By LAURA L. WONG
For the first time, the International Conference on Japanese Information in Science, Technology and Commerce was held in the United States, and the Library of Congress was its venue. The biennial conference has been held since 1987.
More than 150 participants attended the July 30-Aug. 1 event, sponsored by the Japan Documentation Center of the Library of Congress and the Commerce Department's Office of Technology Policy.
Thirty specialists from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, New Zealand, Japan and the United States addressed technological developments, print and electronic sources and emerging issues that affect how Japanese information is organized and disseminated.
Dr. Billington and Kelly Carnes, deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, opened the conference. They emphasized that participation in a global economy, including use of networked communications, are essential to a nation's political and social, as well as economic well-being.
A decade ago, a primary focus was how to gain better access to Japanese information outside Japan. Now, how to evaluate abundant sources and how to access Japanese language information electronically are among the top issues. The following are conference highlights.
One of the major obstacles in accessing Japanese electronic information has been incompatible operating systems. Christoper Dillon of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation covered ways to deal with hardware and software problems and offered specific solutions on how to view and write Japanese hypertext markup language. His how-to guide on setting up a Japanese Web site is useful for small organizations with limited budgets.
Another conference panel examined changes in information disclosure in Japan and its implications. While a national information disclosure law has yet to be passed, studies by David Boling of the U.S. Justice Department and Motohiro Tsuchiya of Keio University indicated that the Japanese people are eager to obtain information on issues such as public expenditures. In Japan, local initiatives have taken the lead, with many cities and all of Japan's prefectures having some form of an information disclosure law since 1996.
Mr. Tsuchiya points out that the current Kasumigaseki WAN (wide area network), which connects only the national government ministries to one another, does not serve the information needs of the people. However, the availability of information through 1,112 Japanese-government Internet home pages in March 1997, in contrast to a mere 127 a year earlier, suggests that evolving technologies may be a factor in urging the government toward more openness. This will have a far-reaching impact not only for Japanese society but also for those in other countries who study Japanese public policy.
Many conference participants and Library staff dropped by the exhibits to see demonstrations of the newest software technologies, including automatic machine translation services (Japanese to English) that work for electronic mail. The Japan Documentation Center also held an open house during which staff demonstrated the information storage and retrieval system for its collection.