Mobile Japan Gallery
By Justin Hall, Sat Oct 11 15:30:00 GMT 2003

A visitor's view from Tokyo's streets and subways.


Two years ago, I collected photos I'd taken of mobile phone use in Japan: Fall 2001 - Spring 2002 Mobile Phone Japan Gallery. It was my first exposure to multimedia messaging and societies of mobility.

Now people using phones around the world doesn't quite as unusual. But I continue to carry my camera. And many of the same things fascinated me - how people use their phones, how the society says they're allowed to. How people personalize, and the curious functions that constitute mobile applications.

This is an outsider's perspective. There are young people who live full-time in Tokyo avidly using mobile phones and writing about it in English - check out the Keitai Log on Japan Media Review. Also, Nooper.com offers an excellent series of Showcases on Japanese Keitai Culture.

Scroll Down for Pictures...





fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Mister Mobile says be curteous on the train! Turn off your phone if you're near the priority seats for the elderly and the infirm (so your phone won't interfere with pacemakers). And, put your phone on manner mode if you're anywhere else in the car. It's fun to be a giant walking mobile phone! And fun to be respectful of your fellow passengers too.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
This man could be heard playing some kind of action game across the asile and a few seats away. Volume up! What would Mister Mobile say?

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
I noticed a short white post stuck in the ceiling at the offices of the high tech investment firm Neoteny. A kind of mobile phone repeater I was told by people who sit underneath it for all their working day, something to strengthen the signal. Not too strong I hope!

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Higashiyama and DC from Namco mobile sit behind DC's phone - he had just taken a 3D picture of me. Sharp has some technology that uses lines in the screen to make images appear 3D. You can't see it from this photo, but my hand is reaching out of the screen.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Part of the Konami mobile team; from left to right, a member of the remote-control tank building team, Konami Online team president, another tank building team member, and Konami PR rep Suzuki-san.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
To promote their music-based mobile games (like Dance Dance Revolution (thumb thumb revolution?)), Konami gives away this handy accessory with the microphone and earbud cords hidden inside the frabric of the strap. Hang your phone around your neck, and seamlessly plug yourself into your mobile.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Tokyu Hands is the fantastic series of "Creative Life Stores" in Japan - selling wallets and bags, stationary, art supplies, tree stumps, bicycles, and mobile phone accessories. Here they're offering a "TelCut" device which promises to cut of nearby mobile phone signals. The English text on the package reads:
"Cell-Phone Jammer is used to paralyze communication links between Cellular phones and the system control stations. It is good to keep a tranquil environment for the people or to get rid of the interruption from the cellular phone user to keep the instruments operate properly."
I've heard that these types of devices were coming - I had no idea they were already available for 7000-12,000 yen (about 68-115 US$). Now I regret not buying one! What a fun thing to sneak into a party and hide near the front door.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
I have just the thing to go with that handy, sleek little mobile phone - a chunky black plastic keyboard!


In the Tokyu Hands stationary section, a small display promotes pens that can be used to scribble on mobile phones. A sample phone for test scribbling is provided! The phone is not a tech gadget to be revered, but a personal item to be beautified.


A Back to the Future movie-themed mobile phone charger for sale in a small store in an alley in Akihabara. Of course - A Back to the Future mobile phone charger. "Flash! Voice! Music!" 480 yen! Why didn't I buy it? I suspected it might set my mobile phone on fire.


What is this mess of wires, a screen, brightly colored text and scissors?

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Why it's a Mobile Photo Print Station! In Shibuya, hook a cable up to your mobile phone and print out a few of your favorite camera phone pictures. That sounds pretty handy - I have two unanswered questions: do they come out as stickers? Probably, since stickers are provided. And, would it be easier just to be able to email your photos to the machine instead? Maybe not considering dialing and packet fees.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Shoppers in Tokyo's Harajuku district known for its teen fashions can find new outer wear for their mobile phones. This stand on the side of Takeshita Dori sells full-on phone make-overs. Buy one of these plastic sheaths and a young man will shrink wrap the design around your phone, trimming off the excess plastic around the edges and revealing the phone logo if you prefer.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Close up view of some of the elaborate phone cover designs. You think Disney licensed that mobile phone sheath?

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
This young woman riding the train is holding a very stickered phone - customization threatening data, the screen was surrounded by tiny decals. Unfortunately, my camera auto-focused instead on her braids.

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
An ad on a subway car door for kekkon.com - "kekkon" is Japanese for marriage. According to Deborah Shamoon, a pop culture scholar based in Tokyo, the ad "says 'Find a husband on your mobile phone!' or literally 'marriage partner.' No one would ever say that in the US. Things like Yahoo personals use carefully neutral language--no one ever wants to mention the word marriage."

fall 2003 mobile phone Japan gallery
Reclaiming the phone booth -
Late Tuesday night in the ritzy Ginza district, a woman has retreated into a phone booth to have some privacy and audibility for her mobile phone call. Even inside the booth, she's still covering her mouth when she talks. Force of habit I suppose.


Japan's mobility still beats the US by at least eighteen months. Each time I'm in the United States I feel like, hey, we're catching up! And then I come to Japan and I find TV tuners and highly designed tiny handsets and second generation video mail. Everyone has a camera phone here, while in the US I'm still waiting for my friends to get color screens.

There's so much to study about the future of mobile communications on the streets of Tokyo. Not all Japan news applies to the future of mobile for the rest of the world, but it sure beats writing about WAP games. I spent two weeks here pounding the pavement, meeting and observing. Next I'm going to Seoul for further study. In the next few months I'll have more articles up here about East Asian mobile technolgy and culture.

Justin Hall travels and writes about human-technology integration, coordinated through his web node at Links.net. Based in Northern California, Hall frequents skewer stands under the Yurakucho train tracks in Tokyo. He's currently working his way through Final Fantasy Tactics on the GameBoy Advance, and Michael Breen's book The Koreans.