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Sixth in an occasional series on Japan’s Y2K preparedness

Staff writer

No reports in English means no information in today’s global village, and that’s a point Cabinet Councilor Tsutomu Miyagi would like to drive home as the government’s leader of efforts to head off the Year 2000 computer problem.

“Japan’s efforts to let the whole world know (in English) about (its progress in) tackling the Y2K problems were insufficient,” he acknowledged in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

“I keenly felt that (we are indeed living in) a global society,” Miyagi added as he reflected on worldwide impressions of Japan’s readiness to handle the so-called Y2K bug.

The Y2K problem refers to computing errors expected to be caused by older computer and software systems that use only two digits to identify years. These systems may interpret “00” as 1900, instead of 2000, as the millenium approaches.

Japan has been criticized for slowness in addressing potential Y2K problems, particularly in such critical areas as the financial sector, where budgets initially set aside for Y2K conversion work looked relatively small compared with the U.S.

But the Cabinet councilor in charge of Y2K issues said the nation’s major financial institutions were well aware of Y2K problems at an early stage, and that some of them began conversion work when they were building new online networks in the late 1980s.

The central government also set up a liaison conference to coordinate its Y2K preparation campaigns in December 1997. That panel drew little media attention, however, because its members were limited to working-level government officials, Miyagi said.

Many government agencies and private-sector companies have begun disclosing information in English through Web sites in response to the government’s launch of organized “action” campaigns after Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi took office last August.

Despite this, an influential report released in March by a U.S. Senate Committee citing a Gartner Group survey ranked Japan in the third of four categories for Y2K preparedness, along with developing countries that include North Korea.

But a revised report released April 6 by the private high-tech research company re-evaluated Japan, placing it one category higher than the October 1998 survey cited by the U.S.

Miyagi recalled that an American acquaintance of his told him that if information is not provided in English, it means no information has been provided.

“Personally, I think that (argument) is outrageous, but I guess that’s the way it is in this (global) society,” Miyagi said, noting the widespread use of English in international affairs.

Looking at government survey results released in early April, Miyagi maintained that Japan is now making steady progress toward its goal of having the nation’s six “critical” industries, including finance and transportation, completely finished with essential conversions and trial testing by June.

“With progress being made up to this stage, I don’t think we need to assume major (Y2K) troubles,” Miyagi said.

Some observers, however, have expressed doubts on the figures in those government surveys, because some of them are based on voluntary data submitted by the industries in question.

But Miyagi said the government is closely checking the six critical industries, where certain laws give the government authority to monitor and give guidance to private companies that are not fully prepared for Y2K.

“In other areas, the government has no legal power (to interfere),” Miyagi said, arguing that the private sector itself, not the government, should take responsibility for the accuracy of its voluntary reports and the possible consequences of the millennium bug.

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