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Asia and Pacific Region Forum

Bill: Could you give as an introduction to Japan?
We know nothing.

 11:40 pm on Nov 20, 2000 (gmt 0)

At this time, you may be the only WmW member to actually live in Japan. We've had some really good info on China and Woz says he has more underway.

Could you write us an overview? All I know is that Japan has Asia's biggest online population, bigger than both Germany and the UK. What is the language situation? (Chinese are said to write in English to each other because of keyboard problems.) Are there search engines? And what role do they play? Anything you can lay your hands upon would be interesting. I feel like the first Jesuit padre, minutes before he set foot on your islands and became the first person from the West to visit Japan. (I.e. a total ignoramus.)



 3:49 am on Nov 21, 2000 (gmt 0)

I second that!


 10:30 am on Nov 21, 2000 (gmt 0)

I'll give it a shot. However, like rencke, please give me some targeted topics you want info on. I'll try to dig up what I can. I can't promise one all encompassing post, but I'll try to cover the basics over time.

bill's really short Japan overview:
-Population: 126,549,976 (July 2000 est.)
-Currently ranks second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and third largest economy in the world after the US and China.
-GDP: - $2.95 trillion (1999 est.)
-GDP: - per capita: - $23,400 (1999 est.)
-World's 2nd largest online population (couldn't find figures)

> What is the language situation?
Despite what you may have heard, English is not a second language here. Compared to any other Asian country I have visited I'd have to say the level of English penetration in Japan is probably the lowest I've seen. The Japanese also continually round out the bottom of testing scores for English proficiency among Asian countries. So, the bottom line is that your average Japanese net surfer is looking for Japanese language content.

There are a large number of dialects spoken throughout Japan. Some dialects are virtually incomprehensible to the speakers of other dialects, requiring the use of the standard (or 'common') dialect for communication. Due to the spread of the common dialect through television and radio, most people outside the Tokyo region speak the common dialect as well as the dialect of their area.

The Japanese writing system is very complicated. It consists of three different character sets: Kanji (several thousands of Chinese characters) and Hiragana and Katakana (two syllable based 'alphabets' of 46 characters each; together called Kana). Japanese texts can be written in two ways: In the same way as Western texts are written in, i.e. horizontally from top to bottom, or in the traditional Japanese way, vertically from right to left.

Keyboards on PCs in Japan look almost identical to those in the West. They have the standard QWERTY layout with English letters as well as some Japanese glyphs. Inputting Japanese is done through the use of software, like Microsoft's [url=www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/features/ime.asp]Global IME[/url], that allows the user to input the sound of the word they want, and then the ability to choose the appropriate character from a dropdown list. (Can be time consuming)

> Are there search engines? And what role do they play?
There are quite a few Japanese search engines and directories. Many of them are Japanized versions of the engines that you all know like Excite, Lycos, and Infoseek (yes, it's still Infoseek here). There are several home-grown alternatives as well. I'm in the process of making a more comprehensive list of the engines and directories now, so you'll have to wait a bit for that info.

I'll try to add to this from time to time. I hope that gives you at least a small toe-hold. ;)


 10:40 am on Nov 21, 2000 (gmt 0)

As well as the list of SEs and directories, could you also tell us if any subjects are a no-go area? Sexual, moral, political... which (if any) are frowned upon?

Cheers for all the info, much appreciated.


 12:51 pm on Nov 21, 2000 (gmt 0)

Thanks Bill. Great stuff, just what we all need. Btw the online pop is 27,1 million, world's second biggest after the US as you correctly point out. Keep it coming, we'll soak it up.


 7:11 am on Nov 23, 2000 (gmt 0)

Some Japanese e-commerce stats:

Payment methods provided by Japanese e-commerce sites

In the future

Pay at local convenience store
Credit Card
Payment by ISP
Postal account transfer (before receipt)
Payment Agency
Bank transfer (before receipt)
Bank transfer (after receipt)
Postal account transfer (after receipt)
1Postal Savings Accounts are very popular in Japan. Many people have more confidence in postal accounts than banks. This is probably due to the high rate of bank failures and bankruptcies of late.
2Convenience stores are incredibly prolific in Japan. In some areas it would be hard to throw a rock and not hit one ;)
3data from June 2000

Payment methods desired by Japanese online consumers


No answer
Electronic money
Bank transfer (before receipt)
Payment agency
Pay at local convenience store
Bank transfer (after receipt)
Credit card
1data from June 2000


 11:51 am on Nov 23, 2000 (gmt 0)

Good info Bill. Thanks for the heads up.


 12:04 pm on Nov 23, 2000 (gmt 0)

Those are really interesting figures. A huge and growing gap between methods desired by consumers and methods actually provided. I didn't understand the thing about the convenience stores fully. Is that where goods would actually be delivered also?


 1:05 pm on Nov 23, 2000 (gmt 0)

> convenience stores

The convenience stores are already becoming places where you can go to pay your bills for phone, some utilities and other things. The infrastructure is already in place for these convenience stores to accept payments for other things, so the net stuff is a natural extension. Depending on the goods purchased, some of them are being picked up at these convenience stores.

For example, I got some concert tickets over the summer via my i-mode phone (thru the internet) and picked them up at a 7-11 convenience store. I just entered my confirmation number into the Internet kiosk and my tickets were printed out. I then proceed to the register and pay.

I can do similar things with several videos, DVDs, CDs, game software, even Windows 98 was first marketed here through convenience stores. They are more prolific than McDonalds, and you don't have to go far to find one.

Forgot to add -->

Right now certain convenience store chains only work with certain sites on the net. There is no "universal" standard. Therefore you can't just go into any store and get the same services.


 5:43 am on Nov 29, 2000 (gmt 0)

More stats...
Amount Japanese Online Shoppers Spent Last Year (1999)

> 100,000 (15.6%)
50,000 to 100,000 (12.3%)
30,000 to 50,000 (14.3%)
10,000 to 30,000 (26.5%)
5,000 to 10,000 (13.2%)
3,000 to 5,000 (6.4%)
< 3,000 (6.8%)
Have not purchased in the past year (3.9%)
1data from June 2000

No. of Sites Japanese E-consumers Shopped at Last Year (1999)

> 16 (0.1%)
11 to 15 (0.6%)
6 to 10 (6.0%)
5 (5.1%)
4 (5.3%)
3 (12.7%)
2 (22.3%)
1 (39.2%)
Unknown (8.5%)
1data from June 2000

Times Japanese E-shoppers Bought Online Last Year (1999)

> 16 times (2.8%)
11 to 15 times (2.9%)
6 to 10 times (14.6%)
5 times (10.1%)
4 times (8.1%)
3 times (15.8%)
2 times (19.4%)
1 time (20.4%)
0 (4.1%)
Unknown (1.8%)
1data from June 2000


 9:21 pm on Nov 30, 2000 (gmt 0)

>Infoseek (yes, it's still Infoseek here).

Rakuten to acquire Infoseek Japan
$81 mln deal is biggest buyout of Japan Net service firm

Article here [cbs.marketwatch.com]


 11:37 pm on Nov 30, 2000 (gmt 0)

Rakuten to acquire Infoseek Japan

Good catch NFFC. Rakuten, Inc. is the leading shopping portal in Japan. They offer services like auctions, flea markets, and the like. They started out as an online shopping mall site. In their quest to overtake their rival Yahoo, Rakuten could really benefit from the integration of the Infoseek search engine.


 7:25 am on Dec 1, 2000 (gmt 0)

could you also tell us if any subjects are a no-go area? Sexual, moral, political... which (if any) are frowned upon?

The Japanese are really tough to offend when it comes to sexual, moral or political issues in general. There are very few activist types here, and outspoken individuals are still rare. So, as far as subjects such as those you mentioned go I'd have to say that you're pretty safe discussing them. (However, beware of Japanese pornography laws for adult sites displaying images...I'm not going into that)

There are some rather odd business taboos you might find interesting. I've been here so long that I tend not to notice many of them anymore, but I was just reminded of one today that could save your butt when writing copy intended for the Japanese customer. Don't compare your company to other companies directly when making a sales pitch, giving a presentation, making a catalog, or a web site. I couldn't explain exactly why this is, but companies here never say things like, "We're better than this company". For example, I think it was GM that came over here and tried an ad campaign saying how much better their cars were than Toyota's. People were really offended by this. Instead, I find myself having to compare my company's products to "Company X", or referring to "other leading brands" without stating the competitor's name or brand directly.

That's all I can think of for now, but if any more pop up I'll try to post them here.


 7:40 pm on Dec 21, 2000 (gmt 0)

I was asked to find the biggest and most important search engine in Japan.

I found this list:

Is this still accurate? If so, which one of these gets the most traffic? Does anyone have stats on the top 3 Japanese search engines?



 12:06 am on Dec 22, 2000 (gmt 0)

Another question...how popular is WAP in Japan? Any WAP engines there as well?


 3:44 am on Dec 22, 2000 (gmt 0)


That link you found is rather old and not up to date.

Goo is probably Japan's largest search engine. It still supplies Yahoo Japan's web page results and it is a major search engine in it's own right.

Most of the major English search engines, except AltaVista, are well established with Japanese versions.

Although I do not have any official stats, the results below are based on the last six months of visitor traffic to my website from Japanese SE's

www.yahoo.co.jp - 39.2%
www.excite.co.jp - 15.6%
search.msn.co.jp - 15.1%
www.goo.ne.jp - 14.4%
www.lycos.co.jp - 9.6%
www.infoseek.co.jp - 3.2%

I actually receive more visitors from Japan than the US, despite the fact that I have many top ten and number one ranking pages in all the major English SE's.

Please note that 99.7% of Japanese visitors to my site search in their own language. This indicates that it is vitally important to have your English pages professionally translated into Japanese.

Are your Japanese SE stats similar to mine?
I come from the land DownUnder with a com.au domain.


 5:36 pm on Dec 22, 2000 (gmt 0)

Thanks Gorufu, really appreciate it!!!! That's exactly the info. that I needed! Happy Holidays!


 8:35 pm on Dec 24, 2000 (gmt 0)

apologies for the delay on answering this. I'm on vacation in Hawaii thru next month and don't have all my data with me. I agree with Gorufu that those stats are REALLY out of date. I think Google might be an up and coming force for Japanese searches... I promise to report more when I get back to Japan. I'll have to put up my own page. ;)

Another question...how popular is WAP in Japan? Any WAP engines there as well?

i-Mode rules Japan. WAP has a small foothold. I'll get you stats next month. There are some small search engines for WAP. The best one is run by FAST.

Gotta get back to the beach. :)


 9:00 pm on Dec 24, 2000 (gmt 0)

Oh you poor suffering you! If - in the unlikely event that - there is a cloud on the sky, please post the sad news right here and I'll come back with a weather report from Sweden. That should cheer you up. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


 9:05 am on Jan 15, 2001 (gmt 0)

Here's the latest Japanese SE ranking I could find:

  1. Google
  2. Kensaku.org
  3. Goo
  4. Infoseek
  5. Fast
  6. Altavista
  7. Lycos
  8. Excite
  9. InfoNavi
  10. OCN Navi
  11. Verno
  12. Fresheye

as of January 14, 2001


 12:14 pm on Jan 15, 2001 (gmt 0)

Welcome back from Paradise, bill.

That list is sensational! Google #1 !!! First place in the world where they have reached that position and well deserved in my opinion. Are the figures reliable? Anything you can tell us about the method behind them?


 5:36 am on Jan 16, 2001 (gmt 0)

I want to go back to paradise :(

I should have clarified that previous list more. That is a ranking of Japanese SEs, but not in terms of popularity and use, but rather of their "search power", efficiency or relevance. "Search power" seems to refer to the size of the SE's database, factoring in the freshness of the listings and how relevant the returned results are. This data is from a source that has been maintained on a weekly basis since 1996 and seems reliable.

I'm going to look around for some more info on ranking in terms of general popularity. I haven't come across much recently updated info.

Here is a list ranking Japanese SE access from a client's site (site all in Japanese .co.jp domain) for 2000:

  1. [url=www.yahoo.co.jp/]Yahoo! Japan[/url] 52.3%
  2. [url=www.infoseek.co.jp]InfoSeek Japan[/url] 35%
  3. [url=www.goo.ne.jp]Goo[/url] 5.96%
  4. [url=www.excite.co.jp]Excite Japan[/url] 2.90%
  5. [url=search.jp.msn.com]MSN Search[/url] 2.33%
  6. [url=www.google.com]Google[/url] 0.72%
  7. [url=navi.ocn.ne.jp]OCN Navi[/url] 0.25%
  8. [url=www.lycos.co.jp]Lycos Japan[/url] 0.12%
  9. [url=infonavi.infoweb.ne.jp]InfoNavigator[/url] 0.09%
  10. [url=netplaza.biglobe.ne.jp]NetPlaza[/url] 0.09%
  11. [url=www.hole-in-one.com]Hole-in-One[/url] 0.05% Purchased by [url=www.excite.co.jp]Excite[/url] May 12, 2000
  12. [url=www.fresheye.com]Fresh Eye[/url] 0.04%
  13. [url=www.inetg.com]iNET Guide[/url] 0.01%
  14. [url=www.dragon.co.jp]DragonNext[/url] 0.01%

Google is really growing here, but it's still not number 1 in terms of traffic. It is rated (by some) as the most comprehensive and relevant Japanese SE though. We may see a groundswell for Google this year. Sorry for the confusion.


 1:43 am on Mar 26, 2001 (gmt 0)

How many Internet users in aggregate were there in Japan in 2000? According to IDC, if you include all the mobile users, there were about 66.3 million of them. 36.1% were home users and 35.3% mobile users. The company says that by 2005 there will be 230 million users in Japan, meaning that many of them will be using multiple devices, including PCs, cell phones, and cellular dog collars...
(Source: IDC, Mar 22, 2001)

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