Orthopraxy and Web Addresses

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Back in the Néomarxisme days, I described Japan as an “orthopraxical” society. In other words, the metaphysical underpinning to Japanese daily life draws influence from the Confucian ideal of “correct practice” (rather than the Protestant Christian emphasis on “correct belief.”) Orthopraxy-worldview manifests in pressure on individuals to flawlessly execute social rituals, and more importantly, a strong sense of detail-orientation — a trait that often confounds most goal-oriented Westerners who do not care how something is done as long as the task is successfully completed. In Japan, the process is often more important than the result.

If this broad cultural categorization is true, modern Japanese internet culture must also rest upon orthopraxical and detail-oriented values. And indeed, a quick glance at Japanese web addresses alone will reveal this philosophical disposition.

When the “World Wide Web” first arrived in Japan at the end of the 20th century, almost all foreign websites contained the letters “www” to reflect a connection to this new medium. Once Japanese companies started to enjoy their own internet dominions, the “www” became an integral part of the address. They may have changed the “.com” to “.co.jp” to reflect national identity but the “www” remained intact!

Now the Japanese belief in the perfect replication of “www” addresses has become so strong that removing the “www” from an address will render it completely useless. The “www” is not optional, but a crucial detail in the proper web surfing ritual. For example, one can only access rental chain Tsutaya’s website — http://www.tsutaya.co.jp — through a perfect typographical recreation of the official corporate address. http://tsutaya.co.jp, my Western barbarian friends, would offend the Confucian order of the universe, and therefore, cannot bring you inside the temple’s sanctum.

In the West, goal-oriented Protestants are fine with “http://blockbuster.com” or “http://budweiser.com” or “http://neojaponisme.com” but these are slaps in the face to the “Japanese” internet praxis.

Skeptical naysayers may believe this is all just a DNS problem: Japanese companies are merely failing to record an A record (IP address) for their domain name without the “www.” Patching this problem would take around two minutes and zero yen to fix. But such an economical and rational solution fails to properly respect the heart of Japanese culture. No matter how easy Westerners believe such a patch to be, the “www” is the way Japanese people have always typed and registered web addresses. How dare we ask for them to adhere to the (oppressive) global standard.

Some inspiring examples of culturally-proper internet web addresses from leading Japanese companies:

Correct Incorrect
Toyota: http://www.toyota.co.jp | http://toyota.co.jp
METI: http://www.meti.go.jp | http://meti.go.jp
Isetan: http://www.isetan.co.jp | http://isetan.co.jp
Matsuya: http://www.matsuyafoods.co.jp | http://matsuyafoods.co.jp
Sony: http://www.sony.co.jp | http://sony.co.jp
Toshiba: http://www.toshiba.co.jp | http://toshiba.co.jp
Kodansha: http://www.kodansha.co.jp | http://kodansha.co.jp

W. David MARX
May 19, 2008

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

29 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    I had already noticed http://www.nintendo.co.jp/. Yeah, I think this is basically insane.

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    To Nintendo’s credit, I think they are one of the few companies who have gone “global” in their non-www thinking.

  3. Carl Says:

    Another “wacky Japanese computing practice”: Ads that use “Search for ‘blah'” instead of “Go to <URL>.” The reason is that normal people don’t want to have to use roman letters and the browser support for non-ASCII URLs is still pretty poor.

    – – – –

    Counterpoint to Japan as orthopractic computer users: ¥ vs. \. If families can choose to call themselves 櫻木 instead of 桜木, why can’t I browse C:\ instead of C:¥?*

    * Theoretically, if I were a Windows user. (Gross.)

  4. Mr. panda MD Says:

    the “search *so and so portal* (normally yahoo weirdly) for **company here**”.. tags.. are becoming more frequent here (usa).. specially for car companies. i would guess that just allows for some small cross advertising. lowering the whole costs for everyone..

    other then the required “www.” being just sorta lame. the tie into some kind of culturial way of being isn’t working for me. i would just cough it up to old people not understanding the internet.. like everyplace in the world. and the youngin’ not wanted to stand up to the old man.

    plus for “indie” URLs.. lets say warsawa.jp.. that require’s a www. but is not a big corperation. it could be something set by their IP/host. its like how some hosts allow open directories.. and some don’t.. (normally UNIX vs. Windows servers)

  5. Jeff Lippold Says:

    The main reason why all this happens is that Japanese users rarely, if at all, type an address directly into the address bar – most use a search box to do the dirty work for them (hence the ads encouraging to do the same). As an added bonus, it lessens the shame involved in misspelling an English word and have the whole internet know about it.

  6. Justin Says:

    Add JR to the list. http://jreast.co.jp/ and http://westjr.co.jp/ don’t work.

    The otaku have their shit together, though:
    Notice joshin and kakaku forward you to the bare domain.

    www is deprecated

  7. ale/pepino Says:

    www was indeed not needed in the first place, as addressing port 80 of a server already tells it’s http.

    Apart from all the orthopraxical stuff there’s a pragmatic issue. Making www and no-www work for a Japanese can carry additional costs such as SSH certifications. Most unexpensive ones won’t work but in one of your subdomains, being www preferred.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    I wonder if a company like Sony can afford those additional costs.

  9. nate Says:

    Mixi for the win

  10. Robert Seddon Says:

    Western academia seems to have a similar idea; non-resolving URLs include:

    http://dur.ac.uk/
    http://ox.ac.uk/
    http://cam.ac.uk/

  11. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    ale/pepino, is that really an issue? Couldn’t they just redirect everything from www.* to * and start the session from there?

  12. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    P.S. Marxy, you are one to talk about substandard web practices that ghetto table at the bottom. A cell to hold “|”? J’accuse.

  13. W. David MARX Says:

    All my web anachronisms are retro-intentional.

  14. mozu Says:

    Les anglo-saxons barbares n’ont pas le droit de definir ce que c’est l’Occident.

    http://www.carrefour.fr/
    http://www.nestle.fr/
    http://www.lemonde.fr/
    http://www.liberation.fr/

    It’s a joke, but this practice is not peculiar to Japan at all. You should investigate other countries’ cases. The world is wider than you expect.
    でも、なぜ儒教なんですか?好きなの?

  15. john Says:

    nico nico douga, good design winner 2007, resolves to both URLs

    yahoo, livedoor, rakuten also resolve

    it is probably more or less dependent on whether or not the company relies on the internet to conduct business

  16. mozu Says:

    I seem to miss the point. Please delete my comment.

  17. Christopher Says:

    When you’re using Japanese input in romaji to kana mode in Windows it will pass through an URL starting with “www” but otherwise it will try to convert it to kana. So you have to switch out of Japanese mode to type in URLs that don’t start with “www”. I’m not sure if this supports or detracts from the orthopraxy argument.

    BTW you can of course find counterexamples but it is definitely the case that Japanese sites are far less likely to work without the “www” at the beginning. I’ve heard many a bilingual in Japan complain about this…

  18. AG Says:

    So nice to see that corporate Japanese Web development retains the advanced edge I’m intimately familiar with from ’01-’03.

    I wonder how my experiences mesh with your orthopraxical schema: at the time, the very high-priced international consultancy I worked for was frequently engaged by Japanese clients on the strength of our reputation – and then explicitly prevented from using our development methodology on the project.

    It’s as if the client (or the shacho/kaicho, to their golf buddies?) wanted the bragging rights of saying “site built by Razorfish,” without actually doing any of the things which made a Razorfish-built site worth the very significant investment. Like, oh, user research, a discovery phase, things like that…

    I was surprised, because I had assumed that any endeavor in which correctness was more or less a matter of algorithmic or procedural execution – as, frankly, enterprise-scale Web development *was* by 2001 – would mesh well with the Japanese affinity for fine-grained detail. Clearly, heartbreakingly, I could not have been more wrong.

  19. Michael Arnold Says:

    I just flipped through about three dozen of the Japanese sites I have bookmarked, and while a few did start with the www.* they all worked without it.

    In all my years of browsing Japanese web sites I don’t think I’ve lost a single night’s sleep over the wwws in Japanese web addresses.

    Either way, everybody already knows how The Japanese are always extremely detail oriented, right? Right?

    (Interesting, by the way, that when I type www. in a comment here it automatically becomes a link.)

  20. Giovanni Says:

    You are a kind of Messiah. You opened my eyes (no joking).

  21. Jrim Says:

    The one that’s a real head-scratcher for me isn’t the www but the way that Japanese companies insist on including the http:// in any printed references to their website. It just looks ugly to me, and is – from a technical point of view – completely unneccessary. But I guess the URLs just wouldn’t look sufficiently URL-like without it. Or, er, something.

  22. Justin Says:

    It’s as if the client (or the shacho/kaicho, to their golf buddies?) wanted the bragging rights of saying “site built by Razorfish,” without actually doing any of the things which made a Razorfish-built site worth the very significant investment.

    I was helping a friend move their site to a new domain from Geocities (eugh), and while I was concerned with making sure the redirects were set up properly and sneakily converting everything to Unicode, they were more worried about their hit counter. I bit my tongue, but… yeesh.

    Japanese web design in general is what I like to think of as ‘violently bad’ (or Flash) and several years behind the curve. Even Yahoo.co.jp was still sporting the same awful design its international counterpart shed damn near a decade ago until only a few months back. Improper domain forwarding is near the end of my list of crimes committed against internet users here.

    As an aside, I’ve noticed a lot of websites for Japanese bands in particular tend towards hand-drawn/handwritten buttons and images. Perhaps being technologically inept is a source of pride.

  23. Marcus Says:

    This is a joke, right? A parody of something?

  24. Marcus Says:

    Btw, here’s something you could comment on, Marxy: Johnny’s now allow certain websites to show photos of their “talents” – but only if they’ve been photoshopped to look as if they have been drawn..? See the websites for dramas Gokusen and Change, for example.

  25. W. David MARX Says:

    Joke? Parody?

    Facetious overanaylsis.

    Johnny’s now allow certain websites to show photos of their “talents”

    Already covered it.

  26. riyota Says:

    Hm the second page a checked worked.
    softbank.co.jp
    I thought there might be a relation to how It the company is or how old they are but then I checked
    panasonic.co.jp
    and that worked.

  27. Ken Says:

    It’s such a simple thing to redirect. Absolute insanity to end up with a “server not found” when the www is left out. Use the DNS – or Apache, or whatever, to redirect the damn thing.

    it is probably more or less dependent on whether or not the company relies on the internet to conduct business

    Good point.

    Also, I once had someone tell me that it’s better for SEO to not have both versions served out, since the search engines will count http://www.site.co.jp/index.html and site.co.jp/index.html as dupe content…

  28. skchai1 Says:

    But there is always the nail that stands up:

    Type in http://www.ameblo.jp/ and it redirects you to http://ameblo.jp/. No joke.

    If fact, if you try to visit a blog within, e.g. if you want to see Ultra Cosmos Jr. – http://www.ameblo.jp/sunsuntaiyo/ it will resolve O.K., but all the links will be disabled. You need to go to http://ameblo.jp/sunsuntaiyo/ to make them work.

  29. Marcus Says:

    Here’s a somewhat similar oddity:
    yomiuri.com is registered by Yomiuri, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. why not redirect it to yomiuri.co.jp?