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The Almighty Buck

Software In The Land That Time Forgot 219

Sara Chan writes: "The Economist has an interesting story about software in a country described as 'The land that time forgot.' This country has wealth and technology to rival the USA, and over 125 million people. Yet it has a software industry that discourages creative thinking and gives no chance to entrepreneurs. Firms that specialize in custom software charge a pre-fixed amount for a system. And Microsoft has little presence there, because most software runs on the antiquated mainframes with which the software came bundled. Yes, it's Japan. (And if you're not well familiar with Japan's culture, it's also worth reading the articles now appearing in The Atlantic Monthly.)"
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Software In The Land That Time Forgot

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  • Instead of a single version of Windows that lets the user install his preferred language, MS has many dozens of "localized" versions that are incompatible with one another. (Try reading a disk in US windows with Japanese filenames). Without cross compatibility, much US software is useless in Japan. Regionalising cuts off ideas from spreading.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No a good plan. The purchasing habits of the Japanese society has alot to do with running Japans economy into the ground. A lack of consumption by a society is BAD! Wealth that rivals the USA? That is the most uneducated and misinformed statement I've read in a very long time. Japan is in the opposite of infaltion right now, deflation. Banks in Japan are literally giving money away to try and resusitate there dead economy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The very fact that you are asking this question shows how little clue you have. Comparing Linux to a Mainframe OS is like comparing...oh, I don't know, a Model T to a Formula 1 race car. They are both OS's that drive hardware, but the reliabilty and performance can't even be compared.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Exactly how is it simpler to port them all over to Linux as compared to NT? Chances are they are running on some archaic OS that probably more resembles VMS to anything else. I'm not real sure what you are actually asking, to port linux to these mainframes or to port the mainframe apps to linux? I dont know, either way its probably pretty impossible/absurd.

    I mean come on. This is data that is possibly running entire financial institutions and you honestly think they will just lets a few 'hackers' in port your system and then trust its reliability? Sometimes the people around here are so clueless its funny.
  • by Anonymous Coward []

    Sure, according to Microsoft, but [] is what counts.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    To the wonderful world of Slashdot anti-microsoft self-delusional propaganda.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    > Yet it has a software industry that discourages
    > creative thinking and gives no chance to
    > entrepreneurs.

    But corporations give bonuses for using best practices like reuse..."discouraging creative thinking" can be an okay thing when creative thinking becomes Not Invented Here.

    > Firms that specialize in custom software charge
    > a pre-fixed amount for a system.

    I think software engineering in Japan is closer to other types of engineering as far as process goes, compared to what we do in the states (see for what happens all too often).

    Pay attention to software development in Japan...eventually, I think the dust will settle in the US and software engineering will (hopefully) become a more formal task...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd say that a better analogy would be a sports car (Linux) to a tractor-trailer (Mainframe.)

    The sports car may be better for executing tight turns and personal enjoyment/expression/fun, but if you're looking to transport metric tons of materials from warehouse to factory, a tractor-trailer is a better choice.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I spent the better part of 10 years in various locations in Japan and tend to agree that it is an odd culture (I especially liked the super-highways to nowhere, and the obligatory chat before each conversation would get going.).

    To take over the Japanese software industry you must subject your programming and your personality to their culture, and not expect to change their culture.

    You cannot throw a kanji patch onto a word processor and call it a japanese word processor. Business documents in japan are damn near typeset, follow very formal rules and are nothing like american documents.

    Thrown into this is a culture based on personal relationships, positioning, and pride in culture (often blurring the lines of culture vs racism).

    Windows is not "popular" although it is used. MacOS is a bit more popular (it fits in the culture better (as well as supporting japanese better)). There is some Solaris around, but I never met too many people who were any good with it. Turbo Linux is getting to be very popular lately. And NEC has some other OS that is the standby (I don't know what it is, and it might run on top of DOS, the times I saw it it reminded me of GEO Works), but I think it must be expensive as homes usually have something else (if anything, most people do not have PCs at home).

    One thing to keep in mind is that the "paper-less" office is a practical impossibility in Japan. Every important document I ever signed, from traffic tickets to rent agreements to insurance forms to hotel reciepts; regardless of how they were created; would be printed then they would get out their family stamp kit and press their little wooden stamp into the red ink and then carefully press that onto the document, and THAT made the document official.

    Also, much of our recent progress in America has been on the backs of the unwashed, uncouth, unshaven neo-hippies of the "Dot-Com" age, and while their accomplishments may be legion they would never hold jobs in Japan. People think IBM is straight-laced...Try Japan on for size some time. There you respect age and experience along with culture, both national and corporate.

    When you have all of this down we will explore trying to keep all of the obligatory social relationships going from across the ocean, in Japan you do not suck up to customers, sell them your product and then forget them, you now have a relationship that will need renewed periodically with karoke nights and golf days. All this so you can sell them something they really still wish they could get from a japanese company.
  • Ah yes, that addicive like heroin game was ported to Free Unixes not once but twice (at least):

    xpuyo [], although the author is ashamed of the quality of this version.
    xpuyopuyo [], which is quite nice. This one even has some AIs that will occasionally give beginners some challenge. Actually some of the AIs in here are annoyingly hard. The internet play on this one is quite good to boot.

    Down that path lies madness. On the other hand, the road to hell is paved with melting snowballs.
  • Several third-party hacks? Looks like I should throw out my Japanese version of NT then. I mean what's the point if it needs more hacks to work with Japanese text!

    Perhaps you could explain what hacks you are talking about?

  • > (Did you ever encounter a bug in a
    > memory chip?)

    Just off the cuff, tere's te 64k (yes, that's a k, kids) dram from Texas Instruments, whic ad to be recalled . . .

    And bugs in processors are too numerous to consider . . .


  • Drool...

    Yes, imagine such a world. "Slashdot" would be called "C-colon-backslash-right-angle-bracket" for a start, and it would be full of kids raving about this marvellous thing called an "Explorer" and how it was way better than primitive command line interfaces, and how refreshing it was to reboot your system from time to time, and some crazy dude named ESR would write these amazing rants about how shipping pre-compiled binaries was like building a cathedral... ;0)

  • It must be rather obvious to everyone that Japan has invented, created and developed many things. Just think of all the Multinational companies from Japan.

    No, what Japanese corporations excel at is execution and operations. Historically, they haven't been great innovators. Take the example of motorcycles, televisions (and consumer electronics in general) and even heavy industry. The Japanese are great at manufacturing, they tend to buy innovation, either directly or by sending students overseas to study (I don't have the figures to hand, but Japan sends dozens of college students to the US for every one the US sends to Japan).

    Couple this with a regulatory environment that is paranoid about defending Japanese home markets, and strict competition laws that amount to a government sponsored oligarchy, and you have a model for Japanese industrial success.

    Japanese markets are hideously inefficient compared to ours (US/UK), for example the retail sector is dominated by a few huge manufacturers, but many thousands of tiny, single-premesis retailers. Very difficult to get economies of scale in retail like that, and even more difficult to get good marketing data (no, not banner ads, I mean data that informs product development). Their wholesale financial services sector is positively primitive compared to Wall Street, the Square Mile or Singapore.

    It's these factors that mean that what the Japanese do well - bulk manufacturing of sophisticated products with gradual refinement - they do very well indeed, but they are very poorly positioned to compete in a world where the value is locked into innovative intellectual property which changes rapidly and where execution is commoditized. Their system can cope with long term capital investment in tangible assets such as factories, but it cannot cope with what we could call high-risk venture capital.

    It will be fascinating to watch their attempts at reform, but I think that the only thing that will end the 10-year recession is full-scale deregulation, and opening up to inward investment.

  • As a Japanese person living in Japan, I'm intrigued by this alleged Japanese caste structure thingy, because I'd never realized there is one. (Unless you consider discrimination against foreigners as a caste system, Japan today is a lot less of a caste society than, say, the UK.) Would you care to elaborate what the castes are?
  • The article tells about how the Internet market is controlled by NTT and other 3 Japanese companies and about copies of IBM mainframes. But I recall form years ago that IBM was about the only case of success of a foreign company in the Japanese market, and it was because IBM Japan behaved like a Japanese company.

    Can somebody comment on IBM Japan and its differences with other Japanese companies or the rest of IBM?
  • Although you can in theory write every Japanese text in Hiragana (a syllable alphabet) it would be almost unreadable.

    Without the Kanji you just can't be sure a) where one word ends and the next one begins and b) what most words mean, because of the endless number of homophones in Japanese.

    Really? The Japanese can understand themselves on the phone. Whay couldn't they use romaji? And about the word ends, it should be easier with a Latin alphabet. They only need to decide the rules.

    The Vietnamese also transitioned from ideographs to Latin. But probably Vietnamese has less homophones.

  • Have you ever heard two Japanese involved in a technical (not necessarily technology-related) conversation? It's quite common to specify a particular term by stating which kanji it's written with.

    But they can't do that on the phone. Unless you claim as the parallel comment that spoken Japanese is very different form written. I can't tell.
  • it is almost impossible to actually define what is a word in Japanese and what is only a particle, even the borders between nouns and certain adjectives are very blurry ("na"-adjectives) so the whole romaji approach tries to compare apples and oranges.

    I couldn't tell but also in German the borders adjective-noun are different from say English, and they do often change rules about hyphenation.
    I maybe misunderstanding German and Japanese, of course :)

  • If you are still there, I remember that some very important medioeval Japanese novels were written by women in kana, because that's all they were taught. Are they published currently in kanji? Were they difficult to read?
  • Banks in Japan are literally giving money away to try and resusitate there dead economy.


    They've been doing that for last 50 years in order to stimulate the economy. It worked just fine when they could export so much more than import; but it eventually caught up with them when people realized that investments made no money without growth. Japan's economy depends a lot more on the second derivative than most western nation's economies do.

    Is their economic way of life inferior? Who knows, only time will tell. It sure doesn't look that way right now, but then again the western nations had a great depression and we emerged much the wiser for it.

    The only thing that really disturbs me about Japan are the reports of their crumbling higher-education systems; critics claim that their educational system is only intended to make good corportate drones (to use y2k vernacular) and to avoid too much open thought. Since I live in the US, it's hard to meter these claims -- but what I do know is that I never hear anything bad about Japan from Japan itself, and that sets of warning bells. A heathy society can have sprited fights about what's right-and-wrong; a sick society must support the status quo regardless the situation.

    The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.

  • that's only $11.20 USD per man, woman, and child

    Which is less than the global average of $12.923 (according to the international version [] of the previously mentioned Bill Gates Personal Wealth Clock).

  • I think that the personal cassette player was invented and patented in the US before the Sony Walkman. However, the inventor made the mistake of including a belt and belt-clip in the design and not claiming for a player that did not use those.
  • I'd guess that the filenames are stored in UTF-8. If it's possible to convince zsh that non-ASCII characters are OK, and if the terminal can handle UTF-8, then it might be possible to display them properly.
  • You can choose which time zone you want things expressed in somewhere in the preferences, but it doesn't always work on everything. F'rinstance, I submitted a story last Saturday night around 9 or 10 Eastern Daylight Time, but the "pending" notice that came back said Sunday morning at 1.
  • In the video game arena, the Japanese are responsible for MOST of the innovation of the entire planet! (There are innovative American games, but they're definitely the exception rather than the rule.) There are whole categories of video games in Japan that don't even exist in the US (Princess Maker, Dating Sim, Super Robot Wars, etc).

    Part of this may be due to the fact that their market is comparitively huge, and will support more niches, but still...

    Sega's output for the Dreamcast alone had more new ideas than all of the PC games market put together for that year! I'm not saying that to put down Western programmers, but rather to give credit to the Japanese where and when it's due.

    Jon Acheson
  • Firstly, as someone else already noted, video games. Some game programmers are household names within the industry, sucha as Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) or Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Mario).

    I've seen a lot of Japanese-created software for the Palm Pilot too.

    Or how about the TMPGEnc MPEG encoder written by Hiroyuki Hori? It's often called the best in its class.

    Many corporations such as Unisys also have Japanese divisions which are run and staffed by Japanese.

    In short, this isn't much of an article.

    Jon Acheson

  • I have a friend who has lived in Japan on and off for the past five years, and according to her it's not quite as simple as that. The successful multinational companies (Honda and Sony, for example) have a much less hierachical and seniority-oriented corporate culture - and, funnily enough, they produce funky innovative products. However, Japan's domestically-oriented companies, such as banks and retailing, live up to every bad stereotype you have of conservative, addled mandarins stifling innovation and creativity.

    Go you big red fire engine!
  • by Pac ( 9516 ) <> on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:59AM (#113142)
    the non-creative guys at Nintendo and Sony had taken the console scene by storm and were posed to give Microsoft a very hot welcome party to THEIR market.

    Specifically, the non-creative guys at Nintendo had been coding classic game upon classic game for what seems to be ages now.

    Also, every two years a new japanese idea spreads like fire among the world's children, their parents "cluelessness" notwhitstanding. Yes, I am talking about the Zodiac Knights, Tamagoshi, Pokemon etc.You can argue those are not primarily software, but marketing devices. I would agree they are memes, but except for the first of my examples, the others are mainly software. Very non-creative.
  • by mdecerbo ( 9857 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:44AM (#113143)
    From the /. story:

    (And if you're not well familiar with Japan's culture, it's also worth reading the articles now appearing in The Atlantic Monthly.)"
    The Atlantic Monthly? Puh-leeze.

    They printed a ridiculously long, biased hatched job called Russia Is Finished [] back in May to try to get everyone "familiar" with Russia's culture. Intelligent letter-writers have pointed out [] that it was mostly a crock.

    So why would I care what they have to say about Japan?
    I think I will stick to what fellow geeks without a political axe to grind tell me.

  • OS: The TRON series (B-TRON, etc.) Used widely for embedded systems; you probably own an appliance that uses it.

    Web browser: w3m

    Programming language: Ruby

    Don't speak of that about which you know nothing...

  • Let's see - 30 million i-mode users out of a population of 125 million. 3G (broadband) wireless access in progress, while the U.S. is still arguing over which part of the spectrum to allocate.
  • Actually, if you buy a Fujitsu workstation or Enterprise class server in Japan, you'll see it's simply a Sun Ultrasparc with the sun logo ripped off and a Fujitsu logo glued on.

    So, if you're right, then Fujitsu should market what it's got better and it will rule the World. Or at least the Japanese islands.
  • This is made worse by an odd pricing system, under which firms charge a fixed amount, instead of billing their customers by the hour. As a result, software houses bear all the risk if, as is usual, a project takes longer than planned.

    I fail to see how this is a bad thing - this just encourages good software estimation. The number one complaint about EULAs in the U.S. is that you can't really take the software company to task for poor products; here's a case where they actually do pay for their mistakes. Sounds good to me.

  • Being originally from Russia, I can only say that
    "Russia is Finished" is an unusually accurate and
    insightful article. The comments in the response
    you linked to are quite weird: their first point
    is that US played a role in the rise of corruption
    in Russia. To an extent that is true but don't forget
    that Russian corruption has its roots in the 1970s
    when party bosses took bribes to get anything done.
    If the names Gdlyan and Ivanov don't mean anything
    to you then you don't know modern Russian history
    at all, otherwise you know what I am talking about.
    As for anti-Orthodox views, well most Russians
    are agnostic. Very few religious people exist, most
    pretend since it is fashionable. Grebentschikov,
    a famous Russian singer-songwriter has summed it
    up in two lines: "brigady lomyatsa v tserkov', svyatomy mesto kabak", i.e "mobs are storming
    the church, while a saint now belongs in a pub".
    To claim that you would affect most Russians by
    saying whatever about Christianity is quite
  • Has anyone ever seen any of the competitions Honda hold whereby employees are allowed to build crazy and useless inventions? I wish I had a link, but it shows what the Japanese can do. Maybe this sort of approach should be used by computer software and hardware companies?
  • by rw2 ( 17419 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:17AM (#113163) Homepage
    Yes, Japan will only truly be an enlightened nation when they can have Accenture (that's what it's called this week I think) to do a $1.5M job and end up, three years later, with a $5M program that does 40% of what the original spec called for.

    I bet they can hardly wait!

    Poliglut []

  • Japanese Windows is not English Windows with Add-ons. It is totally native Double-byte code -
    Japanese Windows is just as good (or bad) as its English counterpart, right out of the box.

    Also, Linux works great in Japanese. KDE, GNOME - They are all working well.
    Since I'm in Japan, I just buy "Linux Magazine" or one of the others - They come with a couple of distros on CD (Sometimes on DVD!)
    Set up a new box as a Japanese KDE system and then you can do input with no trouble. You can also then change the language to English from the KDE control panel.
    Japanese enabling an English Linux install is much more difficult. I've never been able to get the Japanese input working on such a system, though the display works fine.

    MMDC Mobile Media []
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:23AM (#113166)
    > I was working with a Japanese system programmer, and he was telling me that US-style programming (individualistic) just don't fit the mindset of Japanese people (consensus). Even when Japanese programmers are given the freedom to do it, they can't (Exceptions occurs for sure).

    US-style programming tends to result in a lot of exceptions too.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:15AM (#113167)
    When you walk up and down the aisles at CompUSA, are you struck by the impression that the US software industry encourages creative thinking?

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:17AM (#113168)
    > Does anyone have any numbers/statistics on Linux use in Japan?

    No hard numbers, but the new Netcraft survey (which, oddly enough, /. hasn't picked up on yet) says:
    Countries in which Unix-like operating systems maintain the strongest lead are Poland, Hungary, Japan, Russia and Germany, with Linux strong in Poland and Hungary, and BSD in Russia and Japan.

  • The /. blurb seems to have ommitted one key point with respect to the Economist article. The KEY POINT of the article is that the "big three" Japenese hardware manufacturers (NEC, Fujitsu, and Hitachi) dominated the business computing industry for years in Japan. Since these hardware companies use an older 1970s business model derived from US mainframe and supercomputer companies like IBM and Cray, software has been tied to the platform. It is not at all surprising, in this context, that PC software companies (Microsoft included) experienced sluggish sales.

    Just take a look at the time history of PC sales and Microsoft sales shown in the article. They're both tightly correlated, and both skyrocketing. The main point is that MICROSOFT IS RAPIDLY BECOMING AN INCREASING PRESENCE IN JAPANESE COMPUTING. The plot shows Microsoft sales increasing six-fold in the last six years. I would hardly call that a negligable presence.

    I would suggest that many of the previous posters try something new, and check out the original article, before ranting on their own little soapboxes.

  • By second derivative do you mean growth. Which is the derivative of GNP, but whats the GNP's antiderevative.?? Or did you mean second derivative of GNP, which would be change in growth. I really don't see how a constant changing in the growth rate would really help.
  • by ce25254 ( 25706 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:25AM (#113177)
    If that's true, then how is it that I was able to throw out KanjiKIT on my wife's Win95 machine? Well, Microsoft Word & Outlook 2000 work quite well with MS' integrated IME for Japanese. And IE 5 works fine, too. She needs no "third-party-hacks." Now if you want to save with Japanese filenames, that's another story. But I don't know how to do that in *NIX, either.

    Please clarify.

    I would have to say that the Macintosh has this down quite well (and has for some time). My brother-in-law has a fully functioning bilingual (English/Japanese) system on his (MacOS 9) PowerBook. [Hm. I wonder what Japanese filenames look like on the command line of OS X?]
  • according to the Bill Gates Personal Clock [] the average US cizan's personal contribution to bill gate's forune is about $280.
  • by delmoi ( 26744 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @03:31PM (#113180) Homepage
    Actualy, Linux has been ported to IBM mainframes, by IBM itself. The problem isn't the coding, the 'problem' if you really want to call it that is that the Mainframes simply work and work fine.

    If you have a box thats handling, say, $1 million dollars worth of transactions per day, and it's been doing it for the past 20 years, why the hell would you stop? Why fix it if it aint broke?

    IBM has put plenty of web-integration stuff out there for their mainframes, or you can interface them with PCs (Use tons of web-facing PCs with a Big-ol mainframe as your DB server).

    Just because a hack exists dosn't mean you need to, or have any reason, to use it.

    Linux is there for the mainframes for people who want it, but if you've already got a mainframe... what's the point?
  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:21AM (#113181)
    Companies are tied to particular computer manufacturers and must pay for bad tailor-made software that can often be bought for a small fraction of the price off the shelf. Japan's hardware revolution offers a chance to change all this. First, though, the Japanese will have to get the software right, too.

    Instead, they can be tied to a particular software manufacturer, and pay for bad rehashes of old technology that can be had for free off the Net. First, though, the Japanese will have to start changing thier desktop backgrounds, downloading e-mail viruses and sending each other useless, overly-formatted memos in proprietary formats. Then they will lead the world in IT efficiency.

    (newer | glitzy) != more_efficient

  • the good ones are still making money.

    however, the MSCE gravy train is probably at an end-road... Businesses are going to want college graduates instead of test taking "professionals".

  • "In short, this isn't much of an article"

    No but it does re enforce the racist stereotypes of most americans so it gets published in a major magazine and of course here on slashdot.

    I wonder who they will target next maybe those damned a-rab ragheads they write with funny characters too.
  • by lw54 ( 73409 )
    What, a country where Microsoft makes $1.4B a year in revenue is a country "without Microsoft?"

    Wow... that's only $11.20 USD per man, woman, and child. What kind of money is MSFT making off of the average US person?

    I think that point that needs to be realized with Japan is that they're currently in a 10 year recession.

  • by EXTomar ( 78739 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:43AM (#113197)
    Antiquated hardware? Antiquated software? Place have stuff like this on both sides of the Pacific but to label all of Japan as "The Land That Time Forget" for technology is wrong. After all where do almost all of the driving force for video games come from? Where have almost all of the ground breaking advancements in game/console software and hardware come from? Japan! The PS2 and Gamecube are certainly not Atari 2600.
  • When I read these headlines about "countries that time forgot", I just can't help thinking about the same headlines that are routinely applied to our countries (continental Europe), saying:

    "Oh, look, those poor little Europeans that still live in the Middle Ages with such some obsolete things as welfare systems, social security for all, minimum wages, and so on. Why don't they realize they live in the 21st century and scrap all those dinausoresque social systems ?"

    One world, one language [], one socio-economical framework.

    Thomas Miconi
  • You make my point nicely, its not the fact that theyre japanese, its their buisness model that prevents innovation. The hondas and sony's have moved away from that buisness model, and have become innovative and prosperous, others have not, and so they suffer.

  • by cybercuzco ( 100904 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @12:33PM (#113203) Homepage Journal
    It must be rather obvious to everyone that Japan has invented, created and developed many things. Just think of all the Multinational companies from Japan

    Japan is the BASF of countries. We didnt invent the tv, we made it cheaper. We didnt invent the automobile, we made it smaller and cheaper. We didnt invent the video game, we just make good ones and then dont release them in the US, to spite them for nuking us back in the day.

    The difference lies within how a business should be run/managed/controlled.

    This is exactly right, and japanese buisness are doing a crappy job of rewarding innovation, due to the way they run their buisneses. Theres the story of the japanese guy who invented the blue diode, the invention that makes white diodes possible, along with faster optical drives etc. His invention made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, all he got was a measly raise and no promotion. He then got offers from various US companies offering him salires 2-3x what he was getting, royalties on anything he invented, and offers to head departments at various colleges. He decided, wisely that his talents werent appreciated in japan, and immigrated. The seniority system in japan and gaurenteed job placement for life prevents raises and advancements for innovative people, thus stifling innovation as a whole. This is not good or bad, if your goal is 100% employment and job security, its very good, if you want innovation, its not such a good idea.

  • Um, I like the blue LEDs and all, but it's not quite in the same league as TV, telephones, jet engines etc. (blatant patriotism, I know :P )

    But I've seen a bunch of features in the media with stuff about Japanese inventions - there's some competition that Honda (I think) run each year to come up with new cars, Sony has it's own wacky development department that I read about in Wired a while back, and so on.

    As I understood it, the problems in the corporate structure over there arose from similar reasons as the problems in politics - their high life-expectancy. There's still a bunch of 60-year-old guys running everything, and they're rather stuck in their ways (and they were brought up in Japan before it started embracing a more Western way of working). But they're finally starting to retire and everything's changing over there.

    Please feel free to criticise me if I'm talking out of my ass BTW; I'm just saying what I half remember from a bunch of documentaries and stuff.

  • ...and this is wrong. The ISP market is wide open, with many choices for dialup providers (even free ones too) and PC prices are quite comparable to that of the states, sometimes better.

    Setting up an ISP takes all of an hour or two, over the phone without any credit card transactions necessary, and is much smoother than anything I have ever done in the states.

    I think this article trivializes the many changes that have taken place over the last year alone, much less the last 3. As more and more people realize the Internet through their iMode phones, and understand that there is more to it than that small screen provides, more and more computers are being sold. While Japan may not offer as much in terms of product diversity in their computer stores, the fact is that prices are continually dropping and are not unreasonable.

  • Can you give me some examples of Japanese inventions?
    How about the blue laser diode [] invented by Shuji Nakamura [], formerly of Nichia Semiconductor []. (Nichia's web page is cute for a corporate web page.)

    OTOH, this [] Scientific American article says that he left Japan for UC Santa Barbara because he considers the Japanese industrial R&D system as "communist". "Here I can start a venture company-in five or 10 years, if I could invent a new device. I want to achieve the American dream."

  • The distinction is that Linux doesnt RUN the mainframe.
    Exactly. VM runs the S/390 machine, and the Linuces run in sandboxes where they can't blow everything away. Sigh. I wish the PC hardware architecture would support something like VM...
  • ...the PS2 has basically turned out to be, although a marketing success, a major letdown technically.

    It's the software. I've seen the hardware render *nice* graphics, so I know what it's capable of. The problem is that the hardware is very complex and cuspy, and Sony didn't provide good abstractions and libraries. The toolkit vacuum has left game companies flailing about reinventing the wheel. Since truly inspired engine designers are rare, the first couple of years of games are basically mediocre rehashes no better than the PS1 state of the art. It's only in the last 6 months that truly excellent engines have been developed, and it will take another full development cycle for them to be sublicensed and incorporated in other games, and another development cycle after that for them to become prevalent.

  • Hehe,

    The distinction is that Linux doesnt RUN the mainframe.

    Get it? No one in their right mind uses it for anything mission critical.

    They leave that to the real OS' ;)


  • if this isn't a situation literally screaming for linux adoption, i don't know what is. all it takes is a few talented hackers reverse-engineering these weird mainframes and boom, you are out of this proprietary lockup. why isn't this happening? are these mainframes so extremely weird and obscure? for goodness sakes, linux has been ported to video game consoles, ancient macs, and even worse things.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Tuesday July 03, 2001 @12:05AM (#113222) Journal
    Doh, hasn't anyone played that game involving Mario, Luigi, turtles, crabs, gold coins, head bumping things upside down?

    If someone suggested making a game like that in the US, he or she may be forced to take a urine test accompanied with nice uniformed people :).

    How about Pacman, or the various dancing games for instance?

    Just look at the Japanese game software industry and that should settle it.

    As for other software - you don't need creativity to do accounting or add figures up, and you don't need some stupid paperclip no matter what Microsoft thinks.

    In the US, innovations and creativity seem to come from the industry outsiders, battling in, succeeding only to be "sequeled" ;). Whereas in Japan the industry insiders seem to contribute a lot more (Nintendo, Sony etc).

    Japan's entertainment and toy industry encourages a lot more innovation and creativity than the US toy industry. The US toy industry just keeps pushing what the Sumerian kids had in 4000BC. Dolls (Barbie, GI Joe), weapons, vehicles. Whereas, from Japan you get really really weird/strange/innovative stuff, and they are often pushed by the mainstream industry.
  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @12:15PM (#113223) Journal

    No, but I'm amazed at the talent the sales staff has for bothering me when I want to be left alone, and not being there when I need them. How do they do that?

  • by marm ( 144733 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @09:01PM (#113225)

    PC's: Bah, who needs 'em when you have cell phones? (Okay, that's an overstatement, but not as much as you might think.)

    I'd have thought any of the Sony Vaio range would amply demonstrate that the Japanese excel at making PC's too... just that they like them small, light, portable and stylish. Notice a trend here regarding how the Japanese like their electronics?

  • by marm ( 144733 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @05:36PM (#113226)

    This is ridiculous. Take a look at this very short and very incomplete list of the Free Software that Japanese programmers have written or contributed to - it's nothing to be sneezed at:

    • LAME: Takehiro Tominaga, Naoki Shibata, Iwasa Kazmi
    • Linux Kernel SuperH port: Niibe Yutaka, Kazumoto Kojima
    • Linux AWE32 driver, also various large parts of ALSA project: Takashi Iwai
    • gcc: Nobuyuki Hikichi, Shigeya Suzuki, Masanobu Yuhara
    • glibc: Isamu Hasegawa, Shinya Hanataka, Masahide Washizawa
    • debian: Atsushi Kamoshida, Takao Kawamura, Takuo Kitame (have you seen how much Takuo is responsible for in Debian? if you use GTK+, Nautilus, Evolution, Mozilla or indeed pretty much anything GTK+/GNOME-related you're using his packages and their accompanying patches/fixes), Atsuhito Kohda, Sekido Koichi, Tomohiro Kubota, Shugo Maeda, Keita Maehara, Kikutani Makoto, Goto Masanori, Teruyuki Morimura, Ishikawa Mutsumi, Hayao Nakahara, Takashi Okamoto, Shuichi Oono, Susumu Osawa, Taketoshi Sano, Akira Tagoh, Nokubi Takatsugu, Yasuhiro Take, Uno Takeshi, Masato Taruishi, Junichi Uekawa, Fumitoshi Ukai, Akira Yamada, Yoshiaki Yanagihara, Araki Yasuhiro, Taku Yasui
    • ruby: Do I even need to bother listing the names in the ruby credits? ruby, the most innovative and OOP-pure of the modern scripting languages, is almost entirely of Japanese origin - the who's who file is here. []

    And this is just a very short and very incomplete list that I knocked up in a few minutes.

    Sorry, I don't buy this article at all. Granted, the PC has never taken off in Japan in quite the same way it has elsewhere in the world, but that's the price of having an already extremely wired and hi-tech population, something of a distrust of western domination of any one market (why do you think Linux is such a huge hit over there, with the now famous retail sales figures showing TurboLinux outselling Windows?), and also the debacle that is the Japanese PC98 specification. So, yes, perhaps given its size and technological level, Japan is not as well represented in the PC software world as it could be, but to suggest from that that Japanese programmers are no good is outrageous and smacks of the American cultural arrogance that the rest of the world is sick to the back teeth of. Note also the implication that because the Japanese shy away from Microsoft software, that this makes them somehow backward. Very disturbing that this is the prevailing view of a major media outlet such as The Economist.

    Oh, and as for mainframes being out of date - tell that to IBM and all its customers using z390's to consolidate servers, and whose reliability and I/O performance wipe the floor with anything the PC industry could come up with now or in the next 15 years.

  • by Kingfox ( 149377 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:31AM (#113227) Homepage Journal
    You could always ask Slashdot Japan [].
  • IMAGINE a world without Microsoft.


  • by rneches ( 160120 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @03:08PM (#113229) Homepage
    No, the US software industry is not as innovative as it could be. Much time and money is wasted as a result of this "innovation gap". As supporters and friends of Free and opensource systems, I think most of us already agree with that.

    However, compare this to what the article is talking about in Japan. Japanese companies are still buying, on the whole, computer systems that are copies of the IBM mainframe systems. Mainframes ceased being a growth industry 25 years ago. The software written for these systems is foisted on the buyers in a way that, in the early 80's and late 70's was proved to stifle innovation in the worst possible way. This is why PC's (for better or worse) took off in the United States - they might be based on a cruddy, rickety architecture and hobbled by a couple of rather odious quasi-monopolies, but at least they allow for a great deal of flexability. The fact that Linux even exists is probably the greatest teastament to this flexability yet.

    So, when compaired to IBM in the early 70's, or Hitachi, Fujitsu and NEC today, even the Dreaded Microsoft is a fantastic innovator. You and I might bemone the limp-risted nature of "innovation" that comes from Redmond, but at least there is something to bemone.


  • Then it must be amazing that Japan is a huge market for BeOS. See here, at Hitachi's site.
    Excuse my nitpicking, but would you mind defining "huge"? If there are sales figures anywhere on the Hitachi site, my Japanese is not up to reading them.


  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:16AM (#113233) Homepage Journal
    Japan still makes the best games:
    Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, ZeroWing (all your base... game). Honestly, if you play games that originated in Japan, they are incredibly creative and top notch (not to mention fun).

    These are also console games, not PC games, which is probably the reason...

    "That's one small step for man..." "STOP POKING ME!!!!"
  • Business cultures are of course very different, but why say its worse ? (there's a negative tone in such statements and the one quoted above).

    Which one produces a superior product? That's the superior business culture. The fact of the matter is that some economic systems are downright inferior. This is business, not race-relations.

  • by PatJensen ( 170806 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @05:48PM (#113235) Homepage
    Excellent list. Do not forget that KAME, the IPv6 IP stack being used in most *BSD's (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD) is largely written by Japanese programmers. -Pat
  • As far as I know, no.

    I do know that IBM Global Services & Accenture has been tag-teaming NYS for about 5 years with a program that doesn't work at all and never will.
  • If you want to compare wartime atrocities, the US Army systematically wiped out hundreds of thosands of native people in the 1870's.

    Britian subjugated and murdered plenty of Irishmen

    France murdered alot of Spanish.

  • Japan is the BASF of countries. We didnt invent the tv, we made it cheaper. We didnt invent the automobile, we made it smaller and cheaper. We didnt invent the video game, we just make good ones and then dont release them in the US, to spite them for nuking us back in the day.

    So you seriously mean its not "inventing", "creating" and "developing to do all things you mention here? How could they possibly had done this if it wasnt for all creativity that came from within the company. But if you prefer to believe that ALL ideas came from the Board of Directors, go ahead ;-)

  • I find it rather interresting that people say that the japanese business modell doesnt support "creative thinking and gives no chance to entrepeneurs"

    It must be rather obvious to everyone that Japan has invented, created and developed many things. Just think of all the Multinational companies from Japan.

    The difference lies within how a business should be run/managed/controlled. Business cultures are of course very different, but why say its worse ? (there's a negative tone in such statements and the one quoted above).

  • by sulli ( 195030 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:13AM (#113247) Journal
    IMAGINE a world without Microsoft.

    What, a country where Microsoft makes $1.4B a year in revenue is a country "without Microsoft?" I don't buy it. Yes, the "enterprise" market in Japan still uses mainframes more than it does here (and perhaps more than it should), but the last time I checked, Windows was the standard on the vast majority of PCs sold in Japan.

  • Drool...

    Yeah, you're right... we'd all be using Macs.


  • by mblase ( 200735 )
    When you walk up and down the aisles at CompUSA, are you struck by the impression that the US software industry encourages creative thinking?

    Your problem is starting at CompUSA, then. The most creative software usually pops up on the Internet for free before you can buy it in a box for $50-300 a pop. (See also: DooM, NCSA Mosaic, Linux, and your favorite MP3 player)

  • Which one produces a superior product? That's the superior business culture.

    Hm, let's see...

    • Household electronics: Sony, Sharp, Sanyo, Panasonic...
    • Walkman: That's the Sony Walkman.
    • Cell phones: Can you say i-mode?
    • PC's: Bah, who needs 'em when you have cell phones? (Okay, that's an overstatement, but not as much as you might think.)
    Now what was that you were saying again?


  • I'd have thought any of the Sony Vaio range would amply demonstrate that the Japanese excel at making PC's too...

    Perhaps, but since the HD on my Vaio laptop at work just died yesterday, I'm not overly fond of Vaios at the moment...

    (BTW, I wasn't saying the Japanese aren't good at making PC's, I was just commenting on the fact that Net-enabled cell phones have supplanted PCs for some uses in Japan, hence there aren't as many PCs in use here as there on the consumer end.)


  • Sure, there are a lot of things that were invented first in the US or elsewhere outside Japan; as a number of other comments have pointed out, Japanese society doesn't breed nearly as much creativity as (for example) American society, and I'm not disputing that. What I'm saying is that the Japanese are damn good at making (and improving) things once they have something to work on.

    As an aside, I still haven't been able figure out what so many people find wrong with Japan being better at manufacturing/improving than at inventing, but maybe that's just me...


  • by 11223 ( 201561 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:14AM (#113255)
    Then it must be amazing that Japan is a huge market for BeOS. See here [], at Hitachi's site.

    Personally, I think many people confuse the difficulty of making good Japanese-language software with a lack of ambition for Japanese software. It's not the case. However, making a good Japanese user environment is *hard*. This is not roman script, folks, or anything remotely like it. It takes several third-party-hacks to get Windows useable in Japanese. BeOS ships with Japenese suport, and Linux is well on its way. It it any suprise that there is little Microsoft market there?

  • Japanese scientists and researchers have done some great work, especially in recent years. However, let's not lose perspective.

    For the past 50 years, many of Japan's largest markets have come from copying American products. This has been seen with: cameras & photographic lenses, steel, computer memory and solid state electronics, consumer electronics, and automobiles (SUVs in particular). Also, there powerful business culture came in large part from the post-WWII rebuilding efforts and the theories / ideas of an American, W. Edwards Deming.

    And it's well known that the Japanese educational system and business cultures have promoted conformity over individual expression. Many think this leads to a promotion of sameness over creativity (rightfully so, IMO).

    Don't take this as a rant/flame/troll. Japanese culture is very different to that of the U.S. (and other western nations). It's been to our detriment that we have failed to recognize this, especially during the trade negotiations of the '80s.
    D. Fischer
  • I think I will stick to what fellow geeks without a political axe to grind tell me.

    I do agree that the Anlantic Monthly is a right-wing piece of trash, but I think you give too much credit to the existence of the apolitical geek. Most geeks I've met who look beyond their soldering iron clamor for concentration camps for "those welfare cheats" on their LIBERAL days.

    Many people have made the observation that use of technology is inherently political, and John Zerzan isn't the only one to note that tech use is a conversative/right derived and supported phenomenon. It's certainly disengenuous of Fallows to talk about the ugliness of Japan as he trots out his own little horror show to pander to the droids on this side of the Pacific, but let's not forget who his target audience is: those very same geeks you hold in high esteem, only 5 or 10 years removed from their secondary indoctrination. Barring any alchemical transformations, those folk readily soak in the words of the Fallows of this society--they just need to get their SUV first.

  • by hillct ( 230132 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:20AM (#113260) Homepage Journal
    And Microsoft has little presence there, [...] yes, it's japan
    Interesting how Microsoft's primary business trategy has a dependance on the social norms and values of western culture.

    I don't know enough about far eastern culture to be able to suggest any changes that would have to occur in America to cause Microsoft to have to shift it's business strategy, although Microsoft has adopted the concept of a Keiretsu [] from Japanese corporate culture. Perhaps we need to adopt the purchasing habits of Japanese consumers...


  • ...Trend Micro, a Tokyo-based computer-virus company...

    So now we have companies that produce computer virii? How do they make a profit? They must get kick-backs from anti-virus software companies... grrrr...

    "// this is the most hacked, evil, bastardized thing I've ever seen. kjb"

  • Pay attention to software development in Japan...eventually, I think the dust will settle in the US and software engineering will (hopefully) become a more formal task...
    God, I hope not... that might cut into our UT and CS games at work! I'm sure fooz does not fit into their methodology either.
  • This is totally misleading. First, Japan's main line of PCs are $2000+. Why? because they come with an LCD monitor, are small, aesthetic, come with tons of software, TV tuner, a remote, and some even with a slot for your MDs. They have plenty of "US" type 500 dollar computers but they just don't sell them where they sell the mainstream PCs. Secondly, Japanese are just as afraid of PCs as Americans. That isn't the problem. Japanese computers have more keys, and require sophisticated input sequences to type like you write. Imagine if you couldn't even type to begin with... an heck, did you know that Japanese Windows crashes MORE than English Windows? I know that is unbelievable, but indeed, we Japanese have to live with MORE crashes. So maybe its just MS' fault.
  • Word macro's achieve another distinct use. Torturing UK A-level IT Students. As well as a steady diet of mistakes and down-right lies (Bill Gates apparantly invented BASIC according to my text book) we got it drummed into us that we should use Word macros for everything.

    Word got as good as it was ever gonna get in '97, since then MS have just tried to persuade us all that we need their nice new features.
  • And Microsoft has little presence there, because most software runs on the antiquated mainframes with which the software came bundled.

    Let's not forget there's a huge presence of mainframes in the US as well. A couple of years ago the mainframe market in the US started to pick up again. They're still the foundation of technology in our financial institutions. You use one every time you use a credit card. Not that I'm all for mainframes, but they have a history and they still have many uses.

  • by AdamInParadise ( 257888 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:17AM (#113275) Homepage
    I was working with a Japanese system programmer, and he was telling me that US-style programming (individualistic) just don't fit the mindset of Japanese people (consensus). Even when Japanese programmers are given the freedom to do it, they can't (Exceptions occurs for sure). And that why he was here, to learn how to program alone (and he was good at it).

    CPU or memories, on the other hand, requires consensus, that's one of the reason they are so good at it (Did you ever encounter a bug in a memory chip?)
  • Keiretsu and Zaibatsu? Isn't Zaibatsu another form of japanese megacorporation?,br>
    I always thought that a Zaibatsu was a single large mega-corp while a Keiretsu was a group of large corporations who have allied together against other Keiretsu.

    Say "NO!" to tax money for religious groups. []
  • Hmm.. "inventing" uncooked seafood. Sounds more like they have yet to develop applications involving fire.

    sorry, couldn't resist

  • And puyo puyo, you mustn't forget that. Undoubtedly one of the coolest multi-player puzzle games ever made.

  • ...and I was amazed by two things. First, by thier technology. They have a great deal of what we would call "gagetry", lots of things will bells and whistles, cell phones with GPS and a range finder for the nearest train station, web browsers, voice recognition. And second, by thier LACK of computers. When it comes to computers, they were suprisingly behind the times. Computers were amazingly expensive (compared to the US at the time. I think what would have cost $500 in the US then would have cost over $2,000 in Japan), they were hard to use. Setting up an ISP account could take you a month or more and cost you a great deal of money. And since all calls cost per minute (this includes local calls) the internet is only for the rich or the incredibly geeky (and due to the language barrier, there are few resources for the "geeks" in Japan). What's more, people in Japan have no fear of thier gagets at all, but when it comes to computers they become as pertified as your grandmother setting up AOL for the first time. Things are going to eventually have to change in Japan, but they are still a long way off...
  • by Zen Mastuh ( 456254 ) on Monday July 02, 2001 @11:20AM (#113302)

    It's really quite simple. All over Japan are billboards depicting the rogue software entrepreneur so eager to steal customers away from Japanese conglomerates. The villain, a light-skinned blonde man, has been given the moniker "Cats". The text of the billboard, roughly translated from Kanjii, encourages conglomerate developers to "make their time".

  • Can you give me some examples of Japanese inventions?
    Sure, just check here []. Very useful stuff.

  • Strange thing is, Alex Kerr is just as Japanese as lots of Japanese people are. His Japanese is perfect (in fact, better than your average Japanese Joe), he's lived there forever, and he's had access to a lot of amazing behind-the-scenes stuff that lots of regular Japanese don't know about. He's not just some dude that just went to the University of Minnesota and got a PhD in writing articles on Japan.

    He's not lying when he says that a lot of the stuff he writes about resonates with--and was inspired by--lots of Japanese people. The guy is what he is supposed to be: an expert on Japan who can, among other things, clue you in to what ordinary Japanese people feel (some of them, anyway).

    At the very least, his opinions are worth listening to.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.