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Economy

Japan Inc. has a secret weapon: old people

Shigemi Kitahara, head of the Hachioji-based Kitahara International Hospital, examines a patient in Phnom Penh.

TOKYO -- Japan's rapidly aging population is an opportunity. Services and products that cater to the needs of senior citizens are in high demand. Now that other countries are graying, demand for Japan's senior-oriented expertise is growing overseas.

     Retailer Aeon targets consumers aged 55 and over as a new source of demand. In May 2013, it opened a model outlet that caters to senior shoppers by renovating an existing store in Tokyo's Kasai district.

     The store is designed to offer seniors a relaxing time. A pet salon on the fourth floor, for example, lets them have coffee while Rover gets a trim. A music store on the same floor allows customers to try out instruments. When needed, seven concierges, assigned at the store, assist seniors with shopping and other errands.

     The Kasai outlet has drawn some overseas attention. A Chinese affiliate of the retailer's group has sent senior executives to study the store's business model. Last summer, the BBC, a British public service broadcaster, did a story on the store as part of a program about demographics called No Sex Please, We're Japanese.

     Japan is aging at the world's fastest pace. By 2020, people aged 65 and over are projected to make up 30% of the country's population. The waves of such demographic change are also approaching other countries. In Britain, the percentage of those aged 65 and over is forecast to reach 20% in 2030. In China, the trend is forecast to arrive in 2040.

     "Japanese retailers fine-tune their services and products by making price tags bigger and packing offerings in small portions," said Hiroyuki Murata, a professor at Tohoku University specializing on senior consumer marketing. "Their business models can prove effective in other countries, if income levels for seniors in those markets go up and other conditions are met."

     Fujitsu's Raku-Raku easy-to-use smartphones are proving popular overseas. The handsets, which come with big touchscreen panels, have been winning over many customers in France since they hit the market in June 2013 through Orange, the country's largest mobile phone service carrier. They were initially sold at 90 outlets, but the company made them available at its 250 stores across the country in October.

Health help     

Japan's nursing-care and medical sectors are also establishing a foot
hold overseas.

     Riei, a nursing-care service provider based in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, opened a 84-room care home in Shanghai in December. The facility can take up to 238 people and is equipped with shower chairs, which allow people to clean themselves while seated, and other Japanese nursing care gadgets.

     "Japanese nursing-care facilities are kept very clean," said Hajime Kabasawa, president of the company. "We are confident that we can capitalize on our expertise, ranging from quality care services to hygiene control, in overseas markets."

     Asia's population of people aged 65 and over is projected to hit 400 million in 2020. As such, demand for medical services is also growing steadily in the region.

     The Kitahara Neurological Institute, operator of the Kitahara International Hospital in Hachioji, Tokyo, in 2012 opened a clinic in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It is now working to set up an emergency medical center equipped with MRI and other made-in-Japan devices and supplies in the city in 2015.

     "Our aim is to pave the way for Japan's medical sector to roll out services in Asia," said Shigemi Kitahara, chair of the board of directors at the Kitahara International Hospital. 

(Nikkei)

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