Using a phone in Japan is different...

Good morning everyone,

It was supposed to be warm yesterday, but I certainly didn't notice. It felt cold every time I stepped out, especially the wind. Today will be pretty much the same, and hopefully the wind will be a bit warmer. Then tomorrow, Friday and Saturday will all see highs around 18C or 19C, but unfortunately it's looking like rain on Friday and Saturday. Then, it'll clear up on Sunday and remain sunny and warm through the beginning of next week.

Life’s really changed since we all graduated from flip-phones to smartphones. Now we all have tiny computers in our pockets which we can use to stay connected (and browse funny cat videos). But in Japan, which has always had its own unique smartphone culture, the change from gara-kei flip-phones to smartphones has been even more pronounced.

So, what are some of the things that foreign visitors and residents in Japan notice about Japanese smartphone culture? A recent article from Yahoo! Japan listed some of the most common observations made by foreign contributors.

“Japanese people have excellent phone manners on the train or elsewhere in public” 

In Japan, chatting on the phone on the train is considered extremely rude and generally isn’t tolerated. People are also generally careful about when and where they speak on the phone, since causing inconvenience to others and drawing attention to oneself in public is something a lot of Japanese people would rather avoid. Not so in many other countries, where some people don’t seem to care who’s listening to their conversation, and even watch videos on their phones without using headphones…

“Lots of adults can be seen playing smartphone games”

Who said video games were for kids? The assumption that only kids would be seen playing games on their phones is very narrow-minded, and in a country like Japan—which has a huge industry built around smartphone games—that kind of thinking doesn’t hold water. Since many people have long train commutes here, smartphone gaming is a convenient way to pass the time. You’ll also notice plenty of adults of both genders playing handheld consoles on the train, too.

“Nobody really uses hands-free to talk”

This one I can definitely understand. I always get a shock when I go home to the UK because it seems like everyone’s walking around talking to themselves. In contrast, I hardly ever see anyone chatting hands-free on the phone in Japan, and if they do they’re using headphones and holding their phone, bottom edge closest, up to their mouth. Perhaps it’s got something to do with not wanting to draw attention, or not wanting to look like you’re having a chat with your imaginary friend.

“Lots of people use their phone while walking”

Known as aruki-sumaho (lit “walking-smartphone”) this practice is generally looked down upon in Japan, and yet it happens absolutely everywhere. In crowded cities like Tokyo, a smartphone-screen-gazing salaryman can become a serious pedestrian hazard. It’s even more dangerous on train platforms when one misstep could land you on the track. Some Japanese smartphones these days even come with an inbuilt feature which warns you—and sometimes prevents use entirely—when the phone detects you’re walking. Of course, it’s only an optional feature.

“Lots of people use pictures of their pets or popular characters as their avatars”

A lot of people in Japan have a strong sense of privacy, and many use pseudonyms online as well as opting out of using pictures of their face on social media. If you’ve ever browsed a dating site in Japan, you’ll find lots of people attempting to hide their face in their pictures (because everyone knows that looks don’t matter in online dating :P). It’s a strange phenomenon in this world of online over-sharing, but with many people in Japan drawing a clear line in the sand between their work and private life, it’s often essential.

“People get angry if you try to look at your smartphone during work”

We’ve all heard about how Japanese people work extremely hard. However, it’s often purely for show. Japanese companies are notorious hotbeds of time-wasting, with pointless, drawn-out meetings, excessive redundant paperwork, and plenty of slacking off. However, the important thing is to make it look like you’re working hard. One brief glance at your smartphone would ruin the illusion of diligence.

“They don’t use Siri”

I think it's because Siri was a lot less useful here when iPhones first came out. Back home, she can call a taxi, order a pizza, make a restaurant reservation, buy movie tickets...but when I tried to use her here, she just always connected me to the net to do it myself...it's like being married...ha ha!

How about you? Have you noticed people from other countries using their phones differently from Japanese people?

Have a great day!


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