Joining with California-based i-DNS.net in the endeavor are three Japanese firms: publisher/software developer ASCII Corp., corporate e-mail service provider Crayfish Co. Ltd., and Internet service provider interQ Inc.
The three local companies will begin accepting Japanese-language Web address registration requests later this month.
Written Japanese uses a combination of three "alphabets" -- two phonetic syllabaries ("hiragana" for native words and "katakana" for foreign terms) in which each character represents a unique spoken syllable, and several thousand Chinese-character ideographs ("kanji").
The new service can handle the registration of domain names composed of any combination of kanji, hiragana, and katakana.
Thus, for example, the (hypothetical) Maiasa Shinbun Kaishi ("Every Morning Newspaper Company"), instead of relying on a confusing 16-letter (13+3) English-alphabet address of "maiasashinbun.com" could register and use an immediately recognizable Web address of just six (4+2) characters: the four kanji used to write its name ("mai" + "asa" + "shin" + "bun") plus the two kanji that mean "company" in Japanese ("kai" + "sha").
To enable the registration of "all-Japanese" URLs, in addition to allowing the substitution of "kaisha" for "com" as in the above example, the service can replace the suffix "org" with the kanji for "organization" ("so" + "shiki") and of the suffix "net" with the hiragana equivalent.
The new service will thus enable Japanese firms to directly register their actual corporate names and trademarks as Web addresses instead of having to transliterate those names into the English alphabet.
"Through our partnership with i-DNS.net, we will be able to provide Web addresses directly related to company names, product names, and service names," said Crayfish President Isao Matsushima -- a capability that is expected to lead to more accurate "hits" by Japanese consumers searching for corporate Web sites.
Also, with national ("co.jp") domain name registration limited to just one per company, the number of Japanese firms seeking to register ".com" domain names has been growing dramatically.
The new multilingual domain name registration capability will dramatically increase the number of addresses available to Japanese companies in the crowded English alphabet ".com" domain namespace.
"Internet users are now being given a freedom of language choice previously unavailable," said Kosei Takahira, ASCII Internet Media division manager.
To help promote the service, ASCII will distribute through its Web site and on shareware CD-ROMs bundled with its magazines the free software that is needed to "resolve" the new multilingual addresses.
i-DNS.net's multilingual technology is compatible with all commonly used Internet browsers and is fully inter-operable with the current Domain Name System. It supports 55 languages, although so far only Chinese, Tamil, and Thai -- and now Japanese -- registration services have been launched.
To provide local support for its technology as well as introduce related products and services, i-DNS.net said that it will establish a joint-venture corporation with several (as-yet-unnamed) Japanese partners as early as June 2000.
The company has set a goal of 100,000 Japanese-language domain name registrations by the end of this year.