Site: Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.
Electronic Media Bureau (EMB)
1, Kanda Izumi-Cho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0024, Japan

Date Visited: 25 March 1998

WTEC Attendess: M. Shamos (report author), T. Ager, B. Croft



Toppan is one of the largest printing companies in the world with 1997revenue exceeding $10 billion. Founded in 1900, it regards the year 2000 as oneof rebirth as the company shifts its emphasis from traditional paper printingto digitized multimedia. The Toppan philosophy is that it is not in thebusiness of creating printed matter but of disseminating information throughall available technologies, including print and image manipulation. Toppanplans for 20% of its revenue to be derived from multimedia by the year 2000, asopposed to 7% in 1998.

Toppan has a long history in digitized typesetting, including integration oftext, graphics and photographs in an in-house prepress system developed overmany years. To this technology it has added database, search and retrieval,data conversion and communications capability permitting it to add sound,animation and map data on demand. It sees its new markets as the Internet,database systems, systems integration, mediamixing and broadcasting. Toppantakes an expansive and advanced view of electronic publishing, the object ofwhich, it believes, is not to make books digital but to do what books cannot,that is, create an immersive visual experience.


Dr. Kukimoto presented an overview of Toppan's Multimedia Division. Becauseof the Japanese writing system, printing and graphic arts in Japan presentimportant cultural issues not found in Western publications. The appearance ofa document or Web page is imbued with culture, customs and history conveyedthrough the arrangement of text and the appearance of written characters.Graphical expression must exhibit kansei, a largely untranslatableJapanese concept of "look and feel" combined with sense awareness. Toppan isextremely sensitive to kansei in its development efforts. Anotherimportant product design theme at Toppan is that the user must be able tocontrol the medium with his own hands to give a sense of involvement andempowerment.

Toppan produces a full spectrum of digital products, including CD-ROM, CD-I,HDTV and DVD. It also produces television programs and maintains a completedigital editing studio.

Mr. Sakai explained Toppan's move from traditional printing to multimedia.Because of its expertise in high-quality print technology, including desktoppublishing on 2,000 dpi monitors and design and advanced color managementsoftware, the company is well-poised to make the transition. Approximately 99%of Toppan's business is in Japanese and English, so the company is notexploring technology for other languages. Toppan believes that SGML will notbecome popular in Japan because of its complexity, but that XML may become astandard.


Mr. Oguro explained Toppan's entry into Internet services. As a graphicdesign and printing company, creation of customized Web pages is a naturalextension of Toppan's business. Toppan entered the Internet domain by providingonline service during the 1994 World Cup in Los Angeles. It then opened thefirst Internet shopping mall in Japan, which has 70 virtual stores and receives100,000 visitors per day. Through its subsidiary, Cyber Publishing Japan,Toppan's goal in this arena is to create new media to bring its customers'messages to the public. It provides 3D chat rooms in which conversants arerepresented by avatars that move about in a virtual world. Of the 300-400people in Toppan's Multimedia Division, about 10% are devoted to theInternet.


Mr. Takeda demonstrated Toppan's MAPION digital map service, a jointdevelopment with NTT and the largest Internet map service in Japan, with over200,000 visitors per day. Almost half the residential territory of Japan isavailable through the system. Customers can advertise by having their logosappear on the maps in the appropriate location. For example, a bank might haveits logo appear at each branch location. Maps with resolution down to 1 pixelper meter are provided. The Toppan map database can be used to produce papermaps or digital maps available through a variety of delivery services, all ofwhich can be customized to individual needs.

A related offering is PHS, a personal positional location service. Throughthe use of low-power cell phones, the location of a particular telephone can befixed to within approximately one block. A child can be provided with afunctioning telephone that looks like a toy. If a parent wants to find thechild's location, he can call the child and see where the child is on a map onthe parent's home computer. Toppan's future plans include adding vertical,underground and multistory building data to the database.


Mr. Tarumi discussed Toppan's entry into packaged multimedia, includingCD-ROM and DVD products. In an area replete with technical standards that mustbe followed, Toppan's advantage comes from improving product quality within theconfines of the standards. For example, a troubling aspect of MPEG encoding isthat viewed motion pictures suffer from "jitter," in which the image jumps inposition slightly from frame to frame. Toppan demonstrated a system to removejitter from MPEG-encoded video. It also has techniques for improving theshading and tone of JPEG images to make them more realistic.


Mr. Nishioka presented Toppan's Virtual Reality Gallery, which consists of aportion of a spherical screen in an auditorium giving a visual rangeside-to-side of 150 degrees, so the viewer is enveloped by the image beingdisplayed by a digital projection system of resolution 3,500 x 1,000 lines.Toppan demonstrated a virtual reality tour through the Sistine Chapel that wascreated by taking still photographs from 50 different vantage points throughoutthe Chapel, digitizing them and using them to create a three-dimensionaldigital model. The viewer is able to move around within the Chapel by means ofa hand-held game controller. It is possible to move in any direction and lookat any angle, zooming in on any object in the room, including such ordinaryitems as the inside of a door jamb. The effect is electrifying-every member ofthe WTEC group was stunned by the demonstration. Each of the panel members whohad visited the real Sistine Chapel found the Toppan Gallery visit to be morerewarding. It is possible to zoom up to the ceiling and lie on one's back,looking upward at God and Adam as Michelangelo did while he was painting. Thestriking commercial and educational opportunities presented by this technologywere immediately apparent. Toppan estimates that it costs approximately$500,000 to create a virtual reality (VR) model of the scope of the SistineChapel and plans to do one each year for the foreseeable future. It isdifficult to overstate how impressed the panel was with Toppan's virtualreality gallery. Its effect on the viewer is immediate and profound.

The VR gallery is Toppan's entry into digital museums. It is working on VRauthoring tools and has plans for installations in more than 150 museums.Toppan managers believe that 3D VR will be the interface of choice forcyberspace.

Unlike many other companies visited on this trip, Toppan maintains closeties with universities, including Keio, Tokyo, Yamagato, the MIT Media Lab andOxford University.

Published: February 1999; WTECHyper-Librarian