The following paper was recently presented by Kamlesh Ramji
VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES IN JAPAN
1. AbstractOrder now
In recent years, virtual communities have proliferated thanks to the converging technologies of telecommunications and computing. In the United States, numerous virtual communities exist in the form of bulletin boards, newsgroups, computer conferencing, etc. and have been expanding
its scope beyond the national boundaries. But, those virtual communities
originating in the United States carry heavy American-biased culture which
members often take for granted because of the long history of domination
in developing computer networks by American organizations.
of alternative virtual cultures, this paper presents major virtual
communities in Japan which originated in Japan and mainly sustained by
people in Japan.
2. Introduction and Background
The convergence of telecommunication and computer technologies has enabled
networking of people regardless of their geographical and temporal
differences. The scope of such computer networks has been expanding
exponentially since the first extensive comp uter network, ARPANET, was
created in 1968 by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S.
Department of Defense (now DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Now its successor, Internet, comprises 1.7 million computers in
more than 1 25 countries (Stix, 1993); most of them at universities,
government agencies and companies. As such computer networks have
expanded beyond the small communities of scientific researchers and been
applied in a variety of fields such as education and busin ess,
communication through such computer networks is beginning to alter the
ways in which people interact with one another in formal and informal
2.1. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)
The term, computer-mediated communication (CMC) or computer-based
communication, encompasses: computer networks, electronic mail, electronic
bulletin boards service (BBS), and computer conferencing.
CMC has been
fairly well studied in educational setting s, as a supplemental to
traditional classroom teaching or as a deliverly mode of distance
education because of its distinct characteristics which make it different
from any other media. Poster (1990) notes that CMC substitutes writing
for spoken conversa tions and extends the domain of writing to cover areas
of communication that previously were limited to face-to-face
interactions, mail, and the telephone.
CMC, up to now, is mainly limited to textual communication where most of
the social cues are stripped off. People only see text on the computer
screen in standardized formats which contains no dynamic personal
information such as tones of one’s voice or
undescrivable facial expressions. ‘Phatic’ aspects of the face-to-face
conversation are minimal in CMC, which sometimes exacerbates communication
anxiety when the sender gets no reply (Feenberg, 1989).
The advantage of such text-based communication is that it reduces
discriminatory communication patterns based on physical and social cues
such as gender, race, socio-economic status, physical features, etc.
enhances the interaction with one another.
As a result, CMC destabilizes existing hierarchies in relationships and
rehierarchize communications according to criteria that were previously
irrelevant (Poster, 1990). The text-based communication also augments the
interaction with ideas generated t hrough discussions. In CMC, people
tend to focus on the message more than the messenger, and the availability
of an archived transcript of the proceedings facilitates review of
previous comments and discussion, focusing on important ideas and
Another important aspect of this standardized texual communication is an
individual’s great control of his/her self image presented to other
people. In most cases, the only identity an individual user has is a
“handle” name which may be, and most often is expected to be, fictional.
Anonymity is complete and identity is fictionalized in the structure of
the communication. Poster (1990) contends that “computer conversations
construct a new configuration of the process of self-constitution.”
Communicate rs can compose themselves as characters in the process of
writing, inventing themselves from their feelings, their needs, their
ideas, their desires, their social position, their political views, their
economic circumstances, their family situation – thei r entire humanity.
In this sense, CMC is used for what Morioka (1993) calls “ishiki tsushin
(conscious communication)”. “Ishiki tsushin”, according to Morioka, is
the communication for the purpose of social interaction itself, which is
distinguised from “joho tsushin (info rmation communication)”. Goffman
(1959) argued that individuals deliberately “give” and inadvertently “give
off” signs that provide others with information about how to .