Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

We recently had a cluetrain moment on my blog. I wrote an entry about the Shure E2c in-ear headphones. We got a discussion going about great headphones. I don't know if it was because Google indexed this entry on the first page of search results for "Shure E2c", but Matt, the product specialist for the E2c, dropped in and joined the discussion. He wasn't the marketing or sales guy, but the product specialist. This combination of Google and blogs may create an opinion management and cluetrain manifesto sort of human conversation about products in a much less centralized method than some of the earlier models like epinions.

One more thing that I've been thinking about more and more these days is what Howard's been saying for awhile now. How do we get comments to become a more important part of blogging. Slashdot and Slashdot-like sites thrive on comments. Many blogs have very active comment areas. Is there a better way we can structure the indexing so that people have more incentive to comment? I have a feeling that either RSS feeds or how blog entries show up in Google results might be able to highlight comments more.

I sense a fairly active "comment" community developing on my blog. Maybe I should figure out a way to allow active comment contributors to spawn their own blogs on my site...

I've been asked by a variety of publications to write about my thoughts about Japan. I would love comments of my first draft.

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version 0.3
People call the last 10 years "Japan's lost decade." There is debate after debate about the cause of the Japanese economic downturn and what should be done about it. Nobuyuki Idei, Sony's Chairman, calls it Japan's middle age crisis. After the war, Japan was young and low-cost. Targets were set and everyone worked very hard to build Japan into the world's second largest economy. Now Japan is expensive and aging. It has to change from "young and single-minded" to "old and rational".

In post-war Japan the targets were clear. The ruling political party promised to double everyone's income. Japan could compete in manufacturing because of its able and low-cost labor force. As the large automobile and consumer electronics manufacturers competed globally and earned money for Japan through exports, the bureaucracy distributed the wealth evenly in Japan and protected the domestic industries from foreign as well as domestic competition. The central government's mission to double the income of all Japanese citizens meant that it was necessary to channel the funds from Tokyo to the rural districts of Japan. As the costs in Japan increased, these funds were used to subsidize agriculture as well as fund public works spending to feed the citizen for whom farming was no longer a viable option. This flow of funds created the basis for the current political structure where rural Japan relies on the central government for funds and has a much higher representation in the Diet due to the weighting of voting system.

While Japan was growing, it could afford to fund the ever-growing political machine. It could also afford not to change. Aging Japan is now faced with an increasingly competitive Asian manufacturing sector and a change in direction and a reallocation of resources focusing more on services is required. Japan is stuck with a system pointed in the wrong direction without the ability to change the direction. The domestic services sector is inefficient and unable to compete globally since it has been protected by the bureaucracy and has never had to compete with anyone. The markets are dysfunctional and unable to reallocate resources. The political system is unable to lead the nation.

Professor Lawrence Lessig points out that in a true democracy, there are multiple points of authority, the ability to criticize power without fear of retribution, critical debate and a competition of ideas. This is rather inefficient when there is a consensus on the direction of the country, but democracy is essential when a nation needs to change. Post-war Japan consolidated power in the ruling party. People were educated to be obedient. Harmony was maintained by co-opting or disabling people or organizations that could threaten the system. Diversity in the media, a strong judiciary, diversity in education and political diversity were stifled for the purpose of maintaining harmony. This harmony that once protected the happiness of the citizens of Japan is now the primary barrier to change.

At one time Japan was viewed as a competitive threat to the United States. "Revisionists" in the United States tried to force policy changes in Japan. Many Japanese have very bad memories from this period. In addition, Japanese generally do not enjoy discussing domestic issues with the outside world, feeling that the issues are either too complicated for non-Japanese to understand or fearing external pressure on internal issues. Japan is no longer a competitive threat to the world. Japan's inability to recover from the economic crisis is a threat to the global economy. Japan needs build a true democracy to execute the reallocation of resources required for a long-term recovery. Japan would benefit greatly from exposing the domestic core problems to the Japanese public as well as the rest of the world. Japan's core problems are its dysfunctional democracy and the lack of diversity. The system is self-perpetuating and is extremely resistant to change. It hides behind the powerful and complex bureaucracy and the monolithic media that does not represent a diversity of opinions.

Because the system is no longer able to change itself, a revolution is required. Japan must install a modern democracy and empower the people to participate. Revolutions to install democracies do not occur through negotiation with bureaucrats or academic debate. Revolutions involve people becoming upset and forcing change. Revolutions in the 18th century involved bloody wars and uprisings. 21st century revolutions will involve a public debate, which changes the ethics of the people. Japan has a constitution and almost all of the laws required to be a functioning democracy. What it lacks is the attention of the people and the ethics to execute on the rule of law.

The Japanese people are also beginning to show their unhappiness. Governor Tanaka of Nagano, an independent promising to shut down public works and crack down on corruption, was voted into office by people who were upset by the corruption and were willing to suffer short term pain in order to fight the corruption.

The combination of increasing public debate on the Internet and a global dialog will help the Japanese people become aware of the domestic problems as well as the context and responsibility of Japan globally. A new sense of global responsibility to achieve a higher ethical standard will help the Japanese people create a modern democracy capable of solving the domestic problems and allowing Japan to participate in the global geo-political arena as a true global entity. The revolution in Japan will be a ethical revolution about the people become aware that they are actually in charge.

I found an interview with Keiji Shima on Charles Whipple's page. (I found his page linked from his comment on my retribution item.) He is more relevant than ever. Keiji Shima who passed away several years ago was the chairman of NHK, Japan's national TV station and the largest broadcasting company in the world. He started his career there as a political journalist and eventually became chairman. My mother was hired by him to represent NHK in the US. I often worked for him as his assistant and translator. My personal opinion is that Shima-san was ousted from NHK when he tried to make it "independent" and free from LDP control. Some people say it was the CIA. (I think this is unlikely.)

I remember sitting in his office when he was chairman and watching the Diet session with him. He once picked up the phone and shouted at someone that he had told "so-and-so" not to say that in the Diet. My exposure to the tight relationship between the head of the biggest broadcast company and the politicians as well as the extremely brutal ousting of Shima-san by THEM was my first exposure to THE SYSTEM.

After Shima-san was ousted, I showed him the Internet. To be exact, I showed him Adam Curry's MTV.COM and downloaded and played one of the first video clips Adam had posted. At first he wanted to know who controlled it. He asked, "Does Murdock own it?" I said, "No... No one does." He then asked, "Can I own it?" ;-) He quickly figured it out though and paid us to set up a server for him so he could launch The Shima Media Network in 1994. It was the first paid web page that Eccosys built.

Very few people showed up at his funeral and even today I am sometimes "blocked" by people who know about my relationship with Shima-san and were enemies of his. Having said that, many people respect what he tried to do and believe that he was a visionary before his time.

"Free use label" for webcontent Last week, Niko pointed me to an interesting article at Asahi.com: "New rules and copyright labels to let users copy Web content". A quote: "There are three labels. One will say, "This mark indicates material can be copied." The mark lets users copy or print material from Internet Web sites and distribute it without specific permission from the copyright holder, as long as the labeled content is not altered. Two other labels will permit unrestricted use of copyrighted material by people with disabilities and for school."
In Japan, a project called the "Intellectual Property Outline" started in July 2002 and includes some provisions that seek to accomplish many of the same goals as the Creative Commons. While it is clear they were not influenced by us directly, it's interesting to watch the convergence of alternate forms of copyright come from governments world-wide.
So I hope we can make sure it "converges" in a world where divergence is quite common.

Thanks for the pointer Andreas!

I just had lunch with Iwao Nakatani. I met him at the Sony Open Forum. Nakatani-san is one of the outside directors of Sony. He suprised everyone when he left his position at Hitotsubashi University to join Sony's board. Hitotsubashi is a public university which does not allow professors to take commercial positions. Nakatani-san is also well known for being very outspoken on political and economic issues. He held important advisory roles for the Hosokawa and Obuchi cabinets. He is now a professor at Tama University.

At the Sony Open Forum, he commented that he agreed with me that the dysfunctional democracy was one of the core problems with Japan. We talked a lot about the Japanese system today. We both agreed that "change was in the air" and that somehow we needed to change the system. It was very interesting getting his insight and advice. He liked the idea of blogs driving change, but he thought that I should also write a book. I wonder if I could write a book that ties together emergence, blogs and democracy in Japan...

Encouragement from intellectuals who actually try to change things like Nakatani-san is exactly what I need right now...