Can Japan make use of Big Data?

“Big Data” may be a buzzword, but there can be no mistake that this represents the next generation in the digital age. By showing market trends and predicting changes in industrial environments, it has the power to change business, medicine and government.
 I’d like to concentrate on the possibilities of “infrastructure” and “individual.” First, in terms of infrastructure, big data can be used to analyze mobile phone traffic to estimate population distribution and to use that information to plan for disasters and city planning. Big Data itself becomes an important part of the social infrastructure.
Much as the US created the internet out of fear of nuclear war, Japan, as a country that experienced a large-scale natural disaster and caused global concern during the nuclear disaster that followed, has a responsibility to create a next-generation disaster preparedness infrastructure. This might not involve creating a new communications network; rather it would mean creating a higher layer by utilizing big data for city planning.
“Smart Cities” have been conceived as cities that use a variety of sensors and share that data M2M (machine-to-machine). Japan is a little bit behind in this idea, but shouldn’t we be a leader in this area? According to Shuichi Inada’s “Big Data will Change Business”, Japan uses one quarter of all the sensors in the world. There are sensors everywhere, but they are not used strategically. This should be seen as an opportunity.
Secondly, I’d like to address the “individual.” In addition to businesses and areas, individuals also stand to gain from the collective intelligence. There are many services in Japan who utilize the collective wisdom of their users to compile information, such as Cookpad (recipes), kakaku.com (bargains), and weather reports. It can be said that the Web 2.0 has grown to unheard of levels and is now Web 3.0. The problem in Japan is that the level of use of all of this information is still low.
According to data from McKinsey, North America produced 3500 petabytes of information in 2010. In Europe that number was 2000 petabytes, and in Japan only 400 petabytes. This means that Japan produced 11% as much data as North America. On the other hand, in terms of mobile data, a survey by Cisco Systems revealed that Japan was number one in the world, using over 5 times the world average. Data is being produced and consumed by young users, but that isn’t being adopted by the entire society. Big data is being produced but not used. It seems that the importance of information for the societal economy is not yet recognized.
According to a 2009 white paper ranking the effective use of telecommunications among seven leading industrial nations, Japan was #1 in transportation and logistics but dead last in the field of corporate management. The lack of IT literacy at the management level is a huge problem. How can we make the management class aware of the importance of data? Or perhaps a more important question is, “How can we replace this management class?”


A Content Policy for 100 Years

Cool Japan and others have looked at the content policy put forth by the government and asked, “Is that something that the government should be involved in?” Manga, anime, and games are popular overseas, but they are subcultures and it’s questionable as to whether or not the government should try to interfere in them.

Personally I believe that the government should be involved. The content policies aren’t meant as training measures for specific industries. It’s just that the external effect of promoting content is huge. The goal is not to improve the sales of the content industry. Rather, using content as a catalyst, the real aim is to improve the sales of the electronics, food, and tourism industries, thus improving the GDP. Of course, the soft power that Professor Nye speaks of also involves using cultural charms to influence other countries in political ways as well.
However, it’s important to use caution when it comes to spending money. Criticisms of the content policy are mainly directed at the budget. By inserting money into an industry incorrectly, it could serve to preserve bad practices. For example, in the past the government was criticized for building an “Anime Hall of Fame” because the money went not to content and creators but to buildings and hardware.

I am also opposed to industry protection and subsidies. It would be best to make announcements (for emotional support), relax regulations (concerning airwave use and copyrights), and offer tax incentives. Things like this will motivate the private sector to take action voluntarily, and will serve to promote “creation” over “construction.”
It would be a good thing to invest money in infrastructure (digital environment) and human resources (education). If just 10% of the road budget were spent on education, it would make a huge difference. Better to create knowledge and the ability to create than to increase the number of high-speed expressways running through regions.
What’s more, in comparison with other countries, Japan’s cultural budget is low. Japan’s cultural budget of 0.13% is much lower than the 1% available in France and Korea. Now is a good time to decide how we want to prioritize culture in our national policies.

One criticism is that the citizens don’t necessarily see the government as a “connoisseur” capable of judging how the money should be distributed. A bureaucrat is not necessarily qualified to judge the worth of content. Any manner of “council” on which “authorities” were gathered to make such judgements would be met with raised eyebrows.

I’ve been saying for quite some time that Japan should form a Ministry of Culture. It would serve as a kind of “control tower” to form policies that clarify our national culture, including policies for culture, intellection property, and IT. However, when it comes to pop culture, the rules for that which is made by “everyone” should be thought of by “everyone.” I want the policymaking to be participatory.

Something that a coworker said to me when I was tasked with studying and forming cultural policy in the government 20 years ago still sticks in my head. “We should either make a policy that will be earnestly followed for 100 years, or do nothing at all.” My response was, “Yes, let’s make a policy that will continue for 100 years.”


Really? The Cool Japan Policy

 Four years ago, when I was employed as chairman of the government’s intellectual property division, a pillar of our mission was to promote the “Cool Japan” policy. With manga, anime, and games at the core of pop culture, this also involved fashion, food, traditional crafts, sightseeing, and anything else that could display Japan’s economic and cultural “soft power.” In particular, our mission was to promote Japan in the international marketplace.

 However, our efforts fell short. The rest of the world didn’t rank Japan very highly. Economically, the content production was shrinking rather than growing, and the birthplace of anime was seen as a miserable place. Young people overseas see “Japan” not as Sony or Toyota, but as Pikachu and Doraemon, and this soft power had not been put to use diplomatically.

  The idea for “Cool Japan” policy came from an essay written 10 years earlier by Douglas McGray called “Japan’s Gross National Cool.” Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard University, also called on Japan to utilize her pop culture to exert soft power. So the idea wasn’t born of Japan realizing the importance of its pop culture, but rather from overseas.

  Prime Minster Abe, in addition to using the intellectual property division, also formed a “Cool Japan Promotion Council” to promote Japan’s soft power. Nearly 20 years after the idea that “content” was recognized as an important policy genre, the government finally went into high gear.

 However, they had to be careful of falling into the trap of introducing old-fashioned things like kabuki, flower arrangement, and folk songs. The government recognized that danger and formed a pop culture subcommittee meeting tasked with demonstration the strengths of Japan.

  I was employed as the chair of that committee, where we compiled recommendations to “Let Japanese Pop Culture Fly!” The keywords were “together,” “connection,” and “raise.”
We put in place three policies. The short-term goal was to “participate,” the mid-term goal was “fusion,” and the long-term goal was “cultivation.”

 The internet contains many languages. As a place to share information it could almost be called “holy ground.” It can produce first-rate creators and producers. It can enable children to express themselves creatively through pop culture, and can make it possible for anyone to create anime and music. These are the goals of the policy. In particular, they want it to be a process undertaken by everyone, and not just something spearheaded by the government.
  As for whether or not this will become a concrete part of the growth strategy? That will depend upon the level of commitment of the government.