Japan is not exploiting the major potential of the Net, Michael
The rest of the world may be cruising on the digital superhighway, but
it appears that Japan has stayed in the Happy Eater with its nose pushed
up against the window.
Surprisingly, given its technological prowess, Japan lacks the kind of
cyber-savvy associated with the Internet guru, Bill Gates, and his
fellow Web surfers in the US. So, naturally, Japanese advertisers are
less interested in using the Net to push their products.
Japan has a surprisingly small number of PC owners compared with the US
- where half of all households have one, and half of these are linked to
some sort of network. By contrast, only about 9 per cent of Japan’s
computers are ‘wired’.
By way of self-censureship, a recent issue of the magazine, Shukan Post,
carried interviews with shop assistants from Akihahra - Tokyo’s
electrical retail area - who gave alarming reports of customers bringing
in disks sealed in plastic bags because their PCs had a virus and others
who ordered copies of Windows 95 even though they didn’t have a
Although the Windows 95 software sold well in Japan, the high cost of
modems and online services held many consumers back. Many have made do
with dedicated word processors that lack the software capability for
anything more advanced than faxing. Without a demonstrative mass market,
advertisers are loath to commit large budgets.
Compared with what’s on offer in the US and Europe on similar sites,
there’s little to get excited about. At a symposium in Tokyo organised
by Wired magazine, Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warned Japan against becoming one
of the ‘digital homeless’.
‘I get the impression that this is one of the first times Japan has been
behind in technological advancement,’ he said.
But, according to some observers, it’s a matter of time before Japan
catches up. ‘We’re witnessing the birth of a new media,’ Kim Walker, the
president of Bates Japan, says. ‘Its potential is uncharted, unexplored
and, as a consequence, unrealised. The service providers have not yet
produced the profiles and user data that advertisers require and they
really don’t know how to quote rates. It’s like the blind leading the