Japan


“E-content is integrated into machines with displays and is literally all over the place”

How would you define e-content in Japan?

In Japan e-content really transcends the usual definitions. It is integrated into machines with displays and is literally all over the place. For instance, subway ticket vending machines have multimedia e-content: cartoon characters that bow and speak to the costumer. In many subway cars in Tokyo, there are displays that constantly show train status and information on weather, sports, news, trivia, and advertisement. Many counters at convenience stores also have displays that advertise products or events. Similar displays are ubiquitous on elevators, in bathrooms, and on the streets.

 

Finding addresses in Japan can be challenging, so the Internet is used widely for navigation. Most cars, for instance, have GPS navigaion systems

Most people have cellular phones equipped with cameras and Internet enabling software. People are constantly sending messages even while commuting on the subway or trains in Tokyo. It is also very common to see people taking pictures with the cameras in their mobile phones, which are often shared and e-mailed to others. In the process, often software is used to “play” with the content.

Finding addresses in Japan can be challenging, so the Internet is used widely for navigation. Most cars, for instance, have GPS navigation systems. In addition, most people use the web, and cell phones, to access maps of locations they wish to visit. Downloading the map of your destination on your cell phone has become almost an essential tool in this sense.

What’s the status of e-content in Japan?

According to the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ most recent report, the market for e-content, including music, games and newspaper articles that are distributed to PCs and mobile phones through the Internet and mobile networks (network-based distribution market) expanded to about 500 billion yen in 2003, increasing by about 200 billion yen in three years. At the same time, the overall media contents market hit a high point at about 11 trillion yen during the period between 2000 and 2003.

The market for audio contents (music, radio programs, etc.) and the text contents market (newspaper articles, literary contents, etc.) are shrinking, while the market for visual contents (movies, TV programs, etc.) is expanding. The report suggests the emergence of a trend to create new e-content by combining materials from different sources.

The same report states that companies’ Internet utilisation rate increased by 8.8 points from 89.3% at the end of 2000 to 98.1% at the end of 2004. Meanwhile the Internet utilisation rate at business establishments increased by 37.0 points from 44.8% at the end of 2000 to 81.8% at the end of 2004. The Internet utilisation rate of mobile phone users is the highest in Japan at 78.8% (compared to the Republic of Korea at 66.9% and the United States at 32.2%). In 2004, the market size of Japan’s mobile contents industry, consisting of the mobile contents market and the mobile commerce market, was 461.6 billion yen (a 31.1% increase over the previous year).

Which area of e-content (e-health, e-biz, e-culture, e-government, e-entertainment, e-learning, e-science, and e-inclusion) is best developed in your country?

E-entertainment appears to be the most developed area in Japan, mainly due to three factors: (1)

 

“The main objective was to develop the environment for the diffusion of super high-speed Internet access to 10 million households”

it is a profitable industry driven by market forces; (2) it appeals to a wider sector of the population than some of the other categories, and (3) culture. It is easier to develop e-entertainment content than e-health, e-government, or e-learning content packages that will appeal to a large population segment. Content in these three categories serves specific needs. The same cultural phenomenon that drives the widespread popularity of Manga in Japanese culture, in some ways translates to e-entertainment. Similarly, we can see how the Japanese fascination for electronic gadgets is a driving force behind the e-entertainment.

In a survey cited in, when Internet users were asked about the progress of ICT use, more than 80% believed that ICT use has “made a lot of progress/made some Progress” in the fields of information gathering, shopping, communication, amusement/contents, and financial transactions, but as many as 30% to 40% believed that ICT use has “made little progress/made no progress” in the fields of medical care, administration, and education. Indeed, e-content for business (shopping and e-commerce in general) is also strong in Japan as some statistics show.

Which sector (business, private sector, government or civil society) in Japan is advanced in developing e-content?

The private sector is more aggressive, but there are important government initiatives.

What major initiatives have influenced the development of e-content in Japan?

It is really difficult to measure exactly how much impact a particular initiative has on such a broad concept as e-content because many factors (e.g., social, technical, market, etc.) play a role. The most important government initiative in this area, however, started in November 2000 with the proposal of “Basic IT Strategies”. The objectives for this strategy were announced in January 2001 as the “e-Japan Strategy”, and subsequently narrowed down to specific measures in the “e-Japan Priority Policy Program” reviewed again in 2002.

The e-Japan scheme essentially focused on the promotion of broadband capabilities: the main objective was to develop the environment for the diffusion of super high-speed Internet access to 10 million households (and high speed access to 30 million), mainly through deregulation efforts

 

“There is little doubt that technical advances, the drop in costs of ubiquitous computting devices, and polices that embrace them will have a major impact on the future development of e-contents”

and policies prompting competition.

The new government initiative is called u-Japan. It is based on four principles: ubiquitous (connects everyone and everything); universal (can be easily used by the elderly, etc.); user-oriented (based on user viewpoints); and unique (creative and vigorous). The basic idea is to have easy persons-to-person, persons-to-objects, and objects-to-objects, resulting in “anytime”, “anywhere”, “anything” connections. As a result of connecting small, low-priced devices to objects, computing (and e-content) will be fully integrated into everyday life.

There is little doubt that technical advances, the drop in costs of ubiquitous computing devices, and policies that embrace them will have a major impact on the future development of e-content.

What are the major bottlenecks in the path of e-content development in Japan?

I think it is important to make a distinction between different types of e-content and different types of applications since the bottlenecks vary widely. Some of the important bottlenecks are due to general technical issues such as security and accessibility, while others are more strongly related to policies, cultural, social, and economic factors. For instance, although the networks are in place for mobile web access, browsing the web on a mobile phone is still difficult because the majority of web content is simply unsuitable for small displays (or rather, small displays are unsuitable for multimedia content).

In addition, there are inherent limitations on the user interface, so it is not only a matter of making the content available. Although the major carriers offer e-content for 3G mobile phone users, is not clear yet how much of an impact 3G technology is having on e-content development for mobile devices.

In areas such as e-government and e-health, it is clear that policies can either be the driving force or bottlenecks. Economic factors play a key role in e-business and e-entertainment, although regulation can again hinder or push content development forward.

In other categories, e-learning, e-culture, e-science and e-inclusion, funding is one of the major issues, and economic factors specific to the region have a strong impact. In this sense, high labour costs in Japan can hinder content development in areas not driven by profit or competition:

 

“Although the networks are in place for mobile web access, browsing the web on a mobile phone is still difficult ”

developing high quality content remains a highly intensive labour activity.

In most countries, especially developing, e-content development is significantly dependent on ICT infrastructure and ICT facilities. But, in some, ICT has become pervasive and e-content development is primarily subjected to the initiatives of an individual/organization/government, etc. What is the situation in your country?

In Japan, 2001 is referred to as the “broadband kickoff year” because three kinds of broadband technologies were launched: 8-megabit/second ADSL service, 100-megabit/second fiber network access service, and third generation mobile telephone service. Thus, the infrastructure in Japan is very advanced (broadband, third generation mobile networks) and generally accessible in terms of price (around 5,000 Yen per month for 100 MB/sec. Internet access, around 5,000 Yen per month for 3G mobile service, around 5,000 Yen per month for cable TV).

Although Infrastructure has a deep impact on content, it does not alone push content production forward. What determines development of e-content on the larger scale are existing organisational structures and the cultural norms within society. It is impossible to separate cultural norms from e-content development.

Using a critical view, one can argue that although e-content is malleable in the sense that it is easily created and modified, the hierarchical structures within Japanese society do not necessarily encourage individual initiatives. In large organisations, for instance, this might mean that creating a particular chunk of e-content requires going through the same bureaucratic channels as creating any kind of content. In this sense, existing social structures can be limiting: if a program or policy is not set up and agreed upon by all involved, it does not take place.

On the other hand, once a program is established, development is rather quick, so the same factors that hinder development may actually push it forward. It is also interesting to note that technologies such as the Internet give individuals the opportunity to jump all the bureaucratic red tape and take their own initiatives. In this sense, e-content development is not bound by the usual social and economic structures.

As pointed out in, the diffusion of technology (and e-content) depends on many factors, including system reforms, engineering capabilities, and marketing capabilities, among others. Thus, an analysis of how quickly a technology spreads may be read not only in technical terms but also as an indicator of the flexibility and mobility of a given social system.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in Japan in terms of infrastructure, penetration, and policies?

People in Japan are very open to new technologies and quickly adapt to them. The implications of this are that content creation has a large easily accessible market.

Which is the most preferred medium for e-content production in Japan?

It is really a combination. Printed materials are produced in very large quantities in Japan in part due to the popularity of Manga. TV and web shopping is becoming more popular, so more content is being developed for those two applications, and while there are initiatives to push mobile content access, it is too early to say how quickly the mobile content market will expand. It is clear, however, that mobile content will play a major role in areas such as e-entertainment and shopping.

How do you recognize the best e-content practices in your country?

In Japan, an open contest was set up and entries received in each of the categories. The winners of the national contest were selected by a committee using the same evaluation criteria and software support system used for selecting the world winners in Bahrain.

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