Compared to a few years ago, the Internet in Japan has evolved substantially. While anonymous message boards like 2-channel (and anonymity in general) remain the public face of the Japanese Internet, the dominance of 2-channel itself has long since faded in the wake of the rise of rival message boards, blogs and social networking sites like Mixi. Sites like Yahoo are far easier to use than in the past, shopping on Rakuten and Amazon is very common, and more generally the Internet is now an everyday fact of life for a very large percentage of Japanese people, to the extent that as early as 2006, 20% of people surveyed
claimed they use the Internet at work for personal reasons almost every day.
The mainstream media, in particular the national newspapers, have been somewhat slow to adapt to the changing times. For years after launching their websites, most did not offer full-text articles or much else in the way of content. But as Internet ad revenue surges at the expense of newspaper ads, weaker players such as Sankei have led the way, making incremental steps to provide fuller content and better user interactivity. Sankei’s IZA!, launched in 2005, is an ambitious effort linking news content, reporter blogs, and user-generated blog posts under one site.
More recently (last year and this year), just about all the national newspapers have revamped their web offerings in step with changes to their print editions. The dead-tree newspapers seem to have undergone two major changes to accommodate their base of older readers: (1) larger fonts; and (2) more background pieces.
Their websites, meanwhile, have focused on user-friendliness, locking content behind free or fee-based user registration, more interactivity, and richer online-only content. Most if not all are stopping short of the New York Times’ practice of posting all content online. Here are two of my current favorites:
- Despite its baffling name, “Allatanys,” a multi-company effort that allows users to compare national daily newspapers Asahi, Nikkei, and Yomiuri all in one site, has proven very useful. Sure, I could “compare” them myself if only the sites would offer categorized RSS feeds (Asahi does, the others appear not to). But absent that, this is an easy alternative. It is especially useful to take a look at the editorials.
- Nikkei offers a revamped “NetPlus,” a platform for what they call Net-synchronized features. Among other things, the site creates a space for both experts (like the omnipresent Heizo Takenaka) and registered users to comment on some of the Nikkei’s long-form analysis pieces and op-eds. Strangely, they decline to post any text from the original articles, so you are expected to go out and buy the actual newspaper before logging on to post your thoughts.
BTW, for English-language bloggers who are interested in the Japanese web, I recommend the “Asiajin” blog. I have been following their RSS feed for a few weeks now. The site offers an informed look at developments in Japanese web as they happen. Their recent review of the top-used Japanese web services was particularly helpful (I hadn’t really heard of some of them myself).