JIN-351 -- English Web Design: A Niche for Someone to Fill

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. 351
Wednesday January 11, 2006 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: English Web Design: A Niche for Someone to Fill

The world's annual forum for digital & mobile music
21-22 January 2006, Cannes, France

7 keynotes are NTT DoCoMo SVP & Managing Director
Multimedia Services Takeshi Natsuno; Warner Music Group
EVP Digital Strategy & Business Development Alex
Zubillaga; EMI Group Chairman Eric Nicoli; Ken Lombard,
President of Starbucks Entertainment; Patricia Langrand,
EVP Content Division for France Telecom, Nokia's EVP and
GM Multimedia Anssi Vanjoki and Connect Company Sony
Corporation Co-President Koichiro Tsujino.

For its 2006 edition, MidemNet forum will welcome both
the world's leading digital music experts and global
authorities on mobile music.

Register on www.midem.com before December 20 and save
350 euros on your MidemNet Forum + MIDEM registration.

Editor's note: This week's JIN is by J@pan Inc staff writer
Willhemina Wahlin.

+++ VIEWPOINT: English Web Design: A Niche for Someone to Fill

It might be that my poor Japanese language skills are to blame,
sending me on a futile trajectory into the world's most pointless
English-language banking website, but I can't help feeling a little
frustrated. I've just spent the last 15 minutes looking for some
simple information on my bank's site. What's depressing is that
the bank's Japanese-language version seems to have a lot more
going on, and I'll be buggered if I can't find my 'Babel fish',
which in "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" provides an
instant translation of any language, when I need it.

Back in Australia, I can do everything over the Net: the catch is
that personal service is often sacrificed - just ask anyone who
has spent the last five minutes trying to get through to a real live
person on the phone. In Japan, the service is usually outstanding,
but the technology often undermines it. Any visitor to Japan will
undoubtedly become frustrated with not being able to global roam
with their own phone, or perhaps become a little perplexed at the
sensational working conditions of Japanese ATMs that charge
overtime rates outside business hours. If only the majority of
Japanese workers could procure the same working conditions
as the humble ATM!

Can the world, in 2006, not find some way to bring together people
and technology so that you can navigate the simple things yourself,
while having helpful assistance readily available when the more
difficult things cross your path?

My mother has been here visiting for a little over a week, and
trying to get some yen from a credit card was a sharp learning
curve for her: bring some cash with you to this cash-obsessed
nation. Her brand new eyes on the things that I have become
slowly accustomed to are highlighting the pitfalls in Japan's
industries, including banking, retail outlets and information
technology in particular. I had all but forgotten about Australia's
'eftpos' system, which gives you the equivalent of ATM access
in any establishment, and as much as I complained about its
Big Brother implications, I sorely miss it here.

This seems ridiculously at odds with the ease with which
Japanese pay for train tickets. The Suica card system allows
passengers to walk through the gates at either end of a journey
and just wave the card across the turnstile. In fact, the whole
train system itself is so marvelous I would like to see every
country in the world have one just like it. City Rail, a publicly
operated service in Sydney, is the epitome of apathy on one
end and antipathy on the other, with its staff just as frustrated
as the commuters. One day, after a particularly vexing journey,
during which the trains scheduled stops were changed AFTER
I got on (a common occurrence), my bleating complaints to a
bunch of train drivers after alighting was met with a torrent of
their own complaints. "PLEASE write to your local member,"
they begged.

The irony, of course, is that every Sydney resident who chose
to stay in the city during the 2000 Olympics got a taste of what
an efficient train system can be: clean, safe and punctual.
Alas, as soon as the curtains came down on the closing
ceremony, Sydneysiders' fairytale romance with public
transport was gone as quickly as a baby-kissing politician after
an election: they dropped the bundle. I still chuckle when I see
determined commuters getting pushed into a Tokyo peak-hour
train by a white-gloved guard. In Australia they'd just say "Sorry,
mate, ya gotta wait for the next one...should be along in about
30 minutes."

In a vortex somewhere, a cunning person snuck off with a large
portion of the world's common sense. I suspect that the first
people they robbed were those at the head of government-run
institutions in Australia, followed closely by those responsible
for technology integration in Japan.

My mother's surprise at Japan's sometimes antiquated technology
is possibly fuelled by the perception that Japan is the home of
high-tech. But to me, the gap between the image and the reality
is the crux of the strange and intoxicating delight of Japan -
traditional values housed in modern veneer.

There have been many stories of late articulating this commonly
found conundrum of Japanese society, and the many foreign
entrepreneurs who are finding nice little cosy niches in which to
dazzle a market notoriously difficult to crack. One of those niches
is banking, and I must confess to being lured to another bank -
one that enables me to navigate all of its services in English on
the Net. It's true that I need the babying; as I stumble over the
hiragana in my son's picture books, I realize I will not be able to
read kanji for some time. My intentions are good, but unless
anyone has a Babel fish handy, it's the English-language option
for me at the moment. I can't evaluate the Japanese sites, but
if the English sites are anything to go by, they are generally not
worth the domain fees. It begs the question: if the Japanese sites
are indeed much better, why is it so hard to mirror the Japanese
site in English? Methinks there's a cosy niche there for someone
to fill it.

-- Willhemina Wahlin

Entrepreneur's Handbook Seminar 4th of Feb, 2006

If you have been considering setting up your own company,
find out what it takes to make it successful. Terrie Lloyd,
founder of over 12 start-up companies in Japan, will be giving
an English-language seminar and Q&A on starting up a company
in Japan February next year. This is an ideal opportunity to find
out what is involved, and to ask specific questions that are
not normally answered in business books. All materials are
For more details: http://japaninc.com/handbook_seminar3/

SUBSCRIBERS: 30,820 as of January 10, 2005

Written by Willhemina Wahlin; edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

(C) Copyright 2005 Japan Inc Communications KK. All Rights Reserved.