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Uber starts food delivery in Japan after ride-share stumbles

An employee poses for a photograph at a launch event for the UberEats delivery service in Tokyo.

Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Uber, which has struggled to win Japan over to its ride-sharing service, is hoping to fare better with takeout deliveries.

UberEats opens Thursday, initially just in central Tokyo, ranging from simple dishes costing just hundreds of yen to Michelin-star dining at the equivalent of hundreds of dollars.

Delivery is free at first, although fees are expected to be added at a later date. Consumers download a software application in iOS, Android or a desktop version to choose food off menus from 150 restaurants.

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Drivers hired by UberEats are tapped online, pick up food at restaurants, and make deliveries, ensuring food arrives relatively hot and fresh. The global average for deliveries is about a half hour.

Japan is the eighth nation, and Tokyo the 34th city, for UberEats, already available in San Francisco, Dubai, Singapore and Paris.

Ride-sharing has stumbled in Japan partly because of a strong taxi lobby. Uber offers just a high-end taxi service in Japan, and has begun a limited ride-sharing in a rural area, where populations are declining, Uber Japan Co. President Masami Takahashi said Wednesday.

But hopes are high that food delivery would be popular for Japanese working late in the office and at parties. It may also be handy for tourists, more familiar with the service and whose ranks are growing in recent years.

Uber takes a percentage of the revenue from the restaurants, but dishes come at the same price as at the restaurants.

Daisuke Nomura, owner and chef of Sougo, a Michelin two-star restaurant, hopes UberEats will help not only Japanese but also visitors from abroad rediscover the delights of his traditional shoujin-style cooking.

"I have used the car service, and so I trust the brand and the quality of its service," he told reporters in Tokyo.

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