From the Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: January 2002

IN THIS ISSUE OF J@pan Inc, veteran journalist Richard Meyer* takes us into two worlds that share little on the surface, yet when readers emerge from the stories on pages 4 and 22, they'll find some parallels between Korean-run Internet cafes near Tokyo's Shinjuku district and the larger workings of NTT DoCoMo and its wireless partners. Both worlds have their share of secret meetings and informal agreements, for example, and both are developing a nation's culture through technology.
Yet while the Korean cafe owners have resorted to a price cartel to protect their interests, DoCoMo has set up a system for doing business that is far more subtle and powerful. Meyer calls it the keitairetsu, a play on the old keiretsu model of doing business in Japan and the Japanese word for cellphone: keitai.
Meyer looks at the vast tangle of relationships in Japan's wireless world, with DoCoMo at the heart of them, and finds that the industry's "contracts, standards meetings, and alliances ... fit neatly into Japan's legal structure." In other words, don't expect the DoCoMo empire to change anytime soon.
Of course, DoCoMo has its own challenges. It projected that earnings would decline 80 percent year on year in the fiscal year through March to JPY33 billion, and sales of third generation phones have gotten off to a slow start. But DoCoMo's troubles are just a blip on the screen when compared with problems rearing their heads in other sectors of Japan's battered economy.
The J@pan Inc editorial team, with the help of experts, has painted a picture of what we can expect in 2002 (see page 12). The upshot is more pain -- lots of it -- as companies continue to restructure, workers become more disaffected, and the economy shrinks. The people at the Gallup Organization, a multinational research firm, told us that only 9 percent of Japanese workers are "engaged" in their work, compared with 30 percent in the US and 17 in the UK. They also say that more Japanese workers will become "actively disengaged" in 2002 as companies slim down but workloads don't. That's something for managers to think about.
Amid this mess, the smart business people will be scanning the scorched landscape for any sign of growth. We looked into our crystal ball and found that health care, the youth market, and outsourcing are a few of the sectors that will grow this year. We also like Technobahn, an independent financial information service operating out of an apartment overlooking Tokyo Bay (see page 6). And perhaps another interesting pick would be, an information provider that sends out customized disaster and accident reports (see page 10).
With all this bleak economic news, it is tempting to take Yoshiro Nakamatsu at his word when he says, "I'm the only one who can create inventions to save Japan." Dr. NakaMats, as he is widely known, graces our cover this month as he does some brainstorming at the bottom of his pool. Featured on page 8, he's invented everything from fuel cell-powered roller skates to an early version of the floppy disk, and recently he hosted the World Genius Convention in Tokyo Station. Freelancer Tim Hornyak** was there to cover it and talk with the 73-year-old inventor extraordinaire. Among NakaMats' coming products is the Dr. NakaMats House, which will convert cosmic rays into electricity, he says.
Who's to say where the big breakthroughs will come this year? Perhaps we'll all be roller-skating to work or driving little electric cars that get recharged at home like a keitai (see our take on alternative-fuel cars on page 28). Or perhaps we'll be lining up at Japan's unemployment centers, swapping war stories and redoing our resume. Whatever the outcome, let's start the new year on a positive note: We can't know the future, but we sure as hell can try to shape it. Happy Year of the Horse. -- Bruce Rutledge

* RICHARD MEYER Meyer, a former editor in chief of Asia Financial Intelligence, makes his home in Macau. When he came to Tokyo for a visit in the fall of 2001, we offered him a desk, a phone line, and a lot of encouragement. The result is his feature on the wireless world -- "Kei(tai)retsu," page 20 -- and two other pieces in this month's issue. He managed to escape Tokyo without leaving behind any photographic evidence of his stay ...

** TIM HORNYAK Canadian freelancer Tim Hornyak is as easygoing as his subject this month, inventor Dr. NakaMats, is intense. It seems Tim has a thing for eccentric types. In the past he has written about useless gadget guru Kenji Kawakami and the Raelian religion movement in Japan.

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