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Tailoring a sharing economy to fit Japan’s needs

TOKYO >> From transportation to holiday homes, the “sharing economy” is gaining traction worldwide, and in typhoon- and earthquake-prone Japan, the concept is increasingly seen as instrumental to disaster management.

At November’s Share Summit, a large conference in Japan on the burgeoning sector, panel discussions included the role of sharing services in addressing needs after a natural disaster.

Takuya Hirai, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s committee on advancing digital society, said that the potential of the sharing economy in coping with disasters is “tremendous.” Bicycle sharing, for instance, offers one option for evacuations when the public transit system is incapacitated, Hirai said. For those hit by disasters, there are battery- sharing and medical consultation services such as the app Leber.

Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing can also be tapped for post- disaster reconstruction, Hirai added.

Airbnb Inc.’s Japan unit launched a service that connected hosts willing to provide free accommodations to evacuees after major earthquakes in 2016 in Kumamoto Prefecture.

But making the service part of the social infrastructure requires that people are familiar with it outside a disaster, said Mika Yamamoto, Airbnb Japan’s public policy manager.

“It is very important for hosts and guests to use the service (before disaster ever happens),” she said.

Although services such as shared bicycles have been visible in Japan, a May survey of 10,029 people ages 16 to 70-plus found that about 85% have never used sharing services.

Subscription services were another hot topic. The scope of subscriptions has recently expanded to include everything from unlimited access to digital content, to rental clothing and all-you-can-drink plans at restaurants.

During a discussion about “moving from owner to user,” Satoshi Amanuma, president of clothing rental company airCloset Inc., said that subscription serv- ices are in a transition period.

“It’s not a matter of whether everything is being (shared) or the ownership concept in this capitalist society is completely disappearing,” he said. When e-commerce first appeared, many thought it would replace brick-and-mortar businesses. But both still exist, and Amanuma noted that the same is true for subscription and ownership — at least for now.

When designing a subscription service, said Amanuma, determine “what the essential value of the service is for customers.”

Fellow panelist Shoji Kodama had a similar view. Kodama is CEO of luxury handbag rental company Laxus Technologies Inc.

“Until five years ago, people believed luxury handbags should be owned,” he said.

But the value lies in using a handbag, not owning it, he said.

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