TOKYO - At Japan's CEATEC conference, one theme echoes through the presentations and keynote addresses: how the country's tech firms can reclaim the same spirit of innovation that first established their names.
Japan is also wrestling with an anemic economy and the aftereffects of a massive earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. The companies at CEATEC seem publicly convinced that technology can help the country navigate this trying period, although the exact nature of the solution remains unclear. Intel's Japanese executives advocate an increased focus on software and services; representatives from the car companies are pushing electric vehicles and renewable energy; hardware manufacturers are betting big on "ultrabooks" and powerful smartphones.
Nonetheless, there's a general sense of a local IT industry still searching for solutions, as opposed to moving with all due speed to enact a specific strategy.
"We need to positively incorporate international standards," Kaz Yoshida, president of Intel Japan, said through a translator during an Oct. 4 speech, "We have hardware, but what we are thinking about is the global perspective."
During a keynote of Mitsubishi and Nissan executives, the main topics of discussion included the best way to promote the use of electric cars, such as promoting the use of California-style parking lots with priority slots for those vehicles. But the talk soon expanded to encompass a deep drill-down into the viability of renewable energy, government assistance to industry, and how to best leverage certain advantages in battery technology and related areas into more of a global market presence.
"We want to drive the Japanese economy," one of those executives said.
For the moment, many of the Japanese tech companies at CEATEC appear intensely focused on products that align with current global interests: tablets, phones and the aforementioned ultra-slim notebooks that also remain popular in the United States and Europe. In addition, Sony, Panasonic and others are promoting their lines of televisions and projectors with ultra-high-resolution technology, betting on long-held strengths in the audio-visual realm.
Even as these companies promoted their own innovations, there was one large reminder of other countries' firms' hold on the popular imagination: A number of journalists here to cover CEATEC are setting their alarms for 2 a.m. Tokyo time in order to cover Apple's expected announcement of the iPhone 5.