Japanese electronics and technology explained

Why are Japanese offices so unautomated?

Because no one could possibly tell their boss “Look, I can’t do all this work, please buy an extra computer”.

Why are the Japanese so famous for small gadgets?

First of all, there is a lack of room in the country, on the average commuter train and in the normal home. Secondly, the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement tends to head inevitably towards superlatives of things that already exist rather than products that come out of nowhere that no one could have dreamed of. Such things more rarely get exported, but actually the Japanese are just as proud of bridges etc. that on the other end of the scale are the biggest, longest, heaviest etc. in the world.

Why are some Japanese products so odd (ballroom dancing robots) and some others so boring (Toyota Corolla)?

The Japanese innovate in tiny little steps. Like replacing words in Shakespeare one at a time, that could result in something basically the same or it could result in something intentionally or unintentionally surreal.

Why is miniaturization such a big thing in Japan? Second attempt

“In the eighteenth century, the Japanese government levied consumption taxes in an attempt to restrict displays of among the newly emerging middle class. These strictures forced craftsmen to lavish their skills on small private objects, like tiny ivory clasps or exquisite lacquer boxes.” Made in Japan Reed Darmon pg 7 

Why isn’t it possible to turn off the camera sound on your mobile phone?

To stop you taking secret pictures up a school girl’s skirt, as seems to be the main hobby of Japanese judges??

How can little local electronics shops survive even though there are now much cheaper superstores everywhere?

According to “From Bonsai to Levis”, it’s because businesses still get most of their supplies from local companies. Alternatively, it could be a sign of the spending power of the over 60’s for whom going to another part of Tokyo is too much of an adventure.

Why the sudden trend for huge American style fridges (much bigger than the average British one), despite the lack of space in homes?

An American kitchen is a status symbol. There is also a need for storage space for the huge quantities of fruit etc brought back from the countryside or given as gifts. It is also more likely to be visible to visitors than in a Western home, and the older generation lust after a nice fridge because they can still remember when any fridge was a luxury. It also doesn’t have to compete with fitted kitchens which aren’t a big thing. Japanese white goods companies are also desperate to find the next big thing. The fact that the fridge takes up a greater proportion of the space available than in a British home also puts more of a focus on it and makes what it looks like more important.

Why do the Japanese still have video recorders when the rest of the world has switched to Panasonic and Sony DVD players?

Due to the way the video rental shops work, their shelves are still full of videos and you might not be able to get want you want on DVD- especially as reissues are still quite rare.

Why were Minidisks so popular in Japan?

The main reason was that they coincided with a big consumer boom in Japan, the time when you could find 2 year old working TVs and stereos on the street and people would buy almost anything that was new. They did serve a function, however. For one thing, it is taboo to wear a backpack inside a train due to overcrowding, so a walkman needs to be compact enough to fit in a pocket. The small size can also be a help in Japanese homes. As tapes disappeared much quicker in Japan than elsewhere, it was also the only way most people had of recording music.

Why do the Japanese still use upright washing machines with cold water?

Uprights take up a lot less space- you don’t need room to open a door or crouch down in front of it. Not sure about the cold water- expensive heating bills?

Why are Japanese electronics shops often called something Camera?

Cameras were the first technology that the Japanese really dominated worldwide, even before cars.

Why is Denki Gai (Electric Town) in Akihabara?

Akihabara was one of the big post-war blackmarkets, along with Ueno. Similar shops all selling in the same street is a traditionally Japanese and Asian thing, so over time the various markets began to specialise- Akihabara’s speciality becoming cameras and then electronics.

Why is buying electronics in Akihabara popular with foreigners when buying the same stuff in Hong Kong or even back home is cheaper?

Maybe they don’t know that?? Or it’s to tell their friends back home that it was bought in Tokyo??

Why isn’t Sony producing life changing products like the Walkman and Playstation anymore?
Actually, in a way they are. The Playstation 3 and Bluray DVDs came from exactly the same philosophy of -engineering first- that produced those classic products. The problem is that people have about all the technology they can use.

Why are video rental shops still full of videos?

A different distribution system.

With the Japanese love of convenience, why do they still sell such exceedingly old-fashioned and hard work versions of corkscrews and can openers?

When they are combined, they do have a certain convenience and, perhaps more relevant, compactness. Alternatively, it could be a case of borrowings from the west reflecting the level of technology of the time it was borrowed- like the hightech Japanese toilets reflecting the technology that was available at the (much later) time at which they became standard. In this case, perhaps by the time the market would have been ready to trade up to a classier or easier to use version, most cans already had tab pulls. As people don’t often entertain at home, there are also few chances to show off your Philippe Starck corkscrew or electric tin opener


  1. SUBOOR said,

    August 6, 2009 at 9:06 am

    I just want to have your advise about the japanese name for my consumer electronics brands,
    Your advise for keeping the name for above mentioned purpose will be appreciated.
    Awaiting your reply.

    Thanks & best regards

  2. alexcase said,

    August 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I’m sure everyone is happy to give some advice if they can. Comment away!

  3. crella said,

    August 8, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Re robots: The biggest hurdle in robot technology was walking, requiring shifting of weight and balance. It seemed that just a few years ago they were still testing walking robots suspended on wires. Once Ashimo walked I think it was just a matter of ‘okay we’ve got walking down, what can we make ’em do next?’ :-D Ballroom dancing is even more difficult, I think it’s just amazing how fast the technology was evolved.

    Cell phone cameras: Besides up-skirt photos, pics were being taken in gym locker rooms. Fetish pics of random nude women (taken by women, getting paid for it), and pics of celebrities and sports stars were also being taken in gyms.

    Can openers are a hoot, aren’t they? When I first got here I expected that it would have a gear at least (I didn’t expect an electric one as electric gadgets for the kitchen really haven’t caught on here) but DH had this funny one (which we still have) that you have to force through the lid all the way around.Yoisho, yoisho! My mother took one look and said ‘That’s primitive!’

  4. August 25, 2009 at 9:20 am

    […] Although I have seen similar things in other Japanese houses, I am perfectly aware that most of my insight into Japan comes from one not especially typical family, so others’ ideas very gratefully received. My previous attempt to explain this is part of Japanese Gadgets and Technology Explained […]

  5. techlover! said,

    September 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    WHY does Japan love technology?

    p.s. Great Q’s and A’s!

  6. Bernician said,

    December 27, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Theres a real reason for the lack of automation. Its because typing culture is a much more recent phenomena in Japan than in the west.
    Whereas in the west we’ve had typewriters for…a century or so? In Japan, due to the way their language works, they spent most of the century continuing to write things by hand. It wasn’t until the 80s that computers capable of handling Japanese text appeared and offices began to become a bit less Dickensian.

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