Galapagos Syndrome, Japan and Sunday’s National Election

Japan is days away from major elections and polls suggest an historic result: the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) replacing the standard bearing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Nobody quite knows what this means for the technology industry; DPJ candidate views are a virtual blank slate in this area. Intel dropped anchor in Japan in the mid 1970s and has a major customer base there (Sony, Toshiba, Fujitsu, and NEC) and buys about the same amount from in country suppliers (Hitachi-Kokai, Nikon, Shin-Etsu, among others). A new government that embraces technology, through policies that lift direct and indirect restrictions on IT utilization, would go a long way to building a vibrant internet economy in Japan.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan is moving forward with a set of valuable recommendations to promote an entrepreneurial business environment in Japan that supports new tech innovation and competition. For now, government online services, internet B2B activity, and premium content offerings are subpar for a developed economy like Japan’s. Some tech experts analogize Japan to the Galapagos Islands — like the singular and unique flora and fauna there, Japan stands alone in terms of developing narrow ICT industry standards and practices that are not harmonized with global industry products and guidelines. The Japanese economy has stagnated for years as a result. A front page NYTimes piece today, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/world/asia/26japan.html, echoes that in spades.

What’s the tech recipe for success? Japan could set forth by … consolidating ministry authorities under one roof to drive ICT policies … adequately funding the Japan Fair Trade Commission to oversee competition among industry players with greater technical expertise and competency … adopting a market based approach for auctioning spectrum … funding and enacting laws to make health IT a national reality for citizens … training Japanese teachers, half of whom don’t know how to utilize a PC in the classroom, to include ICT methods and knowledge in their curriculums … and so much more.

American companies on the ground in Tokyo, such as Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Google, stand ready to help the election victors implement new ICT policies. Where there’s a will, there can be a way for Japan’s economy to rise again.

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