One of Japan's few women entrepreneurs has built a thriving business out of the country's demographic crisis - and is now eyeing the U.S. market. Yonggi Kang reports.
If children are a country's greatest asset - Japan is coming up short. Not enough babies are being born to replace its rapidly aging population - so the country's facing a full-blown demographic crisis. There's one entrepreneur who spotted this trend decades ago - and decided to turn it into a business opportunity. Noriko Nakamura set up Poppins in 1987. It's grown into one of Japan's major providers of care services - for elderly and the children alike. I sat down with her to ask about what may soon be a global growth industry - and the difficulties associated with being one of Japan's rare female entrepreneurs. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) CEO, POPPINS, NORIKO NAKAMURA, SAYING: "There was never a point where I thought my difficulties were due to being a woman. The hardest part was the regulations imposed by the country. Of all the government regulations, nurseries have the strictest. They prevented all those except government employees and special welfare organizations from running child-care or nurseries. That battle was the hardest and took all of these 26 years." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) CEO, POPPINS, NORIKO NAKAMURA, SAYING: "Thanks to all of the support, we've been able to open 133 nurseries, as well as expand babysitter service. However, to really support the working female force, it's not just child care alone. Elderly care is necessary, as well. When the older generation gets injured, it's the women that bear the burden of care in this case. It's my dream for Japanese women to overcome childcare and elderly care responsibilities, and create a society where women can participate." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) CEO, POPPINS, NORIKO NAKAMURA, SAYING: "I've established more than a 100 plus nurseries in Japan, and I've created a foundation of knowledge about how to run this kind of service that satisfies our customers. And I think, maybe this could catch on outside of Japan. In short, Japan's manufacturing business is strong, but it's service businesses are usually beaten out by competitors shortly after expanding overseas. I want to challenge the overseas market with my nursery business, and I've expanded to Hawaii. Right now I'm looking to Asia and mainland America." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) CEO, POPPINS, NORIKO NAKAMURA, SAYING: "I think it's wonderful that women are starting businesses in such fields as IT. But from my point of view, these are so many business opportunities that women have where they can incorporate their uniqueness, femininity. And I hope that they will challenge these fields as well." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) CEO, POPPINS, NORIKO NAKAMURA, SAYING: "If we're going to list our shares, we want to do it on the Tokyo Stock Exchange or somewhere like the United States where we've introduce our services, where people can understand the value of our company and we can get support. I don't know how many years that's going to take. But we are aiming for 10 billion yen in sales next year or the year after. And how much our company is going to grow from there is going to be an important benchmark for when the listing is going to happen." ENDS