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The modern sharing economy—as exemplified by services such as Uber, Airbnb, and buy-and-sell site Mercari—has been praised and criticized. Regardless of how one feels about it, in the digital age the relevance of what is sometimes referred to as the access economy is increasing rapidly.

On May 29, the Information, Communications and Technology Committee hosted an event about the growth and benefits of the sharing economy in collaboration with the Sharing Economy Association, Uber, the Embassy of the United States, Tokyo, and the U.S.–Japan Council (USJC). Guest speakers from the public and private sectors participated in two morning panel discussions held at Tokyo American Club.

WORK WISE
In his opening remarks, Katsunobu Kato, minister for Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens, spoke about the government’s aim to increase productivity—not just through technology, but through work-style reform—explaining how the sharing economy can contribute to this effort.

Andrew Wylegala, outgoing minister-counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy, also spoke about the effects of the sharing economy on work style.

“The access economy is having a really big impact on the way we organize our work and our social routines,” he said.

He highlighted the finance and agriculture sectors as experiencing changes as a result of new technology. In countries such as Japan and the United States, he said this is no bad thing.

“The access economy appears to be uniquely beneficial to the mature consumption- and services-driven economies like those of Japan and the United States. [These new technologies] are uniquely important to economies with somewhat rigid, mismatched, or shrinking workforces, such as what may be the case at times for both of our nations,” he added.

However, he emphasized the need for regulation, an issue that arises with escalating peer-to-peer transactions, something both the public and private sectors are committed to addressing.

SHARE THE LOAD
With the sharing economy still emerging, professor Tatsuyuki Negoro of Waseda Business School said trust and reliability are core issues. Any companies that can establish these will find success.

Simon Rossi, regional general manager of UberEATS Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, spoke about the impact UberEATS has had on the public, and explained that the sharing economy is about “using technology to better utilize our existing infrastructure, assets, and services.”

In the second panel, sharing economy evangelist Anju Ishiyama of the Sharing Economy Association, Japan, and cabinet secretariat with the Government of Japan, highlighted that the sharing economy also has the potential to help with the revitalization of regional economies and diversification of lifestyles and experiences—something already evident in tourism and transportation.

Ren Ito​, executive officer of Mercari Inc. and managing director and CEO of Mercari Europe Ltd., an app-based online marketplace, spoke about the ability of the company to build community through this platform. He also emphasized the service’s focus on building trusting relationships.

Another impact on lifestyle which Masami Takahashi, president of Uber Japan Co., Ltd., pointed out is the peer-to-peer aspect of Uber encouraging the elderly to leave their homes, which, in turn, increases consumption.

Takahashi added that, for sharing economy services to grow, any issues or concerns the public has about these services must be tackled effectively.

When asked how these innovations can be promoted, Toshihiko Yokoo, mayor of Taku City, Saga Prefecture, outlined the efforts being made in his town, where the local government organizes seminars to educate people on the sharing economy.

Local administrations and public and private sectors, he added, play a key role in furthering the dissemination of services and educating the public.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at The Journal.