This year is Emergency Assistance Japan’s (EAJ’s) 20th anniversary and you have grown significantly in that time. Can you tell us about the challenges and successes the company has experienced over the years?
Thank you for the opportunity to mark our 20th anniversary. Our founder and first CEO, the late Mr Kazumasa Yoshida, and Dr Sol Edelstein, the Co-Founder, were passionate about creating the best medical and travel assistance company in Japan. I am honoured to have been a part of this exceptional team from its inception. EAJ was able to serve major Japanese overseas travel insurance companies immediately after its foundation for two reasons:
Firstly, by knowing our customer. We recognised that the level of hospitality expected in Japan required a different approach. Understanding the customer’s needs and being able to bring anshin, the word often used by Japanese people to describe true peace of mind, was EAJ’s selling point.
Secondly, by having great people. Even though the company was new, our team consisted of experienced industry professionals, both domestically and internationally. Our clients appreciate that EAJ has its own internal medical team. All hospitalisation cases are reviewed and monitored by our doctors and nurses. Our medical staff maintains strong relationships with major Japanese hospitals. Despite hospital shortages, we are always able to find beds for a patient returning from overseas. Because of this, other companies routinely request us to manage their severe medical condition cases – we are proud of our quality and appreciate this trust in our services. One of the most exciting movements for EAJ in the last decade has been to expand our services within Japan. Japan has one of the best medical services globally, but the benefits have been primarily for its citizens. EAJ became the first organisation to be recognised and approved by the government to act as a medical stay travel visa ‘Guarantor’. Since 2011, EAJ has assisted over 3,000 patients from 45 countries to receive medical care in Japan. In 2012, EAJ issued stocks publicly on to Tokyo Stock Exchange, and currently employs 300 personnel worldwide.
Japan was one of the first countries impacted by Covid-19 with the Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak. The Japanese government were one of the last to reopen their borders for international tourists. Can you explain how this impacted the business?
Covid-19 was, by far, the greatest challenge EAJ has faced. By April 2020, our outbound and inbound volume had decreased by 40 per cent. Our current CEO, Mr Kiyoshi Kurata, and our executive team were clear from the beginning of the pandemic that we would aggressively seek new opportunities — even if that meant stretching our existing capabilities. In 2021 EAJ signed a contract with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to track and document entrants to the country and their quarantine status. This required EAJ to develop a new system and processes quickly. This was a new endeavour, and although a challenging project due to ever-changing Covid-19-related entry policies, we were successful. The project not only kept our business moving, but it also brought new skills and technologies into the company.
You have different strands to the business. Which area is growing fastest, and why?
We see a great growth potential in our medical assistance sector for foreign visitors. The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan dwindled in 2021 due to the pandemic. But in March 2022 Japan lifted the ban on new entries of foreign nationals for business purposes and from October Japan made further easing of entry regulations. Things recovered. Japan abolished all the border controls aimed for Covid-19 on 8 May 2023. As there were 1.88 million foreign tourists visiting Japan in the 2019 pre-pandemic year, the government is targeting to attract 60 million foreign visitors by 2030. However, navigating within Japan requires knowing the language and culture. This is true for the medical system as well. Most providers can only accommodate a patient with an interpreter. Japan has a national healthcare programme, and most medical providers are unable to bill anyone other than the national healthcare system or individual patients. This makes it difficult to place a guarantee of payment or obtain medical information directly from Japanese providers. To address this challenge, EAJ applied its understanding of the system and created Japan's most prominent medical network and worked successfully with over 1,400 medical providers over the course of the past 20 years.
What plans does EAJ have for the future?
The last 20 years have proven our strength and given EAJ the confidence to continue evolving. We have made a remarkable recovery; now it is time to build. We are in a great position to further expand our capabilities, cultivate new relationships, and create new opportunities in and out of Japan.