Happy birthday to us

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2001

A look back on the events - from Bit Valley to Biotech - that helped define our first 2 years

by The Editors

A lot has happened in Japan and within J@pan Inc since we launched two years ago ... We launched in an "Internet bubble" -- we have to admit Tokyo was an exciting place to be ... Our first issue was put together in about 10 days of hectic production with minimal staff ... Magazines like Business 2.0 (with whom we shared copy at a later date) and Red Herring were booming -- we looked with envy at one Herring cover that probably cost more than our whole year's picture budget ... As the Net bubble burst (just like the economic bubble here that preceded it), we watched the Bit Valley hype deflate too ... And as the downturn spread worldwide, we saw Herring, for example, slim from over 300 pages to 100 ... In August 2001, Japan, already mired in economic ills (or is it just hypochondria?) saw stocks reach their lowest since 1984 ... Sadly, J@pan Inc (despite our biggest issues being the same size as the post-downturn Herring!) felt the pinch and lost staff to restructuring in that same month ... In an interview for the current issue, ex-Financial Times correspondent Eamonn Fingleton asks, "Recession, what recession?" reminding us of what's obvious, yet easy to forget: This country is really, really rich ... These sentiments seem to echo our February 2001 interview with the man who coined the original term "Japan Inc.," who said, "What's the problem -- average savings of $135,000 per family? The US savings rate is negative. Private debt in the US comes to about 160 percent of GDP, the same ratio as Japan's public debt. In Japan the problem is public, not private" ... By our October 2001 issue, J@pan Inc had tightened its belt and reorganized itself ... Our point of view remains rooted in a country that outsiders still, somehow, need explained, which is exactly what we do ... We're in a country that remains exciting -- economically, politically, and culturally. Stay tuned to J@pan Inc ...

. J@pan Inc launched, and the race was on. Columnist Brad Glosserman wrote in The Japan Times: "My sense is that these folks have timed things pretty well. Just as multimedia was the buzzword a few years ago, 'venture capital' is on everybody's lips today." Indeed it was. The magazine looked to be at the right place at the right time.

. As we go to print, we are saddened to hear of the tragic September 30 death in an L.A. robbery of GOL founder Roger Boisvert (featured on our first cover).

MAY 2000
. The idea of Bit Valley -- Japan's answer to Silicon Valley -- caught the world's attention, and we were right on top of it, covering the dot-coms springing up around Shibuya. These were heady days -- the above issue was one of our thickest ever -- and it looked like Japan's ventures were going to "oust the rotting carcass of the old Japan Inc.," as we were quoted in the Asian Wall Street Journal. The end effect of Bit Valley? It "put venture on the map in Japan."

JUNE 2000
. Our cover said it all, and within 12 months the world was for the most part agreeing with us. Wrote Mark Thompson in The Japan Times a few months later: "For original coverage of the deals and the developers you can do no better than the magazine/Web site J@pan Inc." At this point, though, hardly anyone was covering Japan's wireless scene. It would be a while before the world caught up -- and before the bigger media players started to cherry-pick our articles.

. Yes, we too were guilty of thinking there was a New Economy. Later, writer Veryan Allen put things right in our May 2001 issue: "There is no e-business; there's just business." The December 2000 issue saw the launch of the JDEX stock index, which has proven to be a telling indicator of how key technology companies are performing in comparison to the rest of the market (which -- oops! -- hit a 17-year low this September). JDEX includes DoCoMo, 7-Eleven, Fujitsu, Monex, and Cybird, all of which have helped drag the JDEX down.

. We lifted our gaze from Japan's navel and tapped into the growing Europe-Japan connection. The list of savvy Swedish, British, and German companies focusing on Japan -- and its roaring wireless industry -- was increasing almost daily, upsetting received opinion that says the US should be Europe's first foreign stop.

. Net consultants in Japan arrived for the party, but we wondered if they weren't a tad early. The industry saw a shakeout, especially among foreign firms. Forget the Web: Clients were still dealing with risutora and layoffs.

JUNE 2001
. Takeshi Natsuno graced our cover as we tracked i-mode's tough-to-beat strategy for Japan -- and the world. But in September, DoCoMo said i-mode launch in Europe would be delayed, and in October 2001 we investigated i-mode's missing mojo.

. J@pan Inc was being read in 35 countries -- so we also looked at the Japan-Korea link (December 2000 and October 2001), as well as the stream of international talent coming to Japan (August 2000). Not to ignore Japan outside of Tokyo, our correspondents covered Kyoto, Osaka, the Kansai region, Hokkaido, Okinawa, and more.

JULY 2001
. Shuji Nakamura stared down the Japanese system, explaining what an awful place the country is for innovators (he invented the blue laser). J@pan Inc's credibility had reached a point where we didn't even blink when the host of a Fuji TV program used this issue as a prop to discuss the Nakamura story, which hit the Japanese press like a tsunami about a month later. By then, the likes of Newsweek, Wired, the BBC, Stern, The Financial Times, Upside, and eMarketer were citing us -- quite a change from our early issues, when our name was unknown and confused with the phrase "Japan Inc."

. Most foreign investors haven't heard about it, but within the debris of the burst tech bubble, a small, separate bio universe is enjoying expansion. Issue 24 saw us covering the biotech micro-boom, concentrating on the smaller startups amid the big players.

. Our redesigned Investor Insight section got in-depth and up-close to Japan's financial pulse. Forget dot-coms -- many recent IPOs came from the restaurant industry.

. Unlike humans, we were issue 1 at birth, so Issue 25 -- this one! -- is our 2nd anniversary. Phew!

The Issues and The Issues

From the December 1999 cover story ("Tokyo E-Preneurs on the Rise") to our "Hot Startups" spotlight (September 2000) and an interview in October 2001, we tracked Cybird and president Kazutomo Hori's transformation from neophyte to savvy wireless pro. There is room for cautious success in high tech.

A lot can happen in two years: Mae Towada shared December 2000 cover billing with Cybird's Hori, and was also in our April 2000 feature on Japan's female Netpreneurs. Still CEO of women-centric Web site, eSampo.com, she's now mom to 18-month-old daughter Alissa, and she reports that both her "projects" are growing.

Japan's konbini are really, well, convenient. Over the past two years, our coverage ranged from in-store e-commerce (March 2000) to the stores' cultural impact on the art of Masato Nakamura (July 2000).

For a country with a reputation that doesn't include innovation, our coverage of cool wireless ideas (November 2000) and converged appliances (below, May 2001) turned conventional wisdom on its head.

In January 2001, we did a feature on culture clashes at work. In some ways, that potential culture clash is part of what J@pan Inc is there to prevent. And, in addition to diverse overseas perspectives, we also featured Japanese Netpreneurs who had left for New York, like Yoshihisa Taniguchi (March 2001).

While we focus on new technology and investing, we have also looked at how these affect other areas -- like control of the media (April 2001). The value of J@pan Inc's independence became even clearer.

There's a cliche that Japan's businessmen are all cut from the same cloth, but our October 2000 coverage of the likes of Mobile Internet Capital president Ikuo Nishioka ("I want to spend more time with my wife") and Takatoshi Matsumoto (August 2001), who is teaching at Keio and nurturing student startups, revealed the opposite.

Our online newsletters -- Wireless Watch, Gadget Watch, and JIN -- keep continually increasing subscribers informed beyond the deadlines of the print magazine.

Japan is famous for robots, and we looked beyond the big companies to the "pure" research in Kyoto's ATR labs (September 2001) where cutting edge hasn't made it into business -- yet.

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