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“The tyrrany of qwerty” December 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Personal Blogroll, technology.

Gen has a post titled as above, referencing an article in which he was quoted.

As comments are still broken chez Kanai, I’m got to write about it here. (Gen: hint. ditch MT ;-))

Gen writes:

My quote is:

“To a certain extent, Asia is a slave to the alpha keyboard, [..]”

I’m pretty sure I said qwerty keyboard, but I’ll let Jeff slide 😉

I’d posit that Jeff’s liberal quote is more accurate. It is not really QWERTY that is the problem, as Dvorak or Maltron or any of the other proposed keyboard layouts which also assume alphanumeric requirements are equally “guilty”.

Gen’s quote continues:

“Many input methods for languages like Chinese and Japanese require knowledge of the Roman alphabet to use, which is crazy when you think of it. Imagine if the PC was developed in China and everyone in the rest of the world needed to know Chinese before inputting their own alphabet. Well, that’s the case for a lot of PC users in China and Japan.”

The more important point is this. Japanese input does not _require_ any knowledge of the Roman alphabet. OK, so Gen said “many”, but to ignore the fact that Japanese PCs come as standard with an ability to input text based on the Japanese alphabet is glossing over a not so trivial detail. All common keyboards sold in Japan have letters of the Japanese alphabet assigned in parallel to the alphanumeric markings (and there are plenty of keys to cover the entire Japanese alphabet. Typically the space bar is also shortened to add a few extra buttons to do things like hira/kata switching). You can even buy keyboards with markings which gives more prominence to the Japanese alphabet than the roman alphabet. I bet Gen’s Macbook has a US keyboard…. 🙂

And as for the software side of things, all common OSes understand the key mappings required to type in Japanese. (And creating a new driver for any new input device is trivial)

I know literally just one single person who actually uses Japanese alphabet input in preference to phonetic (roman alphabet) input on their PC, though.

The current Japanese keyboard format is the so-called “old” JIS format, they actually tried to popularise a newer version but they killed that off due to lack of traction….

I guess if we were to design a Japanese keyboard from scratch, would it contain keys in 5 rows rather than 4? (to reflect the traditional set of 5 grouping in the Japanese alphabet) Do we set up the groups right to left in the traditional layout, or do we go for a layout which is closer to the existing JIS layout? Do we even want to bother in the increasingly heterolingual world we live in? Would there be a real productivity increase?

Rakuten launches English language site (sort of) December 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Internet, Japan.

Rakuten, Japan’s largest on-line shopping mall, has launched an English language service.

Sort of.

The top page has been translated, but that’s it. Not very useful, really.

Rakuten has previously announced that it is setting its sights on overseas expansion, and I guess this is the first tiny step in that direction.

But is this the right way to go about it? English language users might stumble upon the English site, and will quickly see that the rest of the site is not translated. And they will likely never return. First impressions count, and I feel this particular piecemeal approach will be counterproductive.I’m sure they’re currently dealing with the backend fulfilment and logistics issues, and they probably wanted to show some visible signs that they are indeed planning to target non-Japanese audiences. A cynic might say this is an IR play.

New English language Japan tech blog opens December 14, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan.

Asiajin launched yesterday, claiming it the first English language blog written by Japanese authors dedicated to “Web Services/Companies/People Reports from Asia”.

I guess I could claim some obscure niche first for myself too, if I were to insert multiple qualifiers. lol

Anyway, being serious for a moment, I think it is a good thing for the Japanese tech community, providing for overseas exposure, given how little effort is made to address the market outside of Japan by most Japanese emerging tech companies. The fact that one of the co-authors is somewhat of a high profile blogger in Japan might give it a bit of an advantage starting out.

I do hope that the authors whose names are attached to the posts do continue to write their own posts. There are instances of blogs (which shall remain nameless, at least for now) which were originally penned by one person but have (without any disclosure) become group efforts with the owner farming out the writing to ghost writers. Not that the Japanese internet and blogosphere are renowned for their integrity….

I’ll withhold any extensive critique on Asiajin’s content until they hit their stride, but the content available thusfar is ho hum. Not much actual commentary or analysis.

So we now have blognation Japan (although what will happen to that is uncertain, given the recent troubles at blognation HQ) and Asiajin, two different English language perspectives on Japanese tech.

Good luck to them.

Looking back at my original reason for starting this public blog a couple of years ago, I too hoped that I would be able to cover interesting Japanese tech, more than I actually do at present. I guess the bottom line for me was that I found little which was really worthy of exposure.

English language blogs posting “serious” content beyond lightweight (sometimes copyright infringing) content scraped from other sources gives me more material to build on. A part of me hopes these blogs will be positive cheerleader blogs so that I can present an alternative angle…..

The Chief Cabinet Secretary on the pensions issue December 11, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.
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Nobutaka Machimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary in Yasuo Fukuda’s current cabinet, finally comes clean about the promise the LDP gave to voters ahead of the election (which they lost anyway).


We didn’t mean that every last case was to be completed by the end of March, but it was an election so we said that “we will complete it all by the end of the financial year”.

Oh, OK then.

That is a pretty staggering admission, though.

If that is’t a clear confession of an attempt to mislead the electorate (which failed miserably anyway), I don’t know what is.

I suggest that the people within the cabinet who made the commitments take responsibility, and not in the typically Japanese “I will take responsibility by persevering and delivering on my original promise (albeit with a grossly revised schedule)” fashion.

If the media had any balls (and weren’t in bed with the political circus), they’d drag up every instance of footage they have of LDP members during the election campaign insisting that they would get the problem resolved by March, and call for all their heads.

There is one critical difference between being a political commentator talking head on TV and being the Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare. The public expects accountability in the latter, especially when making bold promises. (In an ideal world, the former would also be held accountable for their words too, and we’d see much less of clueless idiots like Norio Minorikawa (Mino Monta for people watching TV), but I don’t see that happening any time soon)

We may see an election sooner than most pundits thought, although the thought of the inept (and in-fighting) DPJ coming to power, backed by conservative trade unions (in Japan that isn’t an oxymoron…) isn’t likely to produce much of a change in my book.

How long will it take the Japanese media to report Dentsu’s US sexual harassment lawsuit November 2, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Media.
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Gen has many of the links on his post.

The lawsuit makes for interesting reading. It’ll be interesting to see how Dentsu and the defendants answer the charges in court.

I’m not really sure the why the plaintiff had to make a fuss about his trip to the onsen/sento in Japan, though. Prior notice was probably appropriate, but to put a sexual harassment spin on public bathing in Japan is really bizarre.

(Although to be fair, if the defendant exploited the fact that his American colleagues were not familiar with Japanese public bathing facility protocol and denied them the opportunity to avail themselves of a “modesty towel” whilst he himself did and thereby put them in a situation where they had to parade around completely naked, that would be inappropriate)

I wonder if the plaintiff has ever sued his sports club for the fact that the showers and changing room facilites are communal, too……

I find it mildly offensive that is put on the same level as being forced to go to a brothel, or taking up-skirt panty shots of tennis stars or photographing women in swimwear without their consent.

And the claim that “the plaintiff was fired in part because he is Jewish” which appears twice, is a bit of a stretch. There is no account of any racial discrimination in the filing.

Regardless, the comments attributed to the defendant, if they are true, are deeply offending. Having double penetration sex is certainly not a way in which this particular Japanese business man commemorates business dealings. Maybe it is at Dentsu, who am I to know.

The thing that most interests me is how long it will take the Japanese mainstream media to report this court case, and how much attention they will give it.

Remember just a few months ago, when a senior Toyota executive was sued for sexual harrassment, and even Toyota’s advertising purchase power was not enough to prevent the case from making it on to the TV with talking heads criticizing the indiscretion of said executive.

Dentsu however has historically been able to minimize the exposure of its dirty laundry. A few years ago, a senior Dentsu employee was arrested for indecent sexual assault on a train. (OK, he was arrested for groping a woman and the Japanese laws being what they are, don’t give out harsh enough penalties for what is plainly indecent sexual assault, and he was probably charged and fined according to the usual watered down statue the police press for such gropers) None of the TV stations (nor many of the newspapers) reported the person’s name, in contrast to many such cases committed by other people working for companies with less influence over the media.

Mixi to join the OpenSocial bandwagon? November 2, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media, technology.

The Nikkei is reporting that Mixi, Japan’s largest SNS is jumping on the OpenSocial bandwagon.

No official announcement from either Mixi or Google as of noon on Friday Japan time, even though the MySpace announcement  also mentioned in the Nikkei article is the subject of a release from Google.

The Mixi tie-up, if it does materialize, would be an interesting development, given Mixi’s dominant position within the Japanese SNS scene.

Whilst I think opening up is great for users, and is the only way “also rans” can hope to compete with dominant players, it is interesting to see someone in the position that Mixi is in embracing the concept.

British media on Abe and post-Abe September 15, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.
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Gen writes:

“This is just embarrassing:
British newspapers call for dynamic PM, slam Abe’s record

British newspapers were united Thursday in their calls for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party to appoint a reforming and dynamic leader following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s abrupt resignation on Wednesday.

All agreed Abe’s performance had been poor on the domestic front but commended his rapprochement with China and South Korea.

The Times was particularly strong in its criticism of Abe. It claimed that following his party’s defeat in recent upper house elections, he brought back the Old Guard into the Cabinet. This showed Abe was still tied to the old system of factions and political dynasties which has held Japan back previously. It states the fact that Aso is seen as a favorite to succeed Abe shows that the LDP has not really changed.

Well, if they want someone to continue the apparent thaw with China, Fukuda is the man (although he does look a bit like an orang-utang. I do like his wry sense of humour, and he certainly has more depth than Abe, not that that is a challenge).

Given my recent conjecture regarding Koizumi’s growing influence, it should be mentioned that Koizumi and Fukuda have a long history, and despite the apparent distance between them in recent years, Koizumi did his political apprenticeship under Takeo Fukuda, Yasuo’s father, and it should be no surprise to see Koizumi endorse Fukuda this time around. (Note however, that Koizumi’s sidekick Iijima and Fukuda don’t get along, hence Iijima tendering his resignation to Koizumi apparently in protest at Koizumi’s support of Fukuda)

As for The Times’ insightful commentary regarding Abe’s ties to the old system…. Duh. It would have been surprising to see Abe, from a blueblood political dynasty, do any different, regardless of rhetoric about moving on from the post-war regime. The only thing Abe/LDP and Ozawa/DPJ share is a wish to move to a two party system. That would be great if the two parties reflected genuine choices….

Of course, neither Aso or Fukuda are likely to be any different on this matter, both of them again being hereditary politicians.

Aso and Abe are of course distant relatives (Aso’s aunt married the cousin of Abe’s grandfather and great-uncle). Abe’s grandfather was PM Kishi, whose brother Eisaku Sato was also PM. Aso’s father-in-law was PM Zenko Suzuki, and both ex-PM Kiichi Miyazawa (Aso and Miyazawa’s cousin both married PM Suzuki’s children) and ex-PM Ryutaro Hashimoto (whose wife’s grandfather was the brother of Abe’s paternal grandmother) are also connected. That makes it 6 prime ministers in that (very) extended family.

Lest it be forgotten, Aso’s youngest sister married into the Imperial Household and is now Princess Nobuko. Another interesting fact- Taro Aso is roman catholic, due to the influence of his grandmother (whose influence also led to Shigeru Yoshida converting just prior to his death – Yoshida had a roman catholic funeral as well as a state funeral along more traditional Japanese lines), and his younger sister went to a finishing school in Kent with roman catholic ties….

Anyway, a choice quote from the Guardian piece:

“[…] Japan also needs a leader who can straddle the world stage.

Mr Aso is unlikely to be such a man. His favourite subject is talking about manga comic books.”

Really? Aso, whilst certainly prone to foot in mouth disease, and apparently not a man of tact or subtlety, at least in public, he has been Foreign Minister and has more international exposure than most Japanese politicians. He has a decent command of English (at least good enough for reading speeches).

He spent time at both Stanford and the London School of Economics as a postgraduate. He never did finish his masters degree at either. It is reputed that he was forced by his maternal grandfather to quit Stanford and move to the UK. His grandfather apparently visited him when Taro was at Stanford, and was distraught that he was picking up an American accent Apparently his grandfather told his mother to tell Taro to move to the UK immediately. LOL.

So, having moved on to the LSE, he again was ordered back to Japan before he could finish his studies.

Aso recalls this series of events in a recent speech.

Aso’s maternal grandfather is ex-PM Shigeru Yoshida, of course.

If Koizumi’s tenuous connections to the University of London are such a big deal and qualifies him as some sort of globally minded politician, Aso actually studying at Stanford and LSE as a postgrad certainly qualifies him to at least the same degree.

Anyway, none of this matters, because it seems that Fukuda is a certainty for the top job, unless someone can find some juicy scandal before the 23rd.

How long will the PV venture funding boom continue? September 14, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Energy, Japan, Overseas.
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Lots of and lots of money being ploughed into photovoltaics at the moment, especially hot is non-Si thin film solar. Nanosolar, Heliovolt, Miasole, Solyndra, DayStar, the list goes on. Each one has raised tens of millions of $ of VC financing. Most of these non-Si PV companies are doing CIGS (Cu-In-Ga-Se) thin films or variations thereof, but it seems things are not going to plan in the world of thin film solar ventures. Lots of reported management changes, including this latest one, but the money keeps pouring in.

It appears the companies are finding the transition from the lab to factory a bit more difficult than they had imagined.

To be fair, First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)seems to be doing great, recently closing a $1B+ deal with EdF. (Current market cap $7.2B) They have a different technology, based on a CdTe thin film process.

Meanwhile, Si-based PVs keep on being cranked out, and the supply side issues for Si are being addressed with PV grade Si production ramping up.

Of course, some people are further along the path to mass production CIGS-type PV cell production. Whilst Japan is recognized as a significant player in Si PV production, the competition to the thin film PV ventures from Japanese interests have not really been convered in much detail (the cleantech community seems aware of these Japanese players, but the investment community seems to prefer to pretend this competition does not exist). You see statements like this from the above CNET article –

“CIGS aren’t in mass manufacturing yet anywhere and cracking that problem is proving tricky. There are several companies trying to bring products out and each has a slightly different manufacturing technique.”

Honda Soltec, a 100% subsidiary of Honda Motor Company, has been selling CIGS modules since June 2007. Soltec’s manufacturing facility is currently just 27.5MW/yr, but it is expected that Honda will ramp up as large scale manufacturing techniques are validated.

Showa Shell also announced that they are building a second factory to produce CIS based modules adding a further 60MW/yr to the current 20MW/yr from their first factory which began operations last year.

Both companies have years/decades of R&D behind them, and they have immense resources in manufacturing at their disposal. I know what kind of company I would bet on to succeed in the lab to mass production transition, all else being equal. (My investment thesis focuses on this qualifier. There are plenty of areas for improvement in the current state of the art in thin film manufacturing)

Interesting to note, both companies have their PV factories in Kyushu. Kyushu, which was already dubbed Silicon Island due to its strength in the semiconductor sector (major players with production facilities include Sony, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric, Rohm, Toyoda Gosei, TI Japan,Canon, Kyocera, Renesas, NEC, AKM, Matushita, Yamaha, Pioneer) is rapidly becoming photovoltaic island as well, with Honda Soltec and Showa Shell being joined by players such as Fuji Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (both a-Si manufacturers), and SUMCO recently announcing that they are building a new PV silicon wafer plant in Imari with a n equivalent capacity of 300MW/yr.

Was a financial scandal the reason for Abe’s departure? September 13, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Politics.
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Local sources are saying that Shukan Gendai magazine will publish an article in this week’s edition (out on Saturday 15th) regarding financial transactions which are tantamount to tax evasion.

The story goes like this: When Shintaro Abe, also a prominent LDP politician during his time (he served ministereal posts at MAFF and MITI as well as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and also served as LDP General Secretary), passed away in 1991, he donated his estate to his own political organization, thereby allowing his son (sons?) to evade paying inheritence tax. The amount of tax which would otherwise have been payable is quoted as being as much as JPY300M.

Whilst the incident happened too long ago for there to be any legal implications, because of the large sum of money involved, and the fact that this method of avoiding tax is only available to people who control their own political organizations, it is forseeable that such facts would lead to criticism of politicians using their special status, taking advantage of mechanisms available to a select few to avoid paying taxes like every other normal person.

Whilst donations are not forbidden per se, if the donation appears to have been made as a method of avoiding tax, it would have been a huge blow to an administration which has had more than its fair share of financial scandals. This may be the biggest (at least in terms of sum) of them all.

The really interesting question which arises from this is, how common a practice is this within political circles? Japanese media is so often just content with focusing on one specific target, even when practices are fairly widespread.

There are so many hereditary politicians in Japanese politics, I hope someone will have a good look at the financial circumstances of all of these political family businesses. (currently about 40% of LDP diet members are 2nd or 3rd generation politicians)

[I personally think this scandal, even if it proves to be true, would not have been, in isolation, enough to tip Abe over the edge. I think that he has been told by people like Koizumi and Mori, and also by GWB that they aren’t going to stand by him any longer. Note the change in GWB’s language at the APEC summit, compared to previous meetings where he was clearly more buddy-buddy with his lapdog Shinzo]

Guess who gets Comsn’s care businesses? September 13, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in crime, Economy & Business, Japan, Society.
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A previous post relating to Comsn’s divestiture of its care businesses.

Comsn has announced their plans for divesting their care businesses.

The residential home business goes to Nichii Gakkan.

The homebound care businesses are to be divested on a prefecture by prefecture basis (PR). Japan Care Service gets 13 prefectures, Nichii gets 5. (Various others make up the balance)

Why do I mention Nichii and JCS? Because they were both also implicated by the Tokyo metropolitan government for illegal practices.

I guess Comsn/GWG’s statement regarding their selection of buyers for the businesses – specifically that part about selecting buyers who can show that they are lawabiding corporate citizens with solid compliance trackrecords – has gone out the window.

As I had predicted, the MHLW seems to be spinning this as a Comsn problem, they announced that the amount Comsn has been billing illegally now stands at nearly JPY1.5B. No mention of other companies in the report, though.

I guess they have managed to do their job and make everyone forget that it isn’t just a Comsn problem. The fact that the mainstream media is willing to let this one go unnoticed seems to be par for the course. It still makes me sick, though.