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Home » Archives » July 2005 » Mobile Phone Manners and 'Visual Haiku' in Japan

Mobile Phone Manners and 'Visual Haiku' in Japan

Friday, July 1, 2005 Posted: 08:56 AM JST [PHOTOS]

Photos of Japan by Kjeld DuitsA few days a go I spent several days touring through Japan with a journalist from the Netherlands. She was amazed at how well-behaved most Japanese are when it comes to using their mobile phone in public places. During the four days we travelled together we observed many hundreds of people, but saw only person making a phone call that everybody could follow, on a train about an urgent business problem. And he received it, he did not initiate it.

In many westerns countries a generally accepted protocol for mobile phones still needs to be hashed out, something Japan already did during the 90s.

In January Wired published an article about mobile phone manners and people trying to enforce them in the States. The article contains comments by Japanese cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito who studies new media use, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. She publishes extremely interesting articles.

An interesting observation of mobile phone use in Japan was published by Place and Space. Although the article dates from 2003, the observations still apply:

"The most foundational finding is that people use the non-voice functions of the mobile phone most extensively (email, web). There are limited instances of people receiving voice calls, but the calls are generally ended quickly. There are virtually no instances of people initiating voice calls on trains."

The article describes the sophisticated efforts of regulating mobile media use on public transportation:

"A few years ago, the announcements on trains would simply say please do not use your mobile phone. Now the signage and announcements tend to specify not to use mobile voice communications. On trains, there is not surveillance in each car, but on the bus, the drivers will ask users to hang up before entering the bus, or make an announcement if they see someone talking on the phone. More recently, on one train line in Japan they have introduced a priority mobile-free seating area presumably for people with pace makers that would be off limits to even texting and net surfing."

Journalists writing about Japan often present the Japanese use of mobile phones as a vision of the future. A vice that I may be guilty of as well over the years. Ito says however, that it is important to consider the specificities and history of Japanese mobile media use, as they may differ considerably from the experience in other cultures.

What Japan wrestles with now is finding common ground for the use of cameras on mobile phones. There is virtually no phone without them anymore and they are used extensively in Japan.

Daisuke Okabe of Keio University has written a paper on how mobile phone cameras are used in Japan. Their use differs considerably from that of traditional cameras, he says:

"The social function of the camera phone differs from the social function of the camera and the phone in some important ways. In comparison to the traditional camera, most of (the) photos taken by camera phone are short-lived and ephemeral images. The camera phone is a more ubiquitous and lightweight presence, and is used for (a) more personal, less objectified viewpoint and sharing among intimates. Traditionally, the camera would get trotted out for special excursions and events -- noteworthy moments bracketed off from the mundane. By contrast, camera phones capture the more fleeting and unexpected moments of surprise, beauty and adoration in the everyday."

You could say that the camera phones produces a visual haiku.

Keywords: culture_news trends_lifestyle

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
Stone Bridge Press

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