Japanese Cell Phone Culture and etiquette is more socially important than in most western countries. This is important for visitors to Japan to understand.
In Japan cell phones (also known as mobile phones in many countries) are called keitai denwa (携帯電話), literally “portable telephones,” and are often known simply as keitai. As in western countries the majority of the Japanese population now own a cell phone (keitai). Most Japanese now use smartphones, however there are still many advanced feature phones in use and the flip phone format has held on longer in Japan. This technology and the particularities of its usage has led to the development of a cell phone culture, or “keitai culture.”
Convenience of mobile data while in Japan without the risk of bill shock.
Japanese Cell Phone Etiquette
When visiting Japan there are some particular cultural difference you should you look out for. Japanese people have excellent phone manners in public. In Japan, chatting on the phone on the train is considered extremely rude and generally isn’t tolerated. On the Shinkansen and some other inter city trains it is acceptable to talk on the phone at the end of the carriage if there are doors between the seats and the end of the carriage. There are normally signs on the train reminding people to switch their phones to “manner mode”, meaning silent ring mode. People are also generally careful about when and where they speak on the phone, since causing inconvenience to others and drawing attention to oneself in public is something a lot of Japanese people would rather avoid.
Most Japanese have a privacy film on the front of their phone screen that blocks the phone from being viewed except for directly in front of the screen. When people are packed tightly on a peak time train they still want some privacy.
Lots of adults can be seen playing games- We’ve all read or witnessed the Pokemon Go craze, so don’t assume video games were designed solely for kids. Since many people have long train commutes here, smartphone gaming is a convenient way to pass the time no matter the gender.
Lots of people use their phone while walking- Known quite simply as aruki-sumaho (lit “walking-smartphone”) this practice is generally looked down upon in Japan, and yet it happens absolutely everywhere, so watch your step! In crowded cities like Tokyo, a smartphone-screen-gazing is the norm and whilst potentially dangerous it happens wherever you walk!. To prevent this some Japanese smartphones come with an inbuilt feature which warns you—and sometimes prevents use entirely —when the phone detects you’re walking.
Any country you travel to will have unwritten social rules and Japan is no different. So as a visitor, you should always try to respect the rules—even the unwritten ones. Japanese people tend to be very patient with foreign travelers, but just because they don’t reprimand you for doing something wrong, don’t assume that it’s okay to ignore the rules completely. If you’re not sure of what to do, just look around you. If no one is chattering away on their phones while on the trains take the cue.
Prior to the mass adoption of smartphones in western countries Japan lead the world in the adoption of advanced cell (mobile) phones with features not seen outside of Japan.