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Is This Japan's Year for Open Data?

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, February 1 2013

Last summer, the Japanese government announced a new open data strategy, with the intention of connecting the country’s governmental, industrial, and academic sectors. Now Japan is set to have a record year for open data projects, with open government advocates leading the way.

Global Voices reported yesterday on a cluster of civic hacking events occurring this winter. An Open Data Day was held in Yokohama last weekend, where participating developers worked to make public services and cultural resources more accessible to citizens and visitors to the city. Japan’s branch of the Open Knowledge Foundation, founded last summer, is partnering with Hack for Japan, established following the 2011 earthquake, to run events in Tokyo and elsewhere for International Open Data Day on February 23.

For such a deeply tech-savvy nation, developments in government openness might seem to be happening a little far down the line. Yet serious efforts towards transparency were not on the agenda in Japan until 2009, when the decades-long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party came to an end, and the entrenched bad habits some policymakers been allowed to develop — such as sucking taxpayer dollars for failing programs — came under scrutiny (the LDP has since returned to power, as of this past election cycle). An Open Knowledge Japan project, Where Does My Money Go Yokohama, provides information about government spending in the country’s second largest city.

Some criticism has been lobbed at data sharing practices; Global Voices notes that a city library in Takeo that planned to reopen under private ownership came under fire from citizens concerned that their government-collected information would be shared for marketing purposes. As Japan’s open data saga continues, it should be interesting to see how the government strikes a balance between commercial, state, and private interests.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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