July 4, 2016 1:00 pm JST

China ready to take some elderly care lessons from Japan

WATARU KODAKA, Nikkei staff writer

SHANGHAI -- A Chinese elderly care project is opening a rather big door to Japanese businesses.

China is beginning to deal with a problem Japan has faced for decades: how to care for an aging population. And it thinks it can gain some expertise from Japan's care industry.

At the end of last year, there were 220 million Chinese age 60 and over -- a huge potential market for Japanese companies that, by themselves, might have difficulty expanding into the country.

On Tuesday, Beijing's Qingdao Silverhightech Information Technology opened a hands-on showroom in Qingdao, Shandong Province. Among the nursing care products on display were wheelchairs and electric adjustable beds made by Japanese companies.

The showroom is for both families of the elderly and for professional care providers. Showroom-goers are welcome to try the products, which are also available for purchase at care98.org.

The showroom and online store represent the first project to be born out of a three-way agreement among the Chinese government-affiliated China Electronics Chamber of Commerce, Qingdao Silverhightech Information Technology and Sugahara, a Japanese specialty trading company based in Kitakyushu.

The CECC is hoping to attract local governments as well as nursing care and medical institutions that want to acquire elderly care expertise. Sugahara will urge companies in Japan's care industry to sell products through care98.org, hoping to enhance the site's product lineup.

Demand for high-quality care services and products is expected to grow in China, whose over-75 population is expected to explode in 10 years or so.

As it stands now, China is unprepared for that explosion, mainly due to an underdeveloped nursing care insurance system that has left it with inadequate products and services.

In Japan, there are 40,000 nursing care products on the market; in China, there are 2,000.

So the CECC decided to team up with Japanese elderly care businesses.

Qingdao Silverhightech Information Technology plans to set up about 200 similar showrooms during the next three years.

The public-private project already has eight Japanese companies on board, including Moritoh, a business based in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, and Nihon Angel, based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. Both will be taking advantage of care98.org.

On the Chinese side, nearly 40 organizations have shown interest, including the municipal governments of Dalian, Liaoning Province, and Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, as well as medical institutions and other businesses.

CECC Secretary-General Liu Yufeng believes Japan's own experience with a rapidly graying population has bestowed upon it excellent elderly care products.

And, Liu said, "consumer demand for these products is strong" in China.

Nihon Angel President Shuji Ooka said the public-private project is a good way for Japanese elderly care companies to enter the Chinese market.

"China's elderly nursing care market has good potential to grow," he said, "and yet there's only so much that a company can do on its own" to try to crack it.

China is after more than products and equipment, however. It also seeks expertise, said Zhao Licheng, an official of the Dalian municipal government.

"The important thing," Zhao said, "is to train individuals involved in elderly nursing care."

One Japanese corporate participant is the Azalee Group, based in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. The welfare facility operator will give its Chinese counterparts tips on running elderly care facilities and on training care givers.

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