Hiroto Kobayashi

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2000

Editor in Chief of Cyzo Magazine kobahen@infobahn.co.jp
Former editor in chief of Wired Japan

Hiroto Kobayashi used to be editor-in-chief of Wired Japan. But after the magazine was suspended in September 1998, after a four-year run, he established his own publishing company, Infobahn. He also became e-in-c of a new magazine: Cyzo is full of sensational articles and generally criticizes what's happening in Japan, including Bit Valley. Kobayashi says he's just pursuing whatever he's skeptical of -- which is what journalists should do, he reminds us. Kobayashi visited the J@pan Inc offices recently, where he had a talk with Kyoko Fujimoto. [Conversation translated from Japanese, though Kobayashi speaks English.]

What was Wired Japan like?
Wired magazine in the US started in 1993, and it came to Japan in November 1994. There was no commercial Internet service in Japan before the summer of 1994, when the first ISP, IIJ, started up. The concept of the magazine was to report how "multimedia" -- the hot word of the time -- would change our lifestyles. We also talked about technology and science, and the magazine was supposed to help foresee the future.

How did the magazine change? You wrote in one of your old HotWired columns that the magazine had shifted its direction.
When it first started, about 60 to 70 percent of the articles were translations from the US version. But we eventually started doing 100 percent of the articles ourselves. When we interviewed Steve Jobs, we were the first to get him in the magazine, and we later introduced him to Wired in the US. In order to attract Japanese readers, you can't just copy the US version. Japanese culture is different from the one in the US, and so is the Japanese market. So we started planning everything ourselves, and our readers liked it.

If many people liked it, why did it have to be suspended?
When it was about time to renew our license, Wired in the US was sold to Conde Nast. So they'll probably choose Nikkei Conde Nast as the publisher if they decide to continue Wired Japan. We would have had to pay a huge amount if we wished to buy back the publishing rights. Our publisher, DDP Digital, wasn't making enough money, and we thought we didn't need the name "Wired" anymore because we were making all the content ourselves. Some other publishing companies asked us to continue the magazine -- they offered to take the whole editorial team and also buy the rights to publish. But I didn't really feel like continuing it. I felt Wired was a bit snobbish and technical. It was sold all over Japan, but its target audience was small. My mother couldn't understand what was written in there, but the magazine claimed that the "digital revolution" would change the world. That sounded like Internet religion to me. I couldn't be a part of it.

And you established the publishing company Infobahn to put out the new magazine.
Yes. Most of the founding members are editors from Wired Japan. We published the first issue of Cyzo in May 1999, and we launched the Web magazine, UltraCyzo.com, on April 17 this year. The online edition has the extended version of the popular column CCIA (Cyzo Central Intelligence Agency). Many people who are involved in the IT field tell me it's a must-read, so we're putting a strong effort into that. We also do other magazines, and some consulting jobs for product development.

Cyzo is quite sensational. There is no "regular" news inside, and every article seems to be controversial.
One of Cyzo's missions is to report all the information out there. In Japan, access to most information is closed; we're just making it public. If that seems sensational, it means that information in Japan is too restricted. Actually, we'd like to do more intensive investigative reporting, but we are not the police, so we can only go so far. And even when we learn something that seems very suspicious, we sometimes keep it out of the magazine to protect the informant. In that case, we reveal the hidden character of the suspicious subject.

You criticized Bit Valley in an interview with Asahi Newspaper, and also in the April issue of Cyzo. What is your honest opinion of it?
When I heard about the party at Velfarre -- the symbol of the bubble in the 80s -- I thought the bubble's all back again. Starting up a business is a tough thing. I did it myself and I know. But many entrepreneurs in Bit Valley seem to be talking only about an IPO. An IPO is a goal for investors, not entrepreneurs. I believe this is not a Net startup boom so much as a venture capital boom. I wonder how many of the startups have a solid plan for after they go public.

With Silicon Valley, there were many startups, and a high-tech university like Stanford; then people started calling the place "Silicon Valley." But with Bit Valley, it was the name itself that first came to people's attention. It was just nothing but Shibuya. Why do we need the name? It may be nice to have a name for the place, but I wonder if that's a valid motivation behind starting up a business there. Many of the big companies in Japan got started without any name. A company will grow by itself if it's a good one, and you don't really need a network of similar companies. I understand that the traditional Japanese business model has problems, but we can't just copy and paste the Silicon Valley model. We have our own culture, politics, and mafia, which we can't just ignore. I think people in Bit Valley are romanticists in a bad way. They believe they can change Japan, and that this is the revolution. But I think they are dreaming too much.

But you're involved with Bit Business, published by Diamond -- I thought that that magazine was about the excitement in Bit Valley. And yet now you're saying this ...
Well, that magazine isn't all about the excitement of Bit Valley. There's some criticism as well. But Bit Business is not my magazine -- I'm just one member there [contributing editor]. I'm doing what I want in Cyzo, so I have to be prudent when I do work for other publications.

So Cyzo is yours and you are doing everything you want with it?
Almost. I can't do "everything" I want, but it may be the furthest you can go with paper magazines. If I were to do everything I want, I would have to put my personal diary on the Web.

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