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JapanFocus
Blog Like a Cat, Mingle Like a Dog
Examining socio-cultural factors is key to Internet exports
Jean K. Min (jean)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-22 12:47 (KST)   
Screen capture of Naver's search engine for Japan currently open to beta testers
©2009 NHN Japan
The World Cup 2002 Korea-Japan, the first World Cup co-hosted ever in the history of the games, gave socio-cultural analysts in both countries an unusual opportunity to compare the behavior of the two historic rivals.

Ha Yong-chul, a Korean sociologist at Seoul National University, watched the televised games and noted an interesting difference. Whenever the Japanese national team scored a goal, the soccer stadium in Japan was instantly filled with thousands of flash lights bursting out of ubiquitous Nikons and Canons.

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Scenes in the Korean Soccer stadiums couldn't be more different. The Korean team equally electrified their home fans as they beat European power houses, game after a game, until they qualified for the semi-final. Unlike Japanese soccer fans, however, Koreans opened their shiny clam-shell phones whenever their team scored a goal, and furiously hit keypads to send text messages or voice mails, sharing their ultimate joy with their family and friends.

Far more important to the Korean cyber-generation, it seemed, was to share their bursting emotion with others and network with them, rather than simply recording the events as Japanese did.

To untrained occidental eyes, it is not easy to tell the ethnic differences between an average Japanese and Korean. Their socio-cultural behavior, however, are miles apart. In fact, many Koreans find their closest neighbor more foreign then any other country in the world.

Obsessed with protecting their privacy, the Japanese cherish their privacy. "Wa" or harmony is the key value in the country and the average Japanese would not dare to stick out of the pack and challenge the social consensus. Even in the crazy morning subways crowded with hundreds of commuters, Japanese do their best to protect their private space.

It is actually quite easier than it sounds. By plugging white ear buds in their ears, Japanese commuters are instantly transported inside their own iPod bubble and swaddled in the familiar music. Or they can simply bury their nose in comic books.

Solitary souls bent on keeping their private den as clean and serene as possible; the Japanese character is best described as feline. No wonder the most beloved pet in Japan is the cat. Cats frequently appear in many Japanese animes as well as in countless folklore.

Fly two hours to the west and things are couldn't be more different. Koreans are social animals that will live or die in their friend network. They are not afraid to ruffle the feathers, if necessary, engaging sometimes in a heated political discussion on the Net. Chatting over a mobile phone in the subway is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the noise level is not too high. Korean commuters are usually more tolerant than Japanese to noise in their vicinity. They would spend their short morning commute on networking with their friends, tapping the keypads of their handset to send or receive text messages.

Networked souls whose social success is measured by the mutual loyalty to their reference group; Korean character is best described as canine. In fact, the dog is routinely featured as a reliable guardian of the man in the Korean folklore whereas a cat is usually considered an ominous animal or even a harbinger of coming disasters.

As different as cat and dog -- this is a fundamental quandary to many Korean Internet companies that wish to export their service models to the closest neighbor. NHN, OhmyNews, Cyworld and Nexon. The list of Korean Web brands that fell victim to the cultural barriers of Japan is long.

Understanding of the feline nature of the Japanese users may help you to engineer a soft landing on the Japanese market, though. One obvious insight Korean companies can gain from Japan's love of a private den is that a blog service would be a good match for them. It would be even more desirable if the service allows users to enjoy bigger storage capacity as comparable to some professional web storage services. And the option for strong control over the personal content and comments would be an absolute must.

Even if you are going to launch a social networking service, you would still want to employ blog-like features. Japanese web brands that wish to enter Korean market, on the other hand, would be best advised to do the opposite. Even if you are going to launch blog service, the platform will have to offer enough social networking features that will satisfy the fiercely networked animal that is Korean.

Looking back, stockpiling and sharing the data on the Net doesn't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Users will need to store information before they can share them with others. Digital cameras that took tons of soccer pictures back in the 2002 World cup are now integrated to almost every handset in the street. In fact, it is almost impossible to buy a phone without a camera in Tokyo or Seoul. Every man's storage or feline device is now being coupled with every man's networking or canine device.

Advice to NHN Japan poised to launch its first search engine in Japan: If your service is going to enter Japan, the question for you is just which switch you are going to turn on first--feline or canine.

*For more musing on Korean tech issues and memosphere please visit my blog; Planet Size Brain (link: http://planetsizebrain.tistory.com)
©2009 OhmyNews

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