International Correspondents

The Emerging Collaborative Economy In Japan

Japan is a densely populated country with limited natural resources where recycling materials has had to be a part of everyday life. However, the idea of using second hand products has been slow to catch on – until recently even “second hand houses” were relatively unusual. Traditionally products would be purchased from new and then disposed of a few years later in favour of the latest technology or more fashionable items. But with the changes in economic circumstances over the past few years, recycle shops have become a much more familiar sight throughout the country. The earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster in 2011 has driven the need for further conservation of resources (particularly energy). Add to this mix, the rapid development of on-line commerce, and it should come as no surprise that on-line shared services have started to gain popularity. In this article, we look at a few examples of Japan’s growing collaborative economy.

Licence CC Credit Flickr user: Damon Jah
Licence CC Credit Flickr user: Damon Jah

Established in July 2000, Socueus is an online market for the “social exchange” of a wide variety of items and services, including books, CDs, clothing, furniture, electronics, artwork, vehicles, etc. The site’s moto is “必要なときに、必要なものを、必要な人へ”,which translates as “At the required time, the required object, to the person with a requirement” and it’s philosophy is to convert the unwanted or underused into the useful and utilised. Like many other online sharing platforms, users advertise their products or services for sharing but against the site’s very own on-line currency: Nets. This innovative business model drives “customers” to “purchase” another item or service from the same online platform, which in turn creates a unique sense of community and trust among users.

In Japan, like any other country, babies clothes and products very quickly become too small and obsolete. Wire Mama Network provides the answer. It is a multi-presence online market place for the free-of-charge sharing of baby products that have only been used for a short time. There are currently 10 Wire sites, each facilitating the local sharing of used baby goods, the first of which was established in Kumamoto in 2001.

Established in April 2009, before the 2011 earthquake CaFoRe is a national online platform for the sharing of vehicles aimed primarily at individuals – though the site also provide a service for commercial entities. Users register on the site as either a “lender” or “borrower” and the site provides the necessary legal and contract framework, plus an online reservation system.

In addition to the exchange of products, advice is also being shared via Any+Times which is an online forum, established in May 2013 by Chika Tsunoda, for the exchange of advice. Users are either people with questions and in need of advice, or “supporters” with expertise who can share their advice. Topics include just about anything, ranging from cookery, DIY, shopping, travel to pet care and language study. The site has been gaining attention in local and national press, including an appearance in April 2014 in NHK’s Asa-ichi morning TV programme.

Shibukasa, established in December 2007, focuses on just one product and in a specific part of Tokyo. The website platform is dedicated to the sharing of umbrellas across the Shibuya ward of the capital. Users, caught outside in a sudden rain shower can use the site’s smart-phone application to locate the nearest registered location, which could be a café, restaurant, shop, theatre etc, where they can borrow an umbrella. After using it, they then return it to any of the registered locations in the network.

While collaborative consumption models are rising in use in Japan, businesses still face regulatory challenges. In early March, ride-sharing service Uber had its trial in the southern city of Fukuoka halted by local authorities for legislative reasons. The challenge for these new business models is to continue to grow, while adhering to regional and national regulations.

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The Author

Colin Silvester

Colin Silvester

Colin was born in Portsmouth, England, and enjoyed his childhood in the natural beauty of the south coast countryside. He studied Computer Science at Hull University and it was during the summer break of his second year, in 1993, that he first travelled to Japan. There he completed a 3 month internship in KDD's AI research division. Curious to learn more about the country, Colin returned to Japan after graduating from Hull and was a “JET” (Assistant Language Teacher on the “Japan Exchange and Teaching” programme) for 3 years in the suburban prefecture of Saitama. Colin then spent a short time at JAC Recruitment until he decided to return to his core profession of IT, joining Bloomberg in Tokyo. After 3 very enjoyable years there, Colin joined a small US telecommunications company, IPC Information Systems, shortly after it established its direct presence in Tokyo. After 12 very informative years (which included 2 years spent at IPC's headquarters in New Jersey), Colin returned to JAC Recruitment, where he is now CIO, responsible for the company's overall technology strategy.

Outside of work, Colin enjoys squash and cycling, touring Japan on his Triumph motorbike, drumming and also DIY. Colin has long been passionate about minimising the impact of humans on the environment and in 2010, Colin and his family realised their dream when they moved into their newly built “eco-house” which Colin and his wife designed with the help of Sumitomo Ringyo. The house is highly energy efficient through extensive use of the latest insulation technology, gas filled glass, LED lighting (approximately 80% of the house uses LED) and 4.1kw of solar panels and as a result, the house is a net producer of electricity.

Colin's long term ambition is to build and run a “British pub” in the fantastic surroundings of the mountains in Nagano!

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