Japan has been taking steps towards building a more sharing economy. Japan did not initially take up sharing platforms as quickly as countries like the USA, and the Japanese population was slow to adopt platforms that have boomed around the rest of the world – such as Airbnb and Uber. Paradoxically, that might have been actually, a good thing, since these platforms don’t connect with the initial values of a real sharing economy anymore. Highly financed by venture capital and global corporations, Uber and Airbnb’s ruthless approach to business, have discredited the positive benefits of what we understand as sharing economy.
However, now things are changing and other sharing economy options are rapidly emerging, truly trying to encapsulate the initial sustainable values of a real sharing economy.
In Japan, for example, Shareable writes of Nagomi Visit, which was started in 2011. The mentioned platform, which is a nonprofit, volunteer-run, resulted from its founders goal of providing people living in rural Japan with opportunities. They simply wanted to offer people an opportunity to benefit from the large number of tourists visiting the country by creating a platform for local residents to share meals with visitors. It now has 1,000 hosts that come from all over Japan. The website embraces the experience aspect of the sharing economy. What you share, is not a room like with Airbnb. With Nagomi Visit, what you have the possibility to experience is a home cooked meal, that truly connects and creates social bonds.
Japan has also various initiatives towards sharing cities, and other projects. In particular, there are numerous players in Japan who see the benefits of the sharing economy to tackle inequality in countryside areas, as well as a decline in the population.
If this seems like good news, it is also the reflection of our world, where growing polarization and inequality are leading us towards more sharing economy activities, not because we like “sharing” , but rather to gather enough income to make a living. Even in Japan, considered to be one of the most equalitarian countries, inequality is rising. Another factor is how younger generations prefer opportunities coming from the sharing economy, to working long hours in a office. This has led to the development of a Sharing Economy Promotion Centre in Japan.
One factor that is helping Japan in creating its sharing economy is the fact that there is a history of sharing in Japan. In the Edo period which ran between the early 17th century and the mid-19th century there was an idea of “commons” that was widespread and understood. This was based on the concept of community working together to share for the good of all. Specific examples include the possibility of parents looking after the children of another, or housing that was cooperative.
While this was ingrained for centuries, as of 1868 a new period began in Japan – one which was driven by capitalism, and it weakened concepts of sharing and community somewhat. It led to an idea of more individualised resources. However, after the Second World War, some legislation was brought back with a view to regulating consumer cooperatives, as well as in agriculture, forestry, fishing and the financial sector.
As we have seen, Japan is no stranger to the idea of cooperation and sharing, which has eased the introduction of the sharing economy.
The sharing economy is picking up in Japan, due to various factors. One of the more recent issues has been urbanisation and lower levels of people in the countryside, combined with the declining population as a whole, as the country’s population has aged. As people have moved to cities, sharing and cooperative behaviour is reduced. However, in rural areas these traditions are strong, and to date, 17 cities have been designated as “sharing cities” in Japan.
Shibuya, part of Tokyo is no exception to this rule, and it has a number of sharing initiatives. There are considered to be greater incentives towards sharing in rural areas as a result of poorer economic conditions, and to address the issues of innovation in a declining population. For example, cooperatives like Japan Agriculture are working on depopulation issues, and other groups are focused on social projects in such areas – such as in provision of care for the elderly, child care and care for those with disabilities. All of this would help solve difficult issues in the rural areas where these organisations operate.
However, analysts of the sharing economy in Japan argue that more must be done to really ensure that sharing can take off. This can be achieved through policy making in particular. It is suggested that legislation designed to limit large firms should not detrimentally impact on small scale projects that could bring significant benefits. Legal frameworks should consider this point to make sure that cooperatives and sharing initiatives are not hampered or stifled by such regulations.
As a result, the cooperative sector in this nation is lobbying for a worker cooperative legislation. This now has a good deal of support. It is expected that when this is brought into law, it will facilitate the starting up of worker cooperatives and the ability for providing more social services that can address inequalities in society. The proposed law would also make it easier for worker-owned cooperatives to be set up as a business option too. This would allow sharing to build resilience in deprived rural communities where services are lacking. This would be an important step towards a more sustainable future for Japan, and it will be interesting to see what happens there.
Article written in cooperation with Maria Fonseca
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.