By Edith Terry

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The Japanese are putting aside their traditional resistance to computer networking and climbing onboard the Internet. In the past year, usage has doubled; two million Japanese E-mail addresses and 1,524 networks are now linked to the global Net. That's well behind the U.S., but on a par with France, Germany, and Britain. Says Jun Murai, the so-called Internet Samurai who runs a company called Internet Initiative Japan: "When the Japanese see something new and convenient, it gets popular pretty fast." Academics have been hooked up since 1987, but regulators finally plugged in the rest of the country last September when they granted the first commercial license to AT&T Jens, a joint venture of AT&T, KDD, Fujitsu, and Hitachi. Murai got his license in March of this year. Many of IIJ's subscribers are corporate users, who account for 60% of the country's E-mail traffic, conducted mostly in their native tongue. Others are otaku, Japan's version of cyberpunks, who were once turned on by high-tech computer animation and cutting-edge comic books. Now they're logging on to and learning about the Internet. In July two Japanese-language handbooks started selling in Tokyo computer stores, taking their place alongside stacks of imported volumes in English. Says Vince Gebbes, an engineer with AT&T Jens: "As the market becomes more educated, you will see explosive growth."

It will, however, still take some time. Many corporations remain squeamish about encouraging the free flow of information. Says Kyoto-based Internet researcher Kenji Rikitake: "Some Japanese managers have a mentality like North Korea. They think of information only as a tool or weapon to control their subordinates."