Short update: Two upcoming changes in Japan that will rock your world

1. The end of eikaiwa: Along with some of the minor players in the industry, former industry leader NOVA seems to be in its death throes (more info here). While the details of just how many people are getting screwed over are interesting and all, I just want to take a minute to ponder the implications of what is going on: massive change in the ESL market and, perhaps more importantly, the death of NOVA. It is hard to underestimate the presence that those four letters have become in the mind of the expat, especially those not involved directly in teaching English. Basically, in the gaijin hierarchy, NOVA teachers have been regarded with just a little less disdain than the African club promoters in Kabuki-cho. NOVA finds the most gullible young partiers eager for an easy first job out of college (or increasingly a fun place to work during a working-holiday) who then proceed to come to Japan and live as if they were still in college. It’s one thing for students and professionals to look down on NOVA teachers, but even other eikaiwa teachers hated on NOVA. There is really no better way to sound mature and like you are really interested in Japan than to cluck your tongue at a faceless mass that stays in a gaijin bubble and terrorizes the local population.

But without NOVA, who will the uppity gaijin have to kick around? None of the other schools have the nationwide presence or annoying mascot (though NOVA had the status way before the rabbit came around), so just what will the shorthand be to let other gaijin know you’re not ‘one of them’? And what will it mean if the eikaiwa industry (which was long supported by lax regulation of shady sales practices) can no longer maintain its appeal, especially now that the honeymoon is over and headlines of school closings and unfulfilled class contracts, not to mention successful lawsuits by unhappy customers, are constantly weakening the appeal of the product to the customers? The demand for English is unlikely to go away, but the shrinking of this private market (along with the decline of the JET program) is likely to erode the situation of ‘one foreigner in every village’ or (assuming that actual schools continue to hire foreigners for their English curricula) will more likely lessen it from 3 foreigners in each village to just one or two. And with the opportunities for easy employment cut off, what will become of the ‘Japanese dream’ of easy employment and Charisma Man status for young adventurous Westerners? Has this not been a major factor fueling the interest in Japan in recent decades? And will this loss constitute a truly missed opportunity for Japanese educators who feel that the best way for Japanese people to learn English is to be around native English voices?

2. Japanese mobile advancement to hit a wall in favor of better prices? Cell phone regulations are going to change in a big way – the Nikkei recently ran a story (Sept 19) detailing the report of a Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication study group that recommends ending the practice by cell phone carriers of providing “free” cell phones to customers as early as next spring. These offers of free phones are deceptive because the phone companies reimburse their distributors for the phones and then charge customers a higher rate for their plans (hence the ridiculous 20 yen per minute talking fees). But with little upfront costs, the provision of the phones has been a major (perhaps deciding) factor in attracting customers to one company or another, which has spurred the insanely high technological levels of Japanese mobiles. Perhaps in a few years Japanese phones will more closely resemble those in other countries, where users get a minimum level of features but enough of what they need for a reasonable price. I mean really, do we need to watch TV on the train?

25 thoughts on “Short update: Two upcoming changes in Japan that will rock your world”

  1. When I first went to Japan there was absolutely no comparison between the phones back here in the US and the ones I could easily afford in Japan, but that gap has completely vanished. Yes, there are somewhat more sophisticated mobile only services on the Japanese networks, but while most of the companies over there have been concentrating on providing more and more penny-ante junk for mobile internet users, the rest of the developed world has made it increasingly easy to just access the real internet on your mobile device. The Japanese mobile phone industry recently feels less like an isolated ivory tower of enlightenment than a ghetto of insularity and non-standard technology. I think people are still starry-eyed over the market of 5 years ago, if you look at the advancement of handsets in Japan over the past couple of years there’s been a lot more gimmickry than real progress.

    Luckily, the current generation of Softbank gear is increasingly compatible with world networks, and I believe Docomo’s 4G network will be GSM compatible. More sophisticated mobile phone operating systems and platforms, such as Windows Mobile and the iPhone are also gaining popularity (mainly with Softbank I believe) and hopefully within a couple of years it will actually be easy to move handsets between Japan and the rest of the world (bidirectionally) and use the full range of services.

    The one area where Japanese mobile phone design really shines though is still the industrial design aspect. The range of colors and shell designs is really great compared to the drab stuff you get over here. My Samsung Blackjack is a nice little piece of hardware, but probably the most boring looking piece of electronics I own.

  2. To follow up on my last point, isn’t it just incredible that corporate Japan didn’t even get the Blackberry until late last year (courtesy of Docomo, and never developed a remotely equal domestic equivalent for the corporate email power user? While Japanese keitai email support totally trounces the SMS implementation on phones in the rest of the world, they never went beyond that to introduce really business friendly devices.

  3. Roy,

    You made me physically shudder when you mentioned the notion of Windows Mobile coming to Japan! I’m a mobile software developer, so for testing purposes I’ve had to work with a huge range of crappy western phones. I can honestly say that Japanese phones are awesome!

    You’re right that the technological gap between western and Japanese handsets is rapidly decreasing, but the user interface design and amazing attention to detail that goes into Japanese handsets is second to none. They boot up in 5 seconds rather than 1 minute, they don’t crash or randomly switch off, the interface is very intuitive. Everything ‘just works’.

    Here’s hoping that doesn’t change any time soon.

  4. User interface on Japanese phones might be better than Windows Mobile or whatever, but it is still a huge pain in the ass, at least on my phone. I have to go through like 3 different menus just to get to my email inbox and its such a pain to change the detailed sound and display settings. Maybe I am just getting old.

  5. @ Roy: Did Japan *need* the Blackberry? It certainly isn’t getting heavy use now; it seems to be confined to a few gaijin ghetto business districts downtown, given where and how often you actually see the things in use.

    Also, I don’t think the 4G networks will be GSM compatible, but handsets will increasingly include GSM chipsets for the global roaming set. Doesn’t do much for people traveling to Japan with GSM-only phones, though.

  6. coming from someone who lived in Japan last year due to studying Japanese in Nagoya, I had the displeasure of owning a Japanese cell phone, I can honestly say, i fucking hate everything about Japanese Cell Phones! First off I had a starry-eyed idea before coming that I would get a crazy high tech phone when i arrived, only to find out that after getting my tricked out, softbank cell with GPS navi, you couldn’t use the GPS without eating up tons of internet kilobytes, which was a huge pain on my first month phone bill. Well coming from America where most of you know talk is cheap, so for the first months I didn’t pay too much attention to my talking and yapped away. Fair to say my bill avg about 15,000-18,000 yen. Well to make the story short. I remember last Feb. I finally discovered the beauty of SkypeOut, so I would call everyone on that when I was at home, I ended up using no more then 10 min. of talk time, and maybe sent 15-20 text messages, my phone bill for the month? 11,000 yen!!! on paper it all made sense so I didn’t really complain, but I can’t explain it to you just how gypped I felt by Softbank.
    I then did research into the mobile phone network in Japan, and was kind of shocked into what I found out, its all one big fucking monopoly!!! As most of you know, when you actually sit down and do the math, there is NO financial incentive between the big 3. Why is that? because ad agencies are in charge of making rivalry style bidding wars to attract costumers. Well for one when you have business like the Japanese do Competition is suppose to exist in harmony (whatever the fuck that means) and you have ALL cell phone companies getting there ads made by the same company, what incentive is there to compete when you don’t wanna piss off the other two?!!?!!, and who is this gatekeeper you might wonder? The all mighty Dentsu baby! So in closing, I hate mobiles in Japan, if I ever live there again, I’ll make sure to get a prepaid phone. I wish I stuck it to Softbank somehow before leaving last June by not paying my last bill or something.
    Oh and concerning NOVA, your right, everyone knew NOVA was as low as you could go with Eikaiwa’s but they still got people in droves. If it ultimately does hurt the Japanese market for foreign labor, then god help the japanese, cause if you got a sinking population, and you start putting up barriers like this new finger printing BS and no more easy access to work there as a foreigner, who the hell is gonna wanna move there?!?! It will NEVER surprise me, the lengths that Japanese people will go to to save face. I swear there’s so much hidden shame in that country it could cover a mountain!!!!

  7. Most of DoCoMo’s 07 winter 905 range of handsets will have GSM capability.

    By the time 4G networks come on-line, they won’t be GSM, but they will be running some version of CDMA (at the requisite frequencies) which will be compatible with overseas 3/4G networks. Or so goes the plan.

    Re: Blackberry, it all comes down to how easy it is to input text using a 12-key keyboard. For English it is a pain, especially on Japanese phones which do not feature T9 or similar predictive entry for English (because, flatly, the demand is negligible outside the gaijin bubble). Japanese on the other hand, especially with predictive IME software is a lot more intuitive, given the way the Japanese “alphabet” is neatly grouped into 10 groups of 5(give or take). The number of required keystrokes can actually be less on a mobile phone compared to entering phonetically on a QWERTY keyboard. Hence the lack of appeal of a QWERTY keyboard for all but the most hardened users, at least after taking tradeoffs (weight, size etc) into consideration.

  8. And about the phone charges….

    People actually still use their phones to call people?

    I haven’t exceeded my monthly “free call” quota on a lowly calling plan in more than two years.

  9. Windows Mobile might have kind of a lame interface- but on the other hand it has the ability to install useful software, and all sorts of various capabilities that are totally lacking in the ultra-proprietary Japanese phones.

    As for the Blackberry, the QWERTY keyboard is not nearly as desirable for Japanese users, but the real appeal is their excellent email software and push email servers. You can’t seriously tell me with a straight face that business people in Japan wouldn’t be well served by having reliable access to their corporate email account in their phone. And there are also Blackberry units out there with a smaller keyboard- but Japanese people type on actual PCs using QWERTY, so I think it still might be a speed upgrade to have that instead of the T9 pad (although T9 input with Japanese does work rather well.)

  10. Did I see another” higher-than-thou”comment?

    “and who is this gatekeeper you might wonder? The all mighty Dentsu baby! So in closing, I hate mobiles in Japan,”

    I say blame Ministry of Postal and Telecommunication instead of dentsu for the price of phone,baby,Afterall they are just making the ads.

    “you start putting up barriers like this new finger printing BS and no more easy access to work there as a foreigner, who the hell is gonna wanna move there? It will NEVER surprise me, the lengths that Japanese people will go to to save face.”

    The new finger printing BS is introduced not to save the Japanese face,but to win the war on terror or so says the Americans when they pushed us to have that in.
    Anyway, working permission for the foreigner is actually widened in the recent years.

    “I swear there’s so much hidden shame in that country it could cover a mountain”

    Let me hear more from you after your Japanese gets good enough to read a newspaper.

  11. “It will NEVER surprise me, the lengths that Japanese people will go to to save face.”

    It will NEVER surprise me, the lengths that some people will go to to look smart on blogs while instead ending up looking like an essentializing twit.

    “Let me hear more from you after your Japanese gets good enough to read a newspaper.’

    Or his/her English good enough to avoid run-on sentences.

    “Oh and concerning NOVA, your right, everyone knew NOVA was as low as you could go with Eikaiwa’s but they still got people in droves.”

    I think that you could have learned a few things about contractions at NOVA.

    Doodles, if you happen to not be a native speaker of English, I apologize. However, your post just screams “ugly American”.

  12. Not to derail the thread too much, but is this fingerprinting thing really due to American pressure? I can think of a few things that are or might be, like liquid restrictions (and apparently bars of scented soap are now considered ‘liquid’ as they “can be melted”…) but this fingerprinting thing – is it tit-for-tat with all the Japanese businessmen presumably getting annoyed at the same thing under the US-SODOFF (I mean US-VISIT) scheme, or is it TPTB rubbing their hands at the idea of being able to get more control over those dangerous gaijin (after all, AFAIK the number of terrorist attacks carried out by foreigners on Japanese soil is a good round number – 0) to distract attention (assuming it is distracting attention, which I doubt, as I doubt most Japanese would even be aware of it) or is it to curry favour with the Americans for unspecified reasons?

    Contractions at NOVA – is that what happens when NOVA shortens your contract without telling you?

  13. Fingerprinting was an immigration requirement of Japan back in the day, before it was eliminated through protests by the foreigner community, mainly ethnic Koreans I believe. I believe the reintroduction is completely due to American pressure for consistent security regulations on both ends of the flight, and for shared passenger information databases.

    I don’t doubt that there is an element in the Japanese government who feels the fingerprinting should never have been abandoned and see this as a good opportunity to reintroduce it, but don’t underestimate the pressure that the US has been exerting in terms of security regulations worldwide.

  14. Oh piss off twat I wrote the anger fueled posting at 2 in the morning hungover from the evening.

  15. The US is just scared of all the terrorists coming out of Japan. Yoko Ono, for instance.

    That said, I’ve heard rumors that the government is working on some sort of “fast track” system for registered travelers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they work this in with biometric gaijin cards to make it once again possible to use the Japanese lanes if you have a re-entry permit.

  16. THAT would be a good move Joe, if the government does enact that it really will save foreigners the headache of re-entering the country. I know a dear friend of mine who job as a Medical Research Coordinator would really appreciate that move since he travels from Tokyo to 2 different countries every week.

  17. Roy:
    Zainichi Koreans are not “ethnic Koreans”,They are nationals of either Republic of Korea or Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.There are many argument relating about their status,but basically they have every opportunity to have Japanese citizenship but somehow they reject that and keep their status based on their free will.

    Finger printing became immigration requirement after the Korean war mainly from the request from Seoul and Washington,mostly to control North Korean sympathizers fromt the South and infiltration of spies and special op team from the North.There were large numbers of North Korean intelligence network active in Japan mostly spying USFJ and entering to South Korea by masquerading as Zainichi South Koreans or Japanese.

    Since Japan do not have legal punishment for foreign espionage until today,Tokyo accepted the request in the form of stricter immigration policy that limited to finger printing.

    There had been a few attempt of assasination of the public figure by the North spies via Japan in the 70’s,including the assasination of the first lady,od which angry South Koreans stormed into the Japanese embassy and burned the flag and punched the diplomats,Park Chung Hee,whose wife got shot by a Zainichi Korean boy armed with a pistol stole from Japanese police box turned all the blame toward Japan.This was during the diplomatic show down between Seoul and Tokyo over abduction of Kim Dae Jung by KCIA in Tokyo.Eventually Tokyo compromised(as always)and Tanaka Kakuei had to fly to Seoul for an apology.Same condemnation was made in 1987 when KAL plane was bombed by two North Korean agents,disguised as Japanese tourists at first.The anger rapidly dissapeared as one of them had survived from biting a poison capsul and reveled it’s identity as agent from Pyongyang,but even so,it was always Seoul demanding for the stricter security measure regarding Zainichi Koreans.

    There were no resistance until 1980 for finger printing had been a formal legal practice upon every citizen in South Korea including resident foreigners.But suddenly one Zainichi student started an action and media joined in.In the 90’s Kim Yong Sam government called finger printing as “a legal practice based on racial prejudice toward Koreans” and request for abolishment.Tokyo stopped all the fingerprinting in 1999(South Korea in 2004).But there is a move on both nation for bringing it back based on the U.S request.

  18. OK, that’s true enough Aceface, but didn’t the anti-fingerprinting movement involve the entire Korean community in Japan, both ethnic Korean Japanese citizens and non-naturalized Zainichi?

  19. Well,both Mindan and Chongryon were taking distance first.Anti fingerprinting movement(and demanding the voting right for the local election)was started by the outcast from the two camps, mostly those who had been kicked out from Chongryon and those who had participated in Kim Dae Jung rescue movement who are also got kicked out from Mindan.
    And Zainichi intelluctuals who have tenureship in Japanese university and freelance journalist /writers joined in and that developed as main core of the movement along with the Japanese media’s support.Ofcourse all this was before the Japanese abduction cases came into the light.
    Mindan bandwagoned only after democracy was established in Seoul in the 90’s.
    Chongryon has tendency of waiting the order from Pyongyang and do not join in any movement that cannot be manipulated at their command for they fear the backlash.
    There is a tendency among those who naturalized to Japanese to “quit being Korean”at all levels.Probably that is the reason why Zainichi sees them as somekind of a deserter.

  20. “Fingerprinting was an immigration requirement of Japan back in the day, before it was eliminated through protests by the foreigner community, mainly ethnic Koreans I believe.”

    Unless there is some other “back in the day” I don’t know about, prior to some time in the late 90s/new millenium you were only fingerprinted if you were resident in Japan for longer than 90 days. The copy of the fingerprint would then be place next to your photo on your Gaijin card. At some stage the fingerprint requirement was removed and you only had to have your signature on your card.

    In any case, it wasn’t a case of every foreigner having to be fingerprinted. Tourists and the like were exempt. I actually find the old system a little more creepy than the new one they are bringing in. The new one I understand, even if I think they are off the mark. The old system just didn’t make sense.

  21. “The old system just didn’t make sense.”

    I see the reverse there. Only fingerprint those who are prepared, by staying (semi) long-term, local ways. It also means that Japanese cops, who might not recognise your typical Western signature as a unique shape (unable to tell forgeries, that is), had something solid to go on. I didn’t exactly enjoy the process (though how they did it without leaving ink on my finger I do not know) but it was only once every five years – if that: it might not have been needed when I first renewed my GC, actually, in that they might have had it on file. Don’t really remember. Anyway, it was also covered up normally when in the clear plastic slip by the Ministry logo. But this way you get fingerprinted each and every time you return to the country, which can be several times a year. And everyone gets it, even a tourist here for a week.

  22. So Japan is copying the US Visit program. Is anyone surprised that silliness is spreading round the world?

  23. Just saddened. Especially that Japan has to climb on board American insanity so readily.

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