And now for the good news. . .
Japan 2000 is based upon the educational television programmes of the same name. The CD contains 35 minutes of video, as well as statistics, maps, 100 minutes of audio data and 200 photographs.
Combine these items with a range of interactive question pages and a special "build your own newscast' feature, and you can see this is a very meaty resource.
The first screens you see are of bullet trains speeding around the country - some visual cliches never die - but the rest of the program is far from predictable.
It takes us to unfamiliar parts of the country and delves deeply into a wide range of topics not always covered elsewhere. In this respect the interviews with Japanese citizens are refreshingly helpful.
The sophistication of today's teenagers - in computing terms, that is - will ensure that the relatively complex routing of the program will present few problems. A few minutes of help to class users might be well spent, however. The screen designs are wonderfully stylish, spoilt only, and oddly, by a very clumsy choice of typeface. Beyond that minor quibble, there is nothing to fault.
You can build up data from audio or text-based sources, follow maps, study photographs and test yourself with a range of questions. Movement from one part of the program to another is simple and, very usefully, you can readily stop items in mid flow if you need to. You can even, while you wait for the screen to change, learn a few Kanji or Japanese characters.
While many CD-Roms try to target a wide audience, with schools as just one part of the market, this program seems perfectly tailored for educational use. To the point, non-patronising and neutral on some tricky issues like whaling and nuclear power, the program is a model for others to follow.
Japan 2000 also represents a coming together of program and programme. Having the video sequences chopped into small manageable chunks invests them with much more value than if they were watched in sequence on a 20-minute schools broadcasting slot.
The possible danger of such a full resource is that students may become immersed in detail and somehow miss the main picture. More optimistically, they may build their own vision based on the data they discover, rather than start with a set of generalisations and look for information to support them.
As a new resource, and as an example of the direction edu- cational publishing is going, Japan 2000 is very good news.