Rakuten has long been planning to launch the Kobo Touch in Japan, but they've also been vague on exactly when that would happen. Today that changed. The daily Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun scored an interview with Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten, and he dropped a few hints about Rakuten's plans.
Rakuten is most definitely going to release the Kobo Touch in Japan this summer, with the current estimated release date being some time in late July. This ereader is expected to cost 10 thousand yen (we knew this from January).
There's even a chance that Rakuten might price the Kobo Touch for even less, though that wouldn't really be necessary. The 10k yen price is considerably cheaper than any ereader sold in Japan - not counting the ones shipped internationally.
From the tone of the article, Mikitani seems to feel the pressure of the rumored upcoming launch of a Japanese language Kindle. That rumor has been circulating frequently of late, with variations of it having popped up over the past several years. "As a Japanese company, we cannot lose (to overseas rivals)," Mikitani said. "With Kobo devices, we will be able to export Japanese content. The Japanese publishing industry will become a huge content industry."
If I were them, I'd be worried too. We still don't know that Amazon has signed enough publishers to launch a Japanese language Kindle Store, but that's not the only reason to worry. Amazon has been rolling out KF8 support to the Kindles and apps. That's rapidly undercutting the Kobo Touch's one advantage over the Kindle: the ability to better display text and embed fonts.
What's more, the new KF8 format appears to be able to display vertical text like Japanese characters, and that's an ability that the Kobo Touch still lacks (Epub doesn't support it). This will give Amazon a decided advantage in Japan should they ever launch there.
The Rakuten ebookstore is expected to offer around 50,000 Japanese language titles by the end of the year. This would put it at about the same number of titles as their immediate competition.
Rakuten bought Kobo late last year with the goal of funding Kobo's international expansion. Current plans include a launch later this year in Brazil and greater penetration in the European ebook market. More details on the Japanese launch will be coming in early July. Rakuten is planning to hold a news conference where Mikitani will discuss the new business.