If you are Japanese and want to “meet” your old schoolmates, try accessing www.yubitoma.co.jp on the Internet, a virtual alumni association Web site with more than 1.3 million members.
The site — “Gather around this finger,” popularly known as “yubitoma” — was created in May 1996 by Noriko Kokubo, 42, who hit on the idea while attending a meeting of her high school’s alumni association. “I wanted to do something interesting,” she said.
About 50,000 educational institutions, from elementary schools to universities, are registered on yubitoma’s Web site. Subscribers, after registering their name, can obtain a list of their old school friends and e-mail them free of charge.
To prevent it from being used for business, only graduates from the registered schools can access the site.
The site’s membership increased to 30,000 by the end of 1996, and has since continued to multiply. It stood at 100,000 at the end of 1997 and 300,000 a year later.
At present, about 3,000 new people are registering their names every day.
Kokubo, who calls herself a “Net-worker,” had previously operated a personal computer communication group in her native city of Nagasaki until 1993, when she encountered the Internet.
“I love to link people with other people through the Net,” she said.
At that time, there was no domestic provider, so Kokubo concluded a contract with a U.S. provider and gained access through international phone lines.
Kokubo first made public on the Internet the names of all schools in Nagasaki Prefecture. The next day she was inundated with inquiries from across the country, prompting her to compile a national list.
E-mail messages expressing deep attachment to old schools and school friends reach the Web site each day. Some people have been reunited with old friends through yubitoma and have subsequently married. Others, meanwhile, have been saddened to learn their schools have been closed.
There have been several potential investors in yubitoma, but Kokubo has continued to decline their offers. “Being a Net-worker is my hobby. What I am doing is not suited to business,” she said.
In February, however, Kokubo set up a company with 14 employees because her own software business was having trouble with the growing size of yubitoma. Her task now is to manage the software firm and maintain her Net-worker role at the same time.
Shumpei Kumon, a professor at the International University of Japan, said: “Since yubitoma is only available on the Internet, it should not remain a mere joint venture. Various ideas should be introduced to take advantage of its scale, including a scholarship system.”
Asked why people register with yubitoma, Kokubo said: “All people have a very busy daily life. With yubitoma, they can encounter what they used to be at school.”