the 3rd avenue



Ryuma Sato, deputy director of FLAG, a Fussa-based non-profit organization, discusses community development and the city’s identity.


Changing the nature of society

The desire to create for a regional economy over creating ads

Fussa City in Tokyo, also known as the “the city with Yokota Air Base”, has a unique and distinctive atmosphere. The rows of diners and cafes that look like they could appear in a classic road movie make you feel as if you’ve wandered into an American suburb. Fussa American House, which was built in the 1950s for U.S. soldiers and military personnel stationed on base, is especially symbolic and is said to have fostered the city’s unique culture.

One of the founding members of FLAG, a non-profit organization dedicated to the creative revitalization of Fussa’s community, is creative director Mr. Ryuma Sato. A native of Fussa, he too was strongly influenced by the culture born from his city’s “houses” for the U.S. military. “After U.S. military personnel left, musicians and creators immersed in the hippie culture of the 70s began to live together in the American houses and eventually established a small community. My parents are an art director and a writer, and they lived with a copywriter friend in one of the American houses, so I grew up hearing stories about the community and the people who gathered there.”

However, as time passed, Fussa, which had once prospered from business with the military base, lost its uniqueness and transformed into a typical suburban community. As Mr. Sato grew older, he gradually became less attached to his hometown, and by the time he started his career in the advertising industry, Fussa rarely crossed his mind.

It was 10 years ago that Mr. Sato turned his attention to Fussa again. “After experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake, my own perspective and values changed, and I began to feel the limitations of the superficial expressions of advertising work; I wondered if there was a job that would allow me to be closer to more essential and substantial matters. In the midst of this internal conflict, my interest turned to community development.”







Boosting the local economy

Creating the “Fussa Dream”!

As he reflected on his own situation, Mr. Sato came to appreciate the uniqueness of Fussa and the value of its one-of-a-kind culture. When thinking about creative community development that would be unique and true to FLAG, he wondered if it he could fine-tune the hippie culture that once existed in Fussa and make it into one of the defining fabrics of today’s society.

“Specifically, I envisioned the independent culture that was alive and well in the American houses of the 70s, and the close neighborhood relationships that were particularly present at the block parties. Back then, people would host barbecues with their neighbors or visit each other to crack open a beer, and it was from these interactions that ideas for improving businesses and the community were born. This led me to wonder if I could use the Fussa American House as a hub to re-introduce a more intimate and slower way of life.”

As a result, Mr. Sato launched a series of initiatives, including a farmer’s market to support farmers in the western Tama area of Tokyo, the production of new greenhouses based on the concept of the American houses which are decreasing in number as time passes, and an industry-academia collaboration project. His point-of-reference was the small manufacturers and businesses in Portland, Oregon. Portland is home to unique small businesses in a variety of genres, from coffee and craft beer to bicycles, and the size and originality of these businesses appeared to be a good fit with Fussa.

“In the United States, there is a sense of balance between manufacturers, founders, and investors, and the ‘American Dream’ becomes a reality when investors share the same ideals as manufacturers and the same ideas as founders. In Japan, there is a clear distinction between the different groups, and they rarely mix, so our role is to shake things up and bring them all together to lay the groundwork for the ‘Fussa Dream’.” In a society that sometimes tends to be stagnant, FLAG is changing the status quo.







Community development

Creating values is the essence of community development

It has been 10 years since the launch of FLAG, and two years ago, Mr. Sato left his creative agency job that he had been dedicated to for so long and decided to focus his energy on FLAG. In the client-driven advertising industry, it was not uncommon to sacrifice certain details in order to meet deadlines, or to compromise beliefs in order to prioritize profitability. However, he believed that an NPO approach and structure could resolve the hesitations he felt at that time.

“At FLAG, we don’t aim for a pre-established goal. We don’t settle for uncool ideas to please our clients. ‘Will this project work in today’s world? Will we continue to be excited about it?’ We always ask ourselves these questions and share our thoughts and opinions with our clients.”

Two years ago, Mr. Sato opened “DOSUKOI PIZZA” at “DELTA EAST”, a food truck area in Fussa managed by FLAG. Being that this was his first time developing a restaurant business on his own, there were many instances where he felt lost, but he received a positive response that was different from the other food production businesses that he had been involved in. He believes that this is because he can feel the quality of his ideation and marketing improving as he interacts with customers on a daily basis to find out their interests and needs.

For Mr. Sato, an NPO is “a legal entity that can carry out its true values without compromise”. While FLAG’s goal is to make a profit from each of its businesses and turn them into companies, in the process, they never neglect the true value of their different projects and outputs. What is important is to be genuine and to stay inspired and in high spirits. “If we create a network of many businesses in our community that share this feeling and make it the city’s own distinguishing characteristic, it will become its identity and unique value, and eventually help circulate the city’s economy. We believe that such a way of community development will eventually spread throughout the country.”




一昨年にはFLAGで管理するフードトラックエリア「DELTA EAST」に「DOSUKOI PIZZA」をオープンした。初めて自分たちで展開する飲食事業、戸惑うことも少なくないけれど、これまで手掛けてきた食のプロデュース業とはまた違った手応えを感じている。日々、消費者とやり取りしてその嗜好を探る中で、アイデア出しやマーケティングの精度が高まっていることを実感できているからだ。


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