After many false starts, could Uber finally be making headway in Japan?

Uber
It may be a ubiquitous sight in major cities across the United States, but despite its domestic domination, Uber still has a ways to go when it comes to making inroads overseas. Especially in Asia.

The transportation mode may have finally found a foothold, however, as Japan begins to climb aboard the Uber bandwagon. Its first stop may not be the city one would expect, nor will its first Japanese users be the millennials we often see hopping in and out of black cars. Rather, Uber is making an appearance in Tango, part of Kyotango city, where the population numbers just 5,560 and a large portion of it is older than 65.

The focus upon elderly mobility could be a crucial one for Uber, which has had quite a bit of trouble making headway in Japan. “Finally, we were able to make our very first step,” said Masami Takahashi, president of Uber Japan Co. “This service can be a solution for Japan’s aging society.”

Indeed, in addition to moving folks around the area, Uber’s introduction may also herald new technological innovations in the small town. Smartphones and credit cards aren’t exactly common possessions for Tango’s residents, so Uber is providing 50 tablets — which are easier for seniors to use than smaller smartphones — for free for six months.

Only 18 registered Ubers will be made available initially, but Takahashi seems determined to overcome the various regulatory hurdles that have stymied the company’s progress in the country.

In an interview with The Nikkei, Takahashi noted, “We have two immediate goals. First, we aim to provide a solution for the country’s rapidly aging society, particularly in places like rural areas with only limited public transportation. To achieve this, our scheme has to be approved as a special case under the current laws and regulations in Japan.”

But simultaneously, the Uber Japan president notes, “As Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, we want to leverage our global recognition to be the choice for foreign travelers for moving around the city. We’re not simply replacing taxis but providing an innovative means of transportation.”

And at least when it comes to the town of Tango, potential riders seem pretty pleased with the company.

“What a great service,” 84-year-old Miyoshi Azuma told Reuters. “With this, we can call the car by just clicking the button.”

Ultimately, Takahashi said, slow and steady should win the race. “We are focusing on gaining understanding by patiently communicating our objectives and methods,” he noted. “Abiding by local rules is essential, but we will seek a compromise through constructive deliberations and discussions.”

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