Is your dog looking for a friend?

photoNext time I go to Osaka, I want to meet the people who have created a dating app for dogs.

It is a bit like Tinder, a mobile phone dating app for people, but this version lets you spend time with someone else’s pet.

The concept is not especially new. I remember making a radio programme for the BBC about dog dating in Tokyo some years ago.

At that time, people went to a shop and chose a dog from among the “professional” animals. They paid the shop owner money to take the dog away for a few hours, usually for a walk in the park.

This new mobile phone app connects “amateur” dog owners with dog renters, without any shop involved.

The concept is similar to Tinder and to other so-called “disruptive” types of business like the room rental service AirBNB or the taxi service Uber.

The idea of encouraging small start-up companies to develop innovative ideas, such as mobile phone apps, is relatively unusual in Japan.

The people who made Meet My Dog are based at The Lab in Osaka. The Lab brings together small companies and encourages them to pool their talent and ideas. It is backed by Osaka’s city government.

In fact, encouraging innovation is part of the Abenomics programme of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It is not just Japan which could benefit. A senior economist told me this week that innovation is key to raising Asia’s economic output.

The economist, Shang Jin-Wei, works at the Asia Development Bank, based in Manila. Its main goal is to help the poorest parts of Asia out of poverty. Mr Jin-Wei is Chinese. The bank’s president Takehiko Nakao is Japanese.

Mr Jin-Wei told me that for every one percent that China’s economic growth slows, Japan can expect a slowdown in growth of a quarter of one percent. That does not sound much but it would be enough to drag Japan back down into recession.

He said that one way to counter the Chinese slowdown is for Asian countries to “introduce reforms to raise labour productivity and invigorate growth potential.”

Productivity – the amount of output produced for each hour worked – is quite hard to measure. But by most standards, Japan’s productivity is low compared to other developed countries.

I asked Mr Jin-Wei what would boost productivity. His answers are based on his consideration of Asia as a whole.

As well as innovation, Mr Jin-Wei recommends investment in infrastructure.

He said another way to grow an economy is to encourage people out of low productivity jobs in the countryside and into more productive jobs in cities. He also recommended reform of state owned enterprises and reform of the financial sector.

Finally, he said productivity rises when women are encouraged to work. He didn’t say anything about dogs.

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