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Although ride-hailing services are technically illegal in Japan, it isn’t stopping innovation in the sector, with one company leading the way, JapanTaxi, led by president and CEO Ichiro Kawanabe.
For the likes of Uber and other global ride-hailing apps, Japan has so far been a nonstarter. Using civilian cars for rides is illegal, which means the only way such a business can operate is through licensed taxi services.
In July, Uber announced it was partnering with three taxi companies in Tokyo. Another player in the market, Sony’s taxi-hailing service S.Ride, launched in mid-2019.
First-mover advantage, however, sits firmly with JapanTaxi. Kawanabe set up JapanTaxi in 2011. The company now claims to have more than 60,000 taxi drivers from across Japan on its platform. For comparison, Uber will have 600 taxis available at launch and will be limited to downtown Tokyo.
Kawanabe is also helped by the fact that he's the owner of Nihon Kotsu, the country’s largest taxi operator, and head of the Japanese taxi federation.
In these roles, Kawanabe has earned a reputation for innovation. Previously, he introduced dedicated taxis for pregnant women and parents with small children, as well as accelerating the acceptance of more diverse ride payment methods through the JapanTaxi Wallet.