Perspectives of the Sharing Economy in Japan

Sharing economy has a unique field of application in Japan

rows of bicycles for sharing services

The sharing economy has become an integral part of the lives of millions of people around the world. For some of us to the point where taxi equals Uber, and a holiday home equals Airbnb. However, in Japan, the sharing economy needed more time to get going. Nevertheless, it may become crucial to Japan in a unique way: as a non-profit disaster relief method. Let us see how exactly it may work out.

Sharing economy in Japan

As in many other countries, more and more people find it more comfortable and cheaper to rent something for a while rather than invest in owning, sustaining, and repairing it. “It” can be anything from bicycles to cars to clothing to houses, you name it. However, the concept of the sharing economy took longer to settle down in Japan.

Polls by PwC show that 84.6% of people in Japan aged 16 to 70 have never used sharing economy services as of May 2019.

Whether it is for cultural reasons or peculiarities of the Japanese market, such companies as Uber and Airbnb were struggling for a while to put their business on rails in Japan. For example, Airbnb had to remove 80% of premises from their listings at some point to comply with the Japanese laws.

However, sharing and reusing as a way to save money became more popular in Japan in recent years, giving birth to rare Japanese unicorn companies like Mercari in the e-commerce sector and SmartNews in the media sector. As the trend evolves, Japan looks into the sharing economy to tackle one of its everlasting issues – natural disasters.

Sharing economy for disaster relief

This year, Japan held the Share Summit hosted by the Sharing Economy Association that featured 11 panel discussions touching among other things upon the importance of the sharing economy for Japan as the country that constantly faces natural catastrophes and needs to provide relief to the disaster-stroke areas and people.

For example, bicycle-sharing could be an efficient alternative to public transportation that might be heavily damaged and unavailable during and after the disaster. Takuya Hirai, the chairman of the special committee on advancing digital society, sees such opportunities as “tremendous”.

Some of the sharing services already exist in Japan. Leber app provides medical consultation online and is especially valuable for areas with fewer medical professionals. Airbnb in Japan has launched a service that helps connect disaster victims with hosts who are willing to accommodate them for free after the earthquake hit Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016. There are also battery-sharing initiatives. Moreover, Mr. Hirai believes that Japan should also tap crowdfunding and crowdsourcing for post-disaster reconstructions.

What’s next?

While all of these digital solutions already exist in some form in Japan, before they could be used as a relief method, people in Japan should get used to using them first. Preferably, to be exposed to them and understand how they work before the disaster happens.

Yet, Japan still heavily emphasizes ownership. Polls by PwC show that despite the growing popularity of sharing economy services, 84.6% of people in Japan aged 16 to 70 have never used such services as of May this year.

We are yet to see if people in Japan would turn to sharing economy naturally or with the help of the government as it happened with the cashless payments, or not at all. However, the emergence of such companies as airCloset for clothes rentals or Laxus Technologies Inc. for luxury handbag rentals hints us that sharing economy in Japan can potentially evolve very fast.

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

Sharing economy services for disaster relief is still a rather untackled opportunity.

What do you think?

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