Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

The iPhone faces an uphill rollout in Japan

August 13, 2008 3 comments



Well, the iPhone 3G has been out almost one month now and I’d like to post a little belated article on its progress in Japan.

The iPhone has invariably met with rave reviews wherever it has been rolled out and has now cornered 1.1% of the world’s handset market. That’s the world’s handset market, not the smartphone market.

In terms of smartphone market, reports put the iPhone anywhere between 20% and 30% of the total market share. This is a significant achievement for a company that has very low presence in the corporate sector.

But how about in Japan?

A report in June stated that 91% of phone purchasers would not consider an iPhone 3G if released in Japan. This result was put down to various reasons.

The top reason was fixed battery, followed by the carrier, Softbank, which has a rather speckled reputation and is known for its labyrinthine escape clauses on its contracts.

However, since the iPhone was released and the public have had access to the “real thing,” perceptions have changed somewhat, with reviews becoming markedly more popular.

Ironically, though, it’s functions that westerners might feel are unnecessary that are causing the most friction to wide adoption.

No one handed typing

The sideways mode presents a full Qwerty keyboard for typing with great Japanese conversion software, but most phone users in Japan will avoid that like the plague. They’d rather use the iPhone’s 9 key keyboard which has a patented and very advanced Japanese input method which, given just a little practice can be used to type about twice as quickly compared to using any other phone.

The iPhone is larger than your average phone and is actually easier to type on due to the larger surface area available for the keypad. This in and of itself would be considered a great advancement in western terms.b

However, in Japan it’s whether or not you can type one handed -while holding on for dear life onto a support strap on a crowded commuter train- that dictates whether or not a phone will succeed.

The first iteration of the iPhone software was terrible for Japanese, forcing them to use a nasty little Querty Keyboard.

Version 2.0 is much improved and offers Chinese and Japanese handwriting support and a great Kana input method.
But it’s still a little large for Japanese hands!

Remember, we are talking about a market where many a beautiful clamshell phone design has died a death because it can’t be opened with the press of a button or the flick of a thumb.

Given that Japanese women, who like to use their phones for messaging more than men, tend to have smaller hands than their western counterparts  and given that mobiles in general are popular in Japan because practically everyone commutes long distance by train (averaging 30 minutes or more one way on the crowded transport systems of major cities) this is a double whammy against the iPhone’s adoption.

Force a large number of phone users to have to type on their phones with two hands and you’ll cause a nasty crush whenever the train stops and four hundred passengers lurch forward because they weren’t holding on.

I know this happens, because I accidentally got on a newly introduced women’s carriage on a train and all the women were texting away on their phones or reading. Traditionally, rather than raise their own arms and expose their armpits to total strangers, they rely on the more fully dressed men to hold onto the overhead straps and support them when the train stops and starts, but there were no men holding on to the ceiling straps and most of the women weren’t used to this.

When the train stopped, two hundred women in the carriage I was in fell forward, got trapped between the front wall of the carriage and other passengers, fell onto seated passengers or quite dangerously ended up in a mass of arms and legs. Only myself, holding on to the overhead straps and the woman standing next to me, who grabbed me when the train stopped managed to stay upright.

Put a couple of hundred iPhones in the hands of Japanese passengers and repeats of this scene, plus photos of crushed iPhone carnage will be splattered on news sites and newspapers across Japan.

No “emoji”

Emoji are a standardised set of emoticons for all Japanese phones. They cover a wide range of emotions, feelings, convenient objects, actions and places, the weather and transport systems. Without emoji, a Japanese person will have to type a message ten times longer in order to say the same thing and not be misunderstood.


Needless to say, the iPhone cannot send emoji. Worse, when receiving emoji from others, the character is replaced with an “=” sign or displayed simply as a code such as #6834, rendering the mail illegible.

If the typing problems don’t put you off, this will make the email function practically worthless.

No infrared transmitter

Japanese phones come with a phone to phone infrared transmitter to “beam” your vcard (address, phone number, photo, profile or other private details) to another phone. These are standard and work across any carrier, any make, brand or generation of Japanese phone.

Not having an infrared transmitter means you’ll never get the phone number or email address of a potential pick-up at a bar: Congratulations, you’ve effectively ostracised yourself from the dating circuit.

No strap loop hole

This may seem ridiculous, but there is no place for a strap on the iPhone. In Japan, every phone has a place for a strap, and some people have straps that weigh more than the phone itself! Remember that the more fashion conscious tend to have more straps, so it’s ironic that the iPhone, a tech-fashion icon doesn’t have one.

No strap? No deal!

Categories: Japan, Mac Tags: , , ,

Trip to Toneri Koen on the new Toneri Liner Monorail.

It’s not every week that a new line opens in the heart of Tokyo, after all there’s not too many places left to build on!

Still, one such line just opened last month, the nippori – Toneri Monorail (Or the Toneri Liner), which runs from Nippori to Toneri, a trip of about 10km and 20 minutes.

We took a trip on it this weekend. It goes out to the splendid Toneri Koen (Toneri Park) which I recommend to any parent in Tokyo as a great place to take your kids for a picnic.

At its highest point, the line runs somewhere in the region of 12 floors up over the Sumida river. About 30m or 90ft up!

Toneri Line - High above the overpasses.


Oh, look down there! Three (not two) tennis courts. Look carefully. We’re higher than it at first looks.

It’s hard to show in photos just how high this is, but it’s pretty impressive.

I think this one just about demonstrates it, though.

Toneri Line - High above the overpasses.


We are running over an overpass which itself is running on a elevated bank, above the floodplain of Sumida river.

On the right-most road, you can just make out a white delivery van. A pylon in middle distance also helps to put things into perspective.


Toneri Line - High above the apartments.


You can see that we are looking down on an eight floor apartment block in the above photo.

We rode out to the shuuten (terminal) which took about 20 minutes…


The End of the Toneri Line

… and then doubled back two stops to Toneri Koen Station.

Toneri Koen Station

The stations themselves are raised on legs, the lowest of which is still over two floors up from ground level. Here is a typical station, raised above a dual-carriageway.

Typical Toneri Line Station


The station surrounds are still under construction and undergoing beautification.

All in all, a straight journey from Nippori to Toneri Koen should take about 20 minutes. It used to take over an hour on the bus!

As an aside, property values in Toneri (as I predicted two years ago) have gone from, say 15,000,000 yen for an apartment to nearly 25,000,000 right now.


Categories: Japan Tags: , ,

Galapagos on YouTube!


Galapagos is a band I’ve been listening to since about 1995. I’d just started learning Japanese at the time and was beginning to make some Japanese friends.

I started taking them out to clubs and live gigs and was showing them around as if we (westerners) had invented to concept of “live”.

Was I in for a surprise. One girl, I forget her name now, came over the next day after a bunch of us went out for a night in Coventry. She handed me a tape and said, “If you liked that stuff last night, you’ll love this.”

I was totally taken aback by what I heard. I never imagined that the Japanese could take a mixture of 80’s British punk, Adam and the Ants, generic rock and pop, mash in some pentatonic guitar riffs ala Shamisen and laser-glam it up for the nineties. Added to the era of Japan being the highly stressed economic king of the world, a client base with practically unlimited budget and a guaranteed profit, the Japanese post-bubble laser-punk scene gave rise to one of the most ridiculously outrageous fashion statements since Ziggy meets the National Front. We’re talking excess, taken to excess in a way only the uber-wealthy and highly-strung nation of Japan could manage or afford.

Every aspect of their work was over-the-top. The tempo, the changes in tempo, the number of beats per bar, the raving, maniacal lyrics and let’s not forget, the stupendous makeup and hairstyles du jour!

The band, to me seemed to typify the boundless wealth and exuberance of the 1990s fuck the world and then we die attitude.

I played that tape long after the girl went back to Japan and if I could, I’d love to say a heartfelt thank you to her for giving me an experience to remember. I remember almost crying when the tape chewed itself to oblivion in my overpriced cassette deck, and thinking that I’d never hear them again.

Of course, that was before knowing that I was going to come to Japan in 1999.

On arriving in Japan, I immediately started scouring the shops for the band’s CDs but of course, nobody had ever heard of the band and every time I’d gone to Kobe or Osaka, I’d prepared by printing out a list of some of the best secondhand CD shops in the region. I visited most on the list but none had them in stock. In the end I gave up.

I found sketchy details that suggested they’d split up in the mid nineties: The were a victim of the Japanese consumers’ fickle appetite for change and Great New Things (TM).

Then, lo and behold, one day when I visited a local CD shop in my neighbouring Toyooka, the only sizable town near Kinosaki, I found it completely by chance! One copy of Down By Law in pristine condition nestled in the oldies box. It cost me about 80p and three years!

Galapagos, Down By Law - front cover

Galapagos, Down By Law - back cover

Galapagos – Down By Law, 1990.

The owner of the shop had no idea it was even there.

Now, this in itself is only minor news. But a few years later, 2001 if I remember correctly, I was walking through the streets of Sapporo. The temperature was somewhere in the region of -12 degrees Celsius, typical January weather for that part of Japan. I glanced up from my feet for a moment and caught sight of a second hand CD shop.

Now bear in mind that I’d not been looking for any second hand CDs for a long time and had passed dozens of second hand CD shops in the meantime. This one was no different and I walked on by.

But I got the strangest feeling. I had to stop walking. I felt I was being pulled back to the shop.
I thought, “I wonder…” I went into the shop and asked sheepishly “You don’t happen to have Honey Pie by Galapagos, do you?”

Of course he’d never heard of the band but duly checked on the computer anyway. Finally he laughed and said, “Wow. We have a copy that came in in 1995!”

Galapagos, Honey Pie - front cover

Galapagos, Honey Pie - front cover

Galapagos, Honey Pie - back cover

Galapagos, Honey Pie - back cover

Galapagos – Honey Pie, 1993

I’m writing this curiously, spuriously, oscuriously blog entry today because, in searching for info on Galapagos, I came across these absolute Gems on YouTube!

Seriously, I had no idea the lead singer was so hot! And What a hairstyle!

Categories: 2) Music & Film, 3) Life, Japan, Strange Tags:

Colonel Sanders, Akihabara Style.

April 28, 2008 Leave a comment

 I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the sometimes controversial statues of Colonel Sanders somewhat tasteless. In Japan, however they are still commonplace.


Still, Akihabara tends to be the great equaliser, where the hikikomori (the literally hidden substrata of disaffected Japanese youth that shun society) those who rarely leave their home can dress up as commandos, galyords, Anime War Lords or French maids and enjoy a nice day out in the sun.

Colonel Sanders got the Akiba treatment this weekend, in a sweet, Akihabara style publicity stunt.


I must say, he looks a extremely cute, for a 60 year old man with a bad temper.

Categories: 3) Life, Japan, Strange Tags: ,

Started blogging for Youshare

April 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Our company has moved into the Blogosphere and I’ve been asked to blog for our company. Not sure what to blog on, so I’m going to blog on so I’m going to blog about anything I can think of.

I’ll be cross posting, here and on:

…which is going to go live in a month or two, once we’ve gathered some contents and ironed out a few minor bugs.

Why don’t you start a blog over there and let us know what you think?


Categories: 3) Life, Japan, Job, Site Tags: ,

Excessive Packaging!!!

April 22, 2008 Leave a comment

I know that shipping a product with inadequate packaging can be damaging. I’ve done it myself only to have the items all banged up at the destination. But this is starting to get ridiculous.

We got this substantial box in the post:

A substantial box arrives in the post

Expecting a book or something, we opened it and got quite a surprise.

Say, that\'s a nice little package!

It was a free sample of cosmetics. Oh happy day!

What a waste!

A box this size for a tiny little vial of oil. I’m amazed we have any trees left at all!

The unpackaged article
Couldn’t they just bubble wrap it?

How can we be responsible parents and explain the concepts of ecology vursus wastefulness when random boxes like this come through the post?

PPR, Packaging to Product Ratio
I’ve decided to create a new ratio to account for this, I’ll call it PPR, or Packaging to Product Ratio.

If we want to be pseudo-scientific about all this, we can further categorise this ratio:

  • PPR/V – The ratio of package to product by mass.
  • PPR/M – The ratio of package to product by volume.
  • PPR/C – The ratio of package to product by cost.
    • This one’s a little tricky to measure in the home
  • PPR/D – The ratio of package to product by damage to the environment.
    • Again, a little difficult to quantify without a research lab and a team of investigators.

Since I can’t accurately judge the weight of the packaging from the photo and don’t have the collagen:Vitamin C ratio of the oil in memory right now, I’m going to be lazy and just do PPR/V

Packaging : 36cm x 24cm x 8cm = 6912cc.

Product : Vitamin C enriched essential oil : 5cc

PPR/V = 1382 : 1

Categories: 3) Life, Japan, Strange Tags:

Goodbye Inage High!

March 10, 2006 Leave a comment

Today was my last day at the school where I work. It’s been a rollercoaster thirty two months. Being that this was the third school at which I’d spent considerable time, I thought that I’d be able to get through the day without any tears. I was mistaken

The first years suddenly asked me to make a goodbye speech for them, but I was so busy that I didn’t think I’d be able to and I still hadn’t prepared anything by the time I finally got to their classroom.

Still, I managed to make a heartfelt go of it, during which I, and a number of pupils started crying!

I also received a number of cards, letters and purikura (Print Club stickers) and for the first and most probably the last time, flowers!

So, that’s it then, the end of an era for me. The end of an era that started with me coming to Japan on 25th of July, 1999 on the JET Program to a small school called Kinosaki Junior High in a tiny coastal town and ended on the 10th of March, 2006 at a flagship senior high school in the centre of The Tokyo-Chiba metropolitan region with one of the best English language proficiency levels on record.

Six and three quarter years of teaching, it would seem, do not a career make.

Many valued colleagues and several close friends have said things like “You’re a great teacher.” or “”Why do yo want to leave teaching.” and I’m forced to look back at the time and consider what I’ve achieved.

Perhaps I have gained a lot of experience over the years and yes, I have put effort into my work and it may be that I do have the skills that make me a good teacher. Unfortunately, the system makes no allowances for experience, skill or effort. Overtime and tardiness are rarely distinguished between and effort adds little but extra work. Moreover, years of experience makes no difference when it comes to determining pay.

Finally, all the sweat and blood earns nothing more or less than respect from coworkers, which, whilst being one of the prime motivating factors of a modern career is no basis for a stable family or future.

Were these six year worth it? Or have I permanently placed my career in jeopardy? What skills from my last job can a carry over to the next. These are things I will have to answer over the next few months and years.

One thing is for certain, at 32, I’ll have to work hard over the next three years to catch up.

And so it is with mixed feelings that I bring my first career to a close and return to the path I walked before coming to Japan: IT Support.

Categories: Japan, Job

New Year’s Decorations

January 2, 2006 Leave a comment

We decorated our mono’oki, (a little display area) in the hallway today.

Wherever you go in Japan at the begining of the year, you can find these brighly decorated little diplays.

The diplay consists of a plinth adorned with decorative paper supporting a wax covered mochi (a pounded rice-cake, covered in wax to preserve it).

On top of the mochi is balanced a daidai, a kind of sour orange, decorated with a golden fan.

Although ostensibly a Japanese tradition, this custom of decorating the little display with a fan actually originates from China.

Categories: Japan

Happy New Year

January 1, 2006 Leave a comment

Happy New Year

I can’t believe that another year has come and gone… Another! It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

We went on a day trip to Shizuoka prefecture. It is a place famous for some of the purest spring water and green tea in Japan, not to mention having the finest view Mt. Fuji.

The journey to Shizuoka started early, with a Yamanote line train to Ueno. From there, we started the longest leg of our journey, a 2 hour bus ride across Tokyo and west to Shizuoka.

I’d expected a Japanese bus tour to be like I’d seen at the pictures: Hundreds of camera wielding granddads and bag-toting wives on a whistle stop tour of fifty temples, six galeries and four expensive restaurants.

But luckily, it was nothing like that: The bus took us at a leisurely pace, with enough time to relax and enjoy the refreshing scenery

Until the previous day, the forcast had threatened snow, but today the weather was perfect. Indeed, it was warm enough to take my jacket off once I’d walked a little, as the sun was shining and there was hardly a gust of wind to mention.

The highlight of the day was our stop at a beach in the bay. It was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to set, casting a red hue across the heavens. The sky was immaculate, apart from around the foothills of Mt. Fuji, where a mass of fine clouds had appeared.

No matter how many times one sees Mt. Fuji, one can never take the beauty of its otherworldly shape and its awesome presence for granted. It dominates the skyline of Shizuoka, and is visible from virtually everywhere in the area (including my last apartment in Tokyo, for that matter) except from the centre of the city. The morning had started off clear with a magnificient view of the peak.

Now however, bathed in the rays of the setting sun, the mountain appeared to be floating on a misty sea, like a fairytale magic kingdom.

It takes little imagination, seeing this, to understend the influence Mt. Fuji has had over the last millenium on the art, literature, culture and even the hearts of the Japanese.

Categories: Family, Japan

Trip to Tsukuba Mountain

October 2, 2005 Leave a comment

We took the new Tsukuba Express, the train line which opened at the end of August, out to Tsukuba. It has to be one of the smoothest train journeys I’ve ever taken. The train is virtually silent and hardly shakes at all, even when on a bend in the track. A very impressive feat of engineering. The stations that we passed through were all very nicely designed. From start to finish, the train ride took a shade under 45 minutes and a distance of 60km means an average speed of over 80km/h. This makes it one of the fastest lines when considering the stops the train makes.

We arrived at Tsukuba station and took a bus to Tsukuba-san (Tsukuba Mountain). Unfortunately, the bus driver must have overdosed on caffeine that morning and -in contrast to the beautiful new train- the ride was anything but smooth. The driver aggressively carreened his way through a “slip-n-ya-dead” zig-zagging mountain pass with all of us standing up, cram packed into a bus-cum-bronco. It took as long to get from Tsukuba station to the mountain about 10km away as it did on the train.

Categories: Japan