Monday, February 18

Letter from Japan

Greetings, honourable reader.

My name is Barwick of the 2ndQuadrant Company. With the onset of the Plum Rain, in my humble estimation it has become hot and humid recently. I trust all is well in your exalted undertakings?

No, I haven’t flipped a bit – the above is actually pretty much how a Japanese business letter – or email – starts off, and there’s a plethora of sites such as this one providing examples of various kinds of formal email. But fear not, this won’t be a lesson in written Japanese business etiquette, but the first in an occasional series of posts from Japan, a country which embraced PostgreSQL very early on and has contributed much to its development.

A potted PostgreSQL history, Japanese style

Back in 2006, on a visit to Japan before I started living here, I happened to wander into a bookstore and was looking for something on handling Japanese full-text search (a tricky subject in a language which has three or four different writing systems and multiple ways of writing the same word but no spaces), when something odd struck me – there were clearly more PostgreSQL books than MySQL ones. This was at a time when PostgreSQL was globally still in a bit of a niche and an equivalent bookshop in Europe would feature a couple of often dated volumes
cowering next to masses of dolphin-orientated literature.

Occasionally it’s postulated that PostgreSQL’s popularity in Japan is because it’s easier to pronounce than MySQL – this is a country where “Los Angeles” is abbreviated to “Rosu“, so it’s no surprise that the even more cumbersome rendering of PostgreSQL (“posutogure-esu-kyuu-eru“) is shortened to “posugure” (look it up on Google if you don’t believe me) – whereas the equivalent “mai” is short and ambiguous to use in normal conversation.

However the reality is more prosaic – during the mid/late 1990s, as the internet was taking off and open source databases were becoming viable, PostgreSQL got a head start in the accessibility stakes. A Japanese-language mailing list was set up as far back as Postgres95 and the Japan PostgreSQL User Group (JPUG) was founded in 1999, from which a vibrant community has emerged, providing seminars, conferences and perhaps crucially, very up-to-date Japanese language translations of the PostgreSQL documentation. And the rest, as they say, is history – PostgreSQL is now supported by most of the big players in the IT industry here, some of whom are also household names globally, and of the 22 PostgreSQL committers, three are from Japan (listed in order of first commit: Tatsuo Ishii, Itagaki Takahiro and Fujii Masao).

In future posts I’ll be writing about PostgreSQL-related subjects in Japan and hope to present some new perspectives on aspects which aren’t widely known in the outside world.

Oh, and that “Plum Rain” I mentioned? It’s not an actual precipitation of fruit, but the literal translation of “tsuyu“, the hot sticky rainy period between spring and summer, often described as the fifth of Japan’s four seasons.

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