Internet Usage by Politicians

Using the Internet for politicians is somewhat complicated in Japan, and they are prohibited to do things like what President Obama did with his political campaign, so this post is about that topic.


There are 2 important terms in this matter.

Political Campaign 【選挙運動】
Political Campaign is an action to persuade to vote for specific candidate for a specific election during the election period. (特定の選挙に、特定の候補者の当選をはかること又は当選させないことを目的に投票行為を勧めること。)

In Japan, the election period is 12 days before the election for the House of Representatives and 17 days for the House of Councilors. Election period is the only period that persuasion for voting is allowed. This makes a big difference with the elections in US where you spend a long long period of time for political campaigns. The reason for this limit in the period is to minimize the cost that is required for political campaigns.

-Political Activity 【政治活動】
Political Activity is all of the political activities EXCEPT Political Campaigns.

Internet can be used for "Political Activity", so political parties and politicians has their websites and blogs.

-Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP, ruling party) website
-Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) website

There are lots of blogs by politicians at ele-log[ja], and many others has their[ja] own[ja] blogs[ja]. Yahoo has a List of blogs by Members of the House of Representatives[ja] and a list of blogs by Members of the House of Councilors[ja].

However, Internet is prohibited to use for "Political Campaigns" based on Public Offices Election Act (公職選挙法) clause 142 which prohibits to "distribute documents, graphics and pictures" 「文書図画の頒布」 for the political campaigns. Updating websites, blogs and sending mail magazines are defined as one of these "documents, graphics and pictures".

There had been hot debates on this in the year 2005 when DPJ updated their website and sent mail magazine during the election period, LDP filed a complaint about it and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) called DPJ referring to this action as a violation of Public Offices Election Act. DPJ complained in return that LDP updated their website with news articles as well, and MIC called LDP as well. You can see some of the documents here[ja] (document from DPJ to MIC questioning the action by LDP, answer from MIC to DPJ) .

In 2007, both LDP and DPJ updated their website and neither filed any complaint so I think this issue has been taken care of in a very Japanese way- keep the grey things grey.

Some politicians were updating their podcasts saying "audio is none of the "documents, graphics and pictures" so it should be OK.

When Takafumi Horie -Ex-CEO of internet company Livedoor- became a candidate for election, Livedoor (the portal site) stopped updating[ja] political articles except the news articles that were provided from other news sources.

By the way, the Act regulates not only the political parties/politicians but EVERYONE (何人も) to "distribute documents, graphics and pictures" to "persuade voting for certain candidate on certain election", so if you are a blogger and write on your blog "hey you should vote for candidate A", then strictly speaking you are violating the Public Offices Election Act, but in reality nothing would probably happen.


NicoNicoDouga - a popular video sharing site in Japan - has gained interesting position with the politicians.

One day, one of the users uploaded a video of the politicians debating in the diet, and the viewers started to get interested and spread the word and started commenting on the video. It is said that the users of NicoNicoDouga are youngsters, and those generation does not watch TV, are not very interested in politics so they were the clusters that the politicians were having a hard time reaching out. But in that video, what Kazuo Shii- head of the Communist Party- was saying made a lot of sense to them, and people started to listen and support him. The Communist Party started uploading more videos after that. NicoNicoDouga has become one of the avenues for the politicians to reach out to the younger generation.

So when NicoNicoDouga started a new service called "NicoNicoChannel" where users/companies/organizations can create landing pages, political parties and politicians rushed in.

Political parties' channels (LDP, DPJ and Communist party)

Politicians' channels (Mizuho Fukushima, Yoshiro Mori, and Yuriko Koike)

Also when NicoNicoDouga started another new service called "NicoNicoNamaHousou" which is a live streaming service (like Ustream), politicians started using them too. During NicoNicoNamaHousou, viewers can write comments on the screen, and if the politicians so wish they can read the comments while streaming and reply to them (not everyone wants to do that). This is NicoNama of Ichiro Ozawa (was the head of DPJ then). Today, Kazuo Shii (head of Communist Party) was on NicoNama.

(update 6/19)
Prime Minister Taro Asou's speech in Akihabara was on NicoNama too, and you can still see the video here.

Also, LDP proposed a program to invite 200 people to visit the Parliament building and their headquarter and do a NicoNama answering their questions which attracted 5000 viewers. You can see the video here.

NicoNicoDouga has another service called NicoWariEnquete which is like online survey that can be conducted with NicoNicoDouga viewers. NicoNicoDouga did a NicoWariEnquete asking the viewers what they'd like to ask the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister took his time to answer the questions that were raised and you can see his video here.

Lots of the users of NicoNicoDouga are kids and some are very rude, and I thought politicians wouldn't like that environment as they are used to being looked up to- but so far it looks like it hasn't been a problem to them.

Changing the Public Offices Election Act

There had been lots of debates about this issue, for example DPJ issued a draft for amending the Public Offices Election Act (1998/06/18
インターネット選挙を解禁する公職選挙法改正案の提出について[ja]) to enable the use of Internet during election period back in 1998, but the situation stays the same today. Quote from the draft "By reinforcing this amendment and enabling Election Campaigns on the Internet, we can realize conversation with constituents on policies. この公職選挙法改正で、インターネットのホームページでの選挙運動が可能になることによって、政策本位の有権者との対話が実現する。"

I think this one sentence that was written back in 1998 proves they understood 2 important points. 1) to have conversation with the constituents 2) those conversations should be centered on policy.

What we learned from Obama Campaign was that he was trying to gain understanding and conversation and trying to be as interactive as possible. At the "Change Government" site, people could write expectations and ideas for Obama when he becomes the president and others could vote on those ideas, the policy team were sharing new ideas where people can write feedbacks, people could submit questions which were answered by House Press Secretary. This enabled the Obama team to understand what people wants/expects, and people could understand what Obama team was up to and give them their opinions and feedbacks, and strengthened the understanding, conversation and interaction. People were able to discuss about specific policies here.

DPJ submitted another draft[ja] to amend the Public Offices Election Act and enable the usage of Internet in 2006 for the 4th time. The Act has not changed yet- as of June 2009.


2 Japanese politicians -Mr. Seiji Ohsaka of DPJ and Mr. Gaku Hashimoto of LDP - started using Twitter recently, and are commenting about the policy issues and/or writing about the details of what's being discussed during the diet. Seiji Ohsaka tweeted[ja] yesterday about the debate among party leaders while watching it on TV including his comments in realtime.

For example, this is one of his posts while watching the party leader debate:
First sentence is reporting what the Prime Minister said, and the second sentence with brackets is his opinion.

"(Prime Minister Aso) Not all of the budget was waste
(Of course, but you need to prove it and therefore you should publicize the details) "

7/18 Update:
On 6/30, we held a workshop on "Twitter and Politics" which I was one of the panelists with LDP politician Mr. Gaku Hashimoto, IT journalist Mr. Daisuke Tsuda and Mr. Masahiko Shoji of GLOCOM. Since then, the number of politicians that uses Twitter increased[ja] to 20 (!) and a website called "Politter"[ja] which has updates of all the Twitter-politicians' tweets.

Seiji Ohsaka submitted his questions regarding Twitter and political activities to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and posted the reply he got on his blog [ja]


"About the usage of Twitter- Public Offices Election Act 142-1 prohibits the distribution of documents, graphics and pictures used for Political Campaigns other than postcards and leaflets that are specified in the article. Letters displayed on the computer are considered as one of those documents/graphics/pictures, and therefore Twitter cannot be used for Political Campaigns."

Twitter (and websites and weblogs and mailmagazines etc) usage for Political Campaigns are banned in Japan, but it can be used for Political Activities, and we are able to read and enjoy the opinions, comments and thoughts of some of the politicians in real-time. I think it's a big step.


Updated: Copyright Law amendment

Did you know that running a search engine index server in Japan is illegal in Japan right now (as of June 2009)?

On 6/12 the amendment bill for the Japanese copyright law passed the Diet and in January 2010, the amendments will be put into effect. You can read the whole amendment documents here [ja].

There are several clauses, but the 2 big issues are "illegal download" and "search engine cache issue".

1) DOWNLOADING illegal contents will be ILLEGAL

UPLOADING illegal contents to the internet is illegal even now (and many people including Mr. Kaneko the creator of P2P software Winny had been arrested), but the new amendment will outlaw individuals who DOWNLOAD contents if they knew it is illegal contents.

There had been lots of debate on this topic- as this issue inherently has various problems such as "How do you prove you actually knew it was illegal?" "The way internet works is that if you are viewing some website, you are actually downloading it even if you are not pressing a download button or anything." There were strong oppositions against this bill, and I wrote last year about a Japanese Internet activist group MIAU and their activities against this bill. After a long debate, the way this ended up is that although downloading illegal contents is going to be illegal, there is no punishment clause on this (and that is why the efficacy of this law is questioned). Streaming is not covered in this bill, and just looking at illegal videos on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga will not be illegal either.

Chris Salzberg had been covering this issue at Global Voices blog in the past:
Japan: Economics of the “Illegal” Download
Japan: The Illegal Download Explained, on 2-Channel

2) Search engine cache (and data backup cache, streaming cache) will be LEGAL after the bill is put into effect.

Search engine caches were considered illegal in the Japanese copyright law, as "copying copyrighted contents without permission from the copyright holder is illegal" and "search engine caches are copying copyrighted materials" (and there is no way search engine companies can get permission of each and every content they index, moreover there is no fair use in Japan). Therefore search engines in Japan such as Google and Yahoo inevitably kept their servers outside of Japan.

After next January, Japanese search engines can legally build their cache servers in Japan.

Other clauses include: selling pirated DVDs in the internet auctions knowing it is illegal product will be punished (5 years in prison or penalty under 5 million yen), electronic archives of books in the National Diet Library, a system to reuse contents whose authors are unclear, etc.


UPDATE October, 2012

3 years have passed since I wrote this article and there are a bunch of updates, but I'm sure you are interested in the copyright law amendment that took place on October 1st, 2012.

The law penalizes people who knowingly download illegally uploaded music or movie files. When music or video is sold or is getting paid-distribution online, and if you knew those contents are distributed illegally, and you downloaded those illegal contents from the internet, you are subject to punishment.

High level summary:

Uploading illegal contents online had been illegal from before, and the punishment was maximum of 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 10 million yen.

- From 2010/1/1, downloading illegal contents online became illegal without punishment. Despite this law, many people download illegal contents, and the copyright amendment bill passed in June 2012.

- From 2012/10/1, even if it is for your personal use, 1) if the contents is sold or is getting paid-distribution online 2) you knew those contents are distributed illegally 3) you downloaded those illegal contents from the internet, you are subject to punishment- maximum of 2 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 2 million yen.

- From 2012/10/1, ripping DVD contents with copy protect functions will be illegal without punishment, even if it is ripped for your personal use. Creating or giving programs that enables to break those copy protection function will be illegal and is subject to punishment- maximum of 3 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 3 million yen. (Most music CDs do not have copy protect function, so as long as it is personal use, copying music from CD to your personal computers or personal music player are generally not illegal.

- In the past, when famous characters happened to be in the background of photos uploaded to blogs etc, it was illegal. The new amendment will make this legal from 2013/1/1.

- From 2013/1/1, the National Diet Library will be able to electronically distribute out-of-print books to public libraries nationwide.

Resources and links:

Government's PR site [ja]
Website of Agency for Cultural Affairs on this copyright amendment [ja]
Amendment bill (summary) [ja]
Amendment bill [ja]
Amendment bill (comparison of the old and new bill) [ja]
Japan Times: Copyright law with teeth leaves download masses puzzled

Q&A from website of Agency for Cultural Affairs:

Q – Is it illegal to view illegal contents online?
A – Viewing illegal video or listening to illegal music is not online, unless you record the contents.

Q – Is it illegal to view contents on video sharing sites like YouTube since it creates cache?
A – No, caching made from viewing videos of video sharing sites are not illegal.

Q – Is it illegal to download online photos or copy and paste test for my private use?
A – No, downloading online photos or copy and pasting text is not illegal as long as it is for private use. Downloading music and video is illegal.

Q – Is it illegal to download online illegal TV dramas that are broadcasted on TVs for free?
A – Even if TV programs were broadcasted for free, it is illegal download the contents if you knew it was illegal distribution. Moreover, if that TV program is sold (either as DVD or online), if you download knowing both the fact that it is sold product as well as illegal, you are subject to punishment.  

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer. -Fumi Yamazaki

Hacker Spaces in Tokyo

***The global Hacker Space movement ***

As many of you may know, there is Hacker Space Movement around the world and Tokyo is no exception :)

First off, what is a hackerspace? "Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects" according to Hackerspaces.org (information hub of hackerspaces around the world)

If you are interested in hackerspace near your city or if you are a traveler seeking to meet geeks around the world, I really recommend you take a look at the Hackerspaces list which has info on more than 200 hackerspaces around the world. If you want to start your own hackerspace, there is a great wiki with lots of documentations of various hackerspace organizers' experiences.

There is even a tour of hackerspace community visiting hackerspaces in other continents. It's called "Hackers On a Plane" for example on 6/30 - 7/7, a group of hackers from Europe will depart Frankfurt and visit Seattle, on 8/4-8/18 a group of hackers from US will depart NY and visit Europe to join PlumberCon 2009 (8/7-8/9 in Vienna) and HAR 2009 (Hacking At Random, 8/13-8/16 in Vierhouten.)

I always wanted to become a traveler ever since I was a highschool student - to travel around the world, meet and work with interesting people globally :) Using the internet I can work anywhere as long as I have my laptop with me, but I'm sure hackerspace venues and communities around the world will drastically change the way we work, create, learn and collaborate.

This is a very nice slide from a presentation of Hacker Space in KL - quote "HackerSpaces are like YMCAs for geek and nerds".


***HackerSpace movement in Tokyo***

Back in May, we had an event in Tokyo called Tokyo BarCamp which Mitch Altman joined and talked about HackerSpace movement which gave lots of the members inspiration for building a hackerspace in Tokyo. While listening to Mitch's presentation, someone in the audience registered the domain tokyohackerspace.com, which was made into a wiki site on that day and was registered to hackerspaces.org. It hasn't been a month yet but the team has already paid a visit to the existing hackerspace (4nchor5 La6), had a meeting and came up with a venue and proposal for running the hackerspace, made a blog and a twitter account and the next meeting is planned this Tuesday. I'm really amazed by the energy and passion of this community! Oh and the logo was designed by one of the members too. Very cool :D

This hackerspace is still under discussion and there is no venue yet, but if you are planning to come to Japan in the near future, it would be great if you can visit when it's ready, so please keep an eye on the sites before coming to Tokyo :)


***4nchor5 La6***

I joined the team visiting 4nchor5 La6, the first HackerSpace in Tokyo. There are 4 members who works in the venue as an office space, and they have a huge TV with a comfy sofa.


This is one of the members' desk.


This is the equipment rack.


This is the music room with lots of music related instruments, loads of records and even Tenorion!



They have a kitchen which is full of gadgets :D


This is a video of Daito's (one of the members) project

And he showed us the equipments that were used to make this video:


This is a video of their workshop.

Looks like they are looking for participants for their next workshop :)

You can see more photos from my visit to 4nchor5 Lab here.

If you are interested in visiting them, please contact them and here is the address and map to 4nchor5 La6.


*** Recruit Media Technology Labs ***

Recruit Media Technology Labs is a laboratory built by a publishing company called Recruit. Recruit publishes various magazines, free magazines and lots of websites such as Rikunavi [ja] (job hunting site for students), Tech Lab [ja] (technology information site), isize [ja] (portal site of Recruit) etc. The space is not necessarily a hacker space, but a cool and geeky place in the center of Tokyo (Ginza), I visited them on the day when they were finishing up the last portion of construction. I think they are an excellent venue for hackers to get together and meetup, do events and seminars.


There is an area for "pair programming" near the entrance.


This is going to be a bar area.


There is a stage and a podium up front, and 80 seats all with tables and power, wifi for the audience.


They will be ustreaming the room all the time with 2 cameras- 1 will be shooting the whole room and the other will be shooting the speaker.


2 projectors in the front, 1 screen in the side and 4 screens in the back.


There's also a section with a sofa and even wii fit :D


I'm actually hearing about another group planning on building a hacker space- Tokyo is going to be a fun place for hackers :D


Female Internet Users in Japan

Video Research Interactive released a research report on websites that have higher percentage of female users with 20-34 years of age (called F1 category), and CNet Japan wrote an article on it.

Following is a post based on that data/article.

The result was no big surprise- "communication sites" "online shopping sites" and "gourmet sites" were among the top used websitesb by F1 category. I think it clearly shows those women are taking in those websites into their lifestyles (shopping, gourmet and communication).

"mixi", the social network service was #1 with more than 4million users and 27.7% of them is the F1 category.

Online shopping sites includes "Bell Maison Net" (#2), "Nissen" (#3) "Ochanoko Net" (#10) and "DHC" (#13).

Gourmet sites includes recipe site "Cookpad" (#5) and restaurant sites such as "HotPepper" (#6), Tabelog (#8) and "Gournavi" (#11).

This research was conducted on 200 supposedly top domains. Percentage of F1 category for all of the domains is 11.8%.