# Chapter 7: Japan and the Net
Japan is a special country. It's fundamentally conservative yet it can adapt. In the nineties the telecom companies and the authorities were slow to embrace the Net. However, some misfits explored the possibilities of networks not as databases from which information could be consulted by the many (a more classical mass media relationship), but as tools for communication and collaboration.
Local politicians and activists used computer networks to mobilize citizens, for instance in order to prevent deforestation. They did this in 1985,before the Net's most explosive period of growth. People started to believe that CMC can allow citizens to help city government solve problems that involve everybody.
The first online communities in Japan offered a rich set of mutual experiences to draw participants together despite gender, class, occupational, and geographic differences. They talked and talked and talked. This was rather special in a culture were gender, class and occupational position matter a lot in daily life.
Strange things happened. Just like the members of the WELL, Japanese virtual communities organized physical encounters. The content which brought all those people together was not necessarily practical or useful. One of the first communities really began with the advent of online autobiographical reports from a high-school student named Masahuru Baba, a very skilled computer programmer. "But when he started writing online about what it was like to be a high-school boy," Fujino told me, "COARA became much more interesting. Hearing about the real life of a high-school student was more exciting than publishing a lot of dry information. People started to log on more regularly to find out what was going to happen, and to talk about it with each other. We began to realize the value of people-to-people interaction. We decided we wanted to be able to write more personally."
It seems the members appreciated the diversity of people and opinions they encountered online.
> The present state of porosity between the boundaries of different online groups on the Net might be an artifact of the early stages of the medium--fragmentation, hierarchization, rigidifying social boundaries, and single-niche colonies of people who share intolerances could become prevalent in the future.
One important concept in the thinking of early Japanese expert in CMC is "emulation". Emulation in computers is an answer to the translation problems caused by the great diversity in computer hardware. Because a computer can simulate the operations of any machine, it is possible to write a program that causes a computer from one manufacturer to behave the way a computer from a different manufacturer behaves.
"The best way for Japan and other nations of the world to deal with the information age is to co-emulate other's civilizational components that each lacks and that seem to cope with the demands of this new phase of modernization", Japanese experts wrote.
The citizens Howard met were eager to use CMC to bypass the mass media and communicate directly with their counterparts--the housewives and professionals in Santa Monica and elsewhere--to show that there is more to Japan than the picture painted by the American media.
By the time they started inviting CMC evangelists from around the world, COARA had become more than a successful experiment--it was a testbed for the idea of citizens' movements and regional governments working cooperatively to create virtual communities.
> To open the Net to its citizens might be necessary to continue to compete; that same simple act of letting people drink what they choose from the Net's great gushers will inevitably change both Japanese culture and Net culture.
Jeff Shapard and Joichi (Joi) Ito were cofounders of TWICS, yet another Japanese network.
"We were oriented more toward people and communication rather than data and information. From the beginning, we made it clear we wanted something more than just another place to talk about computers and exchange software."
In order to design their community, they started from a metaphor.
The image of Beejima was a friendly little island community in the electronic seas of Japan, close to Tokyo but accessible from anywhere, a Japanese system modeled on Japanese context, with an international and multicultural outlook.
In 1985, at nineteen, Ito found himself back in Japan to develop and distribute the Japanese version of Caucus, one of the leading computer conferencing software packages.
Joi Ito's explanation about the differences between Japan and the States:
The cultural immune system reacts at a much higher level in America. Americans stay away from dangerous things. Whereas the Japanese immune system is so well adapted to change, they can talk about hypernetworking or about cyberspace or robotics. They don't think that it's really going to bother them. When punk rock came into Japan and you could bump into a punk kid who wore a "fuck off and die" button on his shirt, that looks pretty rebellious, there was still a significant difference. You bump into him on the street, he's going to say "excuse me, I'm sorry." And that doesn't change, you see. But I have a feeling that computer networking and the global culture right now could change the Japanese system for the first time in thousands of years. A lot of people don't get it yet. So you'll see a reaction coming, a kind of allergic reaction in Japan that no one's ever seen before in Japan. I think we'll see the day that happens.
"I think the Japanese will make their own version of online communication media and the Net will grow to include it," says Ito. "I think that the product of such a fusion may be the greatest transmission of Japanese culture to the West yet. Americans have begun to use Japanese quality control techniques in their business management. Imagine what might happen when the West begins to use communication tools based on Japanese/Eastern ways of communicating."
This was written even before the widespread use of graphics. The graphical revolution indeed made us discover Japanese art forms such as manga and anime, or Japanese emoticons.