Unlimited subscription services go outside the box

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shoko Niimiya relaxes in the living room of a house in which she currently resides in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Subscription services, which offer the use of products or services for a set price over a fixed period, have taken root in recent years in the entertainment industry in the form of unlimited streaming of music or videos. And the idea of “consumption without actually buying things” is now beginning to become part of life.

The concept of unlimited services is evolving and changing the way the public thinks about everyday life.

House-hopping lifestyle

Company worker Shoko Niimiya, 25, on Dec. 11 moved from Tokyo to a town along the Pacific Ocean in Ibaraki Prefecture called Oarai to set up her new base. The location is known as a tourist spot with an abundance of seafood.

The two-story house where she lives is a 10-minute walk from the ocean. The house features a spacious living room and working area with a wide-open feel. Step out onto the balcony and the peaceful backdrop of fields and open lots fills the landscape.

Niimiya’s job is checking problematic posts or content on social networking sites. As long as she has a computer, she has the freedom to work from remote locations.

She began using the flat-rate “unlimited housing access” service provided by the start-up ADDress Inc. in January 2021 and now spends her life moving to various locations, enjoying the distinctive attractions those local communities have to offer.

ADDress subscribers can choose from more than 210 registered houses nationwide, all for ¥44,000 per month.

Niimiya said she always felt that having a fixed address, something long considered the norm, is not an absolute.

Born in Tokushima Prefecture, she graduated from a university in Osaka and moved to Tokyo in 2019. She lived in a shared house before she started moving from place to place.

Niimiya said she is steadfast in her desire to use her money for other purposes, not on purchasing a house or paying the high cost of rent to live in an urban setting.

“I am happy with the subscription system since I can live in the city or rural areas, among the various options. Since I also like to travel, it’s nice to meet new people in various areas, too,” she said.

For its business model, ADDress refers to Netflix, a distribution service that offers unlimited access to movies and anime for a set price. Netflix has been able to add subscribers thanks to its system, which allows users to stumble onto popular South Korean TV dramas or other programs they can be passionate about even though they might only be viewing random programming.

“We thought, if we offered the unlimited use of an accommodation service at a fixed rate, people would start taking up residence not only in tourist spots, but also areas they had never heard of,” said ADDress president Takashi Sabetto, 44, who is also involved in the efforts to revitalize local communities through problem solving, for example, issues with unoccupied houses.

The company is running the service in accordance with systems the local authorities put in place. It obtains authorization related to the Inns and Hotels Law, for example, in accordance with the needs of local governments.

Advance of digitization

“I want to make ‘living’ something free and casual,” said Hirotake Kubo, 40, who runs Clas Inc., a provider of a service that allows customers to use or replace furniture or home appliances by renting them for as little as ¥440 per month.

The need for items at home, as well as offices, evolves as circumstances change, such as when people move, have babies or when children become adults. That was the crossroad at which Clas discovered a new subscription need.

Kubo said he established the company in 2018 because he “wanted to create a service that I myself desired.”

As the head of other companies in the past, he purchased brand-new furniture or discarded items each time the office relocated. The wasteful cost not only put a squeeze on management, it also disturbed him that useful items were being tossed out.

By December 2021, Clas had rented out more than 40,000 pieces of furniture and other items. The company in September 2021 announced that it had raised about ¥2.1 billion in capital, demonstrating its rapid growth.

Kubo said that he regularly replaces desks and sofas at his home.

“I think it’s actually a happy thing for people to live in the way that best suits them, without putting up with inconvenience,” he said.

According to a survey by the Yano Research Institute Ltd., the size of the domestic subscription service market is expected to grow to ¥1.149 trillion in fiscal 2023 from ¥682.8 billion in fiscal 2019.

Naoko Kuga, a senior researcher at the NLI Research Institute, said, “In Japan, where wages tend not to increase, young people have grown to be thoroughly budget-minded.

“The desire to own things has diminished, and people have come to value the notion that it’s cooler to use only what you need, when you need it,” Kuga said.