JIN-412 -- Mobile Savior or Satan?

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's culture, economy and society
Issue No. 412 Monday May 1, 2007 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Mobile Savior or Satan?

One morning on a packed train from port to capital a
'salaryman' whipped out his mobile phone. 'So-and-so passed
away,' he said to the other party. 'The wake will be at
so-and-so funeral parlor, with the service at so-and-so
temple the next day.' He proceeded to inform others of the
man's passing. I was mortified. A public space seemed
inappropriate for such a solemn duty.

We've all been annoyed by mobile phones. Maybe it was a guy
text messaging on his phone while plugged into his i-pod
such that he was oblivious to your busy self trying to get
by him in a narrow corridor, or the silly melody signaling
an incoming call that woke you from a delicious nap on
the train.

I've a friend, an expert on crime in Japan, with a couple
of books on the subject to his credit, who quipped, 'The
greatest crime of the 20th century was the invention of the
cell phone.' In evidence of this assertion he regularly
sends stories that blame mobile phones for everything from
male impotence to destruction of bee colonies.

Yet the Japanese are apt to think of the mobile phone as
savior rather than Satan. The phones reportedly saved lives
during quakes, and grade schoolers dangle them from their
necks, talismans with the practical function of keeping kids
in touch with mom and dad.
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[...Article continues]

The mobile phone continues to accrue new uses in Japan.
Nano Media, an operator of official mobile sites for actors
and singers, has launched a system for making restaurant
reservations by cell phone. Ipaku, as the system is called,
allows you to place your name on a waiting list such that
if you arrive at the designated time you can take a seat
without waiting. The sushi-go-round restaurant chain Kura
Corporation already accepts reservations via Ipaku.
'You're purchasing time. It's a new way to use the cell
phone,' Hirokazu Iwagishi, Nano Media's senior managing
director, told the 'Nikkei Shimbun,' the respected financial
daily. The company will begin soliciting advertising for
Ipaku this summer. It will also establish Kuman Mobile, a
portal site for its advertisers.
Meanwhile Index Hole Dingusu has tied up with convenience
store chain am/pm to provide games and lottery information
on the cell phone screen to approximately 120,000 NTT
DoCoMo subscribers. Specifically, if the user shops via a
cell phone equipped with a settlement function for
electronic money, he or she can launch a pet-care game or
receive a melody signaling incoming calls. Neither is
something that turns me on. Presumably, however, the
companies have done their market research.

In a tie-up with JR East Japan, Index Hole Dingusu is
developing a system where users of a mobile phone
equipped with Suica, the prepaid rail pass card with a
built-in IC chip, can earn points redeemable for purchases
at JR commercial complexes.

Cyber Holdings, the operator of fortune-telling and other
Web sites, has joined with Gulliver International, a dealer
in used cars, in a venture that allows assessment of auto
sales prices on a mobile phone's screen.

In the meantime my friend is having made a T-shirt with
the logo 'The mobile phone--dumbing down all 100 million
Japanese.'Is he tilting at windmills?

-- Burritt Sabin

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