Cars, karaoke boxes see new business as rented private spaces

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Takahiro Nishida uses a vehicle rented under a car-sharing service to make phone calls to his clients in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 18.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe relatively new car-sharing business in Japan appears to be changing gears, as evidenced by the increasing number of people who are using such cars to use as a convenient private space for taking naps, reading books or making phone calls. It’s not surprising, considering that karaoke parlors have for some time been renting out their soundproof rooms to customers who just want to play games or watch movies in private.

This outside-the-box approach is helping companies create new business opportunities by considering uses for their resources different from what was originally intended.

Takahiro Nishida, 42, an employee of a major life insurance company, for example, uses a vehicle rented under a car-sharing service several times a month as an “office” for making phone calls to customers. He does so because it allows him to concentrate more on the conversation compared with making calls outdoors or at a cafe, and because he can recharge his phone inside the car. “A private space can be secured easily and work can be done smoothly,” Nishida said about renting a shared car.

Last January, NTT Docomo Inc. released the results of a survey on the use of car-sharing services. The survey showed that about 13 percent of those who had experience with using car-sharing services responded that they used them for purposes other than transportation. What do these respondents mostly do in the shared car? Taking naps (64 percent), making phone calls to friends and family members (40 percent) and reading books (34 percent).

Overall, about 41 percent of respondents said they were interested in using such a service for purposes other than transportation. Even among these respondents, those answering “taking a nap” accounted for the biggest share at 47 percent. A Docomo official said, “There are many people who use the car-sharing service because they think it is cheap, and a car can serve as a convenient room.”

Car-sharing services can be reserved over smartphones or the internet and for relatively short periods of 15 to 20 minutes. Park24 Co., which provides car-sharing services across the county with more than 20,000 vehicles, sets usage charges at ¥206 per 15 minutes (for some types of vehicles). The user’s financial burden for one hour of use is thus about the same as a cup of regular coffee at a cafe.

According to the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation, car-sharing services were provided at 15,000 locations throughout the country as of the end of March, with about 29,000 vehicles available.

“Accessibility [of services] leads to diverse utilization,” said an official in charge of Park24.

Also in the karaoke industry, there is an increasing number of cases in which karaoke boxes are being used for purposes other than singing.

Newton Corp., which operates the Pasela karaoke chain, started in May lending board games free of charge. Cote D’azur, also a karaoke operator, is putting effort into providing a service for customers to watch their favorite movies. This takes advantage of the normal soundproofing and audio features of karaoke boxes so that customers can enjoy watching movies without interruption or concerns about disturbing other people.

The domestic number of people who enjoy karaoke singing topped 58 million in 1995, but that number has declined to around 47 million in recent years. The downward trend is seemingly being caused by a decrease in business drinking parties with colleagues and friends, and thus fewer opportunities to go out for karaoke or other activities.Speech

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