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No other nation in the world is as literate (with a literacy rate of 99 percent) and dominated by the mass media as Japan (see Literature; Films and Television , ch. 3; The Mass Media and Politics , ch. 6). Japan's telecommunications system is excellent in both domestic and foreign service. The rapid spread of television sets in the 1960s and advances in satellite communications in the 1970s, which permitted rapid improvements in television broadcasting, were major postwar factors in Japan's new information society.

The broadcast industry has been dominated by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai--NHK) since its founding in 1925. It operated two public television and three radio networks nationally, producing about 1,700 programs per week in the late 1980s. Its general and education programs were broadcast through more than 6,900 television stations and nearly 330 AM and more than 500 FM radio transmitting stations. Comprehensive service in twenty-one languages is available throughout the world. Although NHK's budget and operations are under the purview of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Broadcasting Law of 1950 provides for independent management and programming by NHK.

Television broadcasting began in 1953, and color television was introduced in 1960. Cable television was introduced in 1969. In 1978 an experimental broadcast satellite with two color television channels was launched. Operational satellites for television use were launched between 1984 and 1990. Television viewing spread so rapidly that, by 1987, 99 percent of Japan's households had color television sets and the average family had its set on at least five hours a day. Starting in 1987, NHK began full-scale experimental broadcasting on two channels using satellite-to-audience signals, thus bringing service to remote and mountainous parts of the country that earlier had experienced poor reception. The new system also provided twenty-four hours a day, nonstop service.

In 1992 Japan also had more than 12,000 televisions stations, and the country had more than 350 radio stations, 300 AM radio stations and 58 FM. Broadcasting innovations in the 1980s included sound multiplex (two-language or stereo) broadcasting, satellite broadcasting, and in 1985 the University of the Air and teletext services were inaugurated.

Rapid improvements, innovations, and diversification in communications technology, including optical fiber cables, communications satellites, and facsimile machines, led to rapid growth of the communications industry in the 1980s. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, owned by the government until 1985, had dominated the communications industry until April 1985, when new common carriers, including Daini Denden, were permitted to enter the field. Kokusai Denshin Denwa Company lost its monopoly hold on international communications activities in 1989, when Nihon Kokusai Tsushin and other private overseas communications firms began operations.

Japan's first satellite was launched in 1970, followed by subsequent launches of experimental and applications satellites in fields such as communications, broadcasting, meteorology, and earth observation. Satellites were launched from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on the island of Tanegashima in Kagoshima Prefecture. Japanese space scientists have successfully launched three H-I rockets that accommodate a payload of 550 kilograms each. Japan also cooperated with the United States, Western Europe, and Canada to construct an earth-orbiting space station. A consortium of Japanese firms led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is planning to enter the commercial rocket industry by the mid-1990s, but unexpectedly high costs and the need to further improve the H-II booster, the first rocket designed and developed entirely in Japan, means that Japanese commercial launch services would probably not begin until the late 1990s.

Japan's burgeoning high-technology communications system included the widespread use of telephones. In 1989 there were 64 million telephones in Japan, nearly one for every two people.

Data as of January 1994

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Japan Table of Contents