Joi's Diary

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2000

by Joichi Ito

Joichi Ito is the founder and CEO of Neoteny (, an IT investment and operating company. He has created numerous Internet companies, including PSINet Japan, Digital Garage, and Infoseek Japan. In 2000, he was ranked among the "50 Stars of Asia" by Business Week and commemorated by the MPT for supporting the advancement of IT.

GAVE MY THOUGHTS ANOUT NTT'S interconnect fees to Wendy Cutler, assistant to the US Trade Representative who was in town negotiating the fees for telcos trying to reach Japan.

I hadn't thought much about it when I met her, but, in hindsight, I think my opinion is that voice is going to be part of the Internet and will eventually become free. Internet connection is deregulated in Japan and the more important issues are the technical and regulatory ones around local loop and right of way. I think that deregulation of the wireless spectrum and the ability to lay new fiber and coaxial cable is much more important. People still seem to think that the Net is something that happens on top of voice. It's the other way around.

• Was on a panel at an Israeli venture business forum and was impressed with the presentations. Israel has leveraged technical assets developed in its military and has been very successful launching global businesses. The entrepreneurs seem to be much more innovative and driven than many of the entrepreneurs I meet in Japan. I hope that I start seeing more of the globally focused and high-quality deals in Japan that seem to be quite common in Israel.

• Went to the police station in Chiba to confirm that the person in the OVIS photo was me. OVIS is the Japanese nationwide network of speed-trap cameras that take photos of speeders and allow police to issue tickets based on them. This one caught me on the way back from the airport going 144 km in a 100-km zone.

Oops. My radar detector didn't go off.

I found out later that the new one that caught me had induction sensors in the road and did not use radar to detect the speed. The friendly policeman asked me to identify myself as the person in the photo and explained the exact position of the camera and told me to be careful next time when traveling past it.

On the topic of police cameras, there is another, more sneaky camera system which many drivers mistake for OVIS cameras. These are the N-System cameras. They are not tracking your speed, but photographing all the plates that pass by and sending this information to a database that matches them against cars that have APBs out on them. In this way, the police know where everyone's car is being driven. This system was instrumental in catching many of the Aum Cult members. It has recently come under quite a bit of scrutiny, however, because it was deployed without Diet approval.

Anyway, I think Japan and the UK probably have the most police cameras in your face, although the US is close and the police don't have to install all of the cameras since companies have so many installed anyway. This is all going to get very scary once face recognition software is widely deployed. Maybe I'll start a ski mask company

• Met with Kazuo Asada, the president of NTT West. I explained that the NTT subsidiaries were all very confusing to me. They compete aggressively with each other, yet have a central HR function. I can't tell whether they are well organized or not. In any event, they are still the key to the success or failure of the IT revolution in Japan, and I urged Mr. Asada to work with startups in trying to create a community of companies to get things going here.

• John Markoff, a good friend and my favorite technology journalist (from The New York Times) came to Japan for the first time and I took him and Calvin Sims (the Tokyo correspondent) out to eat Japanese cured beef tongue.

Markoff was the first to write about me in a major newspaper, and was also the person who gave me a disk that had the first PPP Internet access utility that I ever used. I like Markoff because, even though he is a journalist, he is above all things a geek. He also loves network games, although I always kill him when we play.

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