Against all odds – Japanese ‘unique’ way in tech

Type in google ‘Japanese are’ and see what it suggests. If you are anything like me, you also have an impression that they are pretty weird. Yet are they? Here is a bit of my perspective through the prism of technology formed after a month of actively touring the country and living with locals.

Japan has its own way, what is it like?

I bet, if you never been to Japan, you imagine it to be on the cutting edge of science and technology.

Well, it is NOT or a at least not anymore.

Back in the 70’s Japan was the first to introduce androids capable to assist people in a store or produce a pre-programed small talk, it launched its Shinkansen that cruised at 300km/h and connected Tokyo to Hokkaido, but the progress stopped there with economy challenges and stagnation strangling further development.

Now Japan is old, literally, with one third or its population is over 60 years old, and conservative as those golden oldies are the wealthiest. With the biggest financial power sitting with people who carry flip phones, Japan has fallen significantly behind in the field where it used to get the biggest fame – Tech.

Wanna more specifics?


Mobile technology. In 2016 half of the phones in Japan were flip phones – yes, these flimsy crappy phones which do not run a smartphone OS. Sure, a millennial would not opt for a descendant of Motorola RAZR V3, he would have an iPhone, but this does not matter as apart from an expensive device Japanese millennial is poor. With wealthiest people using outdated mobile technology, there is not too much incentive for advancement there. For example, there is Uber in Tokyo, but it is more expensive that a regular offline taxi service. The websites are not optimised for mobile view and look like they were designed in the 90‘s, which, truth to say, they probably were. And while many vendors will have an applepay sticker in the window, those never work.

Wi-Fi. Good thing is that it’s there. Bad thing is that every wi-fi network takes around 5-7 minutes to connect and will break connection is you move your phone just 1m: if you have got a signal and connection – freeze. Btw the advertised “Japan Travel” app does not work properly – do not bother to download, you will not get any benefit from connecting through it.

government commits to going wireless for Tokyo Olympics 2020

Cash. Leave your credit card at home, there is nowhere to process it. Japan operates on cash: coin lockers, convenience stores, metro cards and bus tickets, these guys just love their Yen. Tokyo is just marginally better, places might accept a card, but you will not go wireless there.

The government admits that that’s an area for improvement and they have committed to going wireless for Tokyo Olympics 2020 meeting the demand from all the expected tourists. You would think it’s easy with all the technology in place (paywave, pay pass, apple-android-samsung pay), yet japan wishes to create its OWN digital currency system called J Coin where one unit equals one Yen.

Why invent a wheel?

The solution they are working on favours the less tech savvy elderlies. Instead of adopting the wireless NFC technology Japan bets on web-money-like systems that will work on any old device. Basically, Japan wants to have its own AliPay.


Cars. Oh, this one is favourite! I’ve always loved Japanese cars. It started in the 90es, when I lived on Kamchatka nearby Japan and we imported a lot of used Japanese cars. The choice was not that big and compared to Russian cars that never advanced since the 60es, Japanese would have much desired cool features like all-wheel-drive for snowy winters, auto gear box, powerful engines with turbos or without, electrified everything – from mirrors to heated steering wheel. If you have gotten the drift of this article, you will guess that Japan has not progressed much since then – they produce the same cars they did 30 years ago.

kei-cars: in my opinion it takes an astonishingly talented designer to produce such a monstrosity

30% of Japanese cars are Kei-cars. Those are ugly 3×1.5x2m boxes on the wheels with a bike engine, in my opinion it takes an astonishingly talented designer to produce such a monstrosity, these abominations of cars just cannot be an accident. Sure, there is an incentive to make people buy those: in many areas you would not be required to have a parking spot of your own to buy a kei-car (unlike normal vehicles) and the engine is just 600cc which saves you a ton of money on gas and taxes.

There are other countries which had post-war transportation issues (actually almost all of them) and there are other very densely-populated cities (hi, Hong Kong!) but none of them have kei-cars. Yet again Japanese cracked the cars with their own style.

Japan is the size of Kamchatka peninsula with population like in Russia. This forced the country to think of some efficient public transport. Japan came up with an extremely developed and extremely complex railway system: high speed trains (Shinkansen), railway with 5 types of trains (from express trains making just a few stops to local trains that cover every station) and subway, and, yep, they have buses as well. Railway is much more efficient than a car, expensive too.


you would expect that being so densely populated Japan would opt for EV cars

Much like Hong Kong did waiving the taxes for Tesla for a while. Well, you got it wrong. Japan is home to Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Suzuki, Daihatsu … and they tend to be very cautious about new technology. The reason is the same as with mobile tech and credit cards – old money.

Their answer is well-developed hybrid cars, mostly Toyota branded, which run electric for several miles and then use ICE. Japan’s only EV which is well sold is Nissan Leaf and the figures are not huge – just around 1000-2000 cars a month. This is less than Tesla was selling in HK under tax discounts.

turns out any toilet can become a Japanese toilet

Japanese toilets. Turns out any toilet can become a Japanese toilet. You just buy a separate toilet rim, connect it electricity and water and voila! You can adjust the temperate and flow power to wash your everything, and a separate option for ladies.

Vending machines. They just are everywhere and probably back in the day they were major breakthrough but now it is just a convenient way to get a drink everywhere. Note, contrary to what internet says, you cannot buy used ladies panties from a vending machine, alas perverts!😂 They are literally on every corner no matter how far from civilization you went. Hot and cold drinks are available and Japanese canned coffee is especially delicious – nothing like that in Europe. Yet, as it always happens in japan – no food (survive on Coca-Cola, buddy) and cash-only, at least they give you change.


All in all, looks like these people live in pretty much their own type of reality, but are not we all a bit like that?

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