Perl in Japan

Perl is used in many different fields, by programmers from all over the world. Western countries have a large number of companies that use Perl and implicitly Perl developers, with a solid community that touches base every year through events like The Perl Conference formerly known as YAPC. But further east there are other YAPC events, a bit different and a lot bigger. They’re not exclusive to Perl developers and bring together more than a thousand participants each year.

A quick search on Perl conferences in Japan would lead you to YAPC::Okinawa 2018 ONNASON. That will be the next Perl conference in Japan, with the same name that we’re accustomed too.  As a side note, from 2006 to 2015 Perl conferences in Japan were called YAPC :: Asia Tokyo. These were the largest Perl conferences in terms of number of participants.

To learn more we had a chat with Daisuke Maki (a.k.a. lestrat) about the Perl community in Japan. For those of you who are not familiar with him, Daisuke Maki is an engineer living in Japan, using Perl, C and Go.  He is a White Camel Award recipient, founder of the Japan Perl Association and organizer of YAPC::Asia Tokyo from 2009 to 2013 and also 2015. The 2009 - 2013 editions were co-organized with Yusuke Kushii. In terms of attendance numbers, YAPC::Asia Tokyo 2015 was the largest YAPC event with 2130 attendees. It was also the last one under the YAPC::Asia Tokyo banner.


How did you decide to establish the Japan Perl Association - and was there any other organized form of the Perl community before that?


There was no incorporated entity back then, IIRC. The original reason for thinking there should be an entity was the fact that I learned how the financial issues were handled for YAPC::Asia Tokyos during 2006~2008. A community member had basically acted as the “wallet” for the conference, and did all the collections and payments. Theoretically this works, but in reality, there’s always the possibility of losing money, and you also needed to be aware of tax issues, if any.

By 2008, the number of attendees were somewhere around 300 to 400, and I just thought it would not be a wise thing to keep this burden on a single person. So I said: “Why not create an entity to handle the financial/legal issues?”. I must confess I had hoped that somebody would take that idea and run with it, but you know how these things go: whoever that came up with it implements it.

And initially, I had thought that this organization would help with the financial and legal issues only. But somewhere along the line, I became the organizer. I guess I knew it was coming, but there was a lot of confusion back then. In the end, I somehow managed to pull it off, with a great help from the community.


What’s the main goal of the Japan Perl Association?


I can’t speak for JPA after I left, but it started out as an entity to help promote Perl in Japan. To that end, it would help organize events, and send hackers to a bunch of places in Japan (where they have less Perl people) so they can meet up and exchange ideas. We also actively worked on some legal stuff, such as when the Perl trademark had been registered by a complete stranger in Japan.

Towards the end of my tenure, it was proving to be near impossible to keep up with aspects other than YAPC::Asia Tokyo -- I mean, it was HUGE. Preparation for it nearly drained every bit of my spare time. So in the latter years, JPA was more of a YAPC::Asia Tokyo Inc.


Why do you think Perl became popular in Japan?


TBH, I don’t now. I personally was not living in Japan when Perl saw its biggest surge (note: I used to live and work in Sunnyvale, CA around that timeframe). But I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the existence of some of the Japanese wizards that symbolized Perl back then, including Tatsuhiko Miyagawa.

Perl also had that expressiveness, including the features that could be abused to create absurd code (that actually worked), which I’m sure resonated with some of the hacker mindset back then.


How many Perl developers would you say are there in Japan? (from your conference organizing experience)


Strictly from an organizer’s perspective, around 2015, I’d say around 20~25% (400~500-ish) of the attendees at least had been a Perl user at one time of their career, and maybe 5~15% (100~300-ish) were ACTIVELY using Perl on a daily basis.


Could you name a few Japanese companies that use Perl as a main language?


Mobile Factory, Hatena Inc., Diverse use Perl as main language. Perl still survives as DeNA, LINE, but not so much for new stuff.

There’s actually a list of Perl companies in Japan on the Japan Perl Association sponsorship page. These are companies that use Perl and/or are interested in Perl. Mixi Corporation, Seasar Co are just a couple of the names on the list.


How would you define the YAPC events in Japan, going against the YAPC events in Europe and America?


I can only speak for the events that I organized, but YAPC::Asia Tokyo was unique in that we were NOT a Perl conference, but a Perl-centric, polyglot, anything-goes conference.

Let me give you some history: during the years where I was organizing these events, at some point we decided that it was more important to attract (1) younger, and (2) broader audience than just People Who Already Love Perl (PWALP).

This was because we went back and thought “I want to promote Perl. But wouldn’t it be a moot point to promote Perl to people who are already sold on Perl?” This was definitely a turning point for YAPC::Asia Tokyo. We were now in the business of promoting Perl culture and community. We were not going to tailor the conference to the Perl folks only.

This decision made a lot of sense for an organizer who wanted the event to grow.

For one, it was now easier to talk to potential sponsors, because they too would benefit from knowing that each time we run the conference, they would be able to reach a new and different audience, and not just the same PWALP. Hence it became easier to negotiate with sponsors.

Also, at some point I was having a hard time getting enough talk proposals to fill the tracks with just Perl talks. There was the aspect of Perl not being “the next cool thing” anymore, but more than that, the talk subjects were just getting, for the lack of a better word, stale. It was all “I built another ORM in Perl”, “I abused this functionality to gain 5% increase in speed”, “here’s what’s new in Perl 5.xx”, etc. I’m not saying that these are not valid subjects, but you know that 5 tracks filled with the same type of subjects is not going to attract the type of audience that we wanted to be at the conference. So we decided to change the Call For Papers to read from “talks related to Perl” to “anything that is interesting to us, but in case of a tie, we prefer Perl (and please use the word ‘perl’ a couple of times in  your talk)”

By the end of my tenure, I know we had talks on anything from Ruby, Python, DevOps (but back then we didn’t have a word for it), containerization, hardcore kernel magic, database management, etc, etc, with a healthy dose of Perl talks. Overall, the conference was more exciting to the attendees, because they could expect to learn, and steal from other tech fields.

So, that’s definitely the difference. Right now I’m keeping this spirit alive in the builderscon ( conference series that I now organize.

*Those interested to learn more about what goes on in organizing a YAPC event in Japan can check out Daisuke’s 2015 presentation at YAPC::EU in Granada.


Do you think there is a sort of cultural/social separation between Perl programmers there and Perl programmers in Europe or the U.S.?


As far was as separation goes, English, period. It’s still very hard to get Japanese people to engage in activities in non-Japanese contexts, though it seems to be getting a weeny bit easier every year.


What would you say are the differences/similarities between the Perl community in western countries and that in Japan, considering that you know both communities, how do you see them interacting at an open source or project based level, working together and also contributing to the core of Perl? Also how people respond to events and how much they contribute or get involved with them.


TBH, I don’t see much difference.

If there’s any difference in the attitude or mannerism in participation to projects, I’d take a wild guess and say that it’s basically because of the language barrier and the difference in the communication protocols. This is an interesting subject in itself for a person like me, but I think I would need about 10 pages to discuss this, so I’ll punt it :) The main point is that when protocols don’t match, the barrier to entry is very high for the Japanese members.

For event participation, I see one major difference, which is that Japanese people don’t heckle or discuss much in the events, but they blog, blog, blog (I include posting to various social networks in this). So when I gathered tweets from YAPC::Asia Tokyo 2015, I think I found over 9,000 tweets, and collected 410 blog entries for a 2 ½ day event. This helps us a bunch, in that we get a lot of feedback (albeit not in real time), and we also have something to prove of our event for later, especially when we organize the next conference.


What’s the level of interest for Perl 6 in the Japan Perl community?


Professionally, I’d say close to none. Hobby wise, I know Crust and other web-related tools have been written in and/or ported to Perl6 by some Japanese fellows, including yours truly. But TBH the underlying language spec and implementation keep changing way too fast to be stable, so it’s hard to be on top of it.


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