‘Japan: high tech image, low tech reality’

By Jen McClure

Still going strong in Japan… Courtesy of Sony pictures

Robots, high speed trains, electric cars, and cutting edge electronics; you know what country I’m talking about, right? Japan. But, move away from the bright, hi-tech lights of Tokyo, and you will find none of the above anywhere to be seen.  Shocked? This is Japan’s low tech reality.

Japan is very good at exporting its hi-tech image to the world.  The Japanese have crafted a very clever image for themselves in their electronic paradise.  It is true that Japan has contributed technological advancements to the world, but Japanese technology should come with a warning label, “For Export Only.” In reality, everyday Japan is far from cutting edge.  Image this scenario: a place where the ATMs close at 9pm, offices without computers, fax machines in wide use and most homes without central heating.  Hard to believe? Yes.  But, this scenario is all too real in modern day Japan.

Two years ago I left Scotland and went to teach English in Japan.  Stereotypical images of Japan were imbedded in my mind: hi-tech gadgets, heated toilet seats, vending machines and high speed trains.  This stereotype was not incorrect, but once you move away from Tokyo, reality starts to kick in and you begin to wondering if you have travelled back in time…

Everyday life

I moved into my apartment in August 2008.  My immediate observations were: there’s no oven, how can I cook without an oven?  The stove looked like it belonged on a camp site.  The apartment came with a VHS video-recorder. What was I ever going to do with that?  There was a Discman in one of the drawers.  I found cassette tapes.  There was no central heating, just kerosene heaters that give off toxic fumes.  This apartment was not even 10 years old, but already its contents were sadly out of date.

Everywhere I went there was some object or technology from the recent past still living a happy existence in Japan.  Walkmans, Minidisc players, fax machines, you name it, they still have it.  Trying to settle in, I was often overwhelmed by Japanese and frustrated with not being able to read or understand anything.  My next door neighbour, a fellow foreigner helped me out by taken me to our local DVD rental shop.  I thought DVD, music and video game rental was recent history –apparently not.  In the UK people no longer use such establishments.  You can order movies online instantaneously or buy cheap DVDs from Amazon.  DVD rental is big business in Japan.  I wonder if that is because DVDs, CDs and video games are expensive to buy in Japan and most people would rather rent them than buy?  I rarely used Amazon.co.jp but when I did I thought it was great as you could place your order online but pay for it at your local convenience store in cash.  The number of Japanese people I knew who used Amazon.  Zero.  Did I mention that Japan is a cash society?  You can pay for pretty much anything at a convenience store.  Airline tickets, concert tickets, your gas bill…and so on.  You can also do “cash on delivery” in Japan.  All this is very convenient but I missed not being able to use my flexible friend.

Bank cards in Japan do not even resemble their UK counterparts.  They are quite possibly the most ‘budget,’ ‘un’ hi-tech cards you have ever seen in your life.  Sure, your name is embossed on the card but that’s about it.  There is no magnet strip so I have no idea how the machine reads your card and you can rarely use the card in an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank.  In my case, my ‘bank’ was a regional bank which only operates in the prefecture where I lived.  If I wanted to travel to Tokyo or anywhere else, I would have to bring with me all the money I needed for that trip.  And forget about paying for anything by card or easily using a foreign credit card.  Convenient?  I think not.  On the plus side, ATM’s in Japan accept coins and the cartoon characters on the screen bow at you before and after your transaction.  What they lack in convenience, they certainly make up for in politeness.

The world of (Keitai’s) mobile phones in Japan would leave some people baffled.  Your stereotypical view that all things must be miniature could not be further from the truth.  Mobile phones maybe larger, but they can do so much more than your average UK phone.  Japan has had a 3G network for years which puts us to shame.  The amazing thing about mobiles in Japan is that you can send long emails directly from your phone.  Any basic phone can do this, not just your flashy iPhone or Blackberry.  You have your own personal email address for your phone, e.g. jenmcclure@softbank.ne.jp  and you can send an email to any address including other people’s computers anywhere in the world from you phone.  Text messages are so limiting in the UK and quite frankly seem rather primitive in light of this technology.  Another amazing thing about Keitai’s is the ability to pay electronically for just about anything.  Infra-red sensors on your phone are placed over a pad at cash points in convenience stores so there’s no need for a cash transaction.  Smart, but why not just use chip n’ pin bank cards?  Brendan Jenkins an English teacher in Japan commented about internet use on mobile phones in Japan: “This is one aspect of Japan that is interesting; I would say that a lot of the younger generation are more comfortable using the internet on their keitai than on a computer.”  I think this statement is very true.  And finally, in the interest of safety, Japanese phones send a message warning of an imminent earthquake just a few seconds before they hit –clever.

At the Office

The high school that I taught at was paying homage to everything “old school.”  Blackboards with chalk, wooden desks, no technology in the classroom –there was barely any electricity.  In the average classroom there was no chance to use a laptop as there was no overhead projector.  The amount of technology I could use in a classroom amounted to a CD player.  There was no central heating and in the winter, students sat at their desks with blankets around their laps.  I lived in Northern Japan and it gets extremely cold and snowy there.  And my school was not the worst, in fact, it was pretty much the norm.

Paper and chalk is the tradition at Japanese schools which means that IT skills are at a bare minimum.  There doesn’t seem to be the same focus on learning basic IT skills in Japan compared to the UK, which may explain why people are so resistant to embracing new technology.  Forgot about pupils for a second, teachers were poorly trained in IT skills, many of whom could not perform simple tasks, such as making a graph or adding a picture to a document.  The computers at my school were old and slow and in need of an upgrade.

The internet is barely used at school even by teachers.  This is a quick anecdote from a recent survey of foreign residents in Japan.  Here’s what one foreigner wrote: “When I ask a question to a colleague in the workplace and they can’t answer it, they ask others in the office, then it goes as far as family members, neighbours and friends.  In America we would just say, lets Google it.”  Google, Gmail, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are not widely known or used in Japan.

Interesting, a fellow English teacher, Andrea McGovern was asked this question by a Japanese friend: “Do you think Japanese students are way behind western countries in using computers and technology?” and she said in a word, “Yes.”  Her friend said that he never used a computer until university.  And he’s not ancient, he’s 27.  This discussion about technology circulated around other foreign English teachers and they shared their views about the school they worked at.

Here are some of the revelations:

“The library has only 2 working computers and I have yet to find a computer room. Recently my 2nd years were asked to research an aspect of Japanese culture in order to teach a foreigner about it on their school trip. The students turned to books, some older than I am for information.”  Anonymous

“My Junior high school students seem to barely interact with any technology other than their TV’s and DS consoles.”  Andrea McGovern, NZ

“When I first arrived here 7 years ago I was amazed at how old and out-of-date the junior high schools seemed to be.  Only 1 out of 4 junior high schools that I go to even now has a western toilet, all have paraffin heaters in the classrooms which cause massive amounts of condensation, but none have air-con in the classrooms despite the heat and humidity in summer -only wall-mounted fans.”  Edmund Fec, UK

Schools in Japan are definitely lacking technology but slowly they are receiving more money for IT.  Japan spends a very small proportion of its GDP on education compared to other Organisation for Economic and Co-operation for Development (OECD) countries.  Until recently there was very little co-ordination of IT policy at schools even at a municipal level.  But not every school is stuck in a time warp, newer elementary schools that I went to have fantastic computer rooms and other good facilities.  Recently, every elementary and junior high school in Japan got a new large (over 40 inch) TV per classroom.  Ironically, a lot of them aren’t being used because they are too big to fit into the rooms.  My guess is that the schools had no say as to what size of screen they wanted.  Sounds like the Japanese government just bulk ordered TVs from China.

In the UK you’ll find “Wi-Fi” almost everywhere but in Japan there is virtually no “Wi-Fi” connection.  Internet at home is mostly connected from the modem by ethernet cable.  How backwards and limiting is that? In researching this story, so many people have reiterated this expectation of Japan: “I always thought of Japan as an amazing tech savvy country and found it quite the opposite living there.” Alexandra Robilliard, Australia. Alexandra also commented: “My senior high students were so fascinated when I told them that I keep in contact via Skype. I was a little surprised that none of them had ever heard of Skype whereas kids that age in Australia knew all about it.”

According to http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm Japan has a high percentage of internet users, a massive 78.2% but I think I can quickly tell you that most of that internet usage takes place on a mobile phone not a computer.  One interesting quirk about Japan is how anti- Apple they are.  Apple computers are scarce in Japan.  I was surprised to hear that Apple has not managed to infiltrate the market in Japan.  Back in 1996, Apple was keen to put their computers into Japanese schools but the answer from the Japanese Education Minister was a curt “No, Thank you.”  For some unexplained reason the Japanese are anti-Apple.  I knew people who had constant problems with their Macs in Japan.  Edmund Fec commented about his employer’s reaction to his Mac: “In Sakata city, I’m not even allowed to connect my Mac to the school LAN because Macs aren’t supported by the computer service company.”  When it came to setting up the internet in your apartment and you had a Mac, you were in for a long wait.  Alexandra Robilliard commented about the Internet Service Provider’s visit to her apartment: “They all arrived, see the Mac and there is the horrible intake of breath/sucking of teeth that makes me realise it will be a mission.”  Japanese people just can’t deal with Macs.

A quarter of Japan’s population are over 65 years old and they are not very IT-literate.  In the work place, superiors of an older generation haven’t come to grips with the technological advancements of the last 20 years.  Japanese offices are usually oversubscribed in manpower as this is seen as the traditional way to run a business.  You’ll find many people in jobs that have been obsolete in the UK for years.  There are people who still happily work calculations out on paper and store data in paper files rather than on a computer.  The offices I went to in Japan were all wall-to-wall jam packed with files and documents from the past couple of decades.

This bureaucratic nightmare became all too evident in July 2010 when an astonishing story hit the headlines in Japan.  The police found the mummified body of a man believed to be one Japan’s oldest at 111, but that’s not the alarming part.  The man’s 81 year old daughter had been collecting his pension for over 30 years.  She left his body in a room of their house and didn’t notify the authorities of his death.  This shocking revelation sent local authorities all over Japan checking up on their elderly.  The results were not favourable.  To date, Japanese authorities have not been able to find more than 280 citizens who were listed as being over 100 years old.  Once this story came out, many more followed; a Tokyo woman of 113 who had been last seen in the 1980’s,  a woman believed to be one of Japan’s oldest at 125 is also missing.  Authorities tried to find her at her last known address but when they got there, they discovered that the site had been turned into a park in 1981.  The New York Times wrote about the questions on everyone’s lips: “Is the country witnessing the results of pension fraud on a large scale, or, as most officials maintain, was most of the problem a result of sloppy record keeping? Or was the whole sordid affair, as the gloomiest commentators here are saying, a reflection of disintegrating family ties, as an indifferent younger generation lets its elders drift away into obscurity?” From my experience of the Japanese workplace, sloppy record keeping and non computerised records are the main culprit in this instance.

Japan was an advanced, tech hungry country 20 years ago but with its aging population and economic decline it seems that Japan has lost its sparkle.  Indeed, it still has many things that would blow your mind: a visit to Tokyo’s electric town or a trip on a bullet train, but your average visitor doesn’t see the real Japan behind its glowing neon lights.  They don’t see the bare classrooms, the old computers, the out of date technology clinging on for dear life, which has been long dead in the rest of the world.  But, the amazing thing about Japan is that it really has refined and polished so many wonderful everyday items.  Toilets, appliances, cars, navigation systems, TVs, trains, karaoke machines, vending machines, interactive restaurant menus, robotics.  None of these items were invented in Japan, but they glow with the aura of Japan; functionality and practicality.  All Japanese people should be proud of that.

34 thoughts on “‘Japan: high tech image, low tech reality’”

  1. I think it’s getting better, though. I was teaching in Japan just two years ago in a very small town and my school, every teacher had a laptop. During the time I was there, they got a couple of smartboards and some big-screen TV’s which could be wheeled between classrooms and could have laptops hooked up to them. This made more sense than projectors for them because of the architecture of the building. The students actually did have a computer room, although I admit they did not use it super often, they did use it sometimes for research and whatnot 🙂 I did notice that the Japanese have sort of a different attitude toward internet; most of the teachers I worked with were sort of leery of it and felt that students didn’t really need to or shouldn’t use it.

    As for fax machines…well I can’t really talk because we still use them around here in Canada, too…unfortunately haha.

    But yah the lack of central heating or decent stoves always shocked me, as well as the horribly inconvenient ATMs (I went away on holiday and although I had a bank where I could withdraw outside the prefecture, when I tried I got a message telling me the bank was closed for a week during holidays…….which meant NO ONE could withdraw from any ATMs of that bank for that entire period….gahhh!!)

  2. A fascinating and thought-provoking subject, and the potential to write an article about something like this is huge. Unfortunately (in my own humble opinion and limited experience) this article portrays quite an inaccurate spin. Granted, in the sticks you get more basic technology, but that’s the same with a lot of countries. This fixates on a just a few limited examples, but when I was there I saw some incredible technology being used in an everyday context: the amazing trains, computer terminals in shops through which you could apply for/pay for/arrange anything… plus, a huge brewery that was so fully-automated with robots and computers that the only member of staff I saw there was the guide taking us round! This list goes on… The subject of Japan is something that’s close to my heart, and sorry but this article is just caricatures, gets the wrong end of things, and over-simplifies.

  3. Interesting article, however, I had to stop reading about half way through because I couldn’t take how awful the grammar was any longer. It’s like this article wasn’t checked over at all!

  4. I know this is being super nit-picky, but being that this is a published article that likely had someone edit it I had to point this out: ” Image this scenario” Should be imagine right?

  5. If you live near Washington DC take a short trip to West Virginia you could say the same thing. I would think any rural area would be less tech savvy then a major city in any country.

  6. I thought this article might be from 10 years ago because of how mystified you were with emails on phones…. That is just how it works the world over…. not just japan… you can send it to anyone anywhere and it can be checked on almost anything. Heck, I check my email on my tv.

  7. This sure changes my perception of the country I grew up to love, and learned a lot about technology to visit. I’ll have to see for myself what is and is not anymore. Though in my travels I can’t wait to meet the people and enjoy the cuisine.

  8. Wow, that is so disappinting. It makes me think of religious people who are against black’s in the work force or gay’s being allowed to marry. It stinks of silly traditions that hinder and oppress a people. It is shameful and disappointing! 😦

    I always thought Japan was like it was in Evangelion, a super duper advanced country!

  9. I was there about 8 years ago, and even then it was some of the odd things like the ATMs not being open late, and the petrol stations closing early, that really surprised me.

    In South Africa (literally for decades now) both are open 24/7.

    I also remember trying to get someone to scan an image for me that I needed for some paperwork – They had to mission all over Kushiro city just trying to actually locate a document scanner.


  10. Fax machines are still used in the U.S. and other countries when giving personal information to banks and stock brokers. I believe the reason is that it can not be intercepted by a 3rd party, like an e-mail.

  11. Wow. This is a very lazy article. Seriously, you didn’t think there might be reasons behind these behaviours? Education for example – Japan has some of the lowest spending amongst OECD countries with some of the best results. Maybe Scotland could learn something there? Mobile Internet – did you not think that with its advanced network, traditional bulky pcs are pretty redundant? This also explains why Japanese companies are ahead of the rest of the world on the long term migration to mobile computing. And Apple? Seriously? They’re not the be all and say all of computing, especially not in the 90s. Your insistence that service companies should bend over backwards to support incompatible technology shows you know nothing about maintaining service level in a service supply chain – something that the Japanese pretty much invented by the way. I could go on with more of the same. You have spent 2 years in Japan and left without understanding it at all. Even a pinch of curiosity would have allowed you to demystify any of these behaviours.

    Linked here from the cracked article

  12. “Google, Gmail, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are not widely known or used in Japan.”

    This is absolute bullshit. Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube are respectively the 2nd (and 3rd), 10th, 7th, and 5th most popular websites in Japan (Yahoo is the 1st), and Japan has the 4th most Internet users in the world, behind only China, the US, and (just recently) India.

  13. I’m from the UK and I work as an IT Technician in a small repair shop. We have a few customers who are from Asia and at least two who are Japanese. I wondered how the hell they didn’t have a clue about Computers. Now I know; Thank you.

  14. Hrrm, most of your tales about how out of date the schools are doesn’t sound any more low-tech than when I went to highschool in the second largest city in Canada, and I’m only 27. There were no computers in the classrooms, no internet (outside of one outdated computer room), no digital projectors. Teachers wrote on blackboards with chalk. Everything was done on paper. Normally photocopied, sometimes by ditto machine (spirit duplicator). There was no air conditioning. Watching a video required a cart with a VHS player and CRT television be wheeled in.

    Now, at 27, it’s been a while since I was in highschool, and things may have changed since then. But to somebody of my age, your tales of Japan’s low-tech classrooms seems normal.

  15. I don’t think this is really a bad thing. I mean, your post is loaded with terms that are relative. Japan is stuck in a “time warp” you say, but to put them on a scale of Western or American development implies there is a natural order to development. I don’t think there is.
    I was glad there was no central heating. Reduced energy consumption (there is a reason why Japanese contribute significantly less carbon per capita than Americans), and not becoming what I like to term as “cold weenies” as we seem to be here in the US are the benefits. You have to get used to the cold, but that’s a good thing, because then going outside isn’t so much of a dreaded thing. Then you are not so cooped up in your house all the time, because your hallway isn’t too much more cold than outside.
    Double that for air conditioning. I’ve never lived south of the Mason-Dixon, so maybe I have no expertise on the matter, but even including when I was living in Osaka, I’ve never lived in an area that required air conditioning. Again, when you get used to climate control, it becomes a lot more difficult to interact in the spaces where climate is not controlled. I don’t think that is a great idea.
    And sure the ATMs were more inconvenient, but it also made me learn how to manage my time better. You can’t procrastinate if you only have a set window of time.
    Sure, I love using wikipedia at the drop of a hat, but having the ability to look up a book is not 100% obsolete. Kids in the US these days don’t know how to find a book in a library. Ideally, you’d have kids who were paper and IT literate, but we seem to be only able to have one of the two.

    The bureaucracy could improve, especially in times of crisis and fraud. I will give you that point.

    I’m not saying that everywhere in the world should be like Japan, with no central heating, etc, just that it isn’t a big deal, and maybe, there are even good reasons to have such diversity of “technological advancement”. I don’t think there is any need to bow down to the god of convenience and comfort, and cling to any technology that gets us there the fastest.

  16. Yeah, to a point. I get that the writer wants to support her ideas but she’s left out a few bullet points which might help illustrate the true nature of tech interaction at the street level here. Japan, on the whole, is great at R&D for new products and technologies, but very poor at implementing them for the people.
    I live in Yokohama, and have been resident here for 25 years. When the Internet was first becoming a public phenomenon, there was incredible resistance from the government and other entities. God forbid the population here should be allowed to use any form of communication besides government-mandated phone and postal services.
    However, in the interim, two Japans have risen. One is as the author described. Technologically inept, awkward with new advances, they are in no hurry to advance and even actively resist adaptation of tech into their lives. The other Japan, though, is cutting edge and willing to advance forward.
    I work in IT here and I see, even in tech, a reluctance to move beyond old, comfortable technology in many people, but I have also seen Japanese hackers kludge and cobble up brilliant systems that were never intended to work together in the first place.
    Wi-Fi is everywhere now, even in this hole-in-the-wall seafood shop in north Yokohama whose only other nod to tech is an ancient air conditioning system.
    The truth, then, is in the middle. It’s not a technological desert populated by masses of luddites by any means, but tech could – and should – be implemented further in the lives of everyday people.

  17. This article is too long for the sophomoric perspective it achieves and could use a good edit. The bit about pension fraud is interesting, but the derisive laundry list that comprises the other 19 or so paragraphs suggests that the writer has an axe to grind with the Japanese. The tone is petty and self-satisfied and the quotes sound like a bunch of expat friends sitting around a table complaining at happy hour. I’m not sure why the reader is expected to care that Japan didn’t live up to the stereotyped expectations of a bunch of ESL teachers, but it’s worth noting that the article doesn’t solicit the opinion of a single Japanese person. The writer should be grateful that she got a job and the opportunity to travel (let alone a “sadly out-of-date” furnished apartment) just because she happens to be a native English speaker. I don’t imagine the British often extend the same courtesy to the Japanese.

  18. @Adam Zey I’m currently attending a school in Vancouver, and a lot of things are computerized. Homework for my Spanish class is online, my math teacher uses pre-recorded videos, my Science teacher uses Power Points and my French teacher assigns a lot of projects where we have to use Power Point… needless to say, things have changed.

  19. Nothing listed here is as big of a deal as you make it. It appears more to be a matter of culture shock. Japan IS technologically advanced, but yes, at the same time, there’s a lot of old school things going on. When they do use their technology, it is very advanced, and I’ve seen it first hand from two different non-Western cultures’ points of view (from within Japan itself, and from Hong Kong, which likes to “borrow” and pick up Japan’s technology much quicker than the West). Their cell phones’ technology is amazing; stuff you see now was done on Japanese cellphones anywhere between 5-20 years ago (possibly exaggerating here, and this curve is also slowing down a lot now). Being more familiar with the internet on their cell phone than on a computer is also not Japan-exclusive; if everyone has a mobile, and the mobile has similar processing power to a computer (which has probably been done for a while now over there), and computers cost so much more, why wouldn’t someone spend more time on a mobile? Also, the iPhone isn’t that popular likely because a) it’s American (yes, racism, blah blah blah, they have a lot of that there, as you know), and b) it doesn’t seem that revolutionary over in Japan.

    Honestly, this entire article is written with a Western culture’s point of view. Sometimes, things are better done the old fashioned way. With things written in paper, there’s a pretty good physical record of it. When things are done in cash, you can see the money you’re actually spending (also, it’s very common to carry an obscene amount of cash in the East, and not all that inconvenient). Also, the “lack of progress” sounds a lot like what you often would hear when people talk about some cultures “progressing” more than others. Even if you’ve been living in Japan for so long, it sounds like you exaggerated it and played it to make it appeal more to your Western audience. Of course, Japan isn’t the “perfection” that everyone seems to think it is, but what seems like flaws that you talked about are not all completely flaws.

    No, I am not a weeaboo; I do prefer the Eastern style culture slightly more than the West (though not completely), but that’s from my family upbringing.

  20. My 3 cents –
    Not a balanced article. It’s heavily biased and shows the writer’s slant.

    The comments were brilliant and made for interesting reading.

    Apple mania is not an indication of technological progress nor should be used to measure it. The obsession for form over function is an American idiosyncrasy. Japanese and Indians prefer function over form.

  21. -Another note on the common Japanese family using outdated technology – the Japanese are recycling crazy. One of the cleanest places I have ever visited and lived in. From what I understand, it costs money to have large appliances & such items disposed of, so a lot of people will use items until they absolutely don’t work anymore. You can’t just throw an old cd player or radio or computer in the garbage the way a lot of people in at least America would to get rid of something. That would also contribute to the everyday person not always having the “latest & greatest” – why get something new & waste money when what you have works well enough already, a mindset i would assume is especially found in the older generations.

  22. Fax machines are still used heavily in the corporate American world as contracts, order forms and other documents are still accepted this way.

  23. Thanks very much for your perspectives. I’m not sure why this sort of news pleases me in a way, but I guess that being told how far we are behind much of the world so often makes me want to find a country that is doing even worse. Of course, both the US and Japan are big countries which are diverse, if not in population, at least in geography and local customs. There’s more IT in New York than rural Vermont, more in Tokyo than Hokkaido. The extremes always surprise.

    But the reactions of your readers stunned me far more than the contents of the article. I understand that you wrote this from your viewpoint and about a limited area of your experiences. People evaluate this article as though it were an exhaustive thesis on the current state of technology in Japan as a whole and as opposed to much of the rest of the world. I was grateful for what the article gave me – a different perspective on some aspects of life in Japan than is the usual. I never expected to end up with an unclouded picture of Japan’s place in the world or the final result of tedious research into the socioeconomics of Japanese IT. Do people really expect every article to be exhaustive and to represent the absolute average of everything that it discusses? An article that points out the average, the median, the most common, is not one that would be very interesting to read except if that average is quite different from what was expected. News is made from the unexpected, not the day to day. I was quite satisfied with both the scope and contents of the article.

    I really am puzzled by the comment about grammar. My “grammar radar” is, I believe, quite good. Bad grammar sticks out for me and eventually pushes the contents to the background if scandalous enough. Like spelling errors, bad grammar seems to stand out in relief against the background, as though the page were 3D. That didn’t happen with this article. “Image this scenario” sounds perfectly fine to me, fine enough that I actually imagined that it was probably the preferred diction in some English-speaking locations. It never occurred to me that it was “wrong” or meant to be something else.

    In short, I question the soundness of your critics.

    Thanks again.

  24. Some of this reminds me of life in the US, especially back in the 1980s and 1990s. My high school used chalkboards and whiteboards (depending on which classroom you were in); most of the computers were in the computer labs and were either Apple IIs from the late 1980s, or 286/386 machines with 40 MB HDDs running DOS. Internet? Online services? Nope. There wasn’t even a LAN; we had to store our BASIC/Pascal projects and English papers on floppies. 😛 Pocket calculators were everywhere and frequently got stolen.

    Even now, I run into some of the financial issues mentioned here. I’ve seen ATMs that are offline or out of cash quite frequently, though not ones that close at certain times. There are several utility companies that, to this day, only begrudgingly accept credit cards (and will usually charge you a hefty fee to do so), as their billing system was intended for checks. I still see the fax machine (now a multi-function center with a modem) being used constantly, both at home and at work, for various tasks that can’t be done over email.

    Also, I have both a VHS/DVD combo and a working Betamax in my bedroom, but that’s more out of nostalgia (and to play back the 30+ years of old tapes we have) than just being backward; they sit next to a DVR from the cable company and a 2000s PC with video-in.

  25. Ugh. If I hear one more person talk about the lack of central air and heat as good for the environment. Walk by any building in tokyo, you will hear the whirling of crappy wall units blasting all day because guess what . . . Japanese people don’t insulate their windows at all!!! Everything the author says is 100 percent spot on. Go into an average person’s apartment. My gfs shower is literally a closet with tile and a small window. The kitchen is so fucking hot it melts plastic.

    Try this out: Ask any Japanese what country is the most technologically advanced and they will say Japan. Ask any Japanese person who has been to America the same question. Take this country boy home.

  26. People, please be aware that this article was written a few years ago. Things can change in that amount of time. Especially in Japan.

    Japan is known for having a sudden large intake of foreign things and then closing themselves off and rejecting new things just to take what they just learned and refine it. Add their own touch. Make it their own.

    They were low tech once before in the 1900s and then amazed the world by quickly climbing that technological ladder. Its just what they do.

    Japan was once a barbaric country. China was well advanced before them. Then China’s culture started coming into Japan from things and stories Chinese travelers brought with them. They were all about this new interesting culture. They took it in and then slowly started cutting themselves off from China, turning what they learned from them into something of their own.

    And it just fluctuates like this. So this article is not that surprising to me. Nor is it surprising that they refuse Apple as they were probably in that phase of cutting themselves off and refining the new things they have learned.

    Something i think many countries need to slow down and do.

  27. It seems to me the author has only ever lived in their home country and Japan.
    Ethernet cords for internet? I’ve had to use them in Iceland and Sweden, in as recent as 2013. No central heating? Radiators are used in Iceland and Sweden, or floor heating, central heating is definitely not common. Air conditioning also non-existent, you just use fans (the same was true for all my residences in America). The credit card confusion is that there is a computer chip inside your credit card and that is what the machine reads (uncommon in the US still from what I know, which still uses magnetic strips, but very common here). ATMs as well as shops are definitely not open 24/7, neither are hospitals or pharmacies. If there is an emergency you can of course be brought to the hospital though, if you have an emergency you can also get specialist help fast. If you are having normal problems then you have to wait more.

    Sure, in Iceland and Sweden some rooms had fancy whiteboards and projectors that hooked up to computers. Other rooms in the same building had nothing, and blackboards. This was in University, in high school and junior high there are/were mostly blackboards (speaking as a 23 year old, going to different Universities for the past few years). We still have a VHS player at home, you can even buy blank VHS tapes and floppy disks at a local grocery store where old people shop. This is from the same country where they can use a scanner on your glasses to tell your prescription, and your medical information and prescription is sent electronically to every pharmacy in the country so you can pick up medicine refills anywhere, and companies will SMS/text you when your product is ready (books on hold at the library, computer back from repairs, pizza ready to be picked up). There is also almost no public wifi, especially compared to in the US, but it’s slowly getting better. I noticed that in Iceland it was often something like where Universities had “public” wifi, except you had to have a student account and use that to log into the internet. Here in Sweden it seems like American companies are the ones who more often have public-access wireless internet.

    Another important thing to think about is that once Japan switches to using computers for everything, a LOT of people are going to be jobless. Think about 30 or 50 years ago, there were tons of jobs to be had as maids, farmhands, street cleaners, and so on. Now that everything is done by machine you can’t get jobs like that anymore, certainly a lot less easier than they once were to get, and there are a lot less jobs in general since machines and large factories can do so many things we used to do by hand. So while it may be a bit frustrating, I don’t see things like “out of date” jobs still existing actually being a bad thing in the long run.

    Then you have to think about what the internet is used for by the average person in most countries. Maybe they have Email and a Facebook, maybe they know about YouTube. Most people have no idea how computers work, only go to sites their friends tell them to go (which is probably the above three), they might be scared to death of getting viruses or not know that P2P software is what gives you them and these “you’re a winner!” banner ads are scams. Many people still read the newspaper in print, still look at the tv guide in print or on the tv instead of online, and generally have no clue about anything. My old doctor could barely use Email and he typed with two fingers and wrote notes with a calligraphy pen, yet he could text to the pharmacy with his phone while he was on holiday and get them to refill my prescription when I needed a new one. Meanwhile, I can’t even close my American bank account because you have to either go to a branch in person or write them a letter (they don’t accept phone calls or emails), my parent can’t close my account for me, and it will take them over a month to close the account even after they receive the letter. I can’t do instant bank transfers, I can’t even transfer money online to an account that’s not connected to mine (even if it’s another American account), and when I do transfer money it takes three days to do it instead of instantly.

    So some things are definitely not just in Japan, and I think it’s just “different” that is getting to you and not “Japan” especially. I would be interested to see what you thought about Japan after living in, say, France for some years.

  28. This article is correct, and I agreed. Most of the cutting high-tech (including IT/ICT) that are coming out of Asia are either from South Korea or Taiwan, Japan not a lot. This article may have came out in 2011, but 3 years later it still correct and I’ve seen and observing the tech coming out of Asia and Japan is falling behind their Korean and Taiwanese counterpart. It does explain why Japan couldn’t make a smartphone that can rival Samsung Galaxy S and Iphones. Also I found out that Osaka just this year launched their free wi-fi, when South Korea did this in 2012, Taiwan launch free wi-fi nationwide last year, and now Japan got it. Also Japan’s electronic is behind compared to their Korean counterpart. That’s why South Korea is getting more attention more then Japan.

  29. this article lacks any real insight and should not be used as a way to gauge technology in japan. The fact the writer is from scotland and has the nerve to talk about countries living in the past is laughable. I live in the uk and have visited America twice as well as japan and i can say without any doubt that japan stands head and shoulders above any Western country in terms of technology. i just wish someone else had that opportunity to experience life in japan rather than this short sighted teacher. i hope those kids where taught well…

  30. “All Japanese people should be proud of that.” No they shouldn’t. How on Earth can you claim that they should be proud for getting recognition for a technology that they had little to no part in making? :/

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