Toshiaki Kanda

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2001

This wannabe journalist calls himself the world's smallest TV station -- he could be on to something.

by Chiaki Kitada and Kyoko Fujimoto

Toshiaki Kanda
Photograph: Andrew Pothecary
Meet Toshiaki Kanda, journalist wannabe. He runs around the world with his handy videocamera looking for stories. In a bright red shirt and cowboy hat, he skips ahead of the press line at Comdex, marches straight up to Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, and, in his broken English, requests an interview. Granted. (Really.) His reports pop up in all sorts of places: major papers, mainstream news programs, email newsletters, you name it.

What he should be doing is running a liquor shop in Kobe. That's what a dutiful Japanese son would have done -- take over the family business. But a three-month stay in America during his college years opened his eyes to a free, independent lifestyle, and now he's gone deep into content providing. What started as a free one-man newspaper for the PC industry led to producing CD-ROMs for a graphics company and now this: being a one-man TV station, Kanda News Network (if nothing else, he picked a valuable domain in -- several "real" news orgs have approached him for it).

What prompted him to leave the graphics company and launch KNN was a tragedy: the 1995 Kobe earthquake. A sense of utter loss, similar to what Japanese experienced at the end of the war, he says, motivated him to launch his tiny broadcasting venture.

More recently, Kanda is a pioneer and cheerleader of the Web startup scene in Kansai, and one of his many (and we mean many) goals is to promote Kansai to the world. Well known in the Kansai Net scene, this pioneering spirit now considers the heavens -- well, communications satellites -- his next media frontier.

Chiaki Kitada and Kyoko Fujimoto interviewed him in Tokyo.

What brings you to Tokyo today?
I'm covering Inpaku, the government-sponsored Net Expo, which lasts for a whole year. I've opened a home page just to cover the event. Today I'm going to interview some government official who's in charge of the event -- without making an appointment. I spend a third of my time each in Tokyo, Kobe, and San Jose. I tell my family to think of me as a captain of a fishing boat, because I could be gone for three years.

What do you think of Bit Valley?
What we do in Kansai doesn't get picked up by the media. Ventures in Tokyo get picked up, even if they're doing the same thing we are, because that's where all the media is. When Bit Valley coverage took off, the media, as well as the government, was looking for bright news in a slow and sluggish economy. What's scary, though, is that they promote you to the top of the world and then drag you down ruthlessly. Many readers and viewers took it at face value. People who had claimed they were members of Bit Valley during its peak coverage turned around and said they didn't want to be a part of it.

Before KNN, you tried to set up a cable TV business. How'd that go?
When I thought of starting up a CATV business, I went to the telecommunication office in Kansai to get government permission to use the power poles. They asked me to fill out a document for each pole and get it stamped, which meant I needed to submit a thousand documents for usage of a thousand polls. I asked the official if the Osaka Online Broadcasting Company followed the procedure. He said that he didn't know, as he was not in charge of that particular case.

I have no intention to break laws, but regulations that don't suit reality need to be changed. You can't apply pre-Net regulations to the Net era. Also, you should think globally, not only about Japan -- especially about copyright issues.

What kind of services are you thinking of in broadcasting?
The broadcasting business should be opened up to newcomers; now it's limited to a certain number of content creators. The audience should be able to choose channels, not broadcasting companies. By connecting with the Internet, we could provide a tailor-made agent service for individual customers. For example, we could create a service to search through three different airline companies' home pages to choose a flight between Tokyo and Osaka. But we can't do it without cooperation from the companies. I want to facilitate the change, so that it will happen more quickly.

Do vested interests stand in your way?
I don't want to start a coup; I just want to create more convenient and enjoyable services. People who work for big companies like NTT and NHK all understand that there are needs for these kinds of services, but it will take time for top management to be taken over by the younger generation. I think it's a waste of time to wait for that to happen.

For example, we could create a delivery service whereby you place an order at a PC shop at night and on the next day receive it at your nearby train station. I bet many people are looking for that kind of service, but some rules dating back to the Meiji era prohibit it from happening.

How will Japan change?
When the Net-friendly generation grows up, Japan will change. They're being raised with the Net and have a close relationship with it. My 9-year-old daughter publishes a Net newsletter and has 500 subscribers. She's been playing with the PC since she was a baby. She loves to check out auction sites and look for cheap toys and games.

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