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Challenges for Japanese Domain Names: an interview with Hiro Hotta

An interview with Hiro Hotta Senior Executive Vice President of JPRS (31st March 2022)

As one of the most developed countries in the world, Japan experienced digital transformation earlier than the rest of the world. Japan, as one of the most innovative countries on earth, is well placed to be an early adopter of digital technologies and to reap the economic benefits that they bring.

This blog will focus on how domain names have tracked Japan’s early integration into the internet system. According to Darshaun Nadeau, Japan is one of the earliest adopters of domains in the world, as the government accurately anticipated the internet boom in the early 1990s. Initially, JPNIC (Japan Network Information Centre) was responsible for domain registration for Japanese ccTLD: .jp. However, the Japanese government realised that there was a necessity to privatise the Japanese domain registry to JPRS (Japan Registry Services) in 2000.

Japan is also one of the first countries to introduce Internationalised Domain Names (IDN) under the .jp Top Level Domain. According to JPRS, .jp is also among the first TLDs in the world to fully support IPv6. Japan also introduced .日本 (dot nippon) as Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) ccTLD since 2008, yet this TLD is less popular than .jp. Interestingly, in the past four years, the .jp domain registration has not experienced significant growth in numbers.

Hotta’s analysis

In our interview, Hiro Hotta mentioned that the domain names .jp has been introduced for two decades by Japan. In its early days, the number of .jp registration was high, presumably because of speculation. But, in the past few years, the number of .jp registrations has reduced. Hotta said overall domain name registrations under .jp are a little bit low in proportion to the whole Japanese population or internet users as there are around 1.6 million .jp domain names and most of those domain names are in ASCII.

According to Hotta, there are two main factors contributing to the low number of .jp domain names registration. First, in the Japanese alphabet, a name or a word can have several representations in characters. For example, the country name Japan, nippon has several notations in hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji (latin alphabet). It makes notation rather complicated to be implemented in domain names. Second, there is a tendency for Japanese internet users to use search engines instead of specific domain names in accessing specified information in the internet. Consequently, there is a little drive for Japanese internet users to gravitate towards IDN.

Small businesses & domain names

Furthermore, Hotta added that the Japanese business sectors did not see domain names as the main priority for their business at this time. Most small businesses, he mentioned, prefer using existing online marketplaces or social media networks to market their products instead of registering new websites under .jp domain names. In particular, he mentioned that Facebook is increasingly popular for small businesses to do their online business. This contributes further to the low number of .jp domain names registration.

However, at the same time, it also shows how global platforms and social media are already easily accessible for Japanese populations. Hotta said that there was no problem at all for Japanese internet users in accessing social media or any other online platforms. Not only are all major platforms already interoperable in Japanese characters, but the Japanese populations are also accustomed to undertake their online activities using the Latin alphabet or romaji. For example, Japanese people, according to Hotta, use their email addresses using the Latin alphabet instead of the Japanese characters. Hence, the conversion of ASCII and non-ASCII characters is not a major problem for Japan, and it acts as a disincentive to the Universal Acceptance (UA) for Japanese IDNs.

Internationalised Domain Names (IDNS) and Universal Acceptance (UA)

Japan’s case shows how the challenges for IDN could well arise not from digital exclusion and digital divides as it occurs in other countries - although digital divides for example among socio-economically deprived and elderly groups exist throughout the world. In Japan’s case, it can emerge from the fact that the digitalisation took place earlier in the society and internet users had already become accustomed to the existing domain name system and latin alphabets in the internet, and continued to use them in the context of poor universal acceptance of IDNs.

This raises an invitation for global internet stakeholders to find better solutions to ensure that the promotion for IDN and UA matches the urgency and necessity for countries like Japan. Addressing such concerns will lead to the advancement of IDN and UA not only in Japan, but also to countries in the region, from East Asia to Southeast Asia.

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