Concerning the Smartphone in Japan

Obtaining a telephone not the easy matter it is in most other countries, and often entails waiting for four of five years unless one has recourse to the black market…Telephone are still so scarce in private houses that it is an unwritten law that when anyone is lucky or rich enough to obtain one the use of it shall be extended to his neighbours. John Morris, in Traveller from Tokyo, 1945


Times have changed, we no longer have a five year wait, or a need for the black market, nor do we need to share with our neighbours, but the Japanese love affair with the phone continues unabated. When I first arrived in Tokyo in 2012, I couldn’t help but notice how many smartphones or Sumātofon were used by everyday commuters.  Before I knew about the differences between Tokyo-ites and Osakan Japanese, I had divided Japan into different sorts of Sumātofon-jin or smartphone people.  Let me introduce you to them.

The Priority Seat Stow-away: I always feel sorry this one.  This is the salaryman, who has left work, maybe early, and has an important call he knows he has to take, either from his boss or his wife.  He will be found sitting on the Priority seats, looking nervous, Sumātofon in hand (which shall be an Android, never an iPhone – too expensive) waiting for the call, and will pretend to play games as he does.

The Proud Porn Viewer: You remember when I said people in Japan no longer have to share the phone with our neighbours?  Well maybe I was wrong, as the case of the Proud Porn Viewer clearly demonstrates.  He is usually a salaryman on his way to work or on the way back from it; in fact I have never properly observed this species except during the hours of 7am to 10am and 10pm to midnight.  They also found most commonly in certain places, the Yamanote Line on way to Akihabara and back, or on the way to Nippombashi in Osaka. Anywhere Otaku culture can be found. Yet during these times he can be found, quite openly staring at his Sumātofon watching porn.  If you sit next to him you get a free show.  Good Times, ne?

The Emergency Make-up Checker: Do you need to know if a Japanese woman truly loves you?  Right find out if she is one of these people.  The Emergency Make-up Checker is rare breed.  I always find her on the priority seats, usually on a Friday or Saturday, between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.  Her usual habit is to put on her makeup, on the train, as she goes to meet her boyfriend, using the reverse camera option to make sure she looks OK.  This task evidently requires also sitting on the priority seats, maybe they are the only seats that are empty, with the right lighting during that time.

The Annoying Gaijin Tourist:   He’s never been on a JR Train before, and yes he is usually a male.  He doesn’t know it’s not really allowed to take photos, or that you are drunk, and probably don’t want your photo taken, or that yes you are British, and yes have lived here for almost 18 months. This one, I suggest you observe at a distance. But sometimes, this species of Smartphone user gets lost, can’t find his territory or his herd, and as such times it is both safe and advisable to approach.  Prepare your best ‘PEACE’ sign for photos though.

It must also be understood that all Japanese Sumātofon users have to hold the phone a foot away from their eyes, and can never look at you or their feet, as bad things would happen if they looked up away from the screen.