The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

For many foreigners living, working, or simply visiting Japan, finding the right wellness and medical service providers can be a challenge.

Perhaps due the language barrier, a lack of medical vocabulary or because they are unfamiliar with Japan, residents and vistors have to rely on friends, colleagues, or strangers to help them navigate the system.

In the worst-case scenario, they allow their wellness and health care needs to go unattended.

Entrepreneur and longstanding Japan resident Michael Bobrove and his team have created a solution: HealthyTokyo.com, an online community designed to support the health and wellness of English speakers in Japan.

In a candid interview with The Journal, Bobrove, an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ)—he was also a board member the ACCJ as the vice president of the Kansai chapter for four years—speaks about the health and wellness industry, as well as his vision for this new service to help expats stay healthy in Japan.

Can you tell us about yourself and your main line of business in Japan?
I’ve been in Japan for 30 years. I originally came as a student and fell in love with the place. I then went back to the United States, finished college with a major in Psychology, and returned to work in a psychiatric hospital as a counselor where I helped set up their first half-way house in Tokyo.

I continued in that line of work in several facilities in the United States and began to consider a career change. In the late 1980s, I decided to go for my MBA in international management and marketing, and to study Japanese at the graduate level at Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

After graduation, I came back to Japan and worked in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries for about twenty years. During that time, I was the president of Medrad K.K and built this medical device company from a distributorship to an independent organization.

We later joined Bayer AG where I contniued to lead Medrad and the pharmaceutical radiology team. After a number of years in these industries—as I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and I had the chance to build my own company—I decided to put together a team and go for it.

I asked myself, “What will my company be?” Because of my work, I had visited hundreds of medical facilities and seen that there is a lot of really good health care in Japan. I realized that I can play a key role as a bridge by sharing my insights and experience.

Having studied Japanese and become well versed in a specific area, in this case medical care, I felt set to help people. That’s when I started HealthyIM K.K. Our first project was HealthyIM.com, a medical tourism site covering five countries in Asia.

As we progressed, many people were asking us for a Japan-specific health and wellness service. So at the end of December 2014, we launched HealthyTokyo.com. And now, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games coming, this service is not just a nice thing to have; it is an imperative.

What was the motivation behind HealthyTokyo.com?
We looked at the people contacting us, who were mainly foreign, and realized that, as advanced as Japan is, and as many people from oversease as there are that speak Japanese, people still don’t know where to go for health care and wellness. And it is not just a language issue; it’s a quality isssue. Where do I go for quality health care?

What’s more, HealthyTokyo.com is not just about finding an English-speaking doctor or a dentist when you need one, but also staying healthy overall. That’s why we expanded our vision to keep expats healthy in Japan—it’s about not getting sick; it is about staying healthy; eating the right stuff; finding the right excercise and relaxation.

Can you expand on some of the services that you provide?
HealthyTokyo.com offers detailed information about quality doctors, dentists and wellness providers. A live concierge to make appointments and siginifcant discounts is also offered.

We have what we call health and wellness partners: the first kind are Medical Partners—these are English-speaking doctors and dentists that we have carefully screened. And then we have Wellness Coaches—who are lifestyle and health care-related coaches: personal trainers; dietitans motivational coaches, and so on. These are individuals, not companies, who teach things to make your life better.

We also have the rapidly expanding Healthy Partner section: healthy restaurants (including organic and vegetarian), gyms, spas, pilates, yoga, massage, shiatsu, any number of things that people are looking for to make them feel good and help them stay in shape.

How do you select your partners?
For our medical partners, we painstakingly search through all the information that is out there, in Japanese and in English, on who is recommended. We don’t sign up a medical partner until we visit them, and we speak to the doctor and see the way the facility is set up. Early on, we decided to pick quality medical facilities only.

We also vet the quality of partner facilities via a satisfaction survey that premium users of our service fill out after they have visited a facility arranged by our live concierge. Following this, we accumulate all the necessary data, which we present to the relevant provider so that they know where they are performing well, but also where they need to improve.

Indeed, every partner that signs up to our system does so with the full understanding that they can be taken off our site if our members are not happy with them. We have the same policy for all of our partners.

Can you say something about membership in HealthyTokyo.com?
We have two types of plans for members: a free plan and a premium plan. The free plan gives you access to all the detailed unique partner information that we create.

The premium plan gives members access to a live health care concierge, as well as to all special discounts and offers from the three partners groups. In addition, premium members get free intorductory sessions with Wellness Coaches. The live concierge will find health care and wellness providers both inside and outside our network and make appointments for you.

How easy is the site to navigate?
We spent a lot of time getting customer and user feedback to make it easy to use and better understand how people like to engage with the site. We are also constantly innovating on the site. The way it is set up right now is very intuitive: you just log on and are presented with the three types of partners that we work with.

You can click and search or browse any of them and you can search by specific area or subject. And even if our partners have other information on the Internet, we provide unique partner “homepages” for them on our site—these pages are exclusive with in-depth information only available at HeathyTokyo.com. HealthyTokyo is also available on the App Store and Google Play.

Where do you see HealthyTokyo in five years?
Our first and foremost mission is to keep expats healthy in Japan. We are innovating everyday by listening to what the English-speaking community wants and doing our best to deliver to those requirements. Our partner network is rapidly expanding as is our membership.

And while we serve the expat community, as we do visitors to Japan, we also see ourselves as a bridge between the great health and wellness products and services that have always been here (but were, perhaps, not widely known) and the foreign community here and abroad.

I see us having more features, and expanding content. As we hold the HealthyTokyo trademark, we are looking at some other initiatives with the brand. So in five years, the important components that serve the community today will still be integral to our business, while we expand to meet the additional needs of our customers.

And I can say that we will have two or three more services that are outstanding, some of which we have not even thought about because we are still working our way through this experience.

Which is to say, we are really happy to be in the health and wellness industry, a sector full of positives, and we can honestly say that what we do is helping people to lead healthier, better lives.