5 hours into sleepytime, and I started awake at 3:30am on the day of the presentation. I'd not exercised in a few days, so dragged shorts and trainers on, and went for a run - up to the palace, around the moat, getting a little bit lost, thanking my lucky stars I had my phone with me, and carefully navigating back to the hotel. What is it about Tokyo which inevitably involves my getting lost at some point...?
I broke fast, suited myself up, and met Mr Hughes in the lobby to wander over to the embassy - which it turns out is just 10 minutes walk away, and around the edge of the Imperial Moat again. Even by embassy standards, it's really rather nice: once you're through the security there's lots of open space and gardens - though cameras are banned in these areas so you'll just have to take my word for it (I did get a few photos of the rather plush interior of the Ambassador's Residence though).
First things first, we met our interpreters for the day - two extremely helpful Japanese ladies who sat us down and ran through our presentations - to clarify the meaning of certain key phrases and the pronunciation of brand names which may never have been enunced in Japanese before. I was pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable they were about telecomms in general, and founded myself needing to explain very little.
From there, I was taken to the garden room of the embassy for the two interviews: the first with Yasutaka Yuno and Shuichi Morita of K-tai Watch, a popular telecomms web site over here. Clearly mobile enthusiasts, they quizzed me on the types of Japanese content which might work over in the UK. I was a bit lost really - I don't know very much about what's popular in Japan right now - and could only suggest that one thing we'd *not* seen cross over to the UK was the Japanese practice of writing books on keitai. That seemed to keep Shuichi - and anyone else who asked me the same question that day - happy. The resulting article on K-tai watch can be found here (and a Google translated version here, not sure what "Future home of the president's Purattofomuzu" means tho)).
Another interview followed with Yumiko Egami of the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, a business newspaper; this time around the topics were more general and less focused on the detail of mobile. Both interviews were carried out through my interpreter, who very ably managed to convert my lengthy gabbled ramblings into Japanese.
A relaxing lunch followed in one of the rooms off the embassy gardens with some of the UKTI staff, 50% Brits who were doing a few years posting in Japan, and 50% locals who'd spent some time in England (and not only spoke perfect English but also seemed to have internalised the sense of humour and/or sarcasm very well).
And then we were into the afternoons talks, with headsets on to give us a live translation feed from our interpreters, who were now housed in a glass cage at the back of the room. After an introduction from the ambassador, Takamasa Kishihara of the Mobile Contents Forum gave a general introduction to the Japanese mobile content industry. I took a few notes from this one:
- >100m subscribers, driven by the arrival of 3G and flat rate (seen as being vital for allowing rich media to be consumed at a reasonable cost);
- Japan is generally seen as 5 years ahead of the UK;
- Areas of content break down into mCommerce, digital content sold via operator billing, advertisment/ad-response and social networking;
- Mobile content industry in Japan grew, even during the recession;
- MIDI ringtone industry peaked in 2005 at 100m yen revenue, now at 50m yen;
- 1/4 of the Japanese music market is music delivered to handsets;
- Takamasa spoke about a new frame-by-frame film format which sounded interesting, a cross between films and comics;
- Social networking services ere mentioned as being either ad-driven or supported by gifting;
- Japanese acceptance of the subscription billing model is seen as key to the growth of the mobile market, and many of the content providers there were also keen on this;
- Problems exporting to the UK have included regulatory/commercial issues, the web-based nature of Japanese content, and the language barrier;
Tony Hughes of UKTI then gave his talk. I'll see if I can get permission to upload his slides - it was a fantastic examination of the communications, mobile and digital landscape in the UK.
I followed up with a few case studies of content providers in the UK: Flirtomatic, MobileIQ (particularly their service for The Guardian) and Puzzler. I'd done interviews with the first two companies to prepare me for the talk - you can see slides and notes online here. It was interesting to hear a few familiar themes show themselves between these two, and I'm very thankful to Mark Curtis of Flirtomatic and Shaun Barriball of MobileIQ to the time they graciously gave for these conversations.
Q&A followed, and happily the audience seemed very keen to talk. We had some great questions on differences between the UK and China, the general approach to billing and content provision, and the relative importance of operators. After about half an hour, the questions were drawn to a close and we had a pleasant hour or so networking with attendees and UKTI staff, before heading off for a delicious Japanese meal with a few UKTI folk. Well, the bits *I* ate were delicious, the squidney and fish sperm were less appealing...
A really fun day; I was surprised how much I enjoyed myself, and found the crowd (both organisers and attendees) really enthusiastic, friendly and interesting. Fingers crossed this is not the last time I head to Japan for business, but the first of many...