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DD Japanese mobile phone culture

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ss9173   Friday, 11/11/05 02:06:00 PM
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DD Japanese mobile phone culture
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


In Japan, mobile phones have become ubiquitous. In Japanese, mobile phones are called keitai denwa (携帯電話), literally "portable telephones," and are often known simply as keitai.

Much of the Japanese population own keitai, most of which are equipped with enhancements such as video and camera capabilities. This pervasiveness and the particularities of their usage lead to the development of a mobile phone culture, or "keitai culture."

Features and common uses

Most keitai sold in the last three years have integrated cameras; some more up to date models have high quality digital cameras. Many of the cameras are capable of taking both still and video images. Images can usually be sent to other mobile phones and embedded in messages.

Many keitai have a range of additional capabilities, such as configurable databases, phone and address books, alarm clocks and stopwatches, games, daytimers, and varying degrees of image enhancement capabilities, such as the option to create borders, to create animations, and more.

Some newer models allow the user to watch movies and/or television. Most keitai can be connected to the Internet through services such as i-mode. Japan was also the first to launch 3G services on a large scale. Users can browse text-only Internet sites, and many Japanese sites have sub-sites designed especially for keitai users. One of the most popular services allows users to check train schedules and plan trips on public transit.

Talking on a keitai while riding a bus or train is frowned upon, and messages asking passengers not to make calls and to switch their phones to silent mode ("manner mode" in Japanese) are played frequently. This, combined with the low per-message price, the ability to enhance messages with special characters, emoticons, pictures, and small animations, and to write in English or Japanese, has made text messaging extremely popular among people of all ages.

Many people send and receive a large number of text messages daily; teenagers are especially fond of this simple, fast, and private method of communication, and many schools ban the use of keitai on campus.

Keitai text messages are also a popular way to communicate with potential friends or lovers. Many internet sites maintain keitai-accessible portals via which users can search for and contact others with similar interests.

Japanese mobile phones have the capability to use very large sets of characters and icons based on JIS standards that define characters for industrial appliances. More than one thousand characters including all of the Latin alphabet, hiragana, katakana, kanji and special characters like cm (centimeter), arrows, musical notes and more can be used to compose messages. Japanese use also emoticons differently from the Western (see Japanese emoticons).

These character sets are used extensively, and often in a way that do not use their original meaning by relying more on the information based on the shape each character has. For example, '\' may be attached at the end of a sentence to show that they are not happy about the event described. A sentence like "I have a test today\" (translated) might mean that he or she didn't study enough, or that the test itself is depressing. Some of these usages disappeared as suitable icons were made but these newly made icons also acquired a usage not originally intended. Another example deals with the astrological symbol for Libra (♎). It resembles a cooked and puffed mochi, and is sometimes used in a happy new year's message as mochi are often eaten then. The symbol for Aquarius (♒) resembles waves, so this would be used to mean 'sea'. The number of icons gradually increased and they are now colored on most cell phones, to make them more distinct. ASCII art is also used widely and many of them are faces with expression. (see also Shift-JIS art)


One very distinct form of writing is called 'gyaru-moji' ('girls' characters'). For example Lt wouldn't correspond to the Latin characters 'L' and 't' but instead it would correspond to the hiragana け ('ke'). Notice that it looks very similar when written. Many hiragana, katakana and kanji are taken apart and reassembled using different characters including alphabet characters. It is unclear why this usage is now seen. Some believe that this started as a way of making secret messages that a quick peek wouldn't reveal, while others claim that it was just for fun. This can be related to the way the English language hacking culture uses l33t language to hide the meaning of the words typed.

Teenagers and keitai

Paging devices used in the late 1980s to early 1990s predate mobile phones and paved the way for the popularity of keitai among teenagers. Pagers could only display numbers and were intended to alert the owner that he or she had received a call from a certain phone number, but teens quickly began using numeric messages to communicate everything from greetings to everyday emotions. Most were based on various ways numbers could be read in Japanese. Examples are

4-6-4-9 -- yo-ro-shi-ku ("hello," "best regards")
3-3-4-1 -- sa-mi-shi-i ("I feel lonely")
8-8-9-1-9 -- ha-ya-ku-i-ko ("hurry up, let's go")
With the rapidly falling prices of cell phones in the mid 1990s, young people began experimenting with the short message service that the mobile phone companies started offering. When the i-mode service became available, the mobile phone culture began flourishing in earnest as this service offered an E-mail application. Magazines and television regularly make specials focusing on the current trend of how mobile phones are used by young people.

Forefront of consumer technology

There is a popular trend in Japan to use the mobile phone handset to read information from special barcodes. The current technology is based on something called 'QR codes' which are a form of 2D barcode that is written out in a square shape. The phone handset can scan the barcode and decode the information and then take actions based on the type of content. The most popular usage of these QR codes is in advertising. All over Japan there are posters with the codes on and they are found extensively in magazines and even on some people’s business cards. The QR code usually has links to a web site address that the phone can visit or it might contain address and telephone numbers.

Sony, working with NTT DoCoMo has been spearheading the mobile phone wallet technology, or as it’s commonly known 'FeliCa'. This technology makes use of a RFID chip inside the handset which can communicate with special readers when the phone is placed near them. The technology is relatively new, however, there are lots of convenience stores which allow you to pay for goods using your phone and there are even some vending machines which accept phone payments. You have to 'charge up' your account with credits before you can pay using your phone and the security is pretty minimal but the system is proving popular with the public and now other manufactures are starting to make compatible phones.

Negative aspects

Radio waves are believed to cause interference with heart pacemakers and other medical devices. Public etiquette is often violated by people answering their phones in certain public places, and due to the Internet connectivity, spam has become a problem. In Japanese culture, it is now recommended that talking using a cell phone on a train should be avoided and announcements recommend passengers to turn their ringers off. Signs declare that people should turn off their mobile phones when around seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped, or when on a crowded train. In hospitals, it is expected that one should turn it off entirely. Talking on the phone while driving is prohibited, although extremely common.



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