Technology is famous for extending our communications capabilities. It is now routine for people to converse around the world, to exchange notes at the speed of light, and to instantly purchase goods and services from suppliers who may be far away. This communications capability increases the choices we have and allows us to enhance our life with a more global view. But does this amazing technology lower our "local quality of life"? Whereas the Internet allows us to keep in touch with friends and family across the country or on the other side of the world, does it also distract us from our life in our own local neighborhood, town, or city? Are we becoming a sort of "hermit crab" insulated in our own "shell," surrounded by gadgets that are connected to other gadgets, but out-of-touch with the people just down the street?
It used to be that people spent much of their time in activities with their neighbors: visiting on the front porch, town meetings to discuss local issues, get-togethers at the community center for traditional music and dance, etc. With the widespread adoption of radio and television, the focal point of news and entertainment moved away from the front porches and community centers and to the radio or television inside the house. Today, in some areas, people are ignorant of even the names of their neighbors but they know well the names of television actors.
One can decry technological advancements such as radio and television as having a "de-humanizing" and "alienating" affect on individual people. The same might be said for the Internet, as some people spend more time chatting with folks online than they do with their family, friends, and neighbors.
However, it is not the technology that is to be faulted, but rather our application of this technology. Fortunately, the Internet is a much more versatile and flexible medium than is broadcast radio or television. The Internet can be applied in more different ways and by more people. By cleverly applying the Internet to our local daily lives we can regain some of the local quality of life that has been usurped in the past 50 years.
Since 1996, a group of volunteers in a small city in the south of Japan have been using the Internet to enhance the quality of life in their hometown. The subject of this presentation is this very unique group, Yokakusa Koga, their activities, and the affect it has on local life in their town.
Yokakusa Koga was formed in 1996 -- very early in the "Popular Internet Age" in Japan. Ms. Etsuko Inoue was working at her company, Nihon-ChipChat in the town of Koga, Fukuoka prefecture. She had recently established a homepage for Nihon-ChipChat. A local citizen, Ishibashi-san, was interested in the Internet and used a search engine to look for "Koga Fukuoka." Imagine his amazement in 1996 when the search engine returned pages of a software and Internet company only a five-minute walk from his house!
He sent an email to Inoue-san suggesting that they meet. Inoue-san took it one step further -- she organized a meeting for local computer and Internet enthusiasts and put a notice in the local newspaper. The first meeting had about 15 people -- all very inquisitive people who can be described as "power users" of personal computers. Most had already created their own home pages.
This meeting was the beginning of Yokakusa Koga. "Yokakusa" is a Fukuoka area word (Fukuoka is a prefecture (a state or province) on the island of Kyushu, the most Southern of the four main islands of Japan). The meaning of the word "Yokakusa" is unknown throughout most of Japan. It means "Good Spirit!" or "Feel Good!" "Yokakusa Koga" can be translated to Westerners to be "Up Up with Koga!"
Yokakusa Koga meeting: Etsuko Inoue asks "What is next?" Maino-san (left), Fujiyama-san (back), student (right)
Today Yokakusa Koga has more than 100 members. All are volunteers. The core group of 15 or so people continues to lead with their technical expertise and interest. The focal point of Yokakusa Koga is inward, toward Koga.
Etsuko Inoue arranged with the Koga Young Commerce Group to hold the meetings of Yokakusa Koga on the third floor of its building. This was partly done for convenience, as this building is next door to Inoue-san's office. It turned out also to be very fortunate for the development of Yokakusa Koga.
Every Friday since 1996, Yokakusa Koga has held an Internet class, open to any person who wants to learn about Internet. The Internet class teaches people how to use a web browser, how to create a home page, how to transfer a file with FTP, and how to send and receive email.
Setting up the network: Hisakado-san (front), Kawamura-sensei (back)
The class is held on the third floor of the Young Commerce building. For the first several months of these classes Yokakusa Koga members would disconnect their home computers, bring them to the Young Commerce building, carry them up to the third floor and connect and configure them into a working LAN. After the class they would disconnect their LAN, carry their computers downstairs, return to their home, and reconnect for their personal use. These machines were all heavy personal computers -- none were notebooks. This was a lot of work for which there was no monetary reward. It shows the dedication and selflessness of the core group of Yokakusa Koga.
One member, Hisakado-san, built 10 computers from junk that had been thrown away by different companies. These computers are now available on the third floor of the Young Commerce building, and are connected to the Internet full time via an ethernet connection to Nihon-ChipChat (next door). These computers are used for the Internet classes on Friday night and for general use by members of the Young Commerce group.
"This is how to do it": Taniguchi-san (haisai-san) demonstrates to a student
One member of Yokakusa Koga, Kawamura-sensei, is an art teacher at a local middle school in Koga. This school had recently purchased and installed 40 brand new computers and a good server machine. However, the school needed help to set up and use these computers. Kawamura-sensei asked Yokakusa Koga if the group could help the school. Hisakado-san and others worked as volunteers at that school, and created a LAN for the 40 computers. They ran a telephone wire from the second floor to the first floor to provide Internet access through the server. Every computer in the school became connected to the Internet.
Volunteers help school: Yokakusa Koga members help a school connect online.
Yokakusa Koga members organized classes for the teachers and the students. Every student in the school learned how to use the Internet and create a home page.
This project at the middle school was an amazing story in 1997 in a small town in Japan. Both the people at the school and Yokakusa Koga remember it as a very exciting project.
Yokakusa Koga holds Internet Festivals regularly. These take place near the Koga train station, where thousands of people pass each day. Yokakusa Koga members bring their own personal computers to use for the event, arrange with NTT for an ISDN line for Internet access, and show people how to use the Internet.
Internet Festival: Many people learn about the Internet with "hands on" experience.
A special home page was built for these festivals, with sections labeled: "For Father," "For Mother," "For Teenagers," "For Young Children." Each section has links to other home pages that are typically of interest for each of these groups.
Visitors to these Internet Festivals see the many virtual communities available on the net, as well as the Yokakusa Koga home page with much information about their own home town.
The Young Commerce group is an organization of businessmen, mostly under 40 years old. The largest business in Koga is a soy sauce brewery, and most of the Young Commerce members own small shops and businesses. Yokakusa Koga was using the Young Commerce building for its Internet classes, and as a result, Young Commerce members became very interested in using the Internet. Like many people, they were keen to learn about new technology, but did not know where to start.
A print shop owner, Nakagawa-san, a member of both Yokakusa Koga and Young Commerce, emerged as a strong leader for Young Commerce. He worked hard to find inexpensive but adequate computers. All members of Young Commerce now have personal computers in their homes or shops. They use email regularly to communicate with each other. They have established a Cyber-Mall on the Yokakusa Koga home page. The most popular item for purchase using e-commerce at the Koga Cyber-Mall is soy sauce.
Cyber soy sauce: Sakurai-san (left) and Sakimura-san (Aoyagi Shouyu) Prepare online ordering
When an order is placed at the Cyber-Mall, an email message is delivered to the proper Young Commerce member, who fills the order and delivers the goods quickly.
Young Commerce and Yokakusa Koga are working on an expanded project for e-commerce. The goal of this project is to help elderly and disabled people to enjoy a better life using the Internet. It is sometimes difficult for these people to get out and around town, so the plan is to help them to use simple Internet appliances to shop at the Koga Cyber-Mall. When the order is processed and delivered, the delivery person stays for a few minutes and visits with the customer, chats with them, and asks if all is well and if they need any other help.
This project was tried with an Internet appliance that used a television set as a monitor, but the results were not acceptable. The two groups, Young Commerce and Yokakusa Koga, are now thinking about another way to have inexpensive and simple Internet appliances available for elderly and disabled people.
The Koga Young Commerce Group cannot succeed with its plans without the help of Yokakusa Koga, because Yokakusa Koga provides much technical expertise. Also, Yokakusa Koga needs the help of Young Commerce for a place to meet and important connections to people in the local community.
Some people in Koga were very enthusiastic about the new technology of computers and Internet, but they did not have enough money to buy a new computer. So they bought an older computer at a lower price. When you buy a new computer there is usually a "support program" to help you at first. But there is no such help for buyers of older computers.
Yanagi-san helps many people with quiet confidence
The people who bought these computers were beginners and needed help. Many of them had become enthused about computers and the Internet from attending the Yokakusa Koga Internet classes. Now that they had their own computers, they had many questions regarding how to make it work. Many of them contacted Yokakusa Koga and asked for help. Yokakusa Koga responded with a program called "Otasuke Tai" which means "Help Group."
It was mentioned earlier that the core group of Yokakusa Koga consists of very talented power users; they have the sort of expertise that is required to configure an older computer to work well on the Internet. Volunteers from the core group visit the homes of the beginners and help them with their older computers -- to configure them and connect them to the Internet. The beginners realize that Yokakusa Koga members are volunteers, and so are very appreciative and do not ask for unreasonable help. Otasuke Tai continues to be a very successful project.
(Links in this "Web Pages" section point to the Yokakusa Koga web server)
Yokakusa Koga maintains an extensive set of web pages at http://www.koga.org , which include practical information such as bus and train schedules for the city, historical information such as interviews with the town elders, and upcoming events information in the form of a community calendar.
Letters is an on-line forum which is open to everybody. Many types of messages are posted here.
Nagasaki-sensei, Koga Historian (age 92): Lectures are online
Town information includes a history of the town, train and bus schedules, lists of upcoming events, etc. There is also a page about fishing created by a Young Commerce member. Koga is on the ocean and a popular place for fishing. This fishing page is the most popular page in all of the Yokakusa Koga web site.
Etsuko Inoue interviewed Nagasaki-sensei, the town historian, who is 92 years old. His interview and lectures are available online at the Yokakusa Koga web site.
Everyday Life in Koga
There is a special story about how Yokakusa Koga brought "everyday life" to many people in Koga.
Gardener protects birds: Mizuno-san puts sunshade in tree to protect birds. Many people watch by Internet.
Etsuko Inoue was having the trees in her garden trimmed, and the gardener discovered that he had trimmed too much and exposed a nest of young birds to the harsh sun. If left exposed they would probably die.
The gardener, Inoue-san, and her mother discussed what to do. They then created a sun shade from some cardboard, and the gardener affixed it to the tree to provide shade for the young birds.
Inoue-san took photos every day of the birds as they progressed and put them on the "town news" of the Yokakusa Koga web site. By the time the birds grew up and left the nest, the Yokakusa Koga Web Server was pouring out a continuous stream of photos as many people in Koga were able to watch their progress without bothering the birds.
Eguchi-san: art + technology at www.koga.org
Kankyo means environment. There is a growing environmental movement in Japan and the Kankyo pages provide environmental information about the Koga area. There is also a special mailing list for Koga environmental issues.
Fukusi means welfare. Like the environment, there is growing interest in the welfare of people, particularly older people and the disabled. These Fukusi pages provide welfare information and support.
Etsuko Inoue takes many photos of events in Koga: school graduations, city ceremonies, fire department drills, New Years celebrations, and many others. She is a familiar figure in Koga, riding thru town on her bicycle, wearing her "vest of many pockets" and "safari hat," with her digital camera always ready. Her photos have been organized and posted to the Yokakusa Koga web site under the "town" heading and provide a visual history of everyday life in Koga.
Image Board: A Forum to Share Photos
Fujiyama-san: Setting up the Imageboard
Fujiyama-san setup a Free & Open software package called "ImageBoard" on the Yokakusa Koga web server. With this software, anybody can upload a digital photo with comments. There are many photos available, uploaded by Yokakusa Koga members and by other people. The "snap" project of Etsuko Inoue has been broadened so that anybody can contribute their photographs.
Report on every Internet class and Yokakusa Koga meeting.
The "What" page describes Yokakusa Koga. It lists the motto "Open, Fair, Simple", the activities of the group, the rules, and the report of accounts.
The "Links" page provides links to search engines and to pages of interest for hardware, software, and computers.
Koga Young Commerce has its web pages on the Yokakusa Koga web server. The Cyber Mall Koga is a project of both Koga Young Commerce and Yokakusa Koga.
Celebrate 20,000 Web visitors: Members collect and recycle 20,000 loose cans, one-by-one, to celebrate 20,000 Web visitors. Money from the recycling went to help a Koga doctor in Peshawar, Pakistan.
In 1998, Yokakusa Koga's home page counted its 20,000th visitor. Some web pages count 20,000 visitors each day, but a total count of 20,000 visitors is an important event for Yokakusa Koga. After some thinking, it was decided to celebrate this event by collecting 20,000 loose beverage cans from around the city and recycle them. This activity would help the Yokakusa Koga members better appreciate what the number 20,000 actually was; it would help to clean up Koga and make the city more beautiful; it would recycle valuable resources -- steel and aluminum; and it would raise money from the recycling. The money, it was decided, would be used to buy food and medical supplies to send to a medical doctor, originally from Koga, who is a volunteer helping poor people in Peshawar, Pakistan.
This activity required lots of work, especially by key people such as Nakagawa-san, a local print-shop owner/operator. It was unanimously viewed as a success and all participants enjoyed this work.
It is easy for a group of volunteers to disintegrate due to many reasons: too many chiefs, big disagreements about small matters, people might try to get control to promote political or commercial goals, etc. Yokakusa Koga has been successful since 1996 and now has over 100 participating members. This success might be attributed to the guiding principles of the group: "Open, Fair, Simple." This motto was thought of by Ishibashi-san.
Ishibashi-san helping a student. Open, Fair, Simple
Membership is open to all people. Dues are modest and are used to cover expenses that cannot be volunteered. Meetings are held, discussions take place, group consensus reached, work is divided to volunteer members.
Yokakusa Koga works to be fair to all people. Also, so all will feel comfortable in Yokakusa Koga, political discussions, campaigns, or activities are not allowed.
Yokakusa Koga strives to help ordinary citizens to use the Internet.
Koga mayor and wife: Nakamura-san is a member of Yokakusa Koga. He is enthusiastic to apply Internet to Koga City.
The Internet helps to connect us and to realize that, despite large distances and cultural differences, we are one species sharing a single planet. The Internet is growing every day, like a gigantic spider web made of network cables encircling the earth.
Imagine being able to shrink yourself to a tiny size and jump inside one of the fiber optic cables that makes up the Internet: TCP, UDP, ICMP packets would all be flying past like a constant stream of shooting stars. From inside such a cabl e the Internet might be described as "10,000 points of light."
Many of these points of light will be from virtual communities, which will expose individuals to people they otherwise might never meet. It will enrich personal lives and expand our technical and cultural activities.
Other points of light will be from e-Commerce, and will help people to buy and sell, manufacture and distribute, use and recycle goods and services.
But also there is room for points of light from each of our neighborhoods and home towns -- the soft gentle glow of a welcoming lantern just down the street.
Yokakusa Koga has taken a first step in applying technology to help townspeople better appreciate and enjoy their local living environment.
We do not say that things that Yokakusa Koga has done are, of themselves, extraordinary. However the combination of these things done well by many volunteers is noteworthy, and has shown that the Internet can be used by ordinary citizens for the betterment of their local neighborhood and home town.
Yokakusa Koga home page
Yokakusa Koga: See the World, but Live in your Hometown
The latest version of this presentation with updates and additions
Marty Cawthon is president of ChipChat (Dearborn, Michigan, U.S.A.), is also a member of Yokakusa Koga and assisted with technical advice and support. He was born in Dearborn, Michigan, and has degrees in physics from M.I.T. and Stanford University. He has worked in the computer field since 1978.
Etsuko Inoue is the founder and leader of Yokakusa Koga and President of Nihon-ChipChat. She is also a part-time teacher of English at a high school and a volunteer for a crisis hot line. She has more than 20 years experience in teaching. She has college degrees in business English (from Japan) and guidance and counseling (M.A., Eastern Michigan University, 1994).
© Copyright 2000 Marty Cawthon (Dearborn, Michigan, USA) & Etsuko Inoue (Koga, Fukuoka Japan). Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.