April 1992

Gio Wiederhold, Stanford University (Panel Chair)

David Beech, Oracle Corporation

Charles Bourne, DIALOG Information Services

Nick Farmer, Chemical Abstracts Service

Sushil Jajodia, George Mason University

David Kahaner, Office of Naval Research

Toshi Minoura, Oregon State University

Diane Smith, Xerox Advance Information Technology

John Miles Smith, Digital Equipment Corporation


This report presents the findings of a group of database experts, sponsored by JTEC, based on an intensive study trip to Japan during March 1991. Academic, industrial, and governmental sites were visited. The primary findings are that Japan is inadequately supporting its academic research establishment, that industry is making progress in key areas, and that both academic and industrial researchers are well aware of current domestic and foreign technology. Information sharing between industry and academia is effectively supported by governmental sponsorship of joint planning and review activities, and enhances technology transfer. In two key areas, multimedia and object-oriented databases, export of Japanese database products, typically integrated into larger systems, is on the horizon.

Database research in industry relies heavily on publications from the U.S. and Europe for conceptual input. The researchers are well-read and often well connected with foreign academic sources; thus they provide an important path for technology transfer.

Role of the Japanese Government

The Japanese government, overall, seems to have less influence on research directions than is perceived by outsiders, although it does appear that the Japanese government has done more than most governments to further database use and technology. Academic researchers have considerable flexibility in choosing the directions for government-sponsored research. The level of government funding for industrial laboratories is relatively low, and does not influence market-driven priorities. However, these projects do require regular meetings of academic, government, and industrial researchers, increasing mutual awareness, understanding, and enhancing technology transfer.

Driving Force: The Japanese Electronics Industry

An important driving mechanism in database development is the Japanese capability in the area of developing electronic products. High-quality image acquisition, transmission, storage, display, and digitized voice data are emphasized. The panel concluded that purchasers of systems with multimedia requirements will, with Japanese image-processing hardware, acquire Japanese database software. This field is likely to grow rapidly. Computer-assisted design (CAD), computer-assisted engineering (CAE), and other application areas that are critically dependent on graphics will be the initial applications of this technology.


Japanese hardware for computer systems is roughly equivalent to U.S. systems, except again in the areas of multimedia support and optical mass storage, where the Japanese have a substantial advantage. Parallel architecture and database accelerator schemes are of active interest in Japan.

Hardware support for database systems is provided equally well by Japanese and foreign companies. Sony is an important supplier of workstations, but U.S. companies such as SUN Microsystems are also well represented. Japanese mainframe-based database systems are similar to their U.S. counterparts, but this market shows less growth and is less fluid.

Relevant research on topics such as database accelerators is being pursued. This work can be seen as a specialization of research into parallel computation, which is pursued by computer researchers everywhere with equal intensity. The payoff is likely to come as demands on database computation increase.

The Database Industry in Japan

The JTEC study also surveyed the industry that maintains databases and sells information retrieved from these databases. In this area, Japanese databases provide useful service internally, but are not in a position to export their services. There is substantial use in Japan of Western databases, both via U.S. and European vendors and via Japanese resellers. Some internal developments are oriented towards providing image data as well. Providing such services on an international scale awaits high capacity communication lines and acceptance standards. In this area the relative situation seems stable.

While Japan is not viewed today as a world-level player in the database area, the infrastructure is in place for Japan to make important contributions in areas where there is high growth potential and linkage with consumer hardware.

Qualitative Comparisons Between the U.S. and Japan

The panel has prepared a qualitative comparison of the present status and trends in database systems research in the U.S. and Japan. The subject matter covered by the panel was divided into seven subtopics: mainframes, hardware-PC, workstation-servers, storage, database content, database management systems, and new database technologies. (See Figs. 6-12).

[figure 6]
Figure 6. Mainframes

[figure 7]
Figure 7. Hardware - PC

[figure 8]
Figure 8. Workstations - Servers

[figure 9]
Figure 9. Storage

[figure 10]
Figure 10. Database Content

[figure 11]
Figure 11. DBMSs

[figure 12]
Figure 12. New DB Technologies

Published: March 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian