It was a sticky hot summer’s night in Tokyo. The last time I was here was 10 years ago. I was now lost in Shibamata in search of an apartment we had rented. All the train riders exiting the small station were looking at their cellphones, except for one staggering businessman in a dark blue suit. Let the beer communication begin.

Upon asking him for assistance in finding the address, he stated that he was willing to help me search. So off we went and sure enough he found it, to the delight of his sober girlfriend. I bowed and said many thanks along with many excuse-me phrases in Japanese.

This got me thinking of my first trip to Japan in 1982. My Japanese-language exchange partner from college lived in Osaka. His father owned a trucking company that moved freight inside Japan. They arranged for me to ride overnight to Shizuoka. Along the way we were involved in many discussions with the average Japanese citizen. I also took note on how each Japanese greeted and spoke to one another.

My second trip to Japan was in 1989 when I took an English-teaching job in Tokyo. At this time pay telephones were in high use and the bubble economy was in full swing. There was a lot of social interaction both on and off the trains. Once the bubble economy burst I was let go by my company and returned to the United States.

My next trip was in 2000 when Japan was just starting to use cellphones. At this time the phone was used for calling and texting only. The smartphone had yet to arrive, so in effect the Japanese people were still talking to each other as far as I could witness.

Now we fast-forward to 2017. After a few weeks of riding the trains in Tokyo I saw that most train riders are fully engaged with their smartphones. Even the little old ladies. Very few people talk to each other on the trains now. The train now is so quiet. I can’t decide if it’s as quiet as a church or a funeral.

Too bad for the Japanese population; they are missing out on meeting their neighbors and new friends. Perhaps the decrease in the population of Japan can be traced to the overuse of the smartphone. There is very little social interaction among the big city population today. What happened to the friendly Nihon I once knew? The smartphone killed it, that’s what happened.

Good luck with greeting all those non-Japanese when the Olympics are in Tokyo in 2020. The world will be riding those trains in complete silence, wondering why the Japanese do not speak to each other. Unless, of course, beer communication is involved.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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