Cultural and Social Media Observations From Japan

I’m in Dallas Texas right now, perhaps the most opposite place thank Toyko where I’ve been the last week, and have been avidly sharing my observations via Twitter, the following are some of these observations, as well as a bit more context beyond 140 characters. These observations are more of a personal and cultural note, rather than my field report that focuses on the business aspect of social media in Japan.

Internet Adoption high in Japan: I met the top executive of a marketing company in Japan and he told me that 2/3 of Japan’s 120 million residents are on the web.

Yet most Japanese corporations do not invest heavily in web: This executive also told me that only half of Japan’s 4000 companies spend more than $100k on the internet at all.

Credit crunch discussed: This is a global issue, I heard it in a few meetings with clients, it’s cascaded beyond US.

Facebook’s Japanese Translation Poor: I asked my Japanese clients what they thought of Facebook’s translation, they looked away, grimaced, and gave very clear body reactions that it needs improvement. I promised to pass the word on, as I speak to Facebook on a frequent basis.

Tokyo’s adoption of Twitter highest in globe: Given the heavy mobile adoption, I’m not surprised by these stats.

New Social Media Technology: Learned about “Nico Nico Douga” from Jonathan Browne, he says its a video sharing site where the users can ‘write’ on top of others’ vids

Developer and Enterpreneurs not fully gelled: There’s a gap (cultural and language) between business entrepreneurs in web scene and the web engineers and developers, mentioned one web entrepreneur now based in Tokyo. In silicon valley, it feels like one family.

Anonymous trolls hurt in real life: It was mentioned in conversations a few times that comments –esp anon ones –can really damage someone’s reputation, honor. This south Korean actress was pushed over the edge and committed suicide.

Police light handed with foreigners: A UK tourist decided to swim in the moat of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace –naked. This is considered taboo, insulting, and just humiliating. Apparently, if a native did this, they would be severely punished.

Hotel Life: My room is equipped with a plasma screen, cordless iron, toilet with a bidet, and a futon like firm mattress.

Pride in workmanship: Everyone takes pride in their work and the customers they serve. Many taxi drivers have white glove service, and I noticed idling taxi drivers polishing their vehicle while waiting for next fare. A far cry from NY cabbies. Also, they will open and close the door for you using a remote lever –so dont open or close taxi doors, it’s frowned upon.

Tipping not required yet service high: Tipping isn’t part of Asian culture, in fact, it could be seen as insulting. Despite this, service was extremely high from taxis fast food, to hotel staff. If the weather was bad, expect apologies from Japanese, a most polite and considerate culture. I question why I feel forced to tip at American restaurants for mediocre or even sub-standard service.

Pandora: It works in Japan, I’m pleasantly surprised as I thought it was North American only.

Corporate Responsibility motto a current trend: Like “Green computing” in US, many Japanese corporations are on the sustainable and giving back to the community bandwagon, in fact, this makes a ripe opportunity for social media efforts to help tell this story.

Salary Men: Are Japan’s corporate worker, in the area I stayed, there were many dressed in black or gray suits, often with a skinny tie. Work life takes priority over anything else, and long days can extend to 12 hours, then not including after work eating, drinking, and festivities. Apparently, it’s not unheard of many salarymen to stay the night in small hotels, or even utilize showers at work… I thought I worked a lot.

Fresh Sushi: I had ‘real’ sushi near the fish market. It was more like FRUIT, than fish. Firm, burst in your mouth and sweet, I don’t think it was frozen.

Vending Machines: Dispense not only drinks and smokes, but also you can pay for food before you enter noodle houses, this increase effeciency, and reduced need to fumble with money and change. Salary Men hung out near vending machines where beer was dispensed in late evening –I wanted to join them.

Crime rate low: I noticed cops have batons, but not guns. Crime rate here is significantly lower than US. Upon closer look some had smaller guns, 22s? Much different than larger guns US cops carry.

Tokyo Travels: Went to Roppongi which has many ex-pats, as well as a somewhat nefarious hidden underground.

Mobile Medium: No SMS, yet all phones are 3G, most phones have built in digital TV tuners, so you can watch TV in crystal clear quality.

Developer Community still growing, yet not unified: Developers complexities with developing software, as they are a hardware based culture. Shibuya is the technology center –esp high tech and startups in Tokyo. Kris Tate, CTO of zooomr.com a photo sharing site notices an increase from 7-715, then later from 8pm-1am. Both are before and after work, often accessing from home computers before hitting the subways. There’s isn’t a large blogging community in Japan to help be the ‘instant niche media’ that you’d find in the US.

I can’t wait to go back…

Been to Japan? What have you observed?

  • I’ve never been to Japan, but it’s been a long held plan.

    I find the fact that comments cause seemingly more offence in Japan quite interesting, especially due to the idea of honour. It would also be interesting to see if the treatment of celebrities in the press is different to that in the Western world, particularly the U.S. and UK, as one would generally assume celebrities either become more insulated from criticism over time, or would just make a decision to avoid it…

  • many thanks for this post. I just love Japan and you posting about their social media habits is great. You are forgetting though the anime/manga factor. I guess it’s pretty important since it generates such a high social network in plenty of applications. Also many apps have been developed for this.

  • Dan

    I noticed a lot of group think and consideration for others. The group takes precedence over individuals. I’m in America’s heartland right now (Dallas) it’s interesting to notice the differences.

  • Hi Jeremiah,

    I’ve been following you on twitter. I really believe that one of the causes of Japan’s success is the way they treat clients.

    On the other hand I feel they overwork themselves, unless they have some secret to enjoy life at work.

  • Miguel,

    Japanese culture works hard, and with great quality and quantity, of course everything comes with a price.

  • DevlinD

    Japanese culture is very odd. While much of it is very conservative there is a sharp contradiction in the counter culture there. The Harajuku crew is one such example of expressing uniqueness in a conservative country. One would not think that a country where suits and long work days are the norm could breed such a creative movement. Or maybe that movement exists BECAUSE of the majority conservative viewpoint.

    Only in Japan can you find porn in a regular department store, not hidden at all. But the porn is all censored. Again another example of culture backlash against conservatism, but in itself is conservative. The whole concept of “face” is very important in Japan, if not Asia altogether.

    It seems that while the country is ripe for social media, it exists in a different form over there. Instead of wide open communication channels, the channels focus more on privacy (very ironic) which is why you see Mixi (the dominant social network in Japan) outperforming Facebook. However, more social sites like Nico Nico Douga where anyone can contribute are wildly popular. Japan is full of these oxymorons in their culture.

    If the community is not really comfortable with an open communication channel, how are companies supposed to engage customers? What factors make the Japanese more comfortable with contributing to social media?

  • Marc Vermut

    Jeremiah,

    Nice post. Haven’t been to Japan in 16 years (oif) so can’t speak to culture there today. With respect to the compulsion to tip here in the US, I think it’s a combination of two things. First, waitstaff is paid at or below the minimum wage in many areas because the tips are supposed to sustain them; as a result customers feel compelled to tip. The second is more psychological and societal pressures, where there is an expectation to tip and probably an inference about the tipper’s nature depending on the size of the tip. Not surprisingly, restaurants now slap on an 18% “gratuity” on large party bills. Just a thought.

  • Jeremiah,

    I posted about this piece and added some views about success in social media in Japan. Please see http://sociallyept.blogspot.com/2008/10/are-you-ready-for-relationship.html if you get the time.

    .t.

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  • jrhgh5hi6hy9iouim
  • Thanks for sharing about Japanese insights of social media. As a former Japanese resident I have to agree with Japanese prefer anonyminity. It is as if Japanese people keep to their self so much that they have to create an alter ego on-line to express their self.