1: Value over Culture

When presenting the research done in the Japanese mobile market, the authors have received a lukewarm reception. Wile the potential seemed exciting, many felt that it would not go over in other markets - that it is, essentially, "just a Japanese thing."

Plainly: no, it is not.

The authors maintain that Japanese culture has no significant impact on the long-term success of mobile Internet in Japan, and moreover that the beliefs about the culture outsiders express are largely myths and misconceptions. The four chief misconceptions are addressed.


This myth suggests that the Japanese have an inordinate attraction to technological devices and are more eager to adopt them than other cultures.

The author asserts that Japanese consumers are like consumers anywhere else: they adopt products because they find them appealing and useful.

For example, Japanese business executives have largely rejected the RIM Blackberry that is widely accepted in western markets, and Nokia has never achieved market dominance.

Also, when you broaden the category to gadgets in general, 96% of Japanese consumers own "any type" of electronic device, but similar statistics are true of most Asian markets, and developed markets in Europe and the United States are all in the 75% to 90% range.

(EN: I'm not buying this argument - the notion that Japanese delight in small gadgets isn't a stereotype, but a cultural phenomenon that has been extensively documented. However, a more significant counterpoint has been made in other sources: while the Japanese delight in novelties, they are also quite faddish. As such, it's fair to say that if mobile had no actual value, Japanese consumers would have abandoned it just as quickly as they took to it.)


Another widely-accepted myth is that Japanese people live in very tiny homes that do not have sufficient space to accommodate a personal computer - and as such mobile is their only opportunity to access data networks.

The author dismiss this in a general way, suggesting that Western perceptions are based on the urban centers of Japan, where homes and apartments are smaller because space is at a premium. But the "other" 55% of the population live in suburban or rural areas, where houses are more comparable to those in other nations.

(EN: I did a little more digging and found better support to dismiss the notion: the average square footage of a Japanese home is 1310. This is considerably smaller than the American home, which averages 2065, but on par with the average European home, which averages 1361.)

It's also noted that the home computer and Internet access was, indeed, adopted by the Japanese at a reasonable rate. While it lagged behind the United States and several more aggressive European nations (Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, and the UK), penetration in Japan was better than several other nations (Italy, Spain, Korea, and others).

Ultimately, the correlation between home size and Internet adoption does not hold up under examination, and the notion that Japanese customers shunned the Internet is an unreasonable exaggeration.


As previously mentioned, Japan's population is highly urbanized, with many citizens using the public transportation to avoid dense traffic in major metropolitan area.

However, it's noted that the average citizen spends approximately 31 minutes per day on public transportation. While this is considerably higher than in other nations, it does not support the notion of a culture where people have a lot of commuting "downtime" and seek to use mobile technology to make more productive use of it.

One need only spend some time riding on the public transportation to witness that few passengers seem to be engrossed in mobile devices: they may be reading, listening to music, or even sleeping - and while a few may be furiously fiddling with their mobile phones, it is not a significantly greater proportion than can be witnessed in any other country.

More objective evidence is also available, in the Dentsu study on the use of mobile data devices. For men, the most extensive use of mobile is in the office; and for women, it is in the living room at home; for children, it is at school.

In terms of the amount of mobile activity, a similar study found that less than 10% of mobile usage occurs during the times of day when Japanese are most likely to be commuting.


Another suggestion is that the Japanese consumer has taken to mobile technology, particularly instant messages, because they are withdrawn and silent, and as such are more likely to send a text message then have a telephone conversation in a place where they might disturb others.

Given that text messaging is the second most common use of a mobile device, behind voice calling, in virtually every nation that has adopted mobile phones, it would be difficult to assert that SMS is a technology that is only appealing to a "quiet" culture.

(EN: Aside of that, the authors give no real rebuttal, but go off on a tangent about cultural analyses done by Hofstede, Zaltman, and a few others, which suggest various differences between European, American, and Japanese cultures. The authors' take on this seems to be in the nature of "what does this have to do with mobile?" And it seems reasonable to suggest that the adoption of products is more derived from practical needs than cultural proclivities, which seems a reasonable assertion.)


The Japanese mobile industry has effectively grasped what the Japanese consumer wants, and is efficient in delivering consumer solutions. In a general sense, people want four things of mobile:

The authors also present some information on the revenue of mobile services, admitting that the numbers will be different by the time the book is published. (EN: I'll skip the details, for the very reason stated.)