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Japan: surprisingly, sensibly and endearingly low-tech

by

The common image of Japan abroad is of a high-tech country — a place of robots and flashing neon lights and the latest beeping gadgets in everyone’s hands. As a British person living in Japan, I regularly get comments from people back home like: “Wow, Japan! What a high-tech world you must live in.”

Well, no. In fact, I will hazard a claim: The U.K. is a considerably more high-tech country than Japan. And please, before anyone mistakes this for just another attack on Japan, I urge you to read right to the end of the article.

Granted, Japan may have the most robots in the world, including the much-trumpeted Pepper from SoftBank, which is even supposed to be able to read human emotions. But even in these areas, Japan is falling behind. The Robotics Society of Japan notes that up until 2000, Japan produced around 90 percent of all robots in the world, but that the figure has now declined to only about 60 percent.

But in any case, how many robots do we actually meet? It’s hardly an everyday occurrence. No, in terms of actual daily life — the trains we ride on, the shops we shop at, banks, post office, city council, tax forms, etc. — the reality of life in Japan is still rather old-school: low-tech, manual, paper-based.

Walk into almost any post office, bank or estate agent and the non-Japanese visitor may be taken aback by the extensive use of paper-based and labor-intensive systems, and the relatively low level of computer usage. The modern British post office, by comparison, is far more computerized, and even more high-tech features are coming soon. These include self-service kiosks where the process of using the post office can begin while at home — via your computer — or on the go, using your smartphone. In these kiosks there will be code-operated lockers that you can use to collect goods bought online, machines for posting parcels yourself — even mortgage advice via video.

As for banks, you may have heard of Citibank’s Orchard Station branch in Singapore, with its interactive touch-screens, “display panels forming media walls” and “workbenches with iPad terminals” — now there’s high-tech for ya! By contrast, banks in Japan have none of that. Yes, there are machines that can be used for paying bills, but they are big, clunky objects that look like they’ve come straight off the set of a 1970s sci-fi film. The process of something like sending money to a travel agent on them is long and complicated and, of course, all in Japanese.

Just try presenting a foreign cheque at a Japanese bank, and — in this so-called interconnected world of finance — get ready to be greeted by expressions of shock and confusion, as if you have just asked the staff to decipher a piece of ancient Babylonian scroll. Front-counter clerk A will then go off to consult middle-of-the-office person B, who will then go off with a bemused face to ask the senior at the back, who might just know what to do with this puzzle you have presented them.

A fact that often astonishes many people from countries like the U.K. or U.S., who are used to being able to get money from the “hole in the wall” any time, day or night, is that many banks’ ATM machines close at 5 or 6 p.m. Many local banks are just that: My card, from the bank of the prefecture I live in, is not of much use even in the next big city up — it’s only 150 km away, but there are no ATM machines that will accept it there. To put it in terms of the U.S., that is like having a bank card from San Diego that you can’t use in Los Angeles!

Even in the center of Tokyo, right where the image of a fast-paced flash-flash neon high-tech maelstrom might seem the most apt, we find a rather Victorian mechanical machine reality. The ticket machines even in the bustling centers, like Shinjuku and Harajuku, are so old that they bring to mind Robbie the Robot from the 1950s. When you drop in your coins you can hear their old mechanical workings whirrling and burrling — for several seconds — before your ticket eventually burps out from the cumbersome old contraption with a noisy “krra-ching.”

How about TV? Surely here, Japan is whiz-bang waku-waku high-tech? Ah, nope: Japanese TV news and magazine-type programs normally display visuals on nothing more high-tech than a nicely printed poster, or a big card that the presenter simply holds up to the camera.

This is something that has not been seen on TV in the U.K. or the U.S. for at least 20 years! There, programs like the BBC’s “Newsnight” are swimming in the latest CGI magic. It’s not uncommon to see the reporter slotted into a virtual world where they interact with statistics and pie charts that swell up, glow in glorious multicolor, then shoot off to be replaced by more computer-generated wizardry. And in Japan … they hold up a piece of brightly colored cardboard.

But, actually, this wanton lack of high-tech systems in daily life in Japan is, for the most part, just fine. Why do we need “Star Wars”-like virtual reality CGI on TV news reports, if a nice little poster will do the job? Why do we need a visit to the post office to feel like we are stepping into a scene from “The Matrix”? As long as the lovely polite staff help us fill out the form, or gently place our package down on the (very old) weighing scale with a friendly smile, well, isn’t that enough?

Why do we need to be constantly updating stuff? What is the point if what we’ve got is still working? Thrift may seem like a very old-fashioned concept, but in these times of increased focus on “eco” — the environmentally friendly, rather than blind consumerism — a thrifty approach may be due for a comeback. Some people already long to escape from under the glamorous spell of the hedonistically high-tech. A recent article in The Guardian noted: “The Apple Watch … will let you do a million things that you can already do elsewhere, but in a slightly more difficult way.” And at a greater cost, so why bother?

In some ways, the Japanese may adapt to the fast-approaching frugal future rather well. One example in which Japan might genuinely be leading the world is in small electric cars. Japan has the second-largest number of plug-in electric vehicles in the world. The presence of small, single-seater, ecologically friendly electric cars is starting to be felt on the streets, with many Seven-Eleven shops using them.

Eventually these will hopefully herald the end of the ridiculous tendency of some Japanese to buy big four-wheel drives that are clearly far too large for the narrow city roads. As these small e-cars become normal — even cool — it seems likely that such high-tech, ecologically friendly cars will one day be the main type of vehicle on Japan’s roads. The resulting decrease in air and noise pollution and so on will considerably improve the quality of our lives. High-tech for a purpose.

You still won’t be able to use your bank’s ATM machine after 6 p.m., but so what?

Sean Michael Wilson is a British professional comic book writer living in Japan. Web: www.seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com. Twitter: @SeanMichaelWord. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion about issues related to life in Japan. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    This guy needs to be careful. Telling the truth about Japan bursts the weaboo’s bubbles and will incite them to slam him as ‘anti-Japanese’. Must maintain the Japan myth!

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      No, it’s generally the “Japan is racist and xenophobic” crap that gets people stirred up. No one’s going to say that there aren’t a lot of things in Japan that couldn’t use modernizing.

      • spartan2600

        But many people in Japan are racist and xenophobic- starting with Abe.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Many more than any other country? I’d beg to differ. I won’t on Abe, but that would be the one thing I’d change if I could, get him out of office. Yes, even over never having to use a fax machine again.

      • Steve Jackman

        Clickonthewhatnow, you can always be counted to provide the Japanese perspective.

        BTW, it is people like you who elected Abe. He represents the wishes of the Japanese people. He is no better or worse than the rest of the LDP, or DPJ for that matter.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I said if there were one thing I’d change, it would be Abe in power, and you go on to say that I am representative of the Japanese perspective? If that were so, he wouldn’t be in power, would he? Logic, Steve, logic. Nice and slow does it.

      • Steve Jackman

        Since English is obviously not your first language, I was referring to your constant denial of widespread xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards foreigners in Japan, when I wrote about your Japanese perspective.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        You don’t need a comma between Japan and when in that run on sentence, but I’m sure as a native speaker of English, you knew that. Seriously, Steve, if not understanding your clear as mud posts is a sign that someone’s first language isn’t English, as far as you’re concerned, there must be only one native speaker of English that exists.

      • Steve Jackman

        No, it’s just that I can recognize Japanese-English when I read it.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Then you either fail at reading Japanese English or think you see it everywhere. Your choice, either way, your own English sucks. Think twice before nitpicking other people’s.

      • Steve Jackman

        Your instaneous and lightening quick responses seem to indicate you’re always online, Clickonthwhatnow. Do you monitor all comments posted here around the clock 24/7, so you can shoot down anyone who says something about Japan which you don’t like?

        Your constant monitoring and attempts to censor comments critical of Japan remind me of the article in The New York Times a few months ago which exposed how some countries are running state-sponsored troll farms, who’s job it is to monitor online media and manipulate public opinion for PR purposes on forums like this.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Lightning, but lightening. I’d be a lot quicker to point out your many flaws if I were being paid for it, Steve. Which is it, either I work for a call center, or for Japan? I doubt calling out your shoddy English does anything for Japan’s PR, but whatever your troll heart desires is the truth you see in the world, I guess. I am not the one using the terms racist and xenophobic together so often it would seem they’re copied and pasted. Guess you’re working for China?

      • Steve Jackman

        “Guess you’re working for China?” Haha, you just proved my point better than I ever could. I rest my case!

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Don’t know why, my point was sarcasm, Steve. It’s commonly used by us native speakers of English. Give it a try sometime. Don’t strain yourself, though.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Oh, and instantaneous. You should really work on your English, Steve.

      • Steve Jackman

        Good to know you can use the English dictionary. Spelling corrected !

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Why do you have a space between corrected and the exclamation mark? You definitely need to work on your English.

      • Buck

        Actually, Steve you should just admit when
        you are wrong, otherwise you look foolish. You clearly implied Clickonthewhatnow
        voted for Abe. Also, why must you try to shame this commenter by accusing him of being Japanese and bashing on said commenter’s English ability? You make it seem like being Japanese and having a different perspective is a
        bad thing. A variety of opinions and insights are what makes the comment section more enlightening.

      • Steve Jackman

        Since English is obviously not your first language, I was referring to your constant denial of widespread xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards foreigners in Japan, when I wrote about your Japanese perspective.

      • Steve Jackman

        Since English is obviously not your first language, I was referring to your constant denial of widespread xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards foreigners in Japan, when I wrote about your Japanese perspective.

      • http://godfather.wikia.com/wiki/Michael_Corleone The Don Michael Corleone

        Your comment is off topic but DEAD ON!

      • Jonathan Fields

        So… Your contention is that Japan is not racist and xenophobic? I mean, there’s not a lot of violence toward foreigners, but to say that it isn’t an issue is pretty silly.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        More racist than any other country? No,I wouldn’t. If anything,a different kind of racism and that’s all. Xenophobic? Not at all, with some exceptionally out of whack people.

      • Jonathan Fields

        This country has an entire genre of sociology devoted to how the people are unique, special, and amazing. And it still holds a lot of influence despite having been debunked years and years ago.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        And you would say Japan is more racist than which country? Every country has its own special brand of that poison. I’m waiting.

      • Jonathan Fields

        Nobody has to aim for your arbitrary goal post. I live in Japan and experience xenophobia. I know Brazilian factory workers who were laid off because of the Lehman shock while every single Japanese staff member got to stay. Sure, other countries have a lot of issues. Some may even be worse. But how is that in any way relevant? I’m waiting.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Then every country in the world is racist. Kinda takes the entire point of saying it away. Might as well just say Japan is a country in the world. Repeating it ad nauseam, as some do on here, is a bit much. Especially since I’m sure that where they come from, racism is more likely to result in hospitalization or death.

      • Jonathan Fields

        Cool. So the next time a tatted up old man cuts me off on my bicycle, blocks the road with his car, and gets out to yell at me about “rotten gaijin” committing crimes, I’ll just laugh it off. Next time a superior at work tells me I can’t have a raise because I’d be making more than Japanese staff, I’ll just remember that it could be worse and tell my girlfriend we can wait to move to a bigger place. Next time a lady on the train tells her husband in a suspiciously loud voice that foreigners should speak Japanese all the time so everyone knows they’re not up to something, I’ll just think of Donald Trump’s gaffes.

        I see the point you’re going for. It’s just a stupid point.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        No, by all means, call them out on it. But is it everyone? Is it a majority of the population where you live? If so, why would you bother living there? I’ll tell you this, it’s not even close to a majority of the people in any of the places where I’ve lived in this country. And if you live in Yokohama, like the author, I’m never going there again! But hey, those three people or more are a great reason to call the entire country racist, aren’t they?

      • Jonathan Fields

        OK. What if I told you that the second example is part of the law. Immigration will not approve a work visa if you’ll be making more money than a Japanese person with the same job title.

        I’ll be interested to see where you move the goalposts next. Over there by the window might be nice.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        No worries, I see your game. I mention that the racist people are only a part of a Japanese whole, and you move onto laws. And so on. Well, at the end of the day you’ll still see Japan as the definition of racism, and I won’t. So I’ll cut THAT waste of time short. Enjoy your cynical point of view, and I’ll enjoy my positive outlook.

      • Charles

        Clickonthewhatnow, try this experiment, I dare you:

        Print out the following question on a sheet of paper and hand it to ten English-speaking Japanese people you know:

        “A bar owner has had a bad experience with foreign customers who caused trouble before. They yelled and broke some of the things in his bar. Therefore, he puts a JAPANESE ONLY sign in front of his bar.

        Is this racist (circle yes or no)?
        Yes No”

        I’d bet money that at least 3 out of the 10 people you administer this question to will circle “No.”

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        What dictates “English-speaking”? They have to be able to have a conversation in English? I may not know ten English-speaking Japanese people, if that is the case.

        Have you seen any of those signs, by the way? Living here for over 5 years, I’ve never seen one. Well, save the Debito list.

      • Charles

        Seen the signs? No, I knew about those signs before I even lived in Japan and I purposely avoid the areas that tend to have those signs (nightlife areas, places near military bases, etc.)–no point in putting myself in a bad mood. However, I have been refused entry to more than one bar or night club for being a gaijin, which is the same thing, in my opinion, and it makes it possible for me to believe the Debito signs.

        If that were the only problem, I’d say “big deal” and move on. I mean, I don’t want to give racists my business anyway. However, it’s the tip of the iceberg–a society that tolerates that sort of things is bound to (and does) have lots of forms of racism that DO affect me.

        As Jonathan Fields says, if you haven’t experienced racism here, then it’s obviously because you’re living in a bubble, probably the eikaiwa or ALT bubble.

        As long as your only aspirations include being a g̶a̶i̶j̶i̶n̶ ̶c̶l̶o̶w̶n̶ low-level (eikaiwa English teacher/ALT), then this might not be apparent to you. But try aiming for a professional job, and you’ll start to understand what we’re talking about.

        In Japan, as a westerner, you’re like a train on rails. As long as you just follow the track (be a g̶a̶i̶j̶i̶n̶ ̶c̶l̶o̶w̶n̶ English teacher, accept that Japanese are always right and that you will “never truly master Japanese culture or language,” and let a J-woman take care of all your daily life tasks for you), then you’ll experience very little friction. It’s when you try to leave those tracks that you’ll start to see it.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Well, obviously you are affected by it, and I’m sorry to hear that. Have a good weekend. I asked a simple question about your task, and you blow up into a rant. Not terribly interesting, but I’d guess your life is terribly stressful.

      • Steve Jackman

        You must be blind, Clickonthewhatnow. Here’s an assignment for you. Walk past your nearest real estate agent whose offices are usually next to all the train stations. They always have dozens of real estate listings posted on their store-front windows. Most of these explicitly state that these properties are not available for rent to foreigners. Now, count the percentage of such listings that say “No Foreigners” and report back.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I own a house, so am not terribly bothered by which places do and do not accept foreign renters. I have, however, never been stopped from renting any place I wanted to. If this is a Tokyo/big city thing, that might be why.

      • Blair

        Excuse me, but isn’t this an article on the low-tech charm of Japan?

      • Charles

        I was on-topic in this Disqus discussion long after you started sniping at people.

      • Blair

        wrong guy, Chuckles

      • Steve Jackman

        You are indeed on topic! As I just responded to Blair, there is a very direct connection between Japan’s racism/xenophobia and its loss of competitiveness in technology. Its insularity is what has led to Japan becoming so low-tech.

      • Steve Jackman

        It figures, Blair, you compeletely missed the sarcasm in the article – there is nothing charming about “low-tech” in Japan, a country which once-upon-a-time was a tech leader in the world.

        Second, and more importantly, there is a direct relationship between racism and xenophobia in Japan and Japan lagging behind the rest of the world in technology. Global companies which are tech leaders (Apple, Google, Amazon, and in financial services, since they too are more about technology and less about finance these days) attract top talent from around the world. Visit any of their offices and you will see a very diverse and international workforce.

        On the other hand, go to any Japanese company and you are extremely unlikely to see any non-Japanese faces working there. This insularity and xenophobia is a key reason why Japanese companies have fallen so far behind in their technological and other capabilities – they simply don’t have the human and intellectual capital to be global leaders.

      • Blair

        I find huddling with the family around the kotatsu to be a charming part of life in Japan, as I do being offered tea poured from the kettle that’s been sitting atop the gas heater in the lobby of the old wooden train station. I find these and more to have far more charm and endearing qualities than sarcasm

      • Steve Jackman

        Many Weeaboos would agree with you.

      • Blair

        as they should

      • Jonathan Fields

        You may be one of the more subtle trolls on JT, but you’re still just a troll.

      • Jonathan Fields

        You move the goal posts yourself and then blame me for shifting my argument. Brilliant trolling. If an example of racially motivated policy isn’t enough, then clearly you won’t be convinced. I do wonder what’s at stake in your quest to prove Japan doesn’t have a xenophobia issue. Why are you so invested in that idea?

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I haven’t experienced it, apparently you have. Yay! Move on. Troll.

      • Jonathan Fields

        If you’ve lived here 5 years and haven’t experienced it, that’s great. But I sincerely doubt you’ve stepped out of your personal bubble. My guess is that you work at an eikaiwa, don’t go out much, and don’t travel. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of xenophobia in Japan. Like the time a group of guys chased me and my friends out of a Kyoto nightclub yelling “no money gaijin go home!” because my buddy tried to bum a cigarette off of a girl. Or the time a fireman punched me in the side of the head at a bar in Osaka and his friends cornered me and told me not to go to the police. Or the time an old man in Kyoto told my Indian friend “kuni ni kaere” and then called the police and said we threatened him and knocked over his bicycle. Or the time I was refused service at a restaurant in Nagoya. Or the many times I couldn’t get the apartment I wanted because the landlord wouldn’t allow foreigners. Or the time I went to a whiskey bar in Mie and they charged me ¥5,000 for a glass of Suntory Kaku.

        Now obviously the positives outweigh the negatives and I enjoy living here, but that doesn’t mean I have to take the bad lying down.

      • Charles

        You know, I kind of regret that we had that argument on the other article and perhaps I judged you too early. Because honestly, your experiences aren’t that dissimilar from mine.

        I’ve generally been okay in Japan in terms of people trying to pick a fight with me for no reason, but when I was in Korea (another country that people claim is oh-so-safe), I did get heckled a lot, called a sshibalsaekgi, and once even assaulted from behind by some guy I’d never met or even spoken to. I also got heckled by an old man in Tobita-ku, Osaka who said something with “baka” in it a number of times (I was only visiting Japan at the time and that was the only word I could understand back then), who then put his bicycle across the steps of a store to prevent me from entering.

        I’ve got good news for you–almost all this stuff (random heckling and, in the case of Korea, suddenly being assaulted) happened between the ages of 20 and 22. I’m not sure how old you are or how old you look (probably older than 22), but the older you get, the less random strangers want to pick fights with you. I think once you get gray hair, it pretty much goes away (which would certainly explain all these gray-haired guys who claim to have never experienced racism).

        I’m definitely not justifying what they did, nor blaming you (because I have experienced these things myself and know that it doesn’t always “take two to tango”), but the good news is, when you start to look 30-ish, this stuff seems to mostly go away. Not sure how old you are, but just thought I’d mention that.

        I have also found that setting a strict curfew for myself helps. Once it’s 10:00, I stop going downtown unless with someone I know. Once it’s 11:00, I stop going any farther than the closest supermarket. After midnight, I don’t leave the apartment complex. It sounds paranoid, but it definitely does reduce my interactions with drunk men who are itching for a fight.

      • Jonathan Fields

        Thanks, I appreciate it. It saddens me that those steps are necessary, but you’re definitely not wrong. I’m 27 now, so we’ll see what happens as I age.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I do not work at an eikaiwa, not only do I travel, I’ve lived in 6 different prefectures and been to 24. I’ve never had issues getting an apartment in the inaka or in Tokyo. I’m sorry you’ve had such bad experiences. As I’ve said, mine are not the same as yours. End of story. Move on. Unless you’d like to troll some more?

      • Steve Jackman

        Hey, Clickonthewhatnow, this is not an isolated problem with Jonathan, or me, or any other poster here, so stop trying to spin it as such. Widespread racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination are serious problems which affect all foreign residents of Japan on an almost daily basis. The only people I know who deny this are themselves Japanese.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I said I have not encountered it, nor have my friends, and the only place I’ve ever encountered it is online. But good on you telling me and my friends that what we are affected by is different than what we say. “All foreign residents of Japan on an almost daily basis”? Stop speaking for all foreign residents. I didn’t, but you sure seem to like doing so.

      • Steve Jackman

        Hey, Clickonthewhatnow, maybe you haven’t experienced it because other Japanese think you’re Japanese too and just one of them.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        They must be near blind, then. And deaf, for while my Japanese is conversational, I do not deny myself the fact that I make a lot of mistakes.

      • Steve Jackman

        “I do wonder what’s at stake in your quest to prove Japan doesn’t have a xenophobia issue. Why are you so invested in that idea?”. Excellent question, Jonathan. I also often wonder the same thing about some of the posters here.

      • Steve Jackman

        “But is it everyone?”. No, not 100 perfent of Japanese are racist and xenophobic. But, that is not the point. The point is that there are far too many Japanese who hold such views and their numbers are much larger than one would expect in a developed country in this day and age.

        Let’s just do some simple Math here. Let’s say, a foreign resident has some form of interaction or close contact with just 20 Japanese people on any given day (on the train, at work, eating out at lunch/dinner, working out at the gym, etc.). Now, even if just 10 percent of all Japanese were outwardly racist, that means that the foreigner has to contend with 2 racist Japanese people every day he or she lives in Japan. Having lived and worked in Japan for over a decade, I can assure you that there are far more than just 10 percent of the Japanese population who harbor such feelings and are outwardly racist.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I don’t have to deal with even one racist person every day, and I deal with plenty of Japanese. Do I deal with racist people? Yes, occasionally, but I dig how you toss that “almost daily” thing out when you are speaking for ALL foreigners.

      • Charles

        I agree with you on this. Racism exists everywhere, but only in Japan and a handful of other countries (such as Korea) is it so pervasive as to actually be enshrined in law. In Japan, the immigration system actually treats immigrants with Japanese blood differently from immigrants without Japanese blood (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). I challenge Clickonthewhatnow to show me a US or Canadian visa category that’s given out only to people with Caucasian ancestry. In Japan, it is completely legal under Japanese law to refuse someone entry to an establishment. How about America or Canada? How long would a “NO JAPANESE” establishment last before the police shut it down?

      • Jonathan Fields

        The second chapter of that story is even better. The thinking behind that program was that people of Japanese ancestry would somehow fit in better and be able to speak the language more easily. When that turned out not to be the case, they devised a new program to pay those people to leave. All they had to do was sign a document promising they’d never again return to Japan under an ancestry visa. When that program got torched by the foreign press, they changed it so people could come back after 3 years. That was in 2009, and as far as I know, no returnees have been approved. This is despite a wave of applications in 2012.

      • Charles

        That’s exactly the visa law that I’m referring to. A Nikkei (pretty much any Japanese-blooded person, be they from Brazil, Peru, or even developed countries like America or Canada) could come here on an open-ended five-year visa and get permanent residency after five years. This is regardless of his education, so he could be a high school dropout and still qualify. A foreign professional with a master’s degree, PhD, and/or valuable skills? 10 years–and he or she will probably start out on 1-year visas.

        There are also differences in how quickly a Nikkei can naturalize versus how quickly a non-Nikkei can naturalize.

        Why hasn’t the foreign media noticed this?

        How is this not a violation of the UN CERD?

        The apologists will, of course, find some way to defend this policy. I have already debated this many times with them. Usually they begin by dredging up old American laws that were repealed in 1965 (i.e. 50 YEARS AGO), and then they shift to claiming that the Nikkei visas are a “form of affirmative action” and eventually, when all their “logic” is exhausted, it becomes “Well if you don’t like it, then just leave.”

      • Steve Jackman

        It was not just Brazilian factory workers, but highly skilled foreign professionals with advanced degrees were also laid off in large numbers during and after the Lehman shock. That is why their numbers are much smaller now as compared to before the financial crisis.

        I think Japan’s true colors became really obvious during this time, since its deep-seated institutionalized racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination were on unapologetic and grand display for all to see. I know many such high-performing foreign professionals who were laid off in an extremely unfair manner, while their lower-performing Japanese coworkers with less seniority kept their jobs.

        The few foreign professionals who took their cases to court to dispute their dismissals experienced first-hand the extremely corrupt, racist and xenophobic Japanese judicial system. Japanese judges and lawyers routinely conspired with Japanese companies to deny them their basic rights to due process of law. The trials were a complete sham and made a mockery of the Japanese judicial system. Japanese corporations, lawyers and judges will be deeply embarassed when some of these accounts of their illegal and unethical practices come to light.

        In my opinion, these types of issues are also directly related to the low-tech nature of Japan as described in this article. By expunging Japan of foreign talent, Japanese companies today are less dynamic, less competitive and less innovative. They can never compete with the likes of Apple, Google or Amazon, since these American companies draw top global talent from around the world. Japanese companies by comparison are almost exclusively staffed by Japanese workers. It is obvious that Japan’s parochial, insular and racist attitudes directly contribute to it being so low-tech.

      • Jonathan Fields

        Yeah, there was a court case I looked at for a paper I wrote where 4 workers sued their former company for the layoffs. The court told them they won, but all they got was their old jobs back with the added provision that they could no longer be in the union that helped them with the lawsuit. 2 of them actually accepted the offer, and 1 went home. It’s crazy. It’s like, “We brought you here to work, but if we mistreat you, you can’t complain. You didn’t have to come here.”

    • spartan2600

      Declining empires are ugly things. The UK went through it. Conservatives and nostalgists lash out violently, even at people who write articles about the occasional presence of some quaint technology in the country.

      • Steve Jackman

        A sure sign of declining empires is when they snap back at everything and everyone and become extremely defensive of anything that reminds them of their decline.

      • Steve Jackman

        A sure sign of declining empires is when they snap back at everything and everyone and become extremely defensive of anything that reminds them of their decline.

  • M. L. LIU

    This article brings on a chuckle. ^_^ As an American who admires many things Japanese, I have to agree with the author. Yes, in my recent travels to Japan I was astonished by the many lo-tech aspects of a country with such a hi-tech image.
    As another example: Have you tried to book a concert ticket in Japan? It is nearly impossible, especially from outside the country. But on the other hand, they have got those ultra-tech Toto toilets …
    Ah, the Japanese, they are full of contradictions and that’s part of the charm of their culture.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Not entirely sure about booking concert tickets from outside the country, but in Japan? Go to a convenience store. Sometimes you have to go to a particular brand of convenience store, but that still really doesn’t limit you.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, sure, Clickonthewhatnow. Why offer customers the convenience of buying tickets online when you can spend half an hour going to the convenience store to do the same thing?

        You remind me of Japanese offices, where the thinking is why only invite the three required people to the meeting, when you can invite ten people, or why have a meeting for only the required 30 minutes when you can spend an entire two hours doing the same thing? No wonder Japan has the lowest productivity among developed countries.

      • 99Pcent

        That explains all the Japanese cars and products in our daily lives, sure whatever.

      • Steve Jackman

        You probably don’t have a drivers license, but if you did, you strike me as the kind of person who likes to drive while looking back through the rear-view mirror, instead of looking ahead through the windshield.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Hm? I’ve not been paying attention to the Western auto scene as of late, but is Toyota Corolla still not the best selling vehicle in the world to date? And Toyota the best selling brand? I don’t get the attack on that person’s outlook just because he brought up a field in which Japanese products are the leaders.

      • Blair

        I’m always impress when anytime a civil war or skirmish is shown somewhere in the Sudan, Sierra Leone, or even Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s always on the back of a Toyota you see any antiaircraft gun…never a Ford or Chevy. You can’t afford to break down in the middle of a battle

      • Buck

        I can vouch for the ridiculous length, number, and amount of people who attend such meetings. With a lot of information passed out on sheets of paper or written on white board / chalk board. No online memos or e-mails to speak of. Memos are passed from office area to office area and workers stamp their seal to show they read the memos. Still pretty low teck imo.

      • Steve Jackman

        “No online memos or e-mails to speak of.” In my experience working at Japanese companies, there is good reason for this, that being deniability. Japanese companies routinely engage in some pretty shady and unethical business practices, so no records of electronic communications is a way to ensure secrecy and opacity. There is very little responsibility or accountability within Japanese corporations, so buyer beware. This is also why corporate governance is such a big issue in Japan.

      • Steve Jackman

        “No online memos or e-mails to speak of.” In my experience working at Japanese companies, there is good reason for this, that being deniability. Japanese companies routinely engage in some pretty shady and unethical business practices, so no records of electronic communications is a way to ensure secrecy and opacity. There is very little responsibility or accountability within Japanese corporations, so buyer beware. This is also why corporate governance is such a big issue in Japan.

      • Steve Jackman

        “No online memos or e-mails to speak of.” In my experience working at Japanese companies, there is good reason for this, that being deniability. Japanese companies routinely engage in some pretty shady and unethical business practices, so no records of electronic communications is a way to ensure secrecy and opacity. There is very little responsibility or accountability within Japanese corporations, so buyer beware. This is also why corporate governance is such a big issue in Japan.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Japan is not a society that thrives on credit cards, so online purchases really wouldn’t draw many purchases. Cash is king, and thus, the methods for paying for things generally revolves around that. I know, your old enemy logic, back to haunt you again.

    • Steve Jackman

      The British broadcaster BBC seems to have come to the same conclusion when last month it presented two TV shows of its popular tech program “Click” from Japan and the host Spencer Kelly was visibly amused, frustrated and disappointed at the poor state of technology in Japan.

      In the first show, Spencer Kelly made several jokes about a supposedly high tech robot for carrying baggage at airports. The demo of this robot was a complete disaster and reflected very poorly on Japanese technology. He also visited a tech museum, marvelling at an old gold colored cassette player from the 70’s, as Japan’s answer to the gold colored iPhone of today.

      In the second show, Spencer could not stop laughing at the horribly poor and unintelligible English spoken by a robot at the reception of Japan’s first robot hotel in Nagasaki, the fact that it was not even a real robot since it was being assisted by an actual human being behind the scenes, his encounter with another painfully slow “robot” which took his bag to his room (even commenting on the way there that he hoped he would get there in time for dinner), lack of English functionality for controlling the room’s lighting by voice command since there are no switches in the room, and being locked out of the room when the facial recognition system for entry to his room failed to work.

      The worst part was when Spencer Kelly took a swipe at the backward nature of Japanese tech after getting out of the “Back to the Future” movie car he was driving and exclaimed, “We are back in 1985”, looked around and stated, “Oh, we’re still in Japan”! Being a Cambridge man, this was his witty take at how Japanese technology is still stuck in the 1980s.

  • Karl_Marx

    Japan has a growing number of elderly people, and they need face-to-face contact, not a confusing array of pushbuttons and touch panels.

    • spartan2600

      And besides, robots cannot produce surplus labor value due to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

    • Alfonso

      Yes and the elderly people have the manager and director positions , so its according to their ways and for sure they will never will change , but i prefer the personal service in the banks , its very good in other parts such kind of service is for premium clients.

  • Stewart

    Why not buy a PASMO or SUICA card – no need for coins at a ticket machine? ATMs in 7-11 are open 24hrs and accept international cards. Many Post Offices too have similar ATMs.

    • Stewart Dorward

      Thank you – not only are they available but they are free for both my banks. I can also pay my taxes and car insurance at convenience stores as well as concert and cinema tickets. There is some truth in the article but it doesn’t sound like he is trying too hard,

      • Steve Jackman

        “I can also pay my taxes and car insurance at convenience stores as well as concert and cinema tickets.” I heard that there are some advanced countries in this world where you can do such things online on something called the internet. I think it’s some new technology, but it could also be just scince fiction.

      • 99Pcent

        Hello? the whole point of the article is that Japan still uses old tech, do you read at all. they use the old stuff, not because they are behind, but because it works just fine. You should read more carefully and get the gist of the story before you go on a tirade.

    • サビーネ

      Yes, but the service fees are no fun!

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Get a post office bank account? Unless you live deep in the inaka, and even then, there’s a machine that’s open every night until 7pm. I once lived in a town of 15,000 in Wakayama, but the only post office there was the 本局, or main office, which meant it was open late. And with the post office, you know your bank card will be available to use across the country.

      • Steve Jackman

        “And with the post office, you know your bank card will be available to use across the country.” Wow, Japan is so high tech, I had no idea !

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Wow, and here I thought I was helping people make a choice that would help them get their money anywhere in the country, but you got me, my point was obviously about how high tech Japan is. Sod off.

    • R0ninX3ph

      While ATMs at convenience stores are open 24 hours, it doesn’t mean you will be able to use your card from your specific regional bank there 24-7.

      I can’t use my card anywhere outside of Lawson after 9pm, and then even not at Lawson after 11pm.

  • Janses

    iwish i could understand what the heck is that on the den ?

    • GBR48

      It’s captioned: ‘Lessons in thrift: At a spa in Japan, a 1970s coin-operated hair dryer has been ‘updated’ with what looks like a coin receptacle fashioned out of a tennis ball tube.’

  • サビーネ

    I would highly appreciate it if I could get my money 24/7 and without paying these f*** service fees!! It makes me really mad!!

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      In a country where you can carry as much money as you want and not worry about being mugged, I fail to see why getting money 24/7 is a big issue. Unless you work salaryman, 12 hour days, in which case you should be angry about a lot more than ATMs.

      • Steve Jackman

        “I fail to see why getting money 24/7 is a big issue.” I’ve just up voted your comment because it’s so hillarious. You won’t stop at anything to defend Japan, obviously. Thanks for providing a good laugh, Clickonthewhatnow.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I often feel the same about any post of yours that contains racist and xenophobic. That is to say, most of them. Thanks for brightening my day with your one track rambling, Steve.

    • Robert Bates

      Shinsei Bank! You can use 7-11 ATM’s 24/7, as much as you want, and for no fees :)

      • サビーネ

        Yes, my friend recommended me shinsei bank as well. gonna check them out! thanks!

  • MicoB

    Once the UK has vending machines that offer hot meals, and running shoes, then we will talk.

    • Charles

      Once Japan has a personal computer in every classroom, then we will talk.

      • MicoB

        Uhh, ok. Looking forward to having that conversation.

    • Charles

      Once Japan has a personal computer in every classroom, then we will talk.

  • Alucard

    “In these kiosks there will be code-operated lockers that you can use to
    collect goods bought online, machines for posting parcels yourself”

    Why would I want to use some lockers if a delivery guy brings everything to my doorstep (and if I’m not there, leaves a notice that includes info such as QR code for accessing a website where I can order redelivery for time that suits me)? Also, why would I want to use some locker for sending anything if a delivery guy can just come and pick the stuff from my home or office?

    I do agree with the bank part, though. However, I’m using Rakuten bank and I can withdraw money from any 7eleven (i.e. everywhere in Japan) for free several times per month (yea, after that I have to pay like 200jpy ~ 1,5eur for each withdrawal..). Also, they offer credit cards without yearly charges, even including travel insurance. Also, the IC payment cards (Edy, Suica, etc.) rock. Why would anyone want to use some crappy prefectural bank anyway..

    After setting up my utility bills to be charged from my debit card (unfortunately paper-based processes..) and setting my rent to be automatically paid on the last banking day every month (毎月おまかせ振込予約), my finances are about 70% electronic and automated. I use cash mostly at times when I have so split restaurant bill with friends because it’s easiest to use cash in such situations.

  • blackpassenger

    i wrote about this in my book, and it was published in 2008. And by the way Mr Michael, It’s “ATM,” not “ATM machine.” That’s an annoying americanism. The “m” in ATM already means machine.

    • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

      Are you going to ‘smash his skull in’?

      • Blair

        wrong black guy…I suppose they’re all the same to you, just as the Japanese are

  • spartan2600

    How thin-skinned are Japanophiles that such a mildly critical article needs to start with an apology?

    • Steve Jackman

      Very thin-skinned and it is rooted in deep insecurity, self-doubt, anxiety and fear.

      • Blair

        How thick must one’s skin be to spend every waking moment on here in a constant screed of caustic bitterness?

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        And yet, here you are checking his comments and replying!

      • Steve Jackman

        At least, I have something to say. Your comments are just right wing nationalist vitriol.

      • Steve Jackman

        At least, I have something to say. Your comments are just right wing nationalist vitriol.

      • 99Pcent

        They are haters, most likely the same person posing as different commentators.

      • Blair

        They’re eikaiwa “teachers” who have been made redundant by the Internet, and resent the Japanese for not respecting dead end losers in low paying McJobs in a dying industry

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        It must not do well for their health. I mean, granted, having “racist and xenophobic” on the clipboard for your system saves on SOME typing with copy and paste, but still…

      • Blair

        …a tale told by idiots, full of sound a fury, signifying nothing

      • Steve Jackman

        My gratitude and thanks goes to Blair, Clickonthewhatnow and 99Pcent for proving my thesis.

  • Steve Jackman

    Ah, high tech Japan, where the Fax machine is still king in most offices.

    These days Japan’s idea of innovation and high-tech is to take an ancient technology like the Fax machine and load it up with useless features, like putting several blinking lights in different colors on it, have it say good morning in a female squeaky teen age voice when the clock says 9:00 am, cover it in cute pink or purple colors and jack up the price to 100,000 Yen. That in a nutshell is the state of Japanese high-tech these days.

    • GBR48

      Fax is still used in the UK, for example when sending medical data in the health service. Default implementations are more secure than e-mail.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Yes, well, as long as hankos are necessary, you’re going to have to either use fax machines, or require every home and business to have a PC with a scanner, and teach the staff how to use them. I think a change like that could only come from the government, and they’re too “change is horrible” to allow that.

  • Steve Jackman

    Ah, high tech Japan, where the Fax machine is still king in most offices.

    These days Japan’s idea of innovation and high-tech is to take an ancient technology like the Fax machine and load it up with useless features, like putting several blinking lights in different colors on it, have it say good morning in a female squeaky teen age voice when the clock says 9:00 am, cover it in cute pink or purple colors and jack up the price to 100,000 Yen. That in a nutshell is the state of Japanese high-tech these days.

  • J.P. Bunny

    As a Luddite, enjoy the lack of unnecessary and annoying technology.

  • Steve Jackman

    I am baffled by your patronizing and condescending tirade. I don’t think there’s any need for such personal attacks, since he has a right to express his opinion.

  • Blair

    He’s going to claim that he’s Japanese to derail your argument, but that’s just a tactic, don’t believe it for a minute. One only need read the myriad of caustic bitterness from him to know he’s just as you’ve noted…clearly. Ditto for Mr.Jackman

    • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

      You’re just jealous.

      • Blair

        No, I simply don’t believe you

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        Because your world view would be smashed and you would have to admit you don’t know it all. That’s a kind of illness, you know?

      • Blair

        No, No…That’s not it at all. I realise there’s not enough paper on the planet to print what I don’t know. I simply don’t believe you

      • Steve Jackman

        “No, No…That’s not it at all. I simply don’t believe you”. I really feel sorry for your argumentative skills. But, then again, most Japanese don’t have good argumentative skills.

      • Blair

        I pity your inability to distinguish insult from argument

      • Blair

        Glad you found the time to read it. What am I saying…of course you did!

      • Blair

        No, No…That’s not it at all. I realise there’s not enough paper on the planet to print what I don’t know. I simply don’t believe you

    • Steve Jackman

      Burying your head in the sand as the rest of the world passes you by is not doing Japan any favors. You obviously have no clue about the difference between bitterness and identifying/analyzing real issues facing Japanese society. Seems like a typical Japanese right-wing nationalist tactic and perspective on things.

      • Blair

        You’re doing a bang up job changing the world in this echo chamber of a dozen likeminded malcontents Steve…carry on

      • Steve Jackman

        Better than your nonsensical comments.

      • Steve Jackman

        Better than your nonsensical comments.

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        This thread just goes to show how crazy apologists are, or how many commenters are on the J-gov payroll; they don’t like my opinion about the story, so they attack me, not my opinion. Very personal attacks that have nothing to do with the news story. That’s how afraid they are of hearing my opinion. Wannabe black-shirts one and all.

      • Steve Jackman

        As Jeff Kingston’s article dated Feb 15, 2015, in this newspaper pointed out, Japan has significantly increased its official budget for online and other media. In part, it states:

        “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has budgeted ¥70 billion — yes, that’s more than $500 million — to help get the word out about Japan…

        This lavishly funded PR program more than triples the strategic communications budget over last year’s ¥20 billion…

        Part of this gold-plated approach to global understanding involves conveying government positions on wartime history and overlapping territorial claims. A portion will be allocated to improving the government’s ability to analyze and respond to developments in global opinion and making sure Japan’s message gets across.”

        So, obviously Japan takes its image very seriously and is putting significant resources to control the message.

      • Steve Jackman

        As Jeff Kingston’s article dated Feb 15, 2015, in this newspaper pointed out, Japan has significantly increased its official budget for online and other media. In part, it states:

        “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has budgeted ¥70 billion — yes, that’s more than $500 million — to help get the word out about Japan…

        This lavishly funded PR program more than triples the strategic communications budget over last year’s ¥20 billion…

        Part of this gold-plated approach to global understanding involves conveying government positions on wartime history and overlapping territorial claims. A portion will be allocated to improving the government’s ability to analyze and respond to developments in global opinion and making sure Japan’s message gets across.”

        So, obviously Japan takes its image very seriously and is putting significant resources to control the message.

      • Hendrix

        and there’s a lot of them in Japan i can tell you….one wrong word about Japan and their fragile egos crumble.

      • Hendrix

        and there’s a lot of them in Japan i can tell you….one wrong word about Japan and their fragile egos crumble.

      • Blair

        The article is about the endearing charm of low-tech Japan. Your initial contribution to the article was to trod out the tired “weeaboo” troll bait…the lowest common denominator in the arsenal of someone lacking wit or anything significant to say. It’s not the least bit surprising you lack the wit to distinguish fear from loathing

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    I have Japanese citizenship, and a small company that makes a profit, pays tax, and employs two Japanese staff who also pay tax.
    This is a fantastic contribution to Japan, and they are lucky to have me.

    • 99Pcent

      cut your bs lying Mr sour grapes. It is quite funny to see you all worked up about Japan with your hate filled comments. No wonder your Japanese girlfriend dumped you like the manure you are.

  • Liars N. Fools

    I liked the article immensely — surprisingly, sensibly, and endearingly. My favorite example are the tear away charts in news programs, and I like the news presented to school children.

    I like the commemorative transit passes that give you a nice souvenir that one can use as a book mark and the loads of PHP palm-size paperbacks to read standing on a transit train.

    I think it goes to and stems from the democratization of the tactile arts learned from school days on. It is more relaxing and amusing.

  • GBR48

    It’s a mixed bag, as indeed is the state in most countries. I bank online 24/7 in the UK, virtually, whilst in Japan, walking around with a ridiculous amount of cash in my pocket. This is in case a xenophobic ATM has a hissy fit and declines my barbarian plastic. Most larger shops do take foreign cards now, without any fuss.

    Japan really does need proper 24/7 banking though. It’s a basic lubricant for the economy and for social convenience. And for when you decide, at the last minute, that you really must have that giant plushy Totoro, whatever the telephone number on the price tag works out as.

    Western journalists often poke fun at the survival of fax machines in Japan, but my UK GP uses them to move patient data and referrals easily, quickly and securely.

    I’ve been printing my own postage at home courtesy of the Royal Mail website for years now (aside from the entire Christmas period one year, when it broke down). It saves everyone time in the Post Office when I send orders. It would be nicer to see more stamps being used though, for ordinary letter post.

    Aside from some brilliant Jdramas (and ‘AKBingo!’ of course), Japanese TV may sometimes be a bit like a bad night on ITV, but Japan is miles ahead with 1Seg. That is a work of genius and I wish it had rolled out globally. No bandwidth costs and easy to record. A PC-based player for the recordings would be nice though. DRM is the Devil’s work and will erase a good chunk of our media from history.

    Always best to avoid any unusual file format, particularly if linked to a device. I share the Japanese love of the old school CD format. Streaming usually works out to be more expensive and it is a lot more ephemeral. You can hardly give someone a digital file as a gift.

    Suica is another technology that could have gone global. And of course there are the trains. Shinkansen – a technology you can fall in love with. Trains you just want to caress that actually come on time and are not full of people having half-conversations on their mobiles. Heaven. I wish our rail managers were trained in Japan. And some of our passengers too.

    The toilets are an interesting mix. Those knee-killing, flushable holes in the ground (do Japanese people really like them?) side-by-side with the best Bog Tech on the planet.

    Android seemed to arrive late in Japan. The rich, or those who wanted to appear rich, went for iPhones, but Android smartphone take-up was slowed by the popularity of flip-phones and the remarkable set of Japanese-only features that they had. I hope they retain their popularity, and it isn’t just gaijin Jdrama lovers who stick doggedly with the flip-phones, emulating one of the most distinctive features of Japanese screen culture. If something works, stick with it. Only stupid people insist on always having the latest of everything without first evaluating its true value, safety and functionality.

    Apple watches? Do people actually use them? Aside from Apple employees, who probably don’t have a choice. It must be the first iThing that owners are actually shy about broadcasting their ownership of. Sticking with my £5 Casio. Works forever on a lithium cell.

    It’s important to value yesterday’s way of doing something when it offers us more than tomorrow’s, and still works when the power goes off or the net goes down. And in a nation with an increasingly large elderly population, it is important not to exclude those who cannot cope with new technologies from society. To do so is cruel, selfish and arrogant. Without old fashioned cheques, my grandmother would be unable to pay a bill.

    It isn’t Luddism to decline new technologies, as long as you have a good reason for it. And simply preferring an older way of doing things *is* a perfectly good reason. Keeping connections with our past is important. It prevents us from feeling alienated as the world around us changes.

  • 99Pcent

    disqus-vbekjrt7g5 and steve jackman are Japan haters and bashers. They troll all the Japan articles and put Japan and its people down. I call them sour grapes and most likely educated Chinese or Korean origin posing as others. Also more like they are one and the same person, you can sort of tell by the similarity of vitriol in their hate filled comments.

  • 99Pcent

    Such a great article, funny and interesting look into how Japan works. However the 50 cent trolls like Steve Jackman and discus-vbekjrf7g5 are filling the comment section with their sour grapes hate filled vitriolic comments. They are well known Japan bashers that should be banned from JT because in reality they are just a waste of space.

    • Steve Jackman

      “Such a great article, funny and interesting look into how Japan works.” Haha, you completely missed the sarcasm in the article. Doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t get it. Most other people in Japan don’t either.

  • Chris Broad

    Absolutely spot on.

  • Frank Hansen

    I generally enjoy life in Japan, but the banking sector really needs to be modernized. In my home country, Denmark, you can withdraw cash on any ATM 24/7 everywhere in the country without having to pay fees regardless of your bank affiliation. And it has been like that for the last 30 years. Likewise you can look up your credit card payments for the last 20 years on the Internet. Not like my UC-card that only allows me to look back for three months. This has been embarrassing on several occasions when I was asked to document an expense to the financial department.

    To send money abroad is an expensive and time consuming affair. Once I was asked by an employee to present at letter from my guarantor before he could process my request. I answered that I don’t have a guarantor, and that I have been remitting funds abroad from this account since well before he was born. Now it is more smooth. The lovely Sasaki-san is handling my remittances every time I send two million yen to my saving account in Denmark. It takes about half an hour with enjoyable small talk. Once she apologized on behalf of Mizuho that I could not handle the transfer at home by using the Internet. She flushed modestly when I remarked that the present system has it advantages as it allows me to enjoy her company.

  • Hendrix

    the article didn’t mention housing, no central heating, no double glazing, washing machines not plumbed into hot water.. then there is the schools, no PCs on the teachers desks in the staff rooms, all tests written up by hand, chalkboards and chalk still in use, computer rooms with archaic PCs and software..

    • Blair

      Not so in Kushiro

    • Blair

      Not so in Kushiro

    • Charles

      I taught at a junior high school last year that had literally not a
      single computer in the classroom. Made teaching tougher and much less
      green–I had to create posters and print out visuals for everything.

      Now
      I’m teaching in a different prefecture and trying to show my students
      how to use the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) called “Anki” to memorize
      vocabulary (because whatever methods they’re using to memorize
      vocabulary, they aren’t working–they often forget all the words I teach
      them by the next week). The problem is, many of my students literally
      do not know how to use a computer (not just elderly, but junior high
      school and high school students). When I try to show them how to use the
      program hands-on, they’ll do silly things like keep trying to click the
      right mouse button! Or the IME changes to Japanese and they don’t know
      how to change it back to English. When I ask them, they say
      「パソコンを持ってない。」 (“I don’t have a personal computer [at home].”).

      I
      realize that they all have smart phones and think those are good enough,
      but there are so many things that a personal computer can do that a
      smart phone still can’t (at least effectively and quickly enough to make
      it viable). I have an Android smartphone and an Android tablet, yet
      still spend several hours on my PC at home. Why? Because it’s far more
      efficient than using my stubby fingers to pick at little buttons on an
      imprecise screen.

      The end result of this is that instead of using
      high-tech, 21st century methods to learn English vocabulary quickly,
      they spend ages and ages using the centuries-old method of copying
      things down in their notebooks multiple times, then forgetting them soon
      after. Some people say “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Well, in my
      opinion, there is something very “broken” about forgetting 10 vocabulary
      words for every 11 new ones you learn. Technology can fix this–if
      people are willing to learn.

      • tisho

        Were those kids from a poor family? I actually met one time a guy who said he never owned a phone before, he was surprisingly very open and timid with me, he told me about his family problems, it was seriously disturbing.. which also explained his anxiety and poor social skills.
        Anyway, change in Japan is extremely difficult thing, you’ve probably realized this by now. I don’t think it’s about ”if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”, i think it’s more about the group mentality.

        For example, if you go and say ”this method of doing things is inefficient and old, it’s much better to do it this way”, they will see this like this – ”you come here and tell us that what we have been doing for so long is stupid, therefore you think we are stupid, and since you propose it, you probably think you are better than all of us” and then reject it instantly. This doesn’t apply only for foreigners, it’s the same for Japanese too. That’s why they rarely suggest new things, because they know what will happen. To suggest a new thing, you have to first go through absolutely every single little step and detail of the way it is being done currently, you have to speak extremely politely and respectively, you have to make sure you explain carefully that the way things are done now are perfectly ok and natural, you have to put forward the new idea not as something you have come up with, because that will make them think that you are smarter and therefore better than them, and therefore they will think you think they are less smarter than you, you have to put it forward as if something that you either come up with completely by accident, or you got inspired by the society or something in that line. After going through every single detail of the new suggestion and how exactly is going to bring in a better result and all that, then people might accept it. However, they will not, because they know that, even if they want to accept it, they know things are done differently, so if they start doing things in a different way, they would have to explain to others what you just explained to them, and that will never happen, so they just say しょうがない and continue doing it the way it’s currently done. The way to bring about change is when everybody changes at the same time, that way everybody know that now it’s ok to do things this way and they don’t have to explain to others why they are doing it this way. This means that, only the government can bring about change, and societies where change happens from top to bottom, as oppose to bottom up, are the ones that progress slowly, often don’t progress at all.

      • Charles

        The school where I was an ALT was a private school, so I’m guessing that none of those kids were poor.

        The kids I teach now are coming to an eikaiwa, so once again, I’m guessing that none of those kids are poor–and if they are, maybe their families should stop sending them to eikaiwa and invest in a computer.

        To be honest though, no matter how poor someone is, in the 21st century, a computer (or at least access to a computer and knowing how to use one) is a necessity–I think on the same level as clothes or toothpaste. Trying to do things the old analog way frequently takes several times longer, and time is money. I think that if a lot of poor people took out a loan and got a cheap computer and learned how to use it, they would become so much more productive that soon, they would not be poor anymore. Keep in mind, I’m talking about people in developed countries (e.g. Japan) and not people in poor countries.

        Back when I was in elementary school in the ’90s, it was acceptable to tell the teacher “I don’t have a computer,” to which the teacher would say “Okay, then you can hand-write it or use the computers in the library.” 20 years later, though, I would place a computer on roughly the same level of necessity as shoes or basic furniture (actually, if I had to choose between a computer and a dining room table, I’d choose the computer instead–I’d put it on the floor or propped up on some cardboard boxes I got from the supermarket for free), especially considering that a working, used computer can be bought from HardOff for 5,000 yen or so, or found in a trash heap with enough luck.

        If Japanese people cannot accept this, then that’s their problem–a generation of children who don’t know how to use a computer is a doomed generation–that’s why OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) is creating low-cost laptops that run Linux and can be powered by a hand crank for children in the developing world. Perhaps Japanese children will be overtaken by children from Ghana or Angola who grew up on OLPC laptops.

        Anyhow, I agree with you about how difficult it is to get Japanese to change (though I have had similar difficulties when trying to evangelize something technological with my American dad, so it’s by no means just a Japan thing).

        In situations like this, I often tell myself “Okay, fine. I’m doing my job–I’m trying to get them to use the superior method. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

        And then I tell myself “If my 21st century methods really are superior like I think they are, then eventually I (and other people who use 21st century methods) will be quite far ahead of people who refuse to learn 21st century methods”–more money, more accomplished, better lives than the people who don’t. This whole paragraph may sound extraordinarily arrogant, but you know, sometimes the arrogant-sounding thing ends up being completely true.

        But then I remember that no matter how efficient these 21st century methods are and how much I use them, a Luddite boss who pays everyone more or less the same salary regardless of performance and vetoes the use of this technology in the workplace will negate most of that. And the visa system will keep me tied to those Luddite bosses for the next five or six years.

        However, once I get permanent residency and it’s just me and the open market…LOOK OUT, JAPAN!

      • J.P. Bunny

        Commenting from the Luddite side of the discussion, high technology is not necessary for education. Electronic blackboards and wireless connection computer thingies all readily available in the classrooms where I work, but use them I don’t. The children are reading and writing at a level above way above what is found at public school. Pencils, paper, and real blackboards seem to still do the trick.

        New technology is great as long as it fills a need, not because it is the latest fad.

      • Charles

        “high technology is not necessary for education”
        “Pencils, paper, and real blackboards seem to still do the trick.”

        For a 19th century-style education and low standards, you’re correct.

        “Electronic blackboards and wireless connection computer thingies all readily available in the classrooms where I work, but use them I don’t.”

        That’s your loss and your students’ loss.

        If you think that “electronic blackboards and wireless thingies” are the full extent of technology in the classroom, and CALL (Computer Aided/Assisted Language Learning), then you really need to brush up on your knowledge of CALL. Because honestly, those two technologies you just listed are flashy and make a classroom _LOOK_ modern, but only marginally useful in actually improving education.

        You can start by looking up SRS, arguably the best use of computers in CALL.

        “The children are reading and writing at a level above way above what is found at public school.”

        Wow, they’re beating a public school system that takes nearly 12 years to get kids to the point where they can read a newspaper in their own language, and where, despite spending at least six years studying English, they can barely have a conversation. High standards there! Glad your kids are able to exceed those pitifully low standards–but haven’t you ever wondered what they are capable of, rather than just exceeding some basal standard?

        “New technology is great as long as it fills a need, not because it is the latest fad.”

        Okay, here are the two needs:

        1. Kids learn 11 words and forget 10 of them by the next lesson–so there is a “need” to avoid this problem. Imagine if you could teach your kids 11 vocabulary words and have them retain 10 of them for next week’s lesson, minimizing your re-teaching and allowing your kids to make _REAL_ progress. Well, that’s possible–using an SRS algorithm-based-program like Anki, Mnemosyne, or several others which schedule reps and use scientifically-tested algorithms that schedule those reviews at optimal intervals. Which most schools in Japan refuse to use, because, well, the oldest patriarch or matriarch in the English department “didn’t learn English that way back in [his/her] day.”

        2. Kids are bored stiff by paper and pencil and boring textbooks. Back in the 19th century, this wasn’t a problem because studies didn’t have to compete with Youkai Watch and One Piece. Now, they do. They need a way to learn that’s fun, or they won’t do it. Enter edutainment.

        So yeah, there are at least two real needs here.

        Luddites will always be luddites, unfortunately, until they are forced to change. And they will be forced to change, eventually. Just read any book on the First Industrial Revolution, the Second Industrial Revolution, etc.

      • J.P. Bunny

        My first grade elementary kids are reading and having conversations. Having worked at both public and private schools, know well what the standards and differences are.

        “Kids are bored stiff by paper and pencil and boring textbooks.” Not really. Anything can be interesting and informative if done correctly. Kids do not need “edutainment.” My kids are happy, enjoy their lessons, read, write, and speak well……I’m keeping my chalk.

      • Charles

        Basically, what all this sounds like to me is this:
        “What I’m doing is working just fine. I don’t want to try or learn anything new, because I already know that my way is better. I don’t need to improve.”

        Well, you sure picked the right country.

      • tisho

        I remember when my parents bought us (me and my brother) our first computer in the early 2000s, it was a Pentium processor, i can’t remember the preferences but it was very slow obviously. They literally gave out all their money and savings to buy that computer, and when they bought it i remember my dad said – ”Now we can’t even afford to buy a pie!”. But that computer literally changed our lives(in particular mine), now both of us are in the IT. So yeah, having your own computer especially at an early age is important for a child.

      • Charles

        Thank you, tisho. Your experience is rather similar to mine!

        Back in 1991, when my dad was a low-level government employee (nothing as prestigious as a Japanese 公務員) and my mom was budgeting $4 a day for food per person, my dad bought our computer (a 386) for ~$2,000, and not long after that, a 14.4 Kbps modem for $80. It probably seemed like a waste of money to some people back then to a family that was already living fairly modestly, but you know, it was that computer that got me into computers. DR-DOS and my first DOS commands. Going “online” to connect to the library card catalog and CompuServe. That was the first time I attempted to communicate in a foreign language, too–a Berlitz phrasebook and a Spanish-speaking kid on CompuServe chat! KidPix. BASICA. QBASIC.

        Now, I’ve finished an AS in IT, two computer Career Studies Certificates (Business IT and Application Programming), and I’m just two and a half courses away from my (second) BS, this one in Computer & Information Science from a US college with a branch campus in Japan. Planning to become a programmer late next year, hopefully.

        The positive influence a computer has on a kid’s life can be incredible. Even for a kid who wants nothing to do with computers, just knowing how to type at over 50 WPM is a really, really important skill that will make pretty much everything easier (since almost every class in school and job requires, or is strongly helped by, typing). Learning programming, even in an easy language like BASIC, at an early age can greatly increase one’s ability to solve certain types of problems on one’s own.

        I guess I’m preaching to the choir here, LOL.

      • Steve Jackman

        “For example, if you go and say ”this method of doing things is inefficient and old, it’s much better to do it this way”, they will see this like this – ”you come here and tell us that what we have been doing for so long is stupid, therefore you think we are stupid, and since you propose it, you probably think you are better than all of us” and then reject it instantly. ” This is also an extremely common problem in my experience working in corporate Japan. It is a key reason why Japanese companies are so inefficient and unproductive, since they refuse to change their archaic ways of doing things.

        I agree that this happens to Japanese too, but it is much worse when a foreigner is the one who suggests any improvements, because of the way it seems to hurt Japanese pride.

    • Charles

      To be fair about the central heating and the washing machines not being plumbed into hot water, I think these things are less energy-efficient, right? Given the extremely high cost of natural gas in this country, I can kind of understand this. I routinely pay 5,000 or more yen per month even though I live alone and I try to keep my showers under 10 minutes per day. I can only imagine how high the gas bill must be for someone with a family using “normal” amounts of natural gas–probably 20,000, 30,000, or more yen per month.

  • thedudeabidez

    Abe playing with toy firemen and models on TV trying to explain why he’s amending the constitution.

    • Charles

      Abe is a kid with a sandbox who has somehow come to power by pushing all the right xenophobic buttons, by exploiting a rigged voting system that gives yokels in the mountains of rural prefectures 2.13 times the voting power of relatively well-educated Tokyoites, and by limiting free speech. NHK, the main news outlet, can’t criticize him because they’re supposed to remain “politically neutral” (even when only one party rules more than 90% of the time–which effectively means “NHK can’t criticize the LDP”). He even bullies high school student activists that post websites critical of him, forcing them to step down from their positions in their high school political clubs.

      And apologists rushing to defend him (even though, given his anti-immigration stance, he’d probably deport most of them in a heartbeat if he could) in 5…4…3…

    • Charles

      Abe is a kid with a sandbox who has somehow come to power by pushing all the right xenophobic buttons, by exploiting a rigged voting system that gives yokels in the mountains of rural prefectures 2.13 times the voting power of relatively well-educated Tokyoites, and by limiting free speech. NHK, the main news outlet, can’t criticize him because they’re supposed to remain “politically neutral” (even when only one party rules more than 90% of the time–which effectively means “NHK can’t criticize the LDP”). He even bullies high school student activists that post websites critical of him, forcing them to step down from their positions in their high school political clubs.

      And apologists rushing to defend him (even though, given his anti-immigration stance, he’d probably deport most of them in a heartbeat if he could) in 5…4…3…

  • thedudeabidez

    The author would have loved it here in the ’80s. ATMs closed at 1:00 pm on Saturdays, and didn’t operate at all on Sundays. Many a Saturday meant picking up a friend’s bar tab, or vice versa.

  • tisho

    That’s because their efforts are mostly concentrated on the image, they want to build something that is cool and good looking, they don’t care about how useful or effective it is, it is the image that matters not the content. They want to be seen as this super high-tech advanced country, that’s why they focus only on the image. They build these robots and put them everywhere just to create that facade of a high-tech country, but when it comes to practical use, they can’t do anything. Fukushima is a proof of this. They barely found a single robot to use there.

  • renetchi

    Why go to bank’s ATM machine, when you can go to 24/7 Konbini ATM near your place?

  • renetchi

    Why go to bank’s ATM machine, when you can go to 24/7 Konbini ATM near your place?

  • Philippe Brondeel

    First of, i agree with the post office and the TV shows, you’re absolutely right about those things. But there are some things i do disagree with.

    Been to japan recently for a prolongued stay (5months) and didn’t really have issues when it came to getting money. Every 7/11 has an ATM and even with my foreign (Belgian) card i could get money from them. They’re very common and just so you all know, 7/11 is open every day, all day. 24/7. and so are the ATM’s inside.

    The old machinery is absolutely true though. A lot of the stations have outdated ticket machines. On the other hand, most people use things like a “suica” or “pasmo”. A digital card that you can load money onto and that also functions as your subscription if you have one. It’s just touch and go. Automaticaly substracting money for the distance you traveled when you leave the station. So i thing the ticket machines have been kindoff forgotten. They’re still used, but not as common.

    I’m sure some people will call me defensieve or a weaboo for disagreeing on some points with the author of this. But I’m just telling you my experience. There were things i found annoying or bad in Japan aswell.

  • wanderingpippin

    I understand the author is not necessarily critical of what he views as the low tech aspects of Japan. I agree that there are many such aspects, but it bothers me that the author seems to be (endearingly?) somewhat ignorant.

    For instance, regarding post services (and other delivery services), I routinely go online on my computer or smartphone to print labels and order pickup of parcels from my home. And by the way, parcels haven’t been priced by weight, but by size, for many years now, although granted at the post office they may be placed on an old scale to make sure they are not over the maximum allowed weight.

    Does the author actuall watch the TV news? There is plenty of CGI in addition to boards.

    I purchase my long distance train tickets online directly from JR and pick them up at a high tech ticket machine at the local train station.

    I live in a small city nearly as far from Tokyo as you can get. For years all the bank (including postal bank) ATMs have had a button to switch instructions to English. And city, local, prefectural banks and credit unions have been linked in a nationwide network for, gee, maybe decades? Longer than I can remember anyway. I can use my very local bank account card to withdraw money at ATMs all over the country. Post office banks are also linked nationwide and also with overseas networks. I can’t imagine what kind of prefectural bank the author is with that is as inconvenient as he states.

    As for checks (all in English from overseas banks), since they are not used here it is not surprising that your low level teller would not know what to do upon seeing one for the first time. However if you take it to the main branches of banks, which deal with international transactions they will have the relevant forms and know what to do.

  • http://www.axesent.com Benny

    Ever considered many of the “low tech” things you mention create employment in an over populated country with low unemployment.

  • Ed Price

    This article is spot on. I remember being rather surprised when I first moved to Japan by just how old-school the processes and tools of everyday life seemed to be, but grew to accept it, and even to be charmed by it. I’ve since returned to the UK, and find myself irritated by the needless digitalization of absolutely everything.