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News Navigator: What's the 'metaverse' and which Japanese firms are entering the market?

The "Virtual Market" metaverse expo held by Hikky is seen in this image provided by the company.

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about what the "metaverse" is and the future of the technology.

    Question: What is the "metaverse" I hear people talking about lately?

    Answer: The term is a portmanteau of "meta," which means beyond, and "universe." It refers to a virtual world created on the internet using 3D computer graphics and virtual reality (VR) technology. It gained attention last October when social networking giant Facebook announced its full-scale entry into the metaverse business and changed its company name to Meta.

    Q: What can we do in a metaverse?

    A: Users wear VR goggles or use other equipment to walk around the virtual world or communicate through their avatar. At the moment, it is mainly used for visual and auditory games, but the technology is also being applied to work meetings, shopping and academic activities. The use of the metaverse can expand if equipment and software engaging with all five human senses are developed, and companies are entering the market one after another.

    Q: Which Japanese companies are entering the market?

    A: At the annual consumer electronics IT trade show CES held in the United States in January, electronics giant Panasonic Corp. revealed its compact VR glasses enabling users to move around a metaverse in accordance with their body's movements. Electronics and entertainment firm Sony Group Corp. said it plans to start a demonstration experiment of a service where soccer fans can interact with each other in a metaverse stadium.

    Q: Do you think we will become more familiar with the concept in the future?

    A: Tokyo-based start-up Hikky has been hosting the annual "Virtual Market" metaverse expo, which attracts more and more interest every year. In December 2021, some 80 companies including Lawson Inc. and Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. participated, and over 1 million people visited online. The coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to go outside freely, so people's attraction to the metaverse will likely increase further.

    (Japanese original by Ayane Matsuyama, Business News Department)

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