Lost in Translation (Cell Phone Use in Japan)

I feel like I'm in the popular movie starring Bill Murray. I've just spent my first week in Japan working with my Japanese business partners.

One of the enjoyable parts of the trip has been observing Japanese customs. In particular, I have found their use of cell phones to be quite interesting.

For example, everyone has a cell phone. I saw all men, women, and children using portable cell phones. I saw everyone sending and receiving text messages, checking train schedules, reading news, and playing games. But I didn't see many people taking phone calls and I've heard no phones ring at all -- amazing considering the thousands of people I passed daily in the train stations. And finally, I did not observe any BlackBerries or similar phones with full QWERTY keyboards.

My Japanese host explained to me that the Japanese are very polite and consider it very rude for phones to ring in public places. That sounds reasonable to me and this is something Westerners should consider. He then explained that phones with a Western-style QWERTY keyboard are not popular in Japan. Users prefer simple menus and scroll buttons, better suited to Japanese character sets.

I'm reminded of Bill Murray's line in the movie that went something like: "I am not sure if I am having fun, but it is very different here." Japan is certainly very different, but these differences are fun to observe.

... Bob Spurzem

One Comment

  1. Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:10 PM | Permalink

    Also, another reason for texting instead of calling is that texting is much cheaper. And regarding keyboards, the way in which Japanese characters are typed does not really require QWERTY keyboards, so these are not really necessary in Japan. Enjoy your stay!

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