Discover a Japanese Company: Nazobako and Invite Japan Asakusa
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
IZANAU team explored the exciting world of escape games with Dennis Oliver, General Manager of Invite Japan
Lying in the north of Tokyo, this district is renowned for its 下町 (shitamachi, old town) atmosphere promising you a stroll back in time. Not far from one of the most famous temple of Tokyo, another kind of entertainment awaits you: Nazobako’s escape games! IZANAU team explored the exciting world of escape games with Dennis Oliver, General Manager of the company (and we escaped!) to bring back this exclusive article.
Nazobako, previously known as Escape Hunt, contributes to popularize the escape games in Japan, while its parent company Invite Japan focuses on team building events for companies and startups.
“The general idea is that Nazobako [...] and escape games are fun, yet they don't quite apply for a corporate context. So Invite Japan is more of a professional part of the company.”
Riddles and puzzles in the country of Nomikai
Their clients? IT giants such as Google and Facebook, pharmaceutical conglomerates, leaders in e-commerce, luxury industry… mainly international companies. As a matter of fact, the 飲み会 (nomikai, Japanese equivalent of the after-work drinks) is still the traditional standard to bound between colleagues.
“The idea of a team building program is relatively new here. Foreign companies are coming to Japan with the expectation of team building to be done. They get here, and the local manager and HR don’t know how to do that. "
By offering custom-made projects to strengthen the link between workers, Invite Japan may be a pioneer in this industry: “We are positioning ourselves as the place where we can help [companies] to create something around escape games.We have got a couple of products - of course the facilities; the suitcase Mystery: basically an escape game in a box, it takes you about an hour to get through everything; and Secret Journey, a scavenger hunt around Asakusa. All the statues around here are all part of clues, so players run around here, come and find different things that were hidden. We have also done on request programs. We are working actually with [High-end luxury brand] right now to create something for internal staff. It is a game to help new people coming to the company to get to know each other. ”
“When was the last time anybody put their phone away for an hour?”
If you are not yet familiar with the concept, an escape room is a game which physically locks players in a room and where they have to solve a series of puzzles and riddles in a limited time to get out successfully. The first Escape games had been actually created in Japan in the late 2000’s, inspired by point-and-click games. The trend spread quickly all over Asia, the US, Europe and the rest of the world.
Escape games isolates players from the outside world: no phone, no help. They have to rely on themselves and trust each other’s wits. And while it would be easier for Nazobako to rely on contactless chips and connected devices to create puzzles and enigmas, the team is actually going low-tech. “I think we all are surrounded by technology. All the time. And all technology is magic now. Even IC Cards are magic! I mean, we are using it everyday. But we don’t have usually the opportunity to literally fiddle with a lock and say "no it’s not right, no you didn’t put exactly right". That experience is something that people don’t have anymore. So keeping it low tech is more fun, I think. Part of the game is also that we ask you to put your phone away for an hour. ”
Working at Nazobako
Nazobako is also facing the labor shortage in Japan. (You can check their offer here!)
As an hospitality business, the struggle is to find people ready to work on Sundays and Holidays… but also to find people matching their low-tech approach: “When I say “bring your DIY spirit”, you know, it is really important here! That means that if something happens, it is up to us to fix it. It is up to us to create a new thing if some puzzles are not working right. We have to create it, and make it better.“
Contrary to a lot of positions in contact with customers, a perfect Japanese is not needed. “We don’t expect people to speak in Keigo when they walk in. That is not what we are requiring here. [...] You are not going to talk about the government or science. You are just talking about escape games. [...] You are willing to communicate and willing to listen to people.”
Actually, Dennis is encouraging people from different backgrounds to join: “This place can be quite quiet at times and there is like kind of nothing going on so that's when we work on these other projects and things and suddenly it gets busy you have to like pop up and do... We are a small place. We have the chance to be creative and we have the chance to build something. We are still a small new company, this is not a large boat that has been travelling in the same direction for a long time... This is more like going in all kind of different directions. Each day don’t know what new project or who’s gonna call up!”
Wanting to know more about the career of Dennis Oliver? Check this article!
About the Author
IZANAU's Great Manitou. In Japan since 2011, settled since 2013, have been working in various fields here and there and got a lot of anecdotes to share!