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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Japanese health businesses take on Dubai

Aug. 4, 2017

Dubai—the financial capital of the Middle East, located in the United Arab Emirates—is zeroing in on the business of wellness. As Dubai’s economy has grown, people have become more concerned about increased rates of obesity and diabetes.

Dubai’s health care market is expected to triple in the 15 years between 2005 and 2020. Now, several Japanese businesses are jumping on the opportunity to enter this burgeoning market.

Dubai’s economy has grown exponentially in the last two decades thanks to global investment.

The lifestyle changes have placed a heavy burden on people’s health.

According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), about one third of Dubai’s population is overweight, and nearly 20% has diabetes.

The increased calorie intake and subsequent obesity result from the switch to a Western diet.

The government of Dubai is taking measures to battle the obesity problem, which include setting up special healthcare business zones.

This has led to a sudden increase in pharmacies selling diet foods and supplements from the West. The natural foods sector has grown over 50% in the last five years.

As residents of Dubai take a bigger interest in their health, Japanese companies are starting to enter the market.

One such company started selling its products in Dubai two months ago.

It sells food that’s low in sugar and contains healthy ingredients like nutritious soy protein. Its products are made entirely of soybeans.

The company focuses on making food that is ultra-low in calories. It developed a processing method which doesn't use any sweeteners as fillers.

By this method, it can make a range of products which are substitutes for things like pasta and ham.

"This is made of soybeans. We call it a meat filet," says Yoshinori Ichikawa, the CEO of Cocci Lab Inc.

The product is lower in fat, but its appearance and texture are very close to the real thing.

Today, the company has a meeting with the operators of a fast-growing pharmacy chain in Dubai. Offering the client a sample results in positive feedback.

The company stresses how easy it is to substitute their products for other foods.

Hoping to jump on the healthy-eating bandwagon, the pharmacy operators offered the company an exclusive contract.

“There’s no question that this type of soy product is in demand," says Ichikawa. "If we keep at it, I’m confident they’ll sell like hotcakes.”

Some Japanese companies are gaining popularity thanks to the traditional health services they offer.

Fuminori Matsuura is a certified acupuncturist and moxa heat therapist, and so is Yumie Osada. The two of them work out of a hotel room together, treating local guests.

Their business, which is based on Eastern medicine, offers services such as acupuncture, shiatsu massage, and diet advice.

They customize their treatments to each client’s physical condition.

Osada begins by taking the guest's pulse to gauge their current state of health.

Guided by the initial evaluation, Matsuura massages key pressure points to relax the muscles.

The sessions last more than an hour and seem to be popular: 90% of customers come back.

They have refined their services, keeping the local culture in mind.

When they visited Dubai, it was Ramadan, so food and drink were forbidden during daylight hours.

Eating a whole day’s worth of food immediately after sunset can sometimes pose health problems.

Matsuura focuses on diet advice during this period. To overcome any language barriers with clients, they take photos of recommended foods while conducting research at super markets.

On one day, a client is a man who isn't feeling well after Ramadan.

Osada diagnoses the problem as liver trouble, and recommends pomegranate, which is sold at the supermarket. It should improve the condition of the liver.

There are plans to open a clinic in Dubai; staff from Japan are there and already in training.

"We want people to learn about the benefits of Japanese treatments, and we hope to achieve that through our business," says Matsuura.


Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Hideki Nakayama discussed the role of Japanese businesses in Dubai's health trend.

Shibuya: Hideki, you were a correspondent in Dubai until recently. Did you see this growing presence of Japanese businesses?

Nakayama: Yes, I was there for more than 2 years. Japanese-style services and products are highly trusted in the city.

Shibuya: I've heard many women there are interested in skin-friendly Japanese cosmetics.

Nakayama: Yes, in general, young people make up a huge portion of Dubai's consumers. This market would be very attractive for Japanese companies.

Dubai is a cosmopolitan hub that attracts people from around the world. A successful business there could lead to success in neighboring Middle Eastern countries, Africa, and the rest of the world.