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Issue 5: Social and Cultural Issues - Japan (page 3)

Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in the Digital Divide - Literature Review and Case Study of Japan


Discussion and Future Development

Since Japan has been rapidly expanding the number of its mobile Internet users, some Japanese companies and scholars have argued that mobile Internet access represents a unique model for overcoming the digital divide (Nakayama, 2001; Mikami, 2001; Kaigo & Sasaki, 2001). Some of them, such as Nakayama, suggest that mobile Internet access will become the universal standard, especially in Asian countries. The largest population in the world, for example, uses Chinese characters. However, unlike the Japanese language which is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese characters, the Chinese language uses alphabet typing. Every Chinese character is pronounced in its alphabet. Because the Chinese do not experience the same barriers as the Japanese, it is hard to say whether the Japanese model will become the universal model or not.

Mobile Internet access may hide a different kind of digital divide in Japan and elsewhere, due to the lower access speed, the smaller amount of accessible information on the handhold computer, and the entertainment-oriented websites catering to mobile Internet usage. The mobile web is less robust. Quite possibly, the input method popular with the Japanese-one-thumb input with 10 digital might lead to weakened Japanese digital skills and diminished information literacy. Since English is the dominant language of the Internet, the Japanese solution of developing web-enabled mobile phones in response to the digital divide should be very carefully examined (Kaigo, 2002).

To close the real information gap in Japan, it will be necessary to create more useable forms of information technology and provide computer skill training, cultivate a greater understanding about the importance of the Internet-digital opportunity, and increase contact with computers. Regional seminars now provide support for those Japanese seeking access to the Internet. The seminars will make a significant difference when they address cultural as well as information and technology concerns (Sekine, 2002).

Also, it is necessary to realize that without technological innovation in terms of making the man-machine interface much friendlier, the digital divide cannot be closed in Japan. Broadband access significantly affects this issue because high speed data transmission provides sound, video, and rich graphical images. The digital divide will be divided further according to who has hardware and software for accessing these new forms of entertainment and information (Kuttan and Peters, 2003).

Role of Broadband Satellite Communications in Japan

One of the emerging technologies, broadband satellite communications, will be an important solution in bridging information gaps in Japan where broadband access has not reached, or cannot be reached. Japan is a country with mountains, frequent earthquakes and volcanoes, and many isolated islands. Satellite communication is extremely useful for building regional access networks. The satellite provides wide coverage and high speed data transmission by-passing ground networks.

The National Space Development Agency of Japan conducted a Wideband InterNetworking engineering test and Demonstration Satellite Project (WINDS) in 2001 under the Japanese government policy, e-Japan Strategy. The project has as its goal is to make Japan the most advanced IT nation in the world by 2005. Under the strategy, a new satellite telecommunication system (WINDS) will be developed to provide ultra high speed-Internet (up to 1.2 Gbps) to be launched by 2005. In 2003, the configuration of the satellite system is close to its final design. Not only will WINDS address regional information gaps in Japan but also serve to the global digital divide in the Asia-Pacific region.

In short, while the United States has been the leader in Internet-related technology development, the Japanese hope to be leaders contributing to development of mobile internet communication, human interface technology, and information appliances.

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Figure 3. Concept of WINDS Application Experiment


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