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Features Aging in Japan and Across Asia
Japanese Businesses Apply Lessons from Aging Home Market to Expand Abroad

Takeuchi Yukifumi [Profile]


Recognizing the rapid aging of Thai society and the needs of its wealthy, businesses from Japan have begun expanding into the country, applying lessons learned at the forefront of the trend of aging Asian societies. Positive results are expected as the “Japanese model” for elder care homes and other care services spreads.

Providing Care on the Japanese Model

In January 2016, an elder care home was opened in a residential part of Northern Bangkok’s Lat Phrao district by Riei, a Japanese company headquartered in Urayasu, Chiba, and a major presence in the care services industry. Located in a rented six-story building, Riei Nursing Home Ladprao has twenty rooms and represents an investment of about ¥40 million in total. Electronic nursing care beds and other up-to-date equipment was imported from Japan. The monthly occupancy fees for a private room start at 50,000 baht.

Staff trained in care skills are on-site 24 hours a day, and doctors and nurses can be called from partner medical facilities. There is a set fee schedule for services like gastrostomies, phlegm suction, and insulin injection. Thai massage is incorporated into the care provided, and events such as birthday parties and sermons from Buddhist monks are also held.

Currently, wealthy Thais care for elderly relatives in their homes, spending tens of thousands of baht per month on staff and imported care products. In this context, Riei Nursing Home Ladprao’s fee structure is considered quite reasonable. As of August 2016, the home has only four residents, but Riei expects it to reach capacity by the end of the year, necessitating a search for a second location.

Riei Nursing Home Ladprao seen from the street; a poster reading “True care eases the heart” in Japanese.

Beijing, Shanghai, and Now Thailand

An advisor to Riei on this project is Kawaguchi Kayoko, a nurse who has lived in Thailand for over 40 years as a nursing and care educator. “There’s a strong sense among Thai people that elder care homes are for people on the verge of death, and this associates them with the fear of death in people’s minds,” Kawaguchi says. Furthermore, she adds, “When elderly patients in care lose some of their ability to eat, a gastrostomy is performed right away. Watching over patients unobtrusively and encouraging them to help themselves is a crucial part of care, but among families there are many who think, ‘We’re paying the facility, they should provide full assistance with everything.’”

Kawaguchi Kayoko.

After growth in businesses like restaurant management and staff dormitory operation, Riei expanded into the care business around the year 2000. Today it operates 46 facilities around Japan, as well as one in Beijing and another in Shanghai. It began offering home-visit care services in 2010 in Thailand, where it also provides professional development services for care workers in conjunction with the Saha Group, a Thai conglomerate.

A room in Riei Nursing Home Ladprao.

Monitoring Systems And More: Approaches by Other Companies

Kenkōkai, a care company based in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, also chose Thailand as the site of its first business ventures outside Japan. At the end of 2015, Kenkōkai launched a joint operation with a Thai partner company in beauty services. The Japanese firm plans to enter the care sector as it secures the necessary staff.

Elsewhere, Oita-based software developer AIVS began trials of its “Mimamori system” in 2016. The system uses sensors to detect movement and prevent falls and other problems in an elder-care context. AIVS, hoping to bring it to market in Thailand soon, launched demonstration experiments in 2016. The firm has received support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency as a smaller business expanding overseas.

Among Thai enterprises, SCG is developing housing especially for elderly residents, while the Thonburi Hospital Group has begun offering home-visit care services.

As more Japanese businesses expand into Thailand, there is hope that the deeper meaning behind the meticulous attention to detail in Japanese care services will permeate the Thai social landscape as well. Some also hope that with facilities like Riei’s to act as “show windows,” the tendency to carry out gastrostomies too easily can be corrected and the negative image of elder care homes improved. For this to happen, it is vital that Japanese care services avoid forcing their approach on the market, taking care instead to quietly present it as another choice to be considered.

(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: The cafeteria in the brand-new Riei Nursing Home Ladprao. All photos © Takeuchi Yukifumi.)

  • [2016.09.30]

Member of the International Development Journal editorial board and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s Issues and Implications of Aging Asian Population Project committee. After graduating from Keiō University in 1980, joined the Asahi Shimbun and worked as a correspondent in Bangkok and New Delhi. Served as the Asian news specialist until leaving the newspaper in 2011. Held positions including visiting scholar at the Reischauer Center for East Asia Studies, Johns Hopkins University, before joining the editorial board of the IDJ, a publication for ODA professionals. Currently a visiting professor at Gifu Women’s University and a lecturer at Takushoku University. Recently contributed a chapter in Datsu-genpatsu no hikaku seijigaku (The Comparative Politics of Phasing Out Nuclear Power).

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