Japan Gears Up for the Open Data Revolution

Following the death of Aaron Swartz, an open data activist, the issues around open access and data ownership have been reignited  around the world. But for Japan, the seeds of open data just started being planted in the beginning of 2013.

Hacking Open Data
The Open Knowledge Foundation Japan (OKFJ) [ja] works to support creating, publishing and using diverse data including government data. The goal is to improve society so that people and systems are more sophisticated and informed, and decisions are based on fact. The group started in July of 2012 and fully launched in November of that year. OKFJ is facilitating local organizers in Japan for the International Open Data Day to be held on February 23.

International Open Data Day in Japan

International Open Data Day in Japan.
The image used with permission from OKFJ

In Tokyo, Hack for Japan [ja], a community of developers that got together in response to the 2011 earthquake to support disaster relief by using information technology, are hosting the International Open Data Hackathon, Tokyo [ja]. Other local events are expected to take place in Yokohama [ja] and in Chiba as well.

This weekend on January 25-26, Yokohama Open Data Solutions Development Committee [ja] held a 24-hour open data hackathon. The event hopes to aggregate accessible information for local citizens as well as useful information for people visiting Yokohama for arts and culture, and to revitalize the community.

Yokohama Open Data Hackathon

Photo from Yokohama Open Data Hackathon held in January 25-26, 2013. Photo used with permission.

Linked Open Data challenge Japan 2012 [ja], initiated by a committee at the Environment and Information Studies department in Keio University, has opened its application for the challenge. The deadline is on January 31 and the winners will be announced on March 7.

Open Data runs deep
Such efforts of open data are occurring not just in major cities in Kanto region, but also in smaller cities. The Mayor of Takeo city in Saga prefecture where the population is about 50,961 [ja] has been gaining attention for its progressive open government policies. Takeo city plans to put together a joint-council [ja] of open data and big data with Chiba city, Nara city and Fukuoka city.

In Ishikawa prefecture, the Kanazawa Hackathon has set an “open government” theme for their event on February 16, to scrape from various ideas and come up with a prototype for public 2.0.

e-Gov strategy is on the way
Behind these initiatives is a government led “e-administration Open Data Strategy” which was documented by the Strategic Headquarters for the Advanced Information and Telecommunications Network Society (IT Strategic Headquarters), and was published in July 4, 2012. The timetable [ja] was plotted to implement the plan, which includes assigning a Chief Information Officer for the government, increasing accessibility to administrative services, and the “My Number ” Act, a bill that intends to define citizen by unique numbers for both taxation and social security (which has not been passed yet).

Closed Data
However, some think that not all information should be freeThe Fukushima Medical University signed a contract with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to cooperate in the area of human health on December 15, 2012. One document [ja],[en] in the contract talks about ensuring the confidentiality of information classified by the other party as restricted or confidential.

On January 25, citizen media JANJAN [ja] cited the opinion of Dr.Matsuzaki [ja] that the result of children's blood tests in Fukushima should have been made public because the test had been conducted on roughly 70% of the children in Fukushima by December 2011. The result of adults was disclosed last year.

Censorship. Image by Flickr/IsaacMao (CC BY 2.0).

Censorship. Image by Flickr/IsaacMao (CC BY 2.0).

Fear of Big Brother
Others fear that increasing data attained by an unreliable government will turn Japan into the world of George Orwell's 1984. The following tweet was retweeted for more than 223 times.

@NewStream_2012:【ツイッターで自由に呟けなくなる日も近い…】①人権救済機関設置法案 ②マイナンバー制度 ③コンピューター監視法案 ④私的違法DL刑罰化 ⑤秘密保全法 ⑥ACTA。今、日本は急速に言論統制国家へ向かっている

There will be a day when people cannot tweet freely [because of the following bills and laws] (1) Bill of Human Rights Relief Agency (2) My Number Act (3) Computer Monitoring Act (4) Penalization of Illegal Download for Personal Use (5) Security Requirement Act (6) ACTA. I feel Japan is rapidly becoming a nation full of censorship.

Blogger RealWave wrote about the My Number Act [ja], saying excessive fear is useless, and that a primary ID for both taxation and social security would be beneficial for citizens especially in terms of convenience when properly introduced.


It would be foolish to create a bizarre and complicated system by excessive fear of a nation monitoring its citizen, or to please tax evaders by protesting against the National Identification Number. If the system would create a dark society of censorship, or a society where government monitors its citizen to better serve their people is not up to the system but rather up to the people whether they can make an effort to function as a democracy. When risk is wrongly perceived, the solution will be wrong too.

Public Data and Private Entities
The discussions on government collecting data has to do with what extent the data would be disclosed to private companies. Takeo city plans to renew their public library through a private entity, and the rewards card of the private company's loyalty program will be used instead of library cards. Starbucks Coffee will also open a new store in the library. This plan became controversial [ja] because personal information in the public library could possibly be used for the marketing objectives of the private entity.

When Associated Press tested Freedom of Information law [en] around the world in 2011, the Justice Minister in Japan rejected AP's request saying his office does not have the answers and cited privacy concerns.

We'll have to wait and see if 2013 will be the year Japan wholeheartedly embraces more inclusive, participatory open data.


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