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Food Delivery in Japan – History and Current Regulation

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The following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, a foreign law specialist who covers Japan and other countries in East and Southeast Asia. Sayuri has previously authored posts on New Era, New Law NumberHoly Cow – Making Sense of Japanese Wagyu Cow Export RulesJapanese Criminal Legal System as Seen Through the Carlos Ghosn CaseDisciplining Judges for “Bad Tweets”Engagement under Japanese Law and Imperial House Rules, and many more.

Japan has a long history of food delivery. During the Edo period (1603-1868), people started ordering food on special occasions. In addition, vendors started to sell dishes, such as grilled eel, tempura, and soba noodles, by carrying food on a pole and moving around towns and cities. After the telephone became widely used in the late 1960s, demae became popular. Demae means that, in accordance with the order, a restaurant prepares the dishes and delivers it to the ordering party. In 1985, Domino’s Pizza established its first shop for pizza delivery. Domino’s dared to use the word “deribarii (delivery)”, instead of demae to distinguish itself from traditional Japanese food delivery. As more pizza delivery competitors came into the market, delivery of pizza became popular and common in Japan. In recent years, food delivery has been expanded because food delivery service businesses that use smartphone applications, such as Uber Eats, became widely used. And, of course, since the pandemic started, food delivery has expanded even further.

Photo by Flickr user David Shackelford (Dec. 9, 2008), used under Creative Commons License,

Delivery service providers for cooked foods in Japan ride bicycles or mopeds of 125cc or less. These are not made for speed, but stability. It appears, however, that there was a national race among these delivery mopeds that people found amusing. Riding mopeds exempts riders from the regulations under the Motor Truck Transportation Business Act. The Act requires a person who wishes to manage a motor vehicle transportation business to obtain permission from, or notify the business to, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) and follow the regulations. (Act No. 83 of 1989, amended by Act No. 96 of 2018, arts. 3, 35 & 36.) A “light motor vehicle transportation business” is one to transport freight with light motor vehicles. However, mopeds of 125cc or less are not included in the definition of “light motor vehicles” in the Act. (Motor Truck Transportation Business Act art. 2, para. 4 & 5; Road Transport Vehicle Act, Act No. 185 of 1951, amended by Act No. 14 of 2019 (Reiwa), art. 2, para. 2 & 3; and Road Transport Vehicle Act Enforcement Rule, Ministry of Transport Ordinance No. 74 of 1951, amended by MLIT Ordinance No. 33 of 2019 (Reiwa), art. 1.) Therefore, as long as a delivery service operator uses bicycles or mopeds of 125cc or less, the regulations do not apply. When a restaurant/cooking business delivers its own food to a customer, it is also not regarded as a motor vehicle transportation business. Therefore, the regulations do not apply either. (Motor Truck Transportation Business Act art. 2.)

A four-wheel vehicle may be required for some food delivery. During the COVID-19 emergency period, some restaurants needed to use delivery services to deliver food to customers. In addition, taxi drivers needed more work. Taxis have passenger transport permissions, not freight transportation permissions. (Road Transportation Act, Act No. 183 of 1951, amended by Act No. 45 of 2017, arts. 4 & 43; and Motor Truck Transportation Business Act, Act No. 83 of 1989, amended by Act No. 96 of 2018, arts 3 & 35.) On April 21, 2020, the MLIT notified local Transport Bureaus that it would allow taxi operators to transport freight under specific conditions until May 13. (Regarding paid freight transportation by taxi operators based on the situation of the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, MLIT Automobile Bureau Passenger & Freight Div., Admin. Cir. (Apr. 21, 2020).) To receive special treatment under this circular, taxi business operators were required to make efforts to keep taxi drivers employed and to protect them from being infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic. They can transport food from restaurants that are affected by the pandemic. The food must be placed in the trunk, with some exceptions. (By the way, Japanese taxis’ trunks are clean, and even cleaner if used for food delivery. See a couple of photos.) The service operation area is the same as their permitted passenger transport area. This exceptional measure was extended a few times, most recently until September 30, 2020.

Food delivery by taxi has been popular among both taxi operators and users. The MLIT recognized delivery by taxi as a new successful business model, and last month decided to make it permanent. (Handling of licenses for freight vehicle transportation business related to food and beverages by taxi operators, Automobile Dept., MLIT, Auto-Safety No. 79, Auto-Passenger No. 201 & Auto-Freight No. 37 of 2020 (Sept. 10, 2020).)

While I was writing this article, I thought about the delicious sushi in Japan. I wish that a teleporting sushi-demae system could be developed in the near future. (Sushi must be delivered by demae. Deribarii (delivery) does not sound right.)


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