Student Research Opportunity: Shaping the Sharing Economy: Airbnb and Uber in Japan and Beyond

Project Description

Scholars have long been fascinated by questions of how companies can enter and succeed in new countries, but conventional dynamics of market entry have been complicated by the emergence of innovative technologies and industries. The “sharing economy” is premised on individuals earning money by charging for access to under-utilized assets such as their home or their car via Internet platforms. Airbnb and Uber have become flagship firms of this new economic model, and as they have spread, they have transformed the environments around them. While they have created new opportunities for some, they have also prompted concerns related to lack of regulation and negative spillover effects. Consequently, Airbnb and Uber have often faced resistance from governments and outright opposition from the hotel and taxi industries that are their competitors. 

Japan is a fruitful context in which to study these dynamics, since both companies entered the Japanese market in the 2010s with different results. Airbnb achieved early success, but in 2018 removed over 80 percent of its listings due to regulatory changes. Uber struggled to enter Japan at first but eventually won an unexpected victory with Uber Eats, the food delivery portion of its business. What explains the relative success and failure of these firms in Japan? How does this compare to their experiences in other countries? The students working on this project will explore these questions by gathering and analyzing new data, which will give them valuable insights into this complex nexus of politics, economics, technology, and society.

Student Selection and Application Process

Multiple students may be selected to work on this project. These students will work collaboratively with Professor Kristi Govella of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Asian Studies Program and other students as part of a team examining the broader issues of the Japanese political economy, but each student will take the lead in shaping their own independent project on either Uber or Airbnb. They will learn how to structure a social science research project, how to gather and analyze data, and how to formulate answers to research questions. Their projects will be nested within Professor Govella’s larger work on the political strategies of foreign companies across multiple sectors in Japan.

Required Qualifications:

  • Be a student at the University of Hawaii
  • Have access to a computer and the Internet
  • Possess research competency in English
  • Interest in learning more about research
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team

Desired Qualifications:

  • Japanese language proficiency is not required, but it may be helpful
  • Prior research experience is not required, but it may be helpful

Applicants will submit a resume, transcript, and a cover letter describing their interest in the project and any relevant qualifications to Professor Govella at

All work may be completed online, so students can work from any location. Dates and hours are negotiable.

This is currently an unpaid opportunity, though course credit may be available for University of Hawaii at Manoa students. Students may also be able to collaborate with Professor Govella to apply for a UROP project grant of up to $5,000 per semester.

Project Timeline and Activities

We will meet prior to beginning the project to discuss expectations for our mentor-mentee relationship. We will use a combination of Zoom videoconferencing and Slack collaboration software to develop a supportive online communication environment. Our interactions will have include weekly research team meetings, flexible communication via Slack, and weekly written updates.

Students will be given some basic readings on the sharing economy to orient them to the topic. We will discuss the goals of the project and collectively brainstorm ways to move forward answering our research questions. (At least) one student will focus on building a literature review on the general market entry strategies and experiences of Uber, while the other(s) will focus on Airbnb. They will learn the basics of searching for articles, evaluating information sources, using bibliographic management software, creating an annotated bibliography, writing research briefs, citing materials, and avoiding plagiarism. They will also learn how to use online newspaper databases to search English-language international news sources for relevant articles.

The students will examine the experiences of these companies in Japan, again focusing either on Uber or Airbnb. They will learn how to use English-language Japan-specific news databases for this task. We will work together to build a timeline and a narrative of each company’s experience, and students will use the social science method of “process tracing,” systematically analyzing the sequencing of events over time to identify causal mechanisms that may have led to the companies’ relative success or failure in the Japanese market. 

The students may also develop matrices of the two companies’ success or failure in various countries, particularly focusing on advanced industrial economies similar to Japan. This will help them to get a sense of the larger context in which these companies are operating.

Throughout the research process, they will be supported by Professor Govella and other research team members.

At the end of the term, students who are interested in presenting their research at the Undergraduate Research Showcase or the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium will focus on formulating and learning how to effectively present their findings. This presentation opportunity is optional.

For more information, contact Professor Kristi Govella at