Japan and Y2K Revisited
Center for Global Communications
March 17, 1999
Andrew QUINN, American Embassy
Kiyoshi WADA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Johnanne WINCHESTER, Digits Corp
Kazue KIMURA, Telebody
Matthew ROSIN, Telebody
Shumpei KUMON, GLOCOM
Takahiro MIYAO, GLOCOM
Daniel DOLAN, GLOCOM
The following information documents the fifth in a series of GLOCOM's
English language debates and discussions on topics related to Japan. The
title of the panel discussion was "Japan and Y2K Revisited." There were
two central questions discussed:
Question: How are Japan's Y2K preparations and readiness status viewed
Question: What is the perception within Japan regarding Japan's Y2K
WINCHESTER: Many of the patterns that hold in other countries
probably hold in Japan as well. I have been informed that Japan does not
tend to litigate as much as we do in American, for instance. I hope that
Japan can take the lead in diplomatic efforts too, as I believe that Y2K
will be used as a political bargaining chip in the same way that food is.
DOLAN: In the US media and more generally, is Japan discussed
as being at particular risk to Y2K?
WINCHESTER: I am not aware of such talk in the press in
the United States, but I think that given its economic status and technological
capabilities, Japan could take a leadership role.
WADA: Gartner Group has modified their global Y2K readiness
report I think that there is a gap in understanding between Japan and the
rest of the world. This is a source of difficulty in Japan. Japan has accelerated
greatly its Y2K activities, but because most news from Japan is in Japanese
it is slow to reach the wider English-speaking audience. The US therefore
has an advantage regarding publication of its Y2K activities.
WINCHESTER: I think that it would be very helpful to put
such information in pictures, because the mind remembers pictures.
Martyn WILLIAMS, Newsbytes: Japan could require full disclosure
from companies, because otherwise it leads many to believe that there is
something to hide.
KUMON: International comparison is not easy. For example,
what are the specific criteria used by Gartner Group in its global Y2K
readiness report? We simply don't know. However, Japan clearly is behind
in the most visible sense. The United States has more government leadership
in the form of documents, laws, and other activities. But on a less visible
level I have some doubts about the actual readiness of the United States,
for example in terms of embedded chips.
ROSIN: In the most recent Gartner Group report, even though
Japan has been elevated to the second level from the third it is still
on the same level as South Korea, which is not very indicative of having
in place a reliable Y2K program.
QUINN: With respect to US government perceptions of Y2K
activities in Japan, the US government has a good dialogue underway with
both the Japanese government and the private sector. We see a greater level
of engagement, a greater level of information disclosure, and the kind
of data that is coming out seems credible. This represents a big change
in posture from a year ago. Also, the kinds of concerns being voiced here
in Japan are not so different than the concerns being voiced in other developed
countries. We believe that there will not be perfect Y2K compliance anywhere.
Rather, it will be a question of how severe the problems are. Although
there are some detailed issues in Japan where more exchange of information
would be useful, there is a greater degree of confidence in Japanese Y2K
activities now among US experts in government than there was six months
ago. I think that what these experts are seeing tracks fairly closely with
efforts in the United States, perhaps more so than some press reports would
lead us to believe.
MIYAO: We often hear a sector-by-sector approach to Y2K.
However, this usually only taps information about large organizations,
which often claim that they are doing very well with Y2K. Missing is concern
with the community level, which is very important. For Y2K we need community
outreach volunteers, information centers, and crisis management plans.
Comparisons between Japan and the United States can be made more meaningfully
with attention to the community level.
Yasuhide YAMANOUCHI, GLOCOM: Both the US Congress and the
Japanese Diet face similar problems regarding what government responsibility
should be for promoting Y2K compliance.
MIYAO: There are many difficulties particular to Japan
regarding community level Y2K activities. There are more than 3000 municipalities
in Japan, and all of them are waiting for some form of guidance from the
government. At the prefectural level there is greater awareness than at
the municipality level, where there is little initiative taken on Y2K.
For this reason, it probably is better to focus efforts on community groups
rather than on municipal leaders.
WINCHESTER: The Cassandra Project in the United States
argues that the best way to prepare for Y2K is for citizens to get to know
their neighbors and to make sure that everybody in the neighborhood is
prepared. I think that it is going to very important to develop media from
around the world showing communities, militaries, governments, and all
sectors preparing for Y2K. We need to prepare as we would for natural disasters.
The media needs to take more responsibility for generating awareness of
Y2K. There also could be a game mentality so that communities could challenge
each other for readiness.
KUMON: This may sound pessimistic, but it seems to me that
many rural communities in Japan have long been losing the traditional sense
of community in which cooperation figured prominently. For example, when
I first learned of the potential impact of Y2K I talked with my brother,
who lives in my home town, about the possibility of returning to that town
to build a solar-heated house and to be a model of Y2K preparation for
other community members. He rejected my offer, however, saying that my
family would not be accepted by the other community members if it turns
out that Y2K is difficult and we are the only family in the town properly
prepared. My hope is that Y2K activities at the local level can force this
trend in deteriorating communities to reverse, but it may not be possible.
Takehiko AOYAGI, GLOCOM: There are both good and bad points
about Japan's Y2K situation. On the positive side, Japan's financial sector
still uses mainframe computers in a centralized system, so that Y2K probably
will not impact it negatively. On the negative side, there is too much
complacency about Y2K in Japan. Also, I would like to see the Japanese
government establish an information sharing non-liability law similar to
the law in the United States.
QUINN: To clarify the liability law in the United States,
it only covers shared information and not the liability of installed computers.
It also was not necessarily a response to pressure by computer vendors
as much as it was a response to a situation whereby people were afraid
to share information precisely because they were afraid of being sued for
the impact that information might have. It seems to me that in Japan Y2K
is being associated with shame and inadequate efforts, which prevents people
from trying to make constructive efforts to deal with it. Actually, we
are all in this together, so this is not just an opportunity to be embarrassed
or fail, but also to rise to the challenge and confront this crisis. My
fear is that in Japan there may not be enough candid discussion of Y2K
because people are too busy trying to hide things or to assign blame.
WADA: It is important to note when discussing Y2K activities
that countries differ in the distance between governments and industry.
For example, in South Korea the government can demand that business take
specific steps, whereas in the United States the government has no influence
on the business sector. Japan is somewhere between these two examples.
Deregulation is helping, and cooperation is increasing. Also, as Mr. Quinn
has stated, there is no perfect solution for Y2K. This is why the Japanese
government has established priorities for remediation, the basic lifeline
services. What is essential is for the government to give good and correct
Michio KATSUMATA, Nikkei Newspaper: The government controls
almost everything and has close relations with industry, so the case is
not so different from that of South Korea. But in a crisis, there is always
confusion about who will take initiative. All the ministries try not to
share information and there is constant competition among them. Media has
a responsibility to make public good information, but also should not scare
Toshihiko SHIMIZU, Tokyo Electric: I think that there is
a misunderstanding about the preparedness of electric utilities in Japan.
Although some outside reports show Japan's electric utilities as being
in danger of Y2K, my company has been working on this issue since 1996
and we have found no problems with our control systems. We do use calendar
dates for logging systems and accounting, however, so we need to focus
on this. But it makes us wonder why many US electric utilities have reported
problems with their control systems. Are we missing something? We don't
think so. Also, we are sharing information with our vendors. Finally, power
demand during the New Year is only half that of other months.
QUINN: It is very encouraging to hear that TEPCO is doing
so well with Y2K preparations, and I hope that it can be a shining beacon
for other Japanese companies to disclose information.
WADA: Regarding Y2K contingency planning at the government
level, there is a deadline of June 1999 for remediation efforts to be complete,
including testing, but it would be good for the government to establish
some contingency plans to deal with events after June.
DOLAN: To conclude the discussion I would like to suggest
that to prepare at the community level Japan might well make use of its
existing neighborhood information networks such as the police box system
and the practice of neighbors exchanging information periodically via rotating
volunteers. Using existing networks for Y2K would save time and avoid the
difficulty of establishing new networks. I want to thank everybody here
for taking part in the discussion, and we invite you to future events here
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Japan's
Recent Situation of Y2K Conversion (March 1999)
Gartner Group: US
Senate Testimony, March 5, 1999 (4th Quarter 1998, Year 2000 International
State of Readiness summary)
Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), Japan's
Y2K Agenda daily news and archive. (Subscription service, registration