A Land of High Tech Wonder? Japanese Tech Myths Debunked

By Jacob Lewis on at
We all know Japan is losing its technological edge to the likes of Apple and Samsung, but people still think of the country as a tech mecca. Sure, they may have invented the Walkman, and their toilets really do play music, but after living there for eight months, I was surprised to learn the UK is actually ahead of Japan in some technological areas. Here's a quick run-down of debunked Japanese tech myths, to boost your pub-trivia skills at the very least:


Japanese Phones Do Wondrous and Amazing Things


...A stereotype so ingrained, that when Apple first launched the iPhone over there, every tech journalist confidently declared that 'Japan hates the iPhone'. The thinking in the west was that the Japanese would never buy a phone without live TV or contactless payment. Turns out, the iPhone was miles ahead of Japan’s domestic 'Galapagos' phone market, just like it was miles ahead of our own here in the UK, and as a result, it sold like 'hoto cakey'. Everywhere.

The majority of phones sold in Japan are designed specifically for the domestic market by companies like Sharp and HTC. Despite the iPhone's revolutionary effect on the mobile market, many of these phones aren't of the "smart" variety because the feature phone market just refuses to die. Whatever your feature of fancy may be, there's a phone for you: gimmicky 3Dgarish Disney, or nerdy gundam. Weirdly, even the ugly (to us, at least) little clamshell is extremely popular, which means over in Japan, there are millions of men and women walking around using buttons to text. It's like the dark ages!


'Where's My Damn Wi-Fi!?'


Image credit: mshades from Flickr

Fancy checking your emails while you grab a coffee? No such luck, chump. Thanks to their tiny geographical footprint and millions of potential customers, Japanese restaurants and cafés don't want you hanging around any longer than you have to, and they're certainly not going to encourage you to turn their tables into personal office space.

Japan pioneered mobile internet way back in the '90s when the idea of internet on-the-go was far off and magical to your average Englishman. The Japanese were doing, well, whatever people did before Facebook, which is a big part of why Wi-Fi never caught on.

In the UK, companies like McDonalds have provided complimentary Wi-Fi for years, and it's something expected by most people when they enter a coffee chain. But Japanese salarymen have to buy overpriced 3G Wi-Fi dongles if they want to work away from the office. Cafés are so tech unfriendly that despite gorging away all my wages at the wonderful Mr Donut when I was living there, their staff would always tell me off for trying to charge my laptop.


Schools are High Tech


Image credit: MASH POTATO from Flickr

Firstly, not a mech in sight, not so much as a robotic hoover. Japanese schools are pretty grey and tech-less. Computers rooms leave a lot to be desired, and aircon and central heating are high-tech luxuries not afforded to the young. And there's no hot pudding! None! No sponge and custard, ever! Japanese kids grow up tough.

While we're on schools, Japanese kids aren't as mild mannered and obedient as people here think -- don't even get me started on the Kancho (see image above). And we thought conkers were dangerous!


They Don't Need Cash; They Just Pay With a Phone!


Image credit: agutxi from Flickr

Like you may've realised here in the UK thanks to the slow trickle of shops adding NFC payment options, paying with your phone isn't as cool as it sounds and is only really used for trains and vending machines. In Japan, there just isn’t a credit card payment culture to build a fancy mobile payment system on top of, because most shops still expect cash.

So, however much Japan may be a cash economy, you'd be hard-pressed to find an ATM to extract money from. My first week in Japan, I spent all my cash on beer; couldn’t find an ATM, and so couldn't get home. I ended up sleeping in a photo booth, and was shouted at for jumping off the bus without paying. Lesson learnt: always keep your wallet full of Yen. The only place you'll generally find a Japanese cashpoint is the post office, and they're shut most of the weekend. This requires some clever financial planning, or walking around with the equivalent of hundreds of pounds on you. And for those of us with no self control over the cash in our pockets, nights out in Japan can get pricey.

But like most things, there's reason behind the crazy. Japan has an insanely low crime rate and it's not likely you'll get mugged, so carrying tonnes of cash around isn't as much of an issue, like it can be here. Nonetheless, compare this to the 50 national retailers in the UK pushing contactless payment, and it starts to look pretty darned inconvenient over there.

Any stereotypes I missed? Slap them in the comments below. Or if you've had the good fortune to soak up a few months (or more) of the amazing Japanese culture, let me know your thoughts on their tech myths.