JIN-248 -- We're going to the Dogs

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 248
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

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>> Viewpoint:
-- We're going to the Dogs

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Location: Japan Inc. offices, Tokyo
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Refreshments: Lunch (bento) served, w/light refreshments
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>> Viewpoint: We're going to the Dogs

The Japanese have added a whole (and frequently hairy) new breed to
the mobile text-messaging masses: Dogs.

Starting this December, Japanese mobile phone users will be able to
perform their very own Dr. Doolittle tricks by receiving text messages
鍍ranslating・the barking of any dog in the immediate vicinity into
human speech.

Held 40 centimeters from the creature痴 jaws, a sensor built into the
phone handset will pick up the woofing or growling noises, and a
釘ow-Lingual・chip priced at about 4,200 yen will do the necessary bark
analysis ・ unlocking the mysteries of canine communication that have
puzzled befuddled masters for centuries.

Within a couple of seconds a text message will arrive from the dog
providing a short description of what the hound in question is trying
to say, accompanied by an icon giving some general sense of the
mutt痴 mood.

Great secrets are revealed this way: One痴 faithful friend may look
content and lively, but a message such as 鄭m frustrated, dude ・
I can稚 get my point across!・offers an altogether different take on

The new text-message service will be offered to the Japanese market by
the British company Vodafone, but bark-translation has been a national
obsession since late last year, when the first 釘ow-Lingual・machines
hit the Japanese market. Coinciding with a sudden boom in Japanese
pet ownership, more than 300,000 units have been sold post-launch,
and Takara, the toy company that first hit on the idea, is planning
to extend the service to cats -- with its forthcoming (you guessed
it!) "Meow-Lingual" device.

The current version of Bow-Lingual costs around 11,000 yen, and requires
its users to attach a bulky plastic sensor and bark-transmitter to the
dog痴 collar. The sounds are then picked up by a walkie-talkie styled
handset, and the analysis is delivered on a small screen. Once the user
has entered a few basic details of the dog ・ breed, age and gender ・
the translation begins.

Not surprisingly, the concept of bark-translation has encountered a
healthy onslaught of skepticism ・ reactions strengthened by the
fact that a human shouting the word 努oof!・into the microphone
will also receive a translation such as 添ou wanna play? I知 ready!・

[Woof! ...-- the Eds.]

But these attacks are strongly countered by Takara, who points to
the very considerable time and expertise that has been poured into
the science of bark, and now meow, translation.

The brains behind the project belong to Dr Matsumi Suzuki, the
president of the Japan Acoustic Laboratory who spent years collecting
the barks and various guttural emissions of 80 different breeds
of dog. He was then joined by Dr Norio Kogune, whose eponymous Kogune
Clinic represents the cutting edge of Japanese animal behavioral

Between the two of them, they have loaded the Bow-Lingual machine
with a vast database of cross-referenced barks, in addition to thorough
observations and interpretations of their apparent meanings.

Feeling both intrigued and bemused, we attached the device to the collar
of Charlie, a talkative one-year-old miniature schnauzer who is a
blissfully urbane resident of central Tokyo.

But Charlie's owner, the president of a trading company, Philippe Bouquin,
had severe doubts from the start.

的 have a number of friends who have bought this device for their dogs,"
he (the owner) told us. "I知 really not sure it works that well. For
example, there was one terrier that, no matter what sort of bark it made,
kept producing the translation 'I love you'.・

Charlie痴 initial comments corresponded reasonably well with his obvious
discomfort at meeting people -- especially people like us -- for the first
time. The mood icon explained that he was 徹n Guard,・and despite his
diminutive size, Charlie was coming up with feisty barks that translated
as 鼎areful who you mess with!・and 的知 strong, are you?・

As things progressed, however, the accuracy became less clear -- or so
it seemed to us. Despite Charlie痴 evident calmness, the 徹n Guard・mood
switched to 擢rustrated・and 摘nough is enough." And: 典hat痴 not what I
want!・came up as the translations of what we thought sounded like
perfectly happy pooch profferings.

We didn't want to offend Charlie, his owner, the Bow-Lingual people or
ourselves. In the sense that they are immune to social niceties, dogs are
like infant children: they can't help but tell the truth. After all:
Maybe Charlie's hostility was sincere -- and directed squarely at the
editors of J@pan Inc magazine.

Still, it's true that 添ippee!" came up several times, as did, somewhat
tellingly: 鼎atch me if you can!" -- which pretty well sums up our primary

But perhaps most revealing was Charlie's apparent (and urbane) bliss
at being the center of attention. For despite his growing fame in the
midst of a gathering crowd, curious passersby and the two relentlessly
earnest editors of J@pan Inc, Charlie repeatedly and urgently (according
to Bow-Lingual) demanded that people everywhere: 鏑ook at Me!・

-- The Editors

**For More:

"Hot Dog: Canine translator gives Fido the gift of gab," from
J@pan Inc magazine, January 2003:

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We welcome your input.
Yves Bennaim on 3499-2175-1322 or at http://www.japan.com/contact/
SUBSCRIBERS: 9,567 as of October 22, 2003

Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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