Japanese mobile phone culture

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A Japanese flip style cellular phone.

In Japan, mobile phones have become ubiquitous. In Japanese, mobile phones are called keitai denwa, literally "portable telephones," and are often known simply as keitai.

Much of the Japanese population own cellular phones (especially flip phones), most of which are equipped with enhancements such as video and camera capabilities. As of May 2008, 31.3% of elementary school students, and 57.6% of middle school students own a cell phone, with many of them accessing the internet through them. [1] This pervasiveness and the particularities of their usage lead to the development of a mobile phone culture, or "keitai culture."


[edit] Features

Most cellular phones sold in the last three years have integrated cameras; some more up to date models have high quality digital cameras. Many of the cameras are capable of taking both still and video images. Images can usually be sent to other mobile phones and embedded in messages.

Many cellular phones have a range of additional capabilities, such as:

  • E-mail
  • configurable databases
  • phone and address books
  • alarm clocks and stopwatches
  • Live Video feed via Piconet
  • Mobile games, such as role-playing games like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy series
  • Daytimers
  • Varying degrees of image enhancement capabilities, such as the option to create borders, to create animations, and more.
  • Instant messengers
  • Calculator, calendar, schedule note and memo pad
  • Playback of downloaded music
  • Recording and playback of voices, music, images and pictures
  • Portable music player (MP3 player etc.)
  • Portable video player (MP4 player etc.)
  • Viewing online Flash video (YouTube, Nico Nico Douga etc.)
  • Video calling
  • Navigation by GPS
  • Viewing and listening to TV (1seg) and radio (FM/AM)
  • TV phone
  • Crime prevention buzzer (with the automatic reporting system to the police)
  • Pedometer
  • 'Read aloud' system
  • Touch-pad system
  • A fingerprint/face certification system for the protection of personal data
  • Mobile centrex service with wireless LAN

In recent years, some cellular phones even have the capability of being used as debit or credit cards and can be swiped through most checkout lines to buy everything from mascara to jet planes, as more and more companies offer catalogs for cell phones. These functionalities include:

  • E-money service and various certification functions through Untouched IC card (FeliCa etc.)
  • Various services with NTT DoCoMo’s ‘Osaifu-Keitai (mobile phone with wallet function)’
  • E-money service e.g. ‘Edy
  • Function as ‘Mobile Suica,’ which can be used for a season ticket and a train ticket
  • Cmode: vending machines which can be used with QR Code and ‘Osaifu-Keitai’ of a mobile phone
  • I concierge : NTT DoCoMo's service. (Teaching information about traffic,food,shopping etc)by GPS

Some newer models allow the user to watch movies and/or television. Most phones can be connected to the Internet through services such as i-mode. Japan was also the first to launch 3G services on a large scale. Users can browse text-only Internet sites, and many Japanese sites have sub-sites designed especially for cellular phone users. One of the most popular services allows users to check train schedules and plan trips on public transit.

Some mobile phones are waterproof, even in the high-specifications segment.

[edit] In Use

The use of mobile phones on public transport is frowned upon, and messages asking passengers not to make calls and to switch their phones to silent mode ("public mode" or "manners mode" in Japanese) are played frequently. This, combined with the low per-message price, ample allowed length per message (10,000 characters per message) the ability to enhance messages with special characters, emoticons, pictures, and small animations, and to write in English or Japanese, has made e-mailing from cell phones extremely popular among people of all ages.

Many people send and receive a large number of e-mails daily; teenagers are especially fond of this simple, fast, and private method of communication, though many schools prohibit the use of cellular phones on campus.

E-mails are also a popular way to communicate with potential friends or lovers. Many internet sites maintain phone-accessible portals via which users can search for and contact others with similar interests.

Japanese mobile phones have the capability to use very large sets of characters and icons based on JIS standards that define characters for industrial appliances. More than one thousand characters including all of the Latin alphabet, hiragana, katakana, kanji and special characters like cm (centimetre), arrows, musical notes and more can be used to compose messages. Japanese mobile phones also use emoticons differently from Western mobile phones (see Japanese emoticons).

These character sets are used extensively, and often in a way that do not use their original meaning by relying more on the information based on the shape each character has. For example, '\' may be attached at the end of a sentence to show that they are not happy about the event described. A sentence like "I have a test today\" (translated) might mean that he or she didn't study enough, or that the test itself is depressing. Some of these usages disappeared as suitable icons were made but these newly made icons also acquired a usage not originally intended. Another example deals with the astrological symbol for Libra (♎). It resembles a cooked and puffed mochi, and is sometimes used in a happy new year's message as mochi are often eaten then. The symbol for Aquarius (♒) resembles waves, so this would be used to mean 'sea'. The number of icons gradually increased and they are now coloured on most cell phones, to make them more distinct. ASCII art is also used widely and many of them are faces with expression. (see also Shift JIS art)

[edit] Gyaru-moji

One very distinct form of writing is called 'gyaru-moji ('gal characters' named after the fashion style 'gyaru' or 'gal' because the people of this fashion style are the ones who often use this kind of lettering). For example Lt wouldn't correspond to the Latin characters 'L' and 't' but instead it would correspond to the hiragana, け ('ke'). Notice that it looks very similar when written. Many hiragana, katakana and kanji are taken apart and reassembled using different characters including alphabet characters. It is unclear why this usage is now seen. Some believe that this started as a way of making secret messages that a quick peek wouldn't reveal, while others claim that it was just for fun. This can be related to the way the English language hacking culture uses 1337 language to hide the meaning of the words typed. It is also possibly due to different character limits when different languages are used, e.g. 160 Latin characters and 70 Unicode (inc. kanji). By splitting the characters into alpha-numeric characters, it extends the possible over-all length of the message.

[edit] Cell phone novels

Mobile phone novels are popular with the same audience.

[edit] Teenagers and mobile phones

Paging devices used in the late 1980s to early 1990s predate mobile phones and paved the way for the popularity of the phones among teenagers. Pagers could only display numbers and were intended to alert the owner that he or she had received a call from a certain phone number, but teens quickly began using numeric messages to communicate everything from greetings to everyday emotions. Most were based on various ways numbers could be read in Japanese. Examples are

  • 4-6-4-9 -- yo-ro-shi-ku ("hello," "best regards")
  • 3-3-4-1 -- sa-mi-shi-i ("I feel lonely")
  • 8-8-9-1-9 -- ha-ya-ku-i-ku ("hurry up, let's go")

With the rapidly falling prices of cell phones in the mid 1990s, young people began experimenting with the short message service that the mobile phone companies started offering. When the i-mode service became available, the mobile phone culture began flourishing in earnest as this service offered an E-mail application. Magazines and television regularly make specials focusing on the current trend of how mobile phones are used by young people.

[edit] Forefront of consumer technology

There is a popular trend in Japan to use the mobile phone handset to read information from special barcodes. The current technology is based on something called 'QR codes' which are a form of 2D barcode that is written out in a square shape instead of a bar shape. The phone handset can scan the barcode using its camera or other input, decode the information, and then take actions based on the type of content. The most popular usage of these QR codes is in advertising. All over Japan there are posters with the codes on and they are found extensively in magazines and even on some people’s business cards. The QR code usually has links to a web site address or email address that the phone can access, or it might contain address and telephone numbers.

Sony, working with NTT DoCoMo, has been spearheading the mobile phone wallet technology, commonly known as 'FeliCa'. This technology makes use of an RFID chip inside the handset that can communicate with reading devices when the phone is placed near them. Though the technology is relatively new, there are many locations such as convenience stores which allow users to pay for goods using their phones; some vending machines even accept phone payments. Users must 'charge up' their accounts with credits before they can pay using their phones. The growing popularity of the system is compelling other manufacturers to make compatible phones.

Gracenote and Media Socket have a service where the user holds the phone up to a source of music (such as a speaker), and, by dialing a certain phone number, the song is found in a database and identified. The user receives the song's title, artist, and album within seconds. This information can in turn be used to search the mobile internet to find that song.

[edit] Negative aspects

Radio waves are believed to cause interference with heart pacemakers and other medical devices. It is considered a violation of public etiquette when people answer their phones in certain public places, and due to the Internet connectivity, spam has become a more widespread problem. Though talking on a cell phone on a train is seen with growing frequency, it is considered rude in some aspects of Japanese culture. Writing emails or playing games on cell phones while on the train in Japan has become a national pastime and not at all unusual. Signs declaring that people should turn off their mobile phones when around seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped, and turn off sound everywhere else are posted in most trains. Asking to turn the phone off around the elderly seats is most likely to preclude any accidental pacemaker accidents (although the disturbance of modern pacemakers by cell phone waves is disputable), but is rarely if ever done. Most people do place their phone in 'manner mode' in order not to be annoying to others and to avoid embarrassment on trains. In hospitals, it is expected that one should turn it off entirely. Talking on the phone while driving is prohibited, although extremely common.

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[edit] Theory

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