My last post talked about the portability of Apple's new Mac mini and iPod shuffle. As I said in that post, I think that the 'pocket-ability' of the iPod shuffle in particular is going to make it a really big hit in Japan. Someone posted feedback to that entry a confirmation that it is already becoming hard to even buy an iPod shuffle as current demand is so high:
iPod shuffle is a hit. It's all but impossible to buy in Osaka right now.. much to my annoyance.
This ability to use something on the go by just throwing it in the pocket is highly appealing to the Japanese consumer market— especially amongst young people in Japan. This is due in part to the mobile lifestyle of Japanese today. Many people are forced to commute by train to work, shop, or just have fun.
In Tokyo, the travel times for such a trip can be an hour or more, especially if a salaryman has a family home in one of the bedroom communities outlying the Tokyo sprawl. Besides the possibility of having a more spacious home in the 'countryside', another appealing factor is the lower cost of a home or apartment the further you live from the core of central Tokyo.
These factors have pushed the working population, which power the national dynamo that is Tokyo—center of commerce, government, and culture— into long commutes.
So, you are on a train an hour, maybe two—each way—every day.
What do you do with yourself?
The answer for some is to doze off on the train. Check out this link to Masamana's site with a really humorous gallery of pictures with sleeping train commuters.
Others choose to read small manga or books on the train, which ties into the national popularity of manga I discussed in a previous post.
In the last few years, you'll now see another group of people looking at their very small, pocketable cell phones, keitai denwa, while they use their thumb to enter 'something' on the phone's keypad. It's really odd to watch this behavior on a train platform or in a train as they are SO absorbed in this activity
What exactly are they doing on their phones?
It has already become bad social form to talk on the cell phone in the often cramped train cars, so text messaging has evolved as one way to stay in touch while stuck on the train in Japan. And some rail companies are even installing detectors with lights that flash in a car when a cell signal is detected (next to a sign discouraging that cell use).
Other people use the Java based applet web-browsers to surf the internet on their cell phones in Japan. (Keitai, cell phones in Japan, have become the most conspicuous method of affordable access to the internet for most Japanese, almost a parallel to the development of affordable broadband in the Americas. To see more on this phenomena, please read my research on keitai.)
Still others are playing an arcade game on their mobile phone.
Even in the name used for cell phones in Japan, you can see the value placed on portability by the commuter culture of modern Japan. Denwa means telephone in Japanese. The word, as mentioned above, for a mobile phone in Japan is keitai denwa.
However, this is often shortened to just 'keitai. A word by itself means which means a small or pocketable object; easily carried. It is even rendered in Katakana, the Japanese script used for foreign words in a possible attempt to make it appear modern or chic. The fact that the word for a mobile phone in Japan has been reduced to just 'keitai' reveals this high value the youth culture in Japan places on mobility. No small wonder that so many features have been packed into these keitai phones putting them 2-3 years ahead of the technology available for mobile phones in the American market (though the different signal standards, like GSM, preferred by each mobile company may also have something to do with this in the U.S.). This value on mobility has also effected the evolution of the design for other electronic devices such as handheld portable game systems which explains the current buzz about the new Sony Playstation Portable, the PSP.
For the enterprising soul in Japan, it's become quite simple really:
If it's keitai sized, it's marketable in Japan.
To see this in action, check out this link to Akihabara News with the current popularity of keitai plants: