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Japanese press on the Ady Gil

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I picked up an evening paper today in Japan and this is what I saw:

Gotcha! It's Za San wot won it!

The big headline in the middle is the Japanese transliteration of gotcha. Subheading inspired by Kill an Argie, Win a Mini Metro.

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Letter to the editor published in Japan Times

In response to an article from Debito Arudou on discriminatory foreign persecution in the Japanese legal system, I just had to write to the editor to tell them what I thought about the article:

Debito Arudou does paint a bleak picture of the travails of many foreigners at the hands of the Japanese legal system. I do have issues with a couple of his points, though. First, he asserts that “bail [is] impossible for non-Japanese to get.” Yet, simply typing “foreigner bail” into The Japan Times’ online search engine reveals a story about a foreigner getting bail.

Second, Arudou concludes the article by painting the Japanese with a broad brush that I suspect he would be quick to condemn if others made such a claim. He states that the Japanese are “actually scared stiff of the police and the public prosecutor.” He provides no evidence to back this up.

However, in December 2006, a survey by Japan’s Cabinet Office found that 56.7 percent would always report crimes they witnessed and 41.1 percent would sometimes do so, depending on the circumstances. Fear of reprisals from criminals was the main reason people would not come forward. Additionally, 96.6 percent of those surveyed would cooperate to a greater or lesser degree with investigations. These attitudes hardly demonstrate that the Japanese are scared stiff of the authorities.

The statistics I refer to can be found in Q10 and Q11 here, in a survey that highlighted the average Japanese person’s perception that the breakdown in law and order is caused by foreigners.

I could bore you silly by addressing each point in his original article, but instead I’ll point you at Jun Okamura’s reply on GlobalTalk21 and the lively discussions at Japan Probe.

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Google and Wikipedia interdependence extends to Japan

As the author of the Wikipedia nofollow WordPress plugin, I’m always on the lookout for stories about how Google and Wikipedia are getting on with each other. Recently I spotted this story on The Register about Encyclopedia Britannica complaining that Google ranks Wikipedia too highly. Naturally EB would complain about such a thing, but what particularly caught my eye was mention of an experiment Nick Carr, a member of the Brittanica’s board of editorial advisors, performed, looking up ten diverse topics in Google. Then, all 10 appeared on the first page of Google with two number ones. The current situation is all are now top of the pile, so I wondered what happens if I try the equivalent phrases in Japanese. I translated the terms by accessing the English Wikipedia then switching to Japanese, and using the article title. Also, since Google and Yahoo! battle it out for dominance in Japan, I used both engines, with the following results:

Term Google Rank Japanese Google Japan Rank Yahoo! Japan Rank
World War II 1 第二次世界大戦 1 1
Israel 1 イスラエル 1 2
George Washington 1 ジョージ ワシントン 1 1
Genome 1 ゲノム 1 2
Agriculture 1 農業 1 6
Herman Melville 1 ハーマン メルヴィル 1 1
Internet 1 インターネット 1 17
Magna Carta 1 マグナ カルタ 1 1
Evolution 1 進化 1 1
Epilepsy 1 てんかん 1 1

There are five non-first places in Yahoo!,something one can take as a good or a bad sign. For agriculture, ahead of Wikipedia in 4th place was Yahoo!’s own encyclopedia, an electronic version of a popular paper dictionary. The internet only making 17th place in Japanese is another curious outcome.

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All permanent residents to get 12,000 yen handout

Since the time of publication the handout has been expanded to cover all foreign residents of Japan, not just the Permanent Residents. The exact method of determining who is a resident has not been disclosed, bu I suspect it will be anyone with a foreigner’s registration card.

There’s been a lot of speculation about the recently-announced cash handout from the government regarding the applicability of it to foreign residents in Japan, but I’ve not seen anyone blogging about it in English, so here goes with what I have learnt.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun (Japanese edition) on the 7th of November 2008, permanent residents should get the handout too, all 440,000 or so of us, both the special Korean permanent residents and the everyday ones like me.

I predict they’ll be many foreigners moaning about why it doesn’t cover long-term non-permanent residents, or those on spouse visas, etc, but whatever the government decides people will find something to grumble about, of that I can be sure.

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Debito.org for sale

Dodgy advertisements on debito.org

Yes, debito.org is taking money from ambulance chasers and other dubious sources, despite a statement on http://www.debito.org/donations.html that:

I also do not wish to clutter the site with sponsored advertisements.

Such links would certainly not be acceptable on What Japan Thinks (I’ve refused a couple of lucrative but unethical offers), and Google takes a dim view of participating in link buying and selling for PageRank schemes, so he is risking his second ejection from the Google index.

Of course, I recognise his right to make money to fund his activities or to pay his server bills (the domain name is owned by HobbyLink Japan, which is surprising and curious, as is the hosting location), but there has to be a more ethical way to raise money, and what impression does such an advertisement leave the average reader with?

Talking of ethical behaviour, I see his blog theme is WP-Andreas09, about which the designer says:

The original template was released as open source and free to use for any purpose as long as the proper credits are given to the original author. This theme is released under the same conditions so please respect this and leave the credits in place to Andreas and myself as we have both put a lot of time and effort into the design and the theme. Other than that you may change the included files as you want.

I don’t see the credits left in place on Debito.org, although he (or his site maintainer) may have done the right thing by making a payment to the designers to allow him to take such a course of action.

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†┏┛墓┗┓† ←iPhone R.I.P.

emoji rankingOnly two months after the most-hyped mobile phone launch in Japan, with people queueing round the block to buy it and journalists spilling thousands of gallons of ink in praise of it, the consensus now seems to be that Apple’s iPhone has failed in Japan, with boxes piled high in many stores and sales predictions being halved from the initial one million units in a year. But why, in a country that has embraced the iPod, relegating all bar Sony to a single-digit percentage share of the MP3 player market? It’s an easy question to answer.

Emoji.

Yes, emoji, and emoji alone. It’s missing a FeliCa RFID smart card, but most people use them embedded in credit cards, not phones; everyone talks about wanting One Seg but most people don’t actually watch television on their mobiles; there’s no QR code scanner but there’s a free App Store program to download for that; SD memory cards are popular add-ons, but the iPhone has lots of built-in storage; there’s no place to hang a strap, but an after-market slipcase can be decorated instead; there’s no emoji, yet having a lot of text emoticons and smilies in the dictionary does not paper over the chasm.

Emoji, these small icons (pictured in the top right) that almost every Japanese phone has, for expressing happy and sad faces, hand gestures, weather symbols, sports and hobbies and star signs to name but some of the kinds available, are the killer application, and their absence from the iPhone has killed its sales. One unfamiliar with the Japanese market might think that such a seemingly trivial feature would appeal only to children, but over a third regularly use them, and another two in five sometimes use them, making them second nature to the vast majority of Japanese. For instance, if you’re emailing an invite to go for a beer, on beginning to type “beer” up pops a graphic of a pint mug as an auto-completion option, so why not? That is how emoji have become second-nature to most phone users. For the poor iPhone user on the other hand, on sending the message there’s no nice graphic to add, and on receiving, if they are lucky they’ll see something like “Fancy going for a ¾?”, the dreaded moji-bake corrupted character, if they are unlucky (which is most of the time) the iPhone will relegate the whole of the message into an attachment, requiring an extra step before the reader finds out they cannot.

The not one but two drops in price for light users by SoftBank illustrate that they recognise there are people not really that interested in surfing with the Safari web browser (remember, public WiFi is the exception rather than the rule in Japan) but instead are mail-centric, but without full suppport for both reading and writing emoji, the iPhone is useless. When the iPhone first launched, a review in Nikkei Trendy Net described it as a foreigner with excellent Japanese, noting that although it can handle technical aspects of Japanese very well (the pop-up kana input for instance is a very clever solution that can only work on a touch panel) it fails to understand the culture.

Until Apple realises emoji are the key element of Japanese mobile culture, the iPhone will not sell.

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SoftBank iPhone: How much will it cost the Japanese?

Executive summary: 5.7% more expensive than DoCoMo’s latest models over one year.

With the recent confirmation of the rumours regarding the release of the iPhone in Japan via SoftBank, and with Steve Jobs promising that no-one will pay more than $199 dollars for the 8GB device, let us look at what this will actually cost, once one adds a service contract into the deal. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume one US dollar equals one hundred yen, so the price Steve Jobs is promising is 19,900 yen. As a point of comparison, the cheapest price I see offered for the 8GB iPod touch is 32,448 yen, so for the handset alone it is over a third cheaper. However, this figure ignores the contract that must be purchased to go along with the handset. By working from the information provided on the SoftBank web site, one can determine the expected total cost of ownership.

  • Basic package free minutes:
    8,190 yen (L Plan Value, 300 free minutes, 10.5 yen per 30 seconds afterwards)
  • Voice mail service:
    315 yen (extra for visual voice mail?)
  • Email, web access fee:
    315 yen
  • Unlimited data packets:
    9,800 yen (X Series smartphone price)
  • Total monthly charge:
    18,602 yen
  • Total one-year cost:
    223,440 yen

Note that if you use less than 6 MB per month the data packet cost will be lower. So, adding in the 19,900 yen for the handset, that’s 243,340 yen for a year, or about $2,433 or £1,160 in the UK. Note that actual costs might be cheaper if you add family discount plans, loyalty discounts for existing customers, and so on. Actual costs may also be more expensive if you go over your minutes, and also adding in an extra 980 yen per month for free calls to all other SoftBank phones from 1 am to 9 pm, and free calls all the time to family members.

Another plan, the Gold Plan, has a basic package charge of 9,600 yen per month with 200 minutes, but free to other SoftBank phones from 1 am to 9 pm, and 21 yen per 30 seconds outside these hours or to other carriers, but with discounts from 37% to 70% for long-term customers, and loyalty bonuses can be carried over from other carriers. Then there’s the Super Bonus, which has even more complicated trade-offs, but we’ll not go into that here…

By comparison, looking at the just-released range of phones from DoCoMo, the 906i series, a handset costs around 50,000 yen, then monthly costs for a similar service to the above is 8,400 yen for L Value plan with 240 minutes then 10.5 yen per thirty seconds, 5,985 yen for unlimited data packets on full browser, 315 yen for voice mail, and 315 yen for iMode access, giving a total monthly cost of 15,015 yen, and a yearly cost of 230,180 yen including handset, or $2,302, or £1,101 in the UK. This makes the iPhone 5.7% more expensive than DoCoMo‘s offerings, although with a myriad of discount schemes available the real price difference is much, much harder to directly quantify.

Of course, without emoji icon support, both display and writing, it will not make much headway amongst the influential youth set (yes, that will be a deal-breaker), and with Flash definitely not supported, despite being a standard feature on most new phones, the SoftBank iPhone will be hard to sell. However, as I predicted over a year ago, and I am yet to see any data to make me want to change my mind, the lack of One Seg television and FeliCa-based electronic cash will not affect the desirability of the SoftBank iPhone.

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Bloomberg tells readers how to kill themselves!

Oooh, I’m angry!

Shane at A Typical Life reports that Bloomberg has published a story detailing the recipe for hydrogen sulphide, the poison gas that has become all the rage for people doing themselves in, but a method of suicide that has killed a few others in the process and has sickened many, many more.

They have not only published the exact recipe and named the products to use, but in the case of the bath salts that may be difficult to obtain, they chose to link not to the official web site, but actually to an online shopping site so that death can be delivered to your door with a click of the mouse.

Please visit Shane’s blog and digg and Japan Soc the story, and add a word or two of support for her and also tell Blooomberg what you think of them for detailing information that the Japan National Police Agency is trying to keep off the web.

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Japan Today supports Church of Scientology

Starting about two weeks ago, Japan Today has been publishing video ads through Google AdSense for the Church of Scientology, much to the annoyance of some of their readership. Although it is perfectly easy for Japan Today to block these advertisements (despite claiming they cannot – see the 434th comment labeled “sailwind at 11:45 PM JST – 19th April”), the adverts ran for at least a week indicating that the management at Japan Today prefers the income over any hackles promotion of that wonderful organisation might raise within their audience.

(As a side note, I posted a follow-up message to point out that the JT Editor was wrong in his or her observation about being unable to block advertisements, but they deleted my message.)

Next, they ran an open thread on why people join cults, which more than a few of the regulars found quite ironic considering they had been running adverts for the not in the least bit cultish Church of Scientology.

However, the final straw was the commentary piece published today, Japan in need of moral education, by Peter Zimmatore. I read it and thought the whole article sounded a bit fishy, so I did a web search for the Metempiric Foundation and turned up just one other hit, an event that sounds like some sort of vaguely religious gathering. This caused me to merely roll my eyes, but searching for the author’s name turns up a lot of Scientology-related hits. Whilst I fully understand that there may be other people in the world with the same name as him and I am most willing to be corrected in my assumptions, I can only conclude that this article has been written by a member of the Church of Scientology.

Further evidence from the article includes:

This was a transplant from the world of therapy (Carl Rogers/Abraham Maslow) and their psychology-based influence.

The Church of Scientology is well-known for its opposition to both psychiatry and psychology.

For teenagers and young parents, we need to have a technique that makes them able to confront and handle the defects they have developed and to redirect them to the need and desire to want to live a virtuous life.

This description sounds like Scientology’s auditing process.

Why is Japan Today publishing articles that have a hidden agenda? Is it willingly or unwittingly supporting the Church of Scientology? I have emailed the editor of Japan Today to ask him or her to clarify the web site’s position, but I am yet to receive a reply. However, I did notice that they deleted three comments by people making jokey comments directed at the aforementioned article appearing to be a Scientology plant, which is not a good sign.

Update: Between writing this article and publishing it, Japan Today has seen fit to remove all bar one comment (perhaps they missed that one?) associating that article or the author with the Church of Scientology, using not the usual method that sends an email to the comment author with a reason for deleting, but with a purge that does not notify the poster.

Japan Today is also in need of moral education. Was Japan Today paid to publish that commentary? A more honourable site would have at least left the comments standing to help the reader understand where the article is coming from.

How will this affect your usage of Japan Today?

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Note: Although I am no fan of Scientology, they have the right to a presence on the internet and to try to publicise their message. It is Japan Today alone that I hold responsible for this.

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The Apple iPhone: Successes and Challenges for the Mobile Industry

This is the title of a recent report produced by Rubicon Consulting, which I picked up via Michael Mace’s blog. I love statistics and stories on the iPhone, and although this is a study of the USA market, I will project from the US findings to look at if similar trends can be observed in Japan, and will Apple’s device be a success or not over here based on the reported results. You may have heard the recent news that the production of a 3G iPhone has started, so the Japan release is surely getting near. Let us look at the key statistics in the full report and see what they mean. All statements about the Japanese market are based on surveys previously translated on this blog.

Demographics

460 randomly-selected iPhone users from all over the US completed an internet-based questionnaire. The sex breakdown is not listed, but by age 0% were under 18, 5% were between 18 to 21, 15% between 22 to 25, 30% between 26 to 30, 26% between 31 to 40, 13% between 41 to 50, 6% between 51 to 60, 4% between 61 and 70, and 1% over 70 years old.

User satisfaction

Overall over 40% were strongly satisfied with most of the features, and almost 80% satisfied to some degree. However, under 30% were strongly satisfied with data speed; in Japan with ubiquitous 3G, the need for speed will surely be even stronger.
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