Opening Japan

Matt Asay explores open source in Japan and concludes that it may be time to give the place a second look -- Open source: Made in Japan? Good post. He points to some excellent examples of open source contributors in Japan and also corporate and government use of open source.

I found Matt's blog being discussed on the Tokyo Linux User Group list -- [tlug] "Open source: Made in Japan?" blog -- today where Curt Sampson was talking about the language/culture barriers in Japan and also how Japan is home to more NetBSD developers than any country outside the United States. I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised I didn't know since Japan is a country absolutely determined to down play its role in just about everything possible. It's exactly the opposite behavior of the United States, which tends to over play its hand in just about everything possible.

Anyway, I agree about the language/cultural barriers. They are big. Generally, I find very few in the west interested in software development taking place in Japan, and I also find very little interest here in exploring anything outside of Japan. It goes both ways. It's tough to look inside, and very few here are looking outside. There are obvious exceptions, of course, but I've been quite surprised by the size of the east/west divide for a market so big. See Matt's blog for the exceptions, by the way, which are all very encouraging.

I think similar issues were present in China, as well, but recently when I go to China and visit the universities I find the students much more willing to learn from and engage with the west. They are loud and enthusiastic and bold. I'm no expert on China, and I could be seeing only one part of that market because they have so many students in computer programs now, but it seems to me that the trends are clear and distinction with Japan is now very big. Whereas the language/cultural barriers here in Japan are the same as always (and I can find no one to dispute that), they seem to be going away in China.

Another factor for Japan may be that this market is mature and expensive and suffers from under exposure because massive attention and resources are flying to China and India because those guys are rapidly emerging and sucking up all the publicity. I was also thinking that some of this may be just a mis-understanding since the west and east view "community" and "contribution" and "individual motivation" somewhat differently. Who knows. Some good opinions on the Tlug list, too. Check out the thread.

Also, Matt mentioned Ruby. Very cool community. I was so impressed with the Ruby community a while back. Here are all my blogs on Ruby. And Matt mentions the Japanese government getting involved in open source, too. Well, they are also exploring OpenSolaris (here, here, here). Oh, one more thing: the Japan portal for OpenSolaris is our #1 portal by far in terms of total page views hitting the site. But, man, the Spanish are catching up jet fast! :)
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