A mantra for a Culture Ministry

 There is currently a debate about creating a Committee on Broadcasts and Transmissions, or “Japanese FCC.” The idea arose in the latter part of the 90s, and I resigned from the government in opposition. Afterwards, I have continued to voice my opposition as the debate continues to recur. This is because organizations like America’s FCC, France’s CSA, and the United Kingdom’s OFCOM, when viewed with a mind for the realities of Japan’s politics and political administration, pose the danger of encouraging an out of control bureaucracy. Establishing such an organization in Japan would likely move us toward strengthening regulation. 
 In addition, even as we are in surrounded by the detrimental practice of vertically divided administration of entities such as computers and intellectual property, the establishment of a Japanese FCC would give rise to even more vertically divided organizational structures. Rather, what we need to do now is create unity, and eliminate vertical division.
 Because of these reasons I am opposed to the creation of a Japanese FCC and instead propose the establishment of a new organization, a Culture Ministry. 
 That is to say, create a new Ministry which would bind together MIC’s Broadcast and Telecommunication departments, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)’s Devices, Software, and Content Administration, the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Cultural Inheritance Administration, and the Cabinet Secretariat(CAS)’s Headquarters for Information Technology and Headquarters for Intellectual Property into one organization. In addition to this we must strengthen information-sharing and cooperation between other major government bodies and policies such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism(MLIT)’s Film Commission Administration, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ “soft power” policy.
 The common thread that runs through all of these organizations is “culture.” Japan will make its way in the 21st century on intellectual property and cultural capital. The new organization would shoulder the burden of raising the creative power and expressive abilities of the people, raising up new cultural industries, and laying in place the network that will form the foundation for all of it. “Culture Ministry” is a fitting moniker. 
 The Culture minister will be selected from among the public. The private citizen appointed as minister will be people who will consider the voices of those who have sought to maintain neutrality when it comes to the political issues surrounding broadcasting. It would be preferable if their names were known to the world, individuals such as Yoko Ono, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Haruki Murakami.
 It does not seem very likely that this organization will actually be created, but the results of promoting the idea can already be seen. MIC, Ministry of Education (MEXT), and Agency for Cultural Affairs have been coordinating with each other to create policy on the matter of electronic publications. Concerning the informationalization of Education, MIC and MEXT have been cooperating admirably to move forward research efforts. CAS, MIC, METI, and MLIT have been working together on the issue of Open Data. On the Intellectual Property Headquarters’ special investigative committee on content, representatives from nine government offices are competing to put forth policy proposals which have the same objectives in mind.
 The goals I wished to accomplish by advocating for a Culture Ministry are already on their way to being completed. Even so, talk of creating a Japanese FCC has risen, zombie-like, time and time again, working against these accomplishments. For that reason I find myself still a target of criticism today, find myself still repeating over and over to myself the mantra, “Let’s establish a Culture Ministry.” 


Does IT have a role to play in revival?

  March 11, 2011. A day which called for a change in IT policy. Very shortly after the earthquake, I saw that, rather than “recovery,” what was needed was a more long term “revival,” and that rather than reviving IT, it was important to direct our effort towards using IT as a tool in the larger revival. In line with this, I published three suggestions. 
1. Plan to re-establish networks.
The net played an active role post-disaster. The power and influence of packet transmission was definitively demonstrated for the first time. Going forward we will need a new media environment. Just as US has advanced their research and development in the IT field as they pursue preparedness for nuclear war, Japan should conduct research and development into methods of successfully facing natural disasters, and in doing so build a stronger nation. 
2. Transmit information abroad.
Immediately after the earthquake, reports in the international media praising Japan for its calm and resolution were in the forefront. However, the response to the incident at the nuclear reactor that followed caused Japan’s image to suffer. Let’s make sure we send accurate information. 
3. Promote increased use of information technology.
Although it is said that people were able to make use of the net in the disaster area, usage among the elderly is very low. We must address the disparity in information distribution, and promote information literacy through a comprehensive educational program. This policy is necessary not only for the areas affected by the disaster, but nationwide. 

 This is just one example. At the time, many different individuals were entertaining a wide variety of suggestions. I wanted to create a place for such people. With this in mind, immediately after the earthquake, I held the “IT revival roundtable” conference at Keio University. Approximately 50 people participated in the roundtable, with backgrounds including politics, government, industry, the press, and academia. A proposal entitled “Provision and utilization of information technology is necessary for Japan’s revival. Let’s use all our efforts to make this possible,” was crafted, and entrusted to the political parties and to the current government. 
 However, this was criticized. The critics claimed that the discussion had not been at all adequate to the task. Because of this, I sponsored a 7-part web series covering 1) administration, 2) media, 3) transmission, 4) the social aspect, 5) volunteer, 6) politics, and 7) synthesis - putting it all together. I was the chair. 
 Each time the deep debate could be seen by all. “The decentralization of authority and transfer of power are necessary for revival. On the other hand, future disaster response efforts will require centralization of power. Government authorities which have been vertically divided must be consolidated. We ought to learn the lessons the earthquake has taught.” This opinion has left an impression on my memory.
 The IT Revival Conference has concluded for the time being. The party in power has changed once again. However, the road toward revival is but halfway traveled. We will continue to consider this problem as we move onwards.  


Good going, Asia.

 Verdant paddies dotted with ponds, stretching out across the land, slowly crossed by oxen as they valiantly labor. Amidst the humidity which hangs over it all, rice is being cultivated.
 Upon entering the city of Hanoi, one sees... A playhouse built in imitation of Opera Garnier. A church which looks a bit like Notre Dame. Loud and incongruent houses in the western style. Vestiges of French rule can be seen all over.
 Youth gathered on the sidewalk, the seats so low they seem to be squatting, eating box lunches they’ve set beside them on the bench. A family sitting on the bare ground, gathered around a rice cooker. People eating rice. Dogs. Cats. They have all staged an occupation of the sidewalk, and it is impossible to pass. A glance upwards is met with the sight of countless telephone wires. Some of them are snapped and have fallen to the ground.
 Good going, Asia.

 Countless bicycles approach from the other side of the street. A pointless klaxon blares. Were the 3 people on that bike that just cut across the street children? Old women balancing baskets on a pole front-to-back, shouldering an umbrella, as you often see in those Vietnam War movies. The baskets are full of large melons and papaya.
 Under a low ceiling of dark grey clouds, a marathon being held on the shores of Lake Hoan Kiem. Scores of police officers in green uniforms stand at attention along the route. To the side of them, some elderly stand as well, lighting up thick bamboo pipes and puffing the smoke. Runners, as they pass through it all. Runners, clad in uniforms of red, yellow, blue. Half of them barefoot. Run, keep running.
 Good going, Asia.

 Fruits in a riot of colors. Dragon fruit, litchi, durian. Perch, mullet, eel, catfish, snapping turtles, in buckets filled to the brim with water. Quail, frogs, pig’s feet. Fruit and vegetables and fish and animals alike, a brilliant sight spread out before one’s eyes. It goes on and on, they sell just like that, skinned and cut into chunks. In the midst of the heat and humidity, under the shade of the thick tropical canopy which forms the ceiling overhead, all of it is fresh, lively, clean, and vibrant.
 Good going Asia.

 Hanoi resident Ain says, “Japan? Yeah, I know Japan. Doraemon, Dragon Ball, Conan, Naruto, Pokémon. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest.”
 Pretty quick with those answers, aren’t you? Can you name any famous Japanese People?
 “Hidetoshi Nakata. Everyone knows him.”
 That so? 10 years ago, as well, when I visited Morocco, local kids would come up to me going “Nakata, Nakata.” And here we are, and Japan still equals “Nakata”? Does that mean that we haven’t created any new heroes in a decade?


The ubiquity of Machine to Machine

   Recently, the term “M2M” has begun to be heard with fair frequency among the more digitally inclined. P2P, Peer to Peer that also actually means person to person, represents communication between individual people; conversely M2M stands for Machine to Machine, indicating a connection between two objects. In other words, glasses and clothing, desks and chairs, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, cars and traffic lights, will all one day come equipped with computing ability and a network connection that allows them to send and receive data. 
 Consider “Bits meet Atoms” spoken about by Dr. Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab. The concept of combining atoms (objects) and bits (information) was first implemented in the 90s with atom→bit. This was the internet. It was when the basic stuff of reality: work, life, play, became something one could do on the internet. 
 And in the 2000s, we can look forward to the reverse of that trend, bit→atom. Information is crossing back into the Real World.  No matter where we are, the information of the internet can reach us. It has become ubiquitous. 
 It’s 25 years since Dr. Mark Weiser, former scientist at XEROX, provided a notion “Ubiquitous Computing.”  15 years ago, as part of that model, that brought attention to wearable computers, and suggested a number of goggle-type displays, though they never caught on, even though it would have been hands-free computing. It was most likely a matter of fashion rather than a matter of the technology. Sufficiently cool wearables never materialized. 
 But, more than that, ubiquity is about the possibilities that we see emerging from a category of infrastructure which is not dominated by fashion and design on all fronts. It is the insertion of the digital into objects such as signage, equipped as part of an outward facade, as well as municipal power supplies, made up of smart grids managed by information technology. 
 When it comes to bringing the digital alive in objects, Japan’s qualifications as legendary are high. 8,000,000 gods are quietly inhabiting every little corner, after all. Because life dwells within all things. That is why we can accept digital pets, vending machines on street corners which greet you with “Welcome!” and turnstiles which silently open and close in response to tickets generated by “digital wallets” no matter what cellphone they originate from. 
 If we go by data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, the amount of data being transmitted in Japan has increased 30 fold in the last 10 years. Estimates for the next 10 year predict a further 300-fold increase in the amount of data worldwide. The growth rate is explosive. But this is all person to person communication. If we consider the connections in machine to machine communications, assuming 100 machines for each person, that would be 100 x 100. A far greater increase in information. Things will certainly be lively from now on.


Japanese Creativity

  “The world’s most creative country, Japan. The creative market, Tokyo.”
The results of a survey conducted in April 2012 by Adobe. It was a shocking report.
http://adobe.ly/IH8hPE (pdf)
 The investigation comprises the results of surveying 5000 people in the US, UK, Germany, France, and Japan. Outside of Japan, Japan was rated the most creative, taking the top spot with 36% (the US was in second place with 26%). Pop culture, fashion, dining, in each of these categories, Japan pulled out ahead. In terms of things like finance, IT, and Hollywood, America has been out ahead of the world, displaying its creative power in the world of business, but I believe if we see expressive culture as not a matter of a small segment of creators, but in terms of the ability of every citizen to create, that Japan clearly surpasses the US in this matter.
 Among the cities rated, 30% picked Tokyo for the top spot (New York 12%, Paris 15%).  Tokyo is made up of many communities such as Ginza, Shibuya, and Akihabara, each illuminated with their own vibrant color. No matter where you go in the city, public toilets meeting the highest standards in the world have been prepared for use, in the spirit of hospitality. You can dine on top quality cuisine from around the world. And I doubt there there’s another city with quite so many Italian and French flags flying. And your wallet will be safe, even if you lie down for a nap on a train platform bench. It’s no wonder that people are paying attention to the creativity that is radiating from an environment like this. 

 There were, however, two worrying points in the report. 
 The first is that Japan’s self-assessment was low. Compared to the ratings of other countries, Japan alone did not think that Japan was a creative country. In fact, the rate of self-evaluations as creative was in the lowest bracket. Although 52% of Americans thought their own country was creative, only 19% of Japanese did. 
 It is difficult to evaluate yourself, and difficult to become your own driving energy. The self-generated spark needed to utilize the power of pop culture is pretty hard to draw forth. Even in this most recent survey, we see the tendency towards an inability to make fair evaluations of the things which are your own. 
 The other bit of bad news is the result that states “Japan ranked last among those who believed that creative power would be the key to economic growth.” Really? Then what do they propose we use? Japan doesn’t exactly possess natural resources or cheap labor. The resources are in Arabia and Russia and China, the labor is in China and India, so what should Japan do? It doesn’t look like we’ve got anything to trade on but our knowledge. Nothing but our creativity. 
 In the 80s, America was losing to Japan in terms creativity when it came to cars and home electronics, but in the 90s they made a comeback with IT creativity. What kind of creativity will Japan utilize going forward?