Connected Communities—When Digital signage contributes to a better life in rural Japan

Connected Communities—When Digital signage contributes to a better life in rural Japan

TEXT: Adam Fulford

Over the past few years, digital signage has been spreading fast. That’s hardly surprising; it’s a great way to communicate a message. Where once we saw static billboards, increasingly we see dynamic screens. Moving images are eye-catching, and content can be updated to coincide perfectly with the launch of a new product. There’s no need to replace peeling posters all over town, you simply update what’s shown on the screen.

But is it actually “you”, the owner of the information, who enters the update into the system? Not usually. You typically have to arrange for someone else to do all the tricky technical stuff on your behalf. And that’s one reason why to “simply update” isn’t actually simple at all. Or fast.

Enter Canadian Neil van Wouw, a long-term Japan resident whose company Vanten has developed Otegaru Net, an extremely versatile form of digital signage that saves time and money, makes updating easy, and puts the user in control.

Otegaru Net is used in branches of the same company in different countries.
Otegaru Net is used in branches of the same company in different countries.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how Otegaru Net is used, starting with a typical retail environment. With Otegaru Net installed, a screen in a supermarket can be updated as often as is required. Maybe you’d like to show a special offer that’s available for just one hour, and only this evening. No problem. Input the information and it will appear on the screen in only a few minutes. Once the special offer’s over, you can stop showing that information and show something else. Yes, “you”. Now, this “you” really is the owner of the information. With Otegaru Net, users themselves can decide not only what to show but when (not to mention how, where and to whom).

Showing what you want and being able to change the content flexibly and quickly must be attractive features for a company such as Conti, whose new facility in Tokyo’s Tama Center lets you devote a whole day to self-improvement and fun. Conti offers a diverse, evolving lineup of activities, and Otegaru Net delivers the latest timetables so that members know the where and when of their yoga, cooking, business workshop and beer-tasting sessions.

Cloud-based Otegaru Net is also a pioneer in international digital signage. One customer that has offices in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong uses Otegaru Net in the lobby of each branch. On the screen, corporate visitors might see a corporate overview, business statistics, or a new product. The kind of information that often used to be presented on a DVD can now be shown via digital signage. With Otegaru Net the information is easy to keep up to date, and once the presentation is over, the screen can revert to showing whatever was on before the presentation began.

But for this correspondent, and also for Neil van Wouw himself, one especially interesting feature of Otegaru Net is its potential to contribute to a better life in rural Japan.

As the population of a small regional community declines and its average age rises, elderly residents, in particular may find themselves increasingly isolated, both physically and emotionally. Their nearest neighbor may be a long walk away, and it may be getting more difficult to drive a car to the shops. They may no longer find it easy to participate in everyday activities, including even something as basic as chatting with friends.

Schedules of activities at Conti (
Schedules of activities at Conti (

Otegaru Net, though, can present content customized to different locations, from someone’s home to a local hotel. In a place where blizzards are common, Otegaru Net can easily be set to show a weather alert. When the danger has passed, normal service might resume in the form of news streams about who’s currently visiting the community, what events are coming up, or photos of a recent festival. If the user’s grandchildren live in Tokyo, Otegaru Net can be easily configured to show family videos, pictures and news.

And it’s all available on the user’s familiar TV screen. Just press one button on the remote control, and the service is on. Press the button again, and it’s off.

Otegaru Net was designed as a community-building tool. This power to build is placed in the hands of the users in the form of channels. With access to your own channel, you can create, upload and broadcast content to an entire community or, if you choose, you can just show it on your own screen. If you want to share news with the whole community, you can. But just as importantly, you can decide to keep those pictures of your grandchildren to yourself.

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