Japanese URLs no big deal


Being able to use kanji, hiragana and katakana for Web site addresses would not greatly enhance convenience for Japanese because many are familiar with English and search engines such as Yahoo and Google already enable searches in Japanese, Internet industry experts said.

In response to strong demand from China, Arabic nations and other countries that do not use the Latin alphabet, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers decided Oct. 30 to allow the use of non-Latin alphabet characters in domain names.

ICANN executives, who said Net users could see non-Latin alphabets in use as early as next year, have hailed the decision for making the Internet accessible to many more people.

Although some industry insiders who wish to promote Japanese domain names said kanji, hiragana and katakana are easier for Japanese to remember, the benefits are likely to be much greater for Internet users in China and other countries.

Hiroshi Koreeda of the Japan Network Information Center, an Internet industry group managing Web site addresses and other Internet-related resources in Japan, said user-friendliness will not increase dramatically in Japan.

“Japanese are more familiar with alphabets than people from other non-Latin alphabet-using countries. Also, search engines’ functionality has improved so much in the past decade that people rarely type the whole URL (which contains a domain name) to access Web sites they want to view,” Koreeda said. “Some people even say domain names are unnecessary.”

Also, in many cases people surf from one Web site to another by clicking on icons or word phrases, he added.

Japanese letters are already used in part of domain names — the so-called second-level domain that comes before a top-level domain. Top-level domains are .jp, .co.jp, .or.jp and .ac.jp. Thus, for Japan, the difference the ICANN decision makes is that Japanese will be allowed in top-level domains.

It is unclear whether having been able to use Japanese letters in second-level domains since 2000 has made the Internet more accessible for older Japanese who feel uncomfortable typing English.

There are 1.11 million registered Web addresses ending in .jp, and 130,000 of them have Japanese second-level domains, Koreeda said. However, the network center does not know how many Web sites have URLs using only Japanese second-level domains, he said, adding that he suspects many have both Japanese and English available to be accessible to as many Japanese and non-Japanese as possible.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has both Japanese and English second-level domains available, but the technical setting makes it impossible to know how many hits on its Web site come from typing the Japanese second-level domain, a ministry spokeswoman said.

The ministry in July said the top-level domain .nihon (Japan) in kanji is advisable if Japanese is allowed. The ministry and the Internet industry later set up the Japan Internet Domain Council to work out details to realize the use of Japanese in top-level domains.

Arabic speakers may find the ICANN decision a dramatic improvement because they will be able to type URLs from right to left if the whole URL can be typed in Arabic, Koreeda said. Also, there may be many elderly in remote areas of Southeast Asia and the Middle East who are not familiar with Latin-based alphabets, he added. Takaharu Ui of Japan Registry Services Co., which manages the allocation of .jp domains and promotes Japanese second-level domains, said the ICANN move could be beneficial to Japanese Internet users because URLs written on print are easier to remember in Japanese than in English.

He also said easy to remember URLs are good for Web page owners who want to increase their number of hits because people would be less inclined to use search engines if they memorize an entire URL, and thus Web page owners can directly navigate Internet users to their sites.