Japanese digital library (DL) policy is shaped by many factors, includingcultural values, issues of governmental organization and structure, economicquestions (relating both to budgets and social choices), legal concerns(centered on copyright) and technology. Japan differs from the United States inthat it has formulated and is implementing a national digital library policy.By contrast, while the United States has DL funding programs in place, theseprograms depend on organizations such as universities to seek funds throughvoluntary proposals.

The U.S. approach is a passive one in which the government makes researchfunding available and depends on organizations such as universities to comeforward with voluntary proposals. While this approach virtually guaranteeslarge number of applicants, it is unable to force DL development in a specificdirection, and does not ensure that the appropriate government departments willeven be involved.

Japan's DL policy is articulated in a document entitled Program forAdvanced Information Infrastructure (May 1994) published by the Ministryfor International Trade and Industry (MITI), referred to later as the "MITIreport." The MITI report presents the DL issue as but one part of a far largercoordinated effort to augment the country's digital infrastructure. Thisinvolves strengthening digital telecommunications to facilitate use of theInternet and large-scale development of multimedia products and techniques, aswell as focused work on electronic libraries.

Japan's DL objective is expressed in one sentence of the MITI report: "[I]nthe medium and long term each home will be able to access electronic librariesand electronic museums around the world via networks, allowing users to readilysearch and obtain worldwide information on books and art based on their ownparticular interests." The Japanese are willing to take a long-term view and,as shall be seen later in the Economic Models section, to build infrastructurewith no requirement for short-term cost justification. The Japanese DL goal isegalitarian ("each home") and international ("worldwide"), yet personalized("own particular interests"). Japan avowedly wants to create "netizens"-peoplewho inhabit the Internet, are familiar with its power and have the ability touse it effectively. The MITI report also makes it clear that Japan makes littledistinction between digital libraries and digital museums.

Government Organization

It is one thing to have a national information infrastructure policy, butquite another to possess the organization, budget and will to carry it out. InJapan, the policy laid out in the MITI report is implemented by a number ofagencies:

It is notable that copyright operations in Japan are run by the Ministry ofEducation. This means that copyright is subservient to educational needs, aprinciple that finds expression many times in the Japanese copyright laws. Forexample, no copyright owner may forbid the use of his material in a textbookapproved by Monbusho. If the owner and author are unable to agree, the matteris referred to the ACA and a fair royalty is set. Provisions such as theseplace Japan in an excellent posture to allow use of copyrighted materials indigital libraries.

The fact that Japan has a defined and funded digital information policy,combined with a governmental structure to carry it out, means that Japan is ina strong position to lead the United States in the area of digital informationorganization.


The Japanese place great emphasis on multimedia and regard it as the next"breakthrough" industry in which Japan can become a world leader. "Multimediasoftware possesses highly effective powers of expression, appealing to thehuman senses of vision and hearing through voice and video. It thereforeconstitutes a highly important form of support for contents and applications inan advanced information society." (MITI report). In furtherance of this vision,Japan has established regional multimedia centers and "inter-media factorycities" as foci for producing content to be distributed via "information parks"to be located all over Japan. The multimedia centers are charged with thefollowing:

Japan's multimedia initiative is wide-ranging and well motivated. Inparticular, the need to acclimatize the country to the power of multimedia andthe need to train professionals, from cognitive psychologists to programmersand multimedia artists, is fully recognized in Japan.

The effects of Japan's policy objectives were observed by the WTEC group.Matsushita has an entire building devoted to multimedia in which sales andmarketing people work side by side with scientists and engineers to developuseful products. Toppan Printing has an entire division devoted to multimediaproduction, which it views as the printing industry of the 21st century. NaraInstitute and the National Ethnological Museum are set up to allow users toretrieve information in a variety of media, including text display, sound andvideodisk. Some of the most impressive observations were the emphasis onmultimedia at Toppan Printing and the comprehensively digitized NationalEthnological Museum.


Databases are at the core of any digital information effort. In the early1990s, Japan perceived that it lagged behind other industrialized nations indatabase creation because of a tendency among corporations and governmentagencies not to share information. To remedy the problem, the Japanesegovernment established a "New Industry Creation Database Center" to encouragethe growth of commercial database business by providing governmentadministrative information in electronic form.

Cooperation Among Industry, Government and Universities

Japan is often said to have a business advantage over the United States inthat MITI is able to fund projects that could not take hold here if traditionalcapital sources were relied upon and also that the agency's very existenceblurs the line between government and industry and even between competitors inthe same industry. This view is correct. MITI has the ability to compeluniversities and corporations to work together, which often results in synergythat would otherwise not exist. Two such efforts were not viewed by the WTECgroup. The first is being conducted by The Tokyo Institute of Technology, whichoperates the National Center for Overseas Periodicals in Science and Technologyand has a digital library accessible over a campus-wide network. Anotherproject is the Union Catalog Experiment, a consortium of about 20 librariesthat are merging their catalogs into a single digital one that will serve theneeds of all its members.

To summarize, the effect of Japan's digital information policy is that itpositions the country to exploit emerging technology without having to wait formarket forces to produce the necessary capital. It is able to invest inemerging technologies before they are of proven profitability. The advantagesto Japan, relative to the United States are as follows:

1 Kansai, the regionsurrounding Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto, is an area given to huge projects. Theworld's longest suspension bridge is nearby, and the area is served by KansaiRegional Airport, at $6 billion one of the most expensive in the world. Anentire island was constructed in Osaka Bay out of landfill to house it.
Published: February 1999; WTECHyper-Librarian