Japan’s slow embrace of sharing economy nothing to fear, U.S. expert says


Japan’s cautious approach to the so-called sharing economy is nothing to worry about, a U.S. expert said, adding that the key to success lies in developing services that match one’s local culture.

“You can be a little bit late and the second follower, learn from everyone else, and do a better job,” Neal Gorenflo, the co-founder and executive director of Shareable magazine, told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “So, this is the opportunity for Japan.”

U.S.-based Gorenflo was visiting to participate as a guest speaker at the two-day Share Summit forum that ended Thursday in Tokyo.

In the sharing economy, people tap underused assets or labor to create new services. Vacation rental service Airbnb and ride-hailing service Uber are two examples of sharing startups that rapidly found worldwide success by tapping demand for underused assets or labor.

But this rapidly emerging sector of the economy has yet to fully catch on in Japan.

According to the results of a May survey released by PwC Consulting LLC this month, 80.9 percent of 2,000 respondents in Japan said they didn’t know about the sharing economy at all. A mere 2.7 percent had knowledge of the concept and the rest had only heard of the term.

Amid the lack of public familiarity, the government has embraced the trend to support small municipalities suffering from depopulation, focusing on sharing services linked to tourism, transportation or welfare.

Gorenflo lauded the idea of rural areas introducing sharing services, but said a metropolis like Tokyo is loaded with untapped potential.

“I like it when a country or even a city develops their own sharing economy services,” he said. “I think that’s the right direction.”

The government has welcomed the sharing economy, hoping it could play a role in dealing with the ongoing labor crunch and a glut of vacant properties.

In June, the government enacted a law to regulate Airbnb-type services that gave birth to Japan’s nascent minpaku (private lodging) industry. Ride-hailing company Uber also faces fierce resistance from the taxi industry.

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