This is a web article that I wrote as a post-doc many years ago after visiting the famous Yokosuka Research Park in Yokosuka, Japan. While it may not be as big and storied as Silicon Valley, it is one of the great R&D technology power houses of the world. At the time of writing, Japan’s NTT-DoCoMo had recently unveiled the first internet browsing phone (a service called “i-mode”) and were significantly far ahead of the rest of the world. Two decades later, YRP is still going strong with many of the country’s top technology companies located there.
3 September 2001
About an hour’s train ride outside of the great port city of Yokohama is a hotspot of research in the wireless world. Yokosuka Research Park – or simply “YRP” – contains a dense concentration of wireless research and development that is known across the world.
Formed in 1987, the YRP Promotion Society allocated a parcel of land on the scenic Yokosuka peninsula for the purpose of building a wireless and telecommunications research park. The first center building was erected in 1996; the DoCoMo headquarters was finished in 1998.
The YRP area is one of the more attractive parts of Japan. The community is just a few valleys over from the historic town of Kamakura, famous for its many temples, shrines, gardens, and lacquer-ware. From top-level YRP offices, strips of beautiful blue ocean may be seen through the sloping frames of mountains. The area is quite beautiful and residential. Many would find it hard to believe that the Tokyo metropolis lies just over the horizon.
There are a number of companies and research organizations at YRP. Some of the larger notables are listed below:
Communications Research Laboratory (CRL): This is a large government-funded research laboratory that works on forward-looking wireless technology. CRL provides a great deal of flexibility to its researchers, so the environment is halfway between industry and academy.
NTT DoCoMo: A researcher from DoCoMo told me that the company’s name stands for “Do Communications Mobile”. The Japanese word dokomo also means “everywhere”, so the moniker implies ubiquity of service. Spun off from its parent telecommunications giant NTT, NTT DoCoMo is now the juggernaut in the Japanese mobile service provider industry. The headquarters is a giant building in the center of the park with plans for expansion.
Panasonic: This company has expertise in virtually all aspects of wireless physical-layer and network design. Handsets, base stations, WLAN access points and terminals, point-to-point links — all are developed at this vast facility.
There are other smaller R&D offices in the park as well. Despite their close proximity, it seems that researchers from all these potential competitors get along well together, even hanging out together at the local bar after hours. It’s hard to top the Japanese spirit of cooperation.
Although the research park is young, YRP has quickly built an international reputation. Yet there is still an active effort to draw more companies into the area. The initial outgrowth has been wildly successful, but the YRP Promotion Society feels that its founding vision remains unfulfilled until more of the big Japanese and international wireless/telecom companies set up centers of research and development in the area.
A Note About Visits
It’s also hard to top the Japanese in hospitality. I remember visiting YRP for the first time in September of 1999 as a Ph.D. student with my advisor. NTT DoCoMo rolled out the red carpet for us, giving us an opportunity to speak to a room full of their RF engineers. After a lab tour, several researchers took us out to the fancy French restaurant across the street. The food was excellent.
That afternoon, we made visits to CRL and Panasonic. One of the highlights was having a conversation on a prototype wireless videophone – it was handheld and the picture quality was stunning. After more demonstrations, some kind Panasonic engineers took us out to dinner at the fancy French restaurant across the street. The food was excellent. The YRP engineers are very proud of that French restaurant.
So if you ever find yourself in Japan on business or research, try to schedule a visit to YRP. It may become a wondrous visit into the wireless land of tomorrow. And that French restaurant is pretty good, too.