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In a desperate attempt to boost Japan’s cyberspace population to numbers more closely resembling those of other industrialized nations, the government is struggling to draw attention to its online exposition, said Taichi Sakaiya, a special adviser to the prime minister and former chief of the Economic Planning Agency.

“Right now, we are trying to hammer out new plans to make the Internet expo more enjoyable and attractive,” Sakaiya, who came up with the idea of the yearlong project, said in a recent interview.

“It could be a worldwide online symposium or any other kind of project to support international volunteer groups,” he said. “Or it could be a project to link city schools to those in the countryside, so that students can see schools that they have never been to before.”

The government-backed Internet exposition, known as “Inpaku” in Japanese, kicked off Dec. 31. The government hopes Japan’s Internet literacy rate, currently 13th in the world, will be improved by the cyber event.

It also hopes the project will increase Japan’s economic competence internationally, especially in the field of information technology.

Through the 1990s, Japan lagged way behind most of the developed world in IT-related investment, a point often cited in various studies as one reason behind the nation’s prolonged economic stagnation.

There still seems to be a long way to go, however, as the government-backed expo has failed to maintain the interest of its visitors.

The expo kicked off with 200 local government and company Web sites, known as pavilions. The pavilions, which feature themes such as future science, local mountain adventures and the history of local cuisine, initially attracted so many visitors, or hits, the expo site was temporarily forced to slow down before coming up to speed.

The euphoria soon petered out, however. While the number of cyber pavilions more than doubled in the first six months, the number of hits is hovering at around 100,000 a day, far below the peak on the first day.

Critics say the expo has been hampered by its lack of exciting content. While the economy, teetering on the verge of another recession with the nation’s gross domestic product for the January-March quarter falling for first time since the third quarter of 2000, has also been blamed.

Sakaiya, also a famous writer, acknowledges a slow rise in the number of Internet users.

“Considering that the Internet population in Japan now stands at about 36 million, it may be hard for it to rise to 50 million (Sakaiya’s earlier expectation) by the end of this fiscal year. It is rapidly increasing, but we can’t call it a big jump compared with growth in Asia,” he said.

Sakaiya insisted, however, that the ongoing project has contributed to laying the basic foundations for an IT infrastructure, particularly in terms of software and human resources.

“As long as there is a solid base, you can build (software technology) on it, and I expect robust development in the future,” Sakaiya said.

While the expo may have failed to maintain the public’s interest, it did lift the IT literacy of local governments, which now post a number of public documents online, and helps local companies and nonprofit groups develop the ability to create Web sites, he said.

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