In November 2006 I spent a week in Japan. I was invited by Ericsson to attend their annual Analysts Conference. I also conducted several Roundtables with customers and met with our sales partner organisation, GII. Of course, mobile developments feature prominently in this report, since Japan is a world leader in that area, and the Ericsson conference focused heavily on the new developments in mobile. I also very much appreciated the company’s facility for customer visits and specialist interviews.
The amazing Japanese mobile market
Mobile phone use in Japan is very different from what I have seen elsewhere. I had been aware that this was so, but experiencing it first-hand was very interesting.
Not only do people not talk on their phones in trains, basically they don’t make mobile calls in any public area – those intrusive calls in other countries, which everyone within 25 metres is forced to listen to. More often than not people go outside or to a private area if they have to make a call. As far as I know most phones are on silent mode; the Japanese don’t like loud noises, and they find us westerners rude because we speak loudly and our phones have such penetrating ringtones.
Japanese people are certainly the most polite people I have ever encountered.
I have been told that this was not only politeness, but also shyness, and I think that this certainly is a cultural factor.
As usual, I did one of my quick and dirty surveys in Japan. On board a train I could easily count between 50 and 100 people within my radius and, on average at any given moment, one in ten was using their mobile phone for data purposes. At stations this number was double that.
When you encounter kids coming home from school, at least half of them are on the phone. As far as I could see 95% or more were using it for email. SMS is not very popular in Japan, because of the lack of SMS interconnect between the operators. Mobile email is very cheap, prices are capped and, in the case of Softbank, emails are free.
Occasionally you see some of the younger men playing a game. I did not see anybody using video or photo applications. So, despite the fact that mobile data use in Japan is 45% (against a global average of 15% if I include SMS) the reality is that it is mainly used for email – the reason for that is largely due to the lack of SMS.
I found this very interesting indeed.
The user-friendliness of email in Japan is also remarkable. Predictive typing has been finetuned in such a way that it allows people to be very fast with what must be a difficult script for mobile phone typing.
During my trip I have gathered lots of interesting data on the Japanese market. I have analysed why the Japanese market is so successful and what other countries can learn, and should take into account, if they look at the Japanese success story. The reality is that a great deal of its success is by default and not because of superior planning, and is a result of the unique social context within the Japanese culture.
More on that in my special report.
The mobile data success is also stimulating the market for content, services and advertising. In my report I discuss interesting developments in relation to QR codes, a type of Japanese bar-coding system, but more pictorial, which can be used in combination with the mobile phone camera.
Mobile social networks is another success story, emulating the fixed networks of MySpace and YouTube.
Some five million Japanese are now also using e-cash through their mobile phones.
And, last but not least, I have been able to gather information regarding the unbundling of FttH. Thanks to good government telecoms policies, in Japan there are ten fibre wholesale operators using the NTT FttH network.
For our special report on Japan at the discounted price of $20 see http://www.budde.com.au/Reports/Contents/Japan-Travelogue-Japan-Trip-November-2006-4136.html
The Japanese train system
We have all seen those pictures with Japanese rail staff in white gloves pushing people onto the trains, but actually experiencing it is a different matter entirely.
Despite the fact that there is not just one underground railway system in Tokyo, and you sometimes need to buy new tickets halfway, the system works like clockwork. You never have to wait more than a few minutes and the speed is fast, the trains are clean and the passengers surprisingly quiet.
These trains carry millions of travellers every day, but it’s only when you see the size of the infrastructure and the number of people involved that you appreciate the scale of this system. The mass of people at the stations made me think of the demonstrations you sometimes see on television – of course without the banners and the shouting. It certainly is huge.
Tokyo station is easily one of the largest train stations I have ever seen. It is beyond comprehension, and I was told that even seasoned local Tokyo people sometimes get lost there. Shinjuku is apparently even bigger, and Shibuya, the station that I called ‘home’ for most of the week, was equally impressive.
They have built a whole system of fly-over pedestrian footways to cope with the passengers. The Shibuya shopping-level pedestrian crossing a bit further up is a tourist attraction in itself.
At the same time the rituals around train travelling are highly-finetuned – by the people themselves. There is no pushing, people line up and when no more people can be pushed into the train the rest remain in the queue waiting for the next train to arrive.
Naturally, because of the mass of people, there is lot of body contact, but that is taken for granted. For a few days I continued to say ‘I’m sorry’ when I bumped into somebody, but then I adjusted and also took the jostling for granted. I didn’t find it rude if somebody bumped into me without apologising. It simply is part of Tokyo train travel.
In the city trains there is complete silence. A train can be packed to the brim and yet you could hear a pin drop. People do not talk to each other and the use of mobile phones for calls is frowned upon (using them for silent data transmission, however, is accepted now also even for the more conservative businessmen).
I even got nervous that I hadn’t switched off my phone and couldn’t reach my pocket to switch it off because I was packed into the train. It would have been just as embarrassing to have your phone ringing on a Tokyo train as it would be in the front row of an upmarket theatre. Fortunately this nightmare did not eventuate.
However, travelling further towards the outskirts of the city, as I did to visit Hakone, there is more social contact on the train – much more relaxed.
As there is simply no room in the trains to read a newspaper, people either read comic books, or study English from a text book.
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