
Masamichi is a licensed architect (first grade) / developer with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Waseda University and a Master of Architecture degree from Osamu Ishiyama Laboratory in Waseda University Graduate School.
After he graduated from Waseda University graduate school, he won the Azusa Ono Memorial Award. He was involved in the startup stage of the nendo design office. He engaged in the CRE, PFI, large-scale development inside and outside of Japan at Kashima Corporation Design Headquarters, urban planning group.
As a Fulbright scholar, he received a Master of Real Estate Design degree from Harvard Uniersity Graduate School of Design.
After study abroad, he was involved in the real estate private equity business at Morgan Stanley Capital KK. and Angelo Goldon. From the experience of Lehman collapse, by making use of the architectural development method which integrating “long-term and socially conscious real estate investment” and “added value through design”, he aimes to create the sustainable place where people can act lively through real estate development at urban or rural area.
He engaged not only in the activities in the business world but also in the non-profit activities.
He also gives lectures about real estate design at Keio University SFC campus and Waseda Univeristy.
Received various awards; the Azusa Ono Memorial Award, SD review award, Good Design Award, Reconstruction Special Award.
His hobby is cooking. He can make Edomae-Sushi.
U Share Founder / KUROFUNE Design Holdings Inc.
Chief Operating Officer
Takafumi is a licensed urban planner based in Japan where his research and professional experience in urban planning, finance, and policy making brings a social and economic perspective to the design of the spatial and built environment across multiple scales.
His current work focuses on creating a diverse and inclusive environment through spatial and real estate developments, which also properly reflect the existing local identities and cultures to maximize the uniqueness that each place has.
He has professional experience in mergers & acquisitions and the equity offering business at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. After having engaged in developer’s finance projects, as a World Bank scholarship fellow, he returned to Harvard to study the issues in the urban arena. Upon graduating from Harvard, he worked for Sasaki as an urban planner. Some of his past project work includes international development, campus planning in the U.S., district planning, and community engagement. He holds a Master of Urban Planning from Harvard Graduate School of Design with a concentration in urban design and real estate development, and a B.A. in Policy Management from Keio University – Tokyo, Japan, where he graduated as a valedictorian (top student). During his time at college, he spent a year at The University of Edinburgh as an exchange student.
Fluent in Japanese, English, and French.
Belongs to the American Planning Association.
Hobbies include walking around town, watching Rugby, and playing the piano.
U Share Founder / KUROFUNE Design Holdings Inc.
Chief Strategy Officer
Taito is a business leader with a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School and first-class licensed architect with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Tokyo. At Takenaka Corporation, one of the largest general contractors in Japan, he completed a number of architecture projects which ranged from condominiums, offices and dormitories. After joining Plantec Group, an architecture design and construction firm, he managed projects with premier global clients such as Apple.With a passion to strengthen a rejuvenating impact architecture brings to urban built environment, he learned management and entrepreneurship in an MBA program at Harvard Business School. He now strives to manage Plantec Group and run an educational program inspired by what he learned at Harvard.
U Share Founder / KUROFUNE Design Holdings Inc.
Hiromasa Furufu started the student venture when he was in Tokyo Institute of Technology. After graduation, he started his own business called “Oisix”, which sells safe, secure, and delicious foods such as organic vegetables. “Enrich the dining tables in Japan through foods and change society for the better”. Under this mission, he was in charge of the value creation of the projects, such as product development and system development. He drove the business growth of Oisix and it went public on the stock exchange in 2013. After that, while he was in MIT Sloan Fellows MBA, he met Inoue and Ueta, who went to Harvard University at that time, and he started the KUROFUNE Design Holdings Inc. with them. Also, he is drafting a plan for space business by making use of the networks in MIT.
Advisor / Design & Investment Management Harvard University Professor
Area head of the Real Estate and the Built Environment at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. While teaching real estate investment theory and new real estate design, she has practiced real estate investment and design in China and the United States. Has a strong network in the US academic world. Born in Shanghai, lives in the United States Harvard Graduate School of Design Ph.D.
Why U Share? – Founding Story
Taken at Harvard Design School, where the founders, Masa and Taka, met and shared their visions for U Share.
By sharing, we thoroughly design spaces that accelerate self-fulfillment. At U Share, we transcend the concept of design from the design of physical space, to designing the growth and experiences of its residents. The founders, Masa Taka, and Taito discuss their thoughts and desires for U Share.
Interviewer: Riona Kunimoto
Q. What kind of place is U Share, exactly?
How to live and share?
Masa： I strongly believe that for future generations, the biggest proposition is, “How to live and share” We, the founders of U Share, have experiences studying abroad in the U.S. and U.K., and staying in dormitories. By living together with global talents from all over the world, communicating in one common language (English), and sharing unique moments and environments together, I was able to bring myself up to a level that I, myself could never have imagined.
Empowering mutual growth by sharing. That’s the kind of world I want to create.
Taka：From such experiences, we started believing that “Everything begins with sharing.” For instance, even if you have dreams or worries that people would laugh at you for, there are always going to be people that understand and support you. By sharing homes and moments together, getting to know each other better, and inspiring and learning from each other, people grow, together. This kind of place and world where positive chain reactions occur by sharing, is what I want to create.
A place where dreams are born.
Masa：Also, I want U Share to be an engine, an origin for dreams. From the founders of Facebook to Microsoft, the triggering place for leaders to talk about their dreams, find companions, and share their ideas to the world was Harvard’s student dormitory.
Taka：Ueda and I also spent many days and nights, sometimes at the Ueda family housing’s lounge, other times at my dormitory’s common room, developing plans for U Share through numerous trials and errors.
The experiences of creating business plans that would potentially change our society. I believe that for such experiences to happen on a daily basis, therein lies a place to connect people, and a positive attitude towards sharing proactively.
Taito：At HBS, the dormitory lounge was where a lot of the interactions occurred. It wasn’t just space for group work, but also where classmates performed music with their band, and where events like eating Japanese food were held. The biggest takeaways from studying abroad happen outside of classrooms, and I strongly felt that the common space in dormitories contributed greatly to this.
Q. It’s rare to see residences with educational and career services, isn’t it?
Living in All English environment makes perfect rather than studying by yourself.
Masa：By living at U Share, you’d have the opportunity to break language barriers in daily life. Living in Japan, it’s easy to get by without having to speak English. However, for a Japanese individual desiring to maximise their possibilities in the world, language barriers are the first walls you have to break through. What we want to provide are: discussions skills in English, project promotion skills, and personal-connection establishing skills. With such skills, a variety of challenges such as studying abroad at top universities and establishing world-class careers could become a reality. Above all, you’d be able to pursue your possibilities globally. Let us live and grow together, until we can say “Language is just a Language”.
I want to share that there are numerous ways to work in the world.
Taka：Other than educational and language services, U Share is also planning to provide career support services. In addition to the natural interactions between members, we’re hoping that staff members of U Share, who have experienced a variety of careers, can help address worries and build an ideal career for each individual.
I personally started my career at an investment bank, jumped into the world of design, got employed in America, and even started my own business. In a society where yesterday’s correct answer can be today’s incorrect answer, I want to provide opportunities for people to realize that “The world is vast, and within it are multifarious ways to work”.
Direct connections with the “Right People, Right Information”
Masa：This is something that can be said for both educational/language services and career support, but we believe that access to the “Right people, Right Information” is vital.
I personally had to spend a lot of time trying to find the right way to study and connect myself with people similar to me, that have experienced studying abroad. From this experience, we will provide not only coaching on suitable programs or how to get scholarships, but also for the specific materials for applying such as essay writing, standardized test preparations, and interview practices. In other words, we will coach the Right Information. Furthermore, we can also directly contact current students at institutions and programs you are interested in. This was something I struggled with when I applied to the Fulbright Scholarship, but with U Share, there’s an immediate connection with the right person.
Taito：That’s exactly right. Getting into an MBA course is also basically information warfare. Those who go with a large company’s expense most likely inherit know-how from those that went before them, but otherwise, it is difficult to reach correct information. Also, the quality of the fellows you work hard together with is very important. The study abroad application process is as enduring as a full marathon, so having good friends to keep your motivation up will allow you to enjoy the process and complete the race.
Instead of residing, it’s more like Space as a Service for self-fulfilment.
Masa：Exactly. Kenichi Omae once said, changing your residence, the people you hang out with, and the way you spend your time can lead to self-fulfillment. As the saying goes, Takafumi and I have grown remarkably from our experiences at Harvard’s student and family dormitories. And I think many people have had similar experiences. What we desire is for members of U Share to feel and experience this as well. Instead of the conventional way of paying the owner house-rent fees, it should feel more like monthly installments for opportunities to gain knowledge and opportunities, and a place to prepare for studying abroad and building an international career, all of which lead to self-fulfilment.
Online Resource Platform “U Plat” to complement real environments
Taka：There’s actually one more unique characteristic about U Share: an online resource platform that only members have access to. Within the platform, members can, for example, get advice about studying abroad from an experienced person, access educational content meeting their needs, and find people with similar interests/ dreams.
A real environment in which people can live together and learn together. And an online platform, “U Plat”, that helps accelerate people’s growth. In an era where it’s easy to mix up reality with the online world, we hope to provide opportunities for “education”, “career-building”, and “network-forming” on a global scale with the real environment of U Share as the core, and online services as a complement.
Q. What did you pay specific attention to, regarding design?
Environmental design that thoroughly encourages interaction and growth.
Taka：At U Share, we hope to complementalize individual space and shared space. While securing individual space, we also design shared spaces and flow lines that cultivate self-growth and friendly rivalry. There are various types of shared spaces, so the fact that members can use them creatively depending on things such as purpose and time, is also another characteristic of U Share.
Moreover, I was a part of developing campuses and student dormitories in the U.S., the birthplace of campus-planning. Therein the center of design always lay the question of “What kind of learning/ living environment should we arrange to enrich the lives of students”?
For example, in European and American universities, it’s normal to have student dormitories on-site, with undergraduate students required to live together in these dorms. Furthermore, common rooms are set on the first floor where many people come and go, kitchens are spacious, and corridors are purposefully made narrow in order to naturally cultivate interactions. In this way, there are deliberate “designs” scattered about.
The power of spaces in creating lifelong communities.
Masa：I think that spaces have a somewhat magical power to create lifelong communities. When I was studying at Harvard, I experienced living in both Perkins Hall, a single household dormitory and Peabody Terrace, a family housing unit. Within both of them, I spent memorable moments with the residents and got involved in numerous activities with them.
Studying together in discussion rooms that are open 24 hours. Hosting parties to teach how to make sushi and teaching each other about our own cultures in shared kitchens. Enjoying table tennis tournaments at tech-related leading companies. The activities always had a great balance between relaxation, self-growth, and interaction. Within the family housing units, there were nursery schools and kids-rooms where families from different countries interacted. Even after coming back to Japan, I still keep in touch with the families I met there.
Taka：I also resided in student dormitories when I was studying at Edinburgh University and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Of course these dormitories had common rooms and libraries, but they also had university-operated cafeterias and even pubs. Through literally living under the same roof, I developed my relationships with the people around me. I still keep in touch with the people I was close to back then, and had it not been for the sharing of “space” and “time”, I do not think the results would have been the same. This is exactly the power of space and design.
Masa：Something else we are particular about is material. At U Share, we plan to implement the same bricks (Cambridge Bricks) as the ones used for Harvard’s facilities. The atmosphere of the city of Cambridge, where Harvard and MIT are located, is also produced by the bricks. With its density and texture, the bricks are of high quality and can withstand centuries. We are very proud to be the first to import the bricks to Japan.
An organic relationship between U Share and cities.
Taka：U Share also works as a base for connecting people and invigorating local communities. In addition to daily life, the monthly-held events will generate interactions that transcend age, nationality, background, etc. With the increase of energetic and diverse members of U Share, the atmosphere of the local communities should be affected as well. For example, let’s say a young American student falls in love with Japanese dumplings and becomes a regular customer of a small, local Chinese restaurant. Imagine the owner of the restaurant trying his very best to communicate with the student within his limited vocabulary. Or perhaps hosting an international food festival within the local community to represent the diverse countries from which the students came from. Just imagining these things makes me all hyped up, but U Share is the kind of place that can encourage such organic connections between people and cities to form.
In urban planning/ design, we call such bases of influence “Nodes”. U Share is a perfect example of that. But U Share won’t just stop after creating one Node. In order to maximize its effect, we will continue to increase the number of Nodes, one by one. Connecting dots makes a line. And in order for numerous lines to connect to make a surface someday, we hope that the connections between people and cities formed from U Share will be organic as well.
Why U Share now, and why in Japan?
Japan’s integrated design of “living” and “learning” is falling behind.
Taka：Through my experiences of living in the U.K. and U.S., I strongly feel that Japan lacks spaces where people can live, learn, and inspire each other. For example in Japan, universities are often thought of as places to learn. However, in the U.K. and U.S., living together is also an important aspect of university life. Recently, there are institutions and majors in Japan that have required residential life, yet the state of development still remains far behind world standards.
Pushing for True Globalization.
Masa：Increasing the number of highly skilled foreign workers settling down in Japan through residences. Increasing the number of Japanese students who think it’s only natural to go abroad for self-updating. We act based on our firm beliefs that these solutions will lead to true globalization.
Taito：True globalization requires not only superficial skills such as speaking English, but also the ability to truly connect with people of completely different origins and cultures. Language is merely a tool. Let’s sleep and eat together and thoroughly understand each other’s different ways of thinking. I wish to create a place where people can have such an experience.
A true global leader understands and respects diversity.
Taka：As Masa and Taito mentioned, Japan will face a transition point soon. As the population decreases, the number of immigrants will increase. Contrary to the U.S and U.K., Japan has a homogenous population, with a clear distinction between the “inside” and “outside”, “public” and “private” affairs. Therefore, Japan could have a hard time with the inclusion and acceptance of diversity. That is why the existence of key players who can connect ethical groups, races, and cultures together is vital in Japanese society.
Being in an environment where people are exposed to a diverse group of people and sense of values daily, will surely inspire people to be more flexible (thought-wise, and personality-wise) and stimulate intellectual curiosity. Having a global perspective, respecting diversity, and solving social issues. We hope that U Share can be a place where people with such global talents can go out into the world.
Please tell us about your future endeavors.
Masa：We’re planning to build three U Shares by the end of 2020: two near the Nishi-Waseda area for students, and one in Minami-Aoyama for young professionals and families. Within two years, we’re also planning to focus on areas around Keio University’s Mita campus and Tokyo University’s Hakusan campus, building ten in total. After constructing a model centered in Tokyo, we’re planning to expand our project to the Kansai region, and other major cities, multiplying to twenty in total within five years. At the same time, we’re also going to start this project in the original city of Cambridge in the United States and other emerging cities in Asia. In time, the U Share network will be constructed with Asia, Europe, and the U.S. in the center. It’ll be possible, for instance, for a U Share member from Denmark to learn about Japanese gardens and landscapes at Kyoto while staying at U Share Kyoto.
The strong U Share alumni network, solving global scale social issues.
Masa：We live in a world that’s inclined to divide. However, I strongly believe that the everlasting strong U Share alumni network will find solutions to overcome such situations. I dream of a day when members of U Share exceed any problems that may arise, finding solutions to global scale problems such as poverty, disparity, and environmental issues.
Taka：In any generation, stories are what remain as memories. By all means, I hope for you to share an enriching “time” with diverse members of U Share. And during that process, I hope you form friendships that will last a lifetime and create lots of stories with them. If you gather up the courage to take one step forward, there’ll be a new world waiting for you. You only live once. Why don’t you enrich your life, together with us?
Taito：Through studying abroad, my world has expanded beyond what I had imagined. While I was there, I was completely absorbed in what was in front of me, and the experience of being swallowed by a new culture was fresh every day … It wasn’t until I came back that I realized what a huge jump I had made. I would like U Share to be a place where people are forced to make big leaps in life. If each person makes a leap, the leap will continue, and before we know it, it will be a movement that will move Japan and the world. This is the kind of future we envision.
“U Share” – Everything begins with sharing.
We hold individual consultations on Zoom for those who wish to move in. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.