Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Ryota Kamio

18.11.2020, Regina Schröter

Ryota Kamio is an urbanist, designer and researcher based in Fukuoka, South Japan. After graduating from Human Geography in Tokyo, he moved to Barcelona where he researched urban issues for five years, before switching to designing urban solutions. Ryota currently works for the Think & Do-tank Re:public on transforming South Japan into a circular economy. # FROM TOKYO TO BARCELONA I spent most of my twenties living in Europe and I am now back in Japan for the first time in a long while. During my Bachelor studies in Human Geography in Tokyo I went for a year abroad to Budapest. There, I had the opportunity to meet people from Barcelona and spend all the holidays with them to explore the city. During my visits to Barcelona, the unemployment rate of young people in Spain was extremely high. Yet I was amazed by the lively ambience in the streets, and how people were enjoying themselves. Of course, I knew that the economic situation was not good, but I perceived them as being very happy nevertheless. Coming from Japan, I knew that this would not be the case in my country and that people would not handle an economic crisis in such a positive way. That was the starting point for me and Barcelona. # STUDYING IN SPANISH AS A NON-NATIVE At one point, I was looking for a Master’s degree and was very interested in urbanism in Europe in general. But the challenge was that in Barcelona, most of the Master’s degrees were only in Spanish, and at that time I did not speak the language. So I looked into programs in Germany and the Netherlands, where I could have done a degree in English. But in the end, I decided to take on the challenge to study my Master’s in Barcelona, in Spanish. So after my undergraduate studies in Tokyo, I moved straight to Barcelona and attended a language school for a year, before joining a Master’s degree in Spatial Planning & Environmental Management at the University of Barcelona. This was a big challenge because I only had a single yet intense year to learn Spanish and when I joined the program, I was the only non-native Spanish speaker. It took me triple the time to read an article, but this helped me a lot to improve. In the end, the efforts paid off and I landed a paid internship at the municipality. Today I am really confident with the language. #GAINING DEGREES AND EXPERIENCE After I completed the first Master’s degree in Spatial Planning & Environmental Management, I did a second one in Urban Studies. The two degrees took a bit more time for me than for the other students due to the foreign language. But it was also convenient because I needed the student visa to be able to reside in Barcelona. In parallel with my studies, I was working both for the City Council of Sant Vicenc dels Horts, a municipality on the outskirts of Barcelona, and for Japanese mobility and advertisement companies as a freelance researcher, since a lot of private businesses in Japan are actually working on urban design projects. {{Pic1: Electronics workshop in the MDEF program at IaaC, Barcelona. Photo by Ryota Kamio}} # FROM URBAN RESEARCHER TO DESIGNER When I was working as a researcher, I regularly organised research trips for Japanese companies to show them around innovative spaces in Barcelona. One of the places I brought them to was the [FabLab Barcelona]( There I met Tomas Diez, who opened this maker space at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IaaC) for citizens to access digital fabrication tools and make almost everything themselves. He explained to us the importance of transforming our cities with a planetary approach, which is what the FabCity Global Initiative is about. At the time we met, Tomas Diez was preparing a new program at the IaaC called [Masters in Design for Emergent Futures]( (MDEF). After I had done two research Master’s on complex urban issues, my supervisor advised me to dedicate more of my time creating solutions for those issues. I therefore decided to join the MDEF program which switched my career from research to design. Today I enjoy combining both in my profession. {{Pic2: Ryota’s final project exhibited at IAAC, Barcelona. Photo by Ryota Kamio}} # PLANETARY THINKING The MDEF is based on the principles of the FabCity Global Initiative, which aims for Barcelona and other cities to be fully self-sufficient by 2054. Most importantly you learn to always start to think from a planet level. Then you design a narrative from the planet, to the country, region, city, home all the way to the individual level. Based on this narrative, you design an intervention for the future you would like to have. This sounds very conceptual, but MDEF is all about getting your hands dirty with materials and planetary thinking. We looked at many different fields, such as synthetic biology and biomaterials, open-source design and digital fabrication. The program is very broad and you have to pick out or combine certain topics that you are interested in or mix them to your own flavour. The master’s shows in a way how complex cities are today. {{Pic3: Getting your hands dirty with synthetic biology and biomaterials at IaaC, Barcelona. Photo by Ryota Kamio}} #WORKING AS AN URBAN DESIGNER & RESEARCHER What I studied in the MDEF program directly relates to what I am currently working on. I am a director at [Re:public](, a multidisciplinary design firm that works with universities, private companies and city councils. Re:public was born in 2011 after the big earthquake happened in Fukushima. Our two co-founders started the company after realizing that the revitalization of cities and towns is not only about great ideas but rather about the local individuals who drive them. Hence, the way we do business is very particular: we see our clients as collaborators and work in a very horizontal way to foster innovation. # PROTOTYPING A CIRCULAR ECONOMY COUNTRYSIDE The project I currently manage is located in the countryside of Japan outside of Fukuoka, in the Kagoshima prefecture. We are planning on building a center for a new urban design based on the digital circular economy called “[Satsuma Future Commons](”, very much inspired by the FabCity concept. Our goal for the next three years is to prototype a circular economy in the countryside, rather than in a megacity like Tokyo. The problem with cities is that they often take a long time to transform because they are doing just fine (for now), but the countryside, especially Kagoshima, needs to change in order to survive global capitalism. {{Pic4: Vision Map of Satsuma Future Commons - Credit: Toshinori Yonemura}} One of the reasons why Kagoshima is the right place to experiment and test circular urban design is that production and consumption happen really close geographically. For example, the local region of Kyushu is almost self-sufficient food-wise with lots of foods being produced here. # PLANS FOR THE FUTURE My plan for the next few years is to deliver, prototype and test the digital circular model using Research through Design (RtD) in Kagoshima. I believe that the circular economy and sustainability should be explored more in the countryside in order to understand the potential of rural areas and their craftsmanship. Also, it is Asia’s turn now to inspire the West on how the 21st century’s urban design can look like.