Why is there so little free wifi in Japan?

A lack of free wi-fi recently came second in a poll of complaints about Japan, with 31 votes from the 100 foreign visitors questioned by the Nikkei Marketing Journal, only slightly behind the 39 votes for shortage of services in foreign languages. I’d also say this is perhaps the biggest contrast to life in Seoul, where almost everywhere has free wi-fi.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that free wi-fi is discouraged by the Japanese government, because there are examples of it being used for people committing fraud in ways that can’t be traced, the same reason that pay-as-you-go phones and internet cafés/ manga kissa where you don’t need a membership card are also discouraged. And in Japan, for some reason companies follow government guidance even when the government can’t even be bothered making an actual law on the matter (for better or worse).

Why were the character and game called Donkey Kong?

I don’t think I’d wondered this since about 1987, but finally had the mystery solved anyway when it came up in a book I’m reading about the history of Nintendo computer games.

The Kong obviously comes from King Kong, which is a gorilla like the character, and apparently the English word donkey was chosen by the Japanese designer to mean “stubborn”, because the character never gives up.

Why are there still local electronics shops in Japan?

The products are sometimes almost twice the price of superstores like Yamada Denki (which are already overpriced), and you see exactly the number of customers you would expect in them, that being the case. As in places like Italy small shop owners in Japan get so many tax benefits that they hardly need to sell anything, but electronics shops seem like an extreme case of uselessness. Someone cleared this one up for me a few weeks ago with the information that they make their money from being service engineers, which also explains why they have the names of one of the big Japanese electronics companies (usually Panasonic, formerly Matsushita) outside.

Why have the Japanese always accessed the internet more by mobile phone?

“While the rapidity of the Internet penetration rate has been remarkable, that is not to say that the actual PC penetration rate for Japan is high. It remains lower than for some other developed countries. This has no bearing on Internet access, though, because Japan has led the world in the use of mobile phones to access Internet sites…NTT’s Do-Co-Mo … had grown to be Japan’s leading Internet Service Provider… only a year after the 1999 launch of the i-mode technology” Language and Society in Japan pg 134

Reasons for this:

1. The technology was developed first in Japan

2. When it was invented a lot of people didn’t have PCs, perhaps because they still had dedicated word processors from the previous boom (caused because Japanese language typewriters were virtually impossible for ordinary people), or because until laptops became standard a lot of people lacked the space at home

3. People don’t spend a lot of time at home and do spend a lot of time on trains

4. There is still often just one computer and television in the house, so people escape to their bedrooms with their mobile phone for both of those functions

Why is the playing time of a CD 74 minutes 42 seconds?

“Because its Japanese developers were determined that it be stretched long enough to contain Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a huge seller in Japan” From Thunder in the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, an interesting book I have a feeling I’ll be quoting more from.

Of course, that answer just prompts another question, which is “Why is Beethoven’s Ninth so popular in Japan?”

Here are some possible answers?

1. “It’s a mystery even for the Japanese why it’s so popular,” Suzuki said. “I think a lot of people in Japan sympathize with Beethoven. He was not a happy person, in constant agony, and that attracts people.”

2. “I’ve heard a lot of theories,” said Kerry Candaele, who is making a documentary on the cultural influence of the Ninth around the world. “Someone told me that it’s the only time that Japanese women are allowed to scream.

“But I think it really has to do with a coming together as equals, of climbing this musical mountain together. In a way, it represents a kind of utopianism.”

Both from this article in the LA Times

Personally, I just think it’s the connection to the New Year. That, of course, poses another question…

Why are the Japanese so into robots?

According to Jennifer Robertson (Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan) on the latest edition of the ever-fabulous Thinking Allowed (Radio 4, latest edition available as podcast for a week), it probably has something to do with the Japanese still believing in the animist religion that is Shinto and so easily believing that a robot can have a soul. Sounds like a load of tosh to me, but all explanations of things Japanese are welcome on JapanExplained! She also mentions the more humdrum reasons of wanting to solve the shortage of manpower without immigration, and the Japanese government trying to find a high-tech industry that they can still dominate when the Koreans and then Chinese are catching up with everything else. I’m sure she couldn’t suggest that Japanese service already has a robotic quality to it on the BBC, so let me be the first to do so here…

More on the main topic of her research:

Gendering Humanoid Robots: Robo-Sexism in Japan
Body Society June 2010 vol. 16 no. 2 1-36
doi: 10.1177/1357034X10364767


Why is mobile phone television so popular in Japan?

Korea being the second biggest market.

I’d always assumed it was the long commutes, but a recent TV-themed special supplement in The Economist convincingly argued that most mobile phone TV use is actually at home and it fills the role of TVs in the bedroom in the American and UK home. That might also explain the young guy who sits half the evening in his car in front of our house watching TV on his car’s satellite navigation screen

Why do most Japanese households have a fax machine?

“Everybody had to have a fax machine in Japan… because nobody would come to your cocktail party if you didn’t fax every guest a map of how to get there” Read the rest of this entry »

Why are washlet toilets so popular in Japan? Third Attempt

According to Makoto Shiina in Shukan Kinyobi (July 4), water to wash your smelly bits and the sound of water to cover your natural noises might both be explainable by people getting used to the profusion of rivers through Japanese villages.

Not convinced by that one, but all theories are welcome at JapanExplained…

Why do so many small local shops have automatic doors?

I hadn’t noticed this until I read it in Tokyo by Donald Ritchie, but it certainly does seem to be true. He doesn’t bother asking why, but I’d go for:

– Electronic = modern= showing you are successful  counts even more in small rural towns

– The original doors were sliding too, so it’s not such a big change

– The reason for the original and new sliding doors is that there is no room to open them either into the shop or into the street

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