Business

Umbrella-sharing service in Japan taps 'internet of things' tech to reduce thefts and waste

JIJI

A startup company has successfully launched an umbrella-sharing service, mainly in Tokyo, using “internet of things” technology to reduce umbrella waste.

Nature Innovation Group, founded by Shoji Marukawa, started the service in December, and it aims for the return of all rented umbrellas.

Users of the service, called iKasa, register with NIG via the Line messaging app and check for iKasa spots closest to their locations. “Kasa” is Japanese for umbrella.

The user goes to the stand, unlocks the umbrella of choice by scanning the QR code on its handle and checks it out. The service is available for ¥70 per day, paid via a registered credit card.

The iKasa system has achieved the 100 percent return of rented umbrellas, since the registration of credit card numbers connects the umbrellas to the personal information of users.

The Tokyo-based company has installed iKasa spots at some 100 stores, offices and other places that have formed partnerships with it.

While 120 million to 130 million umbrellas are sold per year in Japan, 80 million or so plastic umbrellas are discarded annually, according to the Japan Umbrella Promotion Association and other sources.

A range of organizations have previously failed in umbrella-sharing programs due to low return rates. When the Hokkaido Shinkansen line launched operations in March 2016, for example, the Hakodate Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other organizations in Hakodate, Hokkaido, made some 2,300 umbrellas available for free use by tourists. The tourism promotion program ended a year later because few of the umbrellas had been returned.

A similar program was introduced by Shibuya Ward in Tokyo about a decade ago, but it failed to last long for the same reason.

The iKasa service has overcome the problem of few returns because it addresses the issue as “a business,” Marukawa, 24, said. “We hope to operate across Japan as an infrastructure for rainy days.”

Other companies are also addressing the waste of umbrellas.

Dydo Drinco Inc., a soft drink-maker based in the city of Osaka, places free-use umbrellas next to its vending machines, mainly in office buildings and shopping streets, because many users return to such locations. Umbrellas for the service include those provided by railways from umbrellas left behind on trains and in stations.

Dydo Drinco started the service in Osaka in 2015 and has since expanded it to Tokyo and 15 prefectures.

In a related development, TBM Co. plans to shortly begin a sharing program at Tokyo-area train stations on a trial basis, using umbrellas made of Limex, a proprietary material it developed from limestone. The Tokyo-based venture said it developed the new material in line with global trends toward reducing plastic use for environmental protection.