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Japan's premier interior design company brings

Interview - September 5, 2023

Since it was founded in 1985, ILYA Corporation has set about establishing itself as one of Japan’s leading interior design companies, bringing its proven expertise to numerous major projects under the motto “total design solutions”.


Japan's premier interior design company brings "total design solutions"

Since it was founded in 1985, ILYA Corporation has set about establishing itself as one of Japan’s leading interior design companies, bringing its proven expertise to numerous major projects under the motto “total design solutions”.

Could you give us your analysis on Japan’s current construction market condition, and what you foresee its needs will be in the years ahead?

Let me confirm my understanding of the social conditions, and also the macro environment. As I said, the declining population in Japanese society will accelerate further in the future, and also, another issue is the construction industry itself.

It's difficult to attract young talent to our industry because there is the negative image of the three K’s - kitanai, kiken, and kitsui. It’s hard, dangerous and dirty. That negative image is prevalent in the market, so not many young people are interested in the industry or want to join the company.

Another issue about infrastructure is that new buildings were constructed between the 1960s and around the 1990s.

Another problem about the social challenge in Japan is that we have many natural disasters such as earthquakes, and we need to prepare for natural disasters in the future such as the Hanshin earthquake, and the East Japan earthquake in Tohoku region. A major earthquake is predicted to occur within the next 30 years in Japan, with 70 or 80% probability.

Another global challenge, as you know, is global warming and the natural disasters caused by it. An example is rivers flooding, so we need to prepare for that. We have to have buildings which are resistant to those natural disasters.

By 2050, we need to achieve carbon neutral targets. This was the pledge made by the former Suga administration, so we have to contribute to social goals as well. That’s my understanding of the social environment.

What's the impact of the social environment on the construction industry? First, the current labor force in the industry is aging, and there is a reduction in newly recruited talent, especially young people. How do you address this? We need to turn the negative image of our work around, so we have to build a positive new image, and a safer and more secure working environment so that we can increase the employment of young people.

Using DX and RX (robotic transformation), we want to improve productivity as well. Another point is, we need to recruit talent from overseas. Before covid, we tried to recruit talent from overseas, but due to covid, they returned to their own countries. We need to encourage them to come back to Japan, while providing sufficient technical training to them.

Another point, number two, is the acceleration of redevelopment in urban areas, and also the renovation of social infrastructure, which are aging at the moment. We think the redevelopment of currently aging buildings will continue.

This innovation construction boom will continue for some time. Also, we need to develop new technologies to curb CO2 emissions, so those construction materials are under development.

We like to actively use CLT - cross laminated timbers. This is a reflection of the current scrap and build strategies, so we need to shift from this kind of society to a stock society. The interior is mainly the stock society, so we need to put more focus on the stock in the future so that the renewal by interior will be more focused.

Our parent company is Kajima Corporation. It has a slogan - to build enduring buildings for 100 years. That is one thing, but we are working on new projects, mainly renovations. The important thing is, we have to have sustainable, long enduring buildings.

Can you give us a quick run-down of your firm?

Since our establishment in 1985, ILYA Corporation has been a leading company in the interior business, engaging in the creation of interior spaces. This field covers a wide spectrum of facilities, including offices, hotels, medical welfare facilities, and educational and research institutions.

ILYA’s corporate philosophy is realizing the dreams and ideals of customers through a rich sensibility and creativity, and based on this philosophy, we provide optimal high quality total design solutions to our customers.

ILYA primarily operates in three categories - design, construction and furniture procurement. Our operations also cover several peripheral businesses, allowing us to fulfill the widest variety of client demands.

We would like to introduce our design services. In the office category, we create comfortable office spaces, and define the corporate identity for these lobbies, conference rooms, executive areas, workspaces and cafeterias. Using the ‘facility programming’ method for workspace designing, we propose new work styles and worker friendly workspaces.

In office relocation projects, we start with an evaluation and review of the new location, then offer support in all stages from design, construction and furnishing, to moving. In the hotel field, we have a wealth of experience in all types of hotels, including business resorts and city hotels.

Based on our worldwide information network, we are able to plan and propose the ultimate hospitality environment throughout the hotel, including the lobby, guest room, bar, restaurants and banquet room. In the commercial field, such as restaurants and retail, we propose designs that take into consideration the business feasibility of each business.

Our designs contribute greatly to improving customer satisfaction and business progress.

In the residential field, we propose ideal designs for dwelling and public spaces. In the medical welfare field, we create a new hospitality environment that is safe and functional, by leveraging the knowledge of experts. In the education and research facilities fields, our technical staff is familiar with research environments and functions, and proposes optimal spaces conducted for bringing out the creativity of researchers.

Next, we will introduce our construction services. Construction managers specialize in interior finish work, manage budgets, costs, schedules and the quality of work in order to realize high quality construction. Our managers have a wealth of experience, especially in areas requiring high quality finishings such as office lobbies, executive areas and hotels.

Next, we will introduce our furniture procurement services. With respect to the selection of furniture and fixtures, we are able to procure the necessary items for a wide variety of fields, including office, hotel, home, medical, welfare, education and research from suppliers inside and outside of Japan, in a cost-effective manner.

In addition, we propose optimal designs and functions. In our hotel consulting services, we provide total hotel support throughout all stages, from business planning to the planning of tableware and amenities as well as supporting hotel, IT and AV systems.

We act as a procurement agent to assist in procuring furniture and equipment. ILYA has worked with nearly all of the international five-star hotels in Japan, and by utilizing our worldwide procurement network we have built through our proven track record, we can propose the best selection.

In artwork coordination services, we propose artwork that complements the hotel interior, and take an integrated approach by offering comprehensive support in all processes, from procurement to installation.

ILYA always tries to provide various interior related services from the customer's viewpoint in order to create optimal interior spaces suited to a wide variety of business fields. This commitment is what makes ILYA a professional team that offers total interior solutions.

Our company name evokes interior design and yet remains timeless. That's the philosophy we put into this name. That's why we chose ILYA rather than Kajima interior.

It has a separate head office, rather than an office within the parent company in Tokyo. We have a Singapore and Osaka office, and also Beijing and Shanghai office. We have a capital of ¥50 million, and we were established on June 8, 1985.

We have designed commercial premises in China and now we want to focus on big projects, which we’ve already started. We have focused on the domestic market but Asia and China are quite important from now on.

In the hotel industry, we are a leading company. Our furniture procurement division, such as hospitality solutions, work mainly with five- and four-star hotels. That's the policy.

As for the construction business, they enhanced their design and the base of their knowledge and collaborated with Kajima. We also work with several leading universities and collaborate with them.


Especially in American and international business, ESG's are at the forefront of the table. We talk a lot about environmental care, but ESG's also include social goals like social inclusion and a good work-life balance. When you work with these companies that care about ESG's, how does the interior design of office space help these big clients achieve their ESG targets?

In my experience with major American companies, they have a system and manual that complies with ESG’s. I believe that those manuals are already comply with this ESG.

In my view, before starting the design, we have to hear the client’s requirements, and of course what challenges they have, and we need to provide the solution to them - what they want to achieve by building a new office space, and we provide the best solution accordingly, and ESG is part of that criteria.

We found many interesting projects, such as hotels. We also found medical centers that you did, and education facilities. What's your favorite project and why?

Among new projects, The Nashiro beach hotel in Okinawa. That hotel opened in July last year.


This particular project won a design award from KEN Corporation if I’m not mistaken.

Yes, and in Kyoto, the Royal Park by Kyoto station. In Kyushu and Hakata there are new building projects, including a traditional historical hotel. We still keep the Japanese style.

We’ve worked on a lot of projects I am fond of: Claremont was a new building by the Kajima corporation. Also, the headquarters of Panasonic, in a more corporate, executive area.

We do a lot of company headquarter buildings, including for KPMG. We won a design competition with the Shanghai Stock Exchange. We have done several shopping malls, which are huge projects.

These projects also all need graphics, which is a great strength of ours as well. We do signage for hotels, some for finding directions or some of the hotel’s name and restaurant name as well. We can do traditional styles as well. That's more like furniture procurement and then hospital solutions.

We have several major companies, but we can't show you that.


You mentioned you’re supporting new work styles for offices, and the covid pandemic had a pronounced effect on how people work. Even as we enter the post pandemic era, flexible working is still maintained as a norm, and in many of our interviews we've heard not that people are going to use offices less, but that the way they're going to be used is changing. We're seeing new trends like modular furniture for example, which actually can be rearranged depending on the needs of the day or of the team, or of an individual. I'd like to know what impact this change in the use of offices has had for your business, and how you're adapting.

In 2019, the new bill to reform working styles was enacted. There was a transitional period in the construction industry, but from 2024 onward this bill should be adopted in all the industries. Four months before the covid outbreak, ILYA implemented ABW - activity based working.

We prepared the workplace for some activities so workers spontaneously choose the place to work. The work was implemented before the covid outbreak, and due to covid, the workers’ behavior patterns drastically changed. With IT technology advancement, we’re using satellite offices and remote work more and more. Currently, we have a hybrid style involving remote work and coming to the office.

Also, the meeting style has changed to web meetings as mainstream, and that trend has been widely adopted. Many companies have adopted this working style - hybrid working - so we can feel some positive result of this work style and also recognize the challenge of the importance of real face to face communication as well.

On the other hand, in readiness for the next pandemic, ILYA has a group of countermeasures against the next infection in the Kajima group. We belong to that working group as a group of Kajima, using IoT to prevent the spread of viruses.

Using light sensor technologies, we can check the usage of the meeting rooms and also the cleanliness of the meeting rooms, so we can effectively take countermeasures against infections. Also, we have optimal sterilization and optimum volume of sodium chloride sterilization liquid.

Many clients have also implemented ABW. They are aiming to improve productivity and creativeness by using hybrid work and achieving well-being as well. They also aim to achieve cost reductions and the recruitment of the best talent.

Those are also the motivations for implementing this style as a means of ABW. We, on the other hand, see office space as a place to create knowledge or exchange knowledge, so that will also continue as an essential need. We need to create wisdom and also knowledge in one place.


You mentioned working with Kajima and different universities. Can you tell us a little more about the role that collaboration plays in bringing these developments to fruition, and whether you've had any experience collaborating with overseas entities, and if not, is that something that you're open to or that you're looking to pursue in the future?

First, it's extremely important to collaborate with other specialized consultant companies in terms of offices. The major tenants of those commercial facilities want to solve their challenges within some constraints, so they require advanced solutions. We have to collaborate with business consultants, IT consultants, lighting consultants and so on, to provide an overall solution to them.

In terms of hotels, we also collaborate with IT consultants, lighting consultants, uniform consultants and also kitchen consultants. It's very natural for those collaborations. We’ve also focused on R&D in recent years, and of course we should collaborate with technical companies which specialize in certain areas, and also engineering or the technical department of Kajima Corporation University.

As for overseas business, we have the Singapore office which covers all the demand in the Asian regions, and in China we have offices in Beijing and Shanghai, and we built partnerships with overseas companies, architects, interior designers and so on. It's extremely important.

One good example is in China, we have an almost 12-year collaboration with the American company, RTKL. This is a construction company, and we also take charge of interior design. A Chinese developer gave us an award - RTKL and ILYA - for the best collaboration projects.


The first impression is so important when you walk into a space. The very first view will play such an important role in your enjoyment. I was very curious about your secret element that you play in creating that impression. Even though you said that clients give you a style guide, in many cases you still have to realize that vision. You have a really important role in creating that. I was going to ask how, but I think you just answered that very well - using this network of collaborators and collaboration to really perfect that aesthetic.

Well, of course it depends on the designer's ability as well. That's quite important. That's why recruitment is quite important. The most important thing is that we have to accurately understand the client’s concept and then think about what they need and want, so the concept is very important.


How have you managed to translate this model to your overseas activities? You have a very good partner in China that you mentioned, the American company, but for example in Singapore or Southeast Asia, how are you able to ensure the same level of connectivity, and be able to propose or design the exact kind of solution for potential clients in these new markets?

In my experience, sometimes it is good because we are Japanese. That's why we can understand and bring new ideas.

Often the requests we get are for things to be more accurate, more precise, and for everything to be covered neatly. That sort of image they are already thinking, is Japanese.

Japan has a great image for its design aesthetic overseas, and we play well into their image about Japanese design and quality.


We’d like to know a little more about your international strategy. Are there any particular markets that you're trying to further penetrate or promote your business within, whether that be China, Singapore or Southeast Asia?

Since Japan has a declining population, business expansion in Asia, especially in China, is very important. The country we are looking at is Myanmar, but I think it's politically unstable because six months before opening the hotel okura prestige a coup d’état occurred, so it is not open yet.

Other potential markets are Vietnam and Indonesia, because there is a big resort market, and demand as well. Of course, we need to hedge the risk of political instability as well. Our take on China is that China is aging more rapidly than Japan, and in 20 years the population of the elderly might exceed Japan’s. Currently, China has a population of 1.4 billion, and a high percentage of elderly - let's say 100 million - will need elderly care facilities, for example medical facilities, as well. There is more need to build such facilities as well, so we can accumulate the know-how of Japanese industry so that we can export and supply the Chinese market.


In two years there will be a big anniversary for your company, as it will be the forty-year anniversary of the birth of ILYA. Please imagine that we come back to have an interview with you again for the 40th anniversary. Is there a goal or an ambition that you would like to achieve before the 40th anniversary?

There are two potential initiatives we'd like to proceed with, and possibly achieve in two years. The first, as I mentioned, will be activity-based working, which is now widely used but we don't know who is working where, in which locations and what kind of challenges and concerns they have.

We don't know, so we want to share those things in the applications. What interests do they have and what challenges do we need to solve? If we can share those things on the application, it would be easier for them to work, and hopefully in two years we would like to develop the app so that we can use it.

The second initiative is that we have created tens of thousands of computer graphics so far, but by combining them with AI technologies, we’d like to make a better, efficient presentation so that we can achieve it with the clients earlier.

We’d like to add some explanations. We’d like to add attributes or adjectives to the computer graphics, for example, this is classic, this is dark, and so on. We want to add those descriptions to computer graphics so that in the client’s office, according to their needs and requests, we can instantly make a presentation so that we can agree with them more quickly than before.