Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For the Record: Is Japan Hi-Tech? (Part 2)

Good evening, Internet! If it's not evening where you are, kindly close your browser and come back later.

Paul was a gentleman and allowed me to choose which side each of us would be supporting, which was great for me because I was then able to choose the correct side. Japan is indeed high tech. Would a low tech country have Gundam robots to protect book stores?

Reading is fundamental. Also compulsory.
No, they wouldn't.

I might as well try to counter some of what Paul said specifically though.

1. Plumbing
Clearly Paul got the short end of the quarter inch copper tubing when it came to plumbing in his old apartment, but that's just life. It's a roll of the dice and sometimes you end up with an electrocution prone jury-rigged laundry water pump for a shower. You're going to blame a nation for that?
Let me introduce you to my shower. Or at least, its control panel:

It can do a couple of neat things. Let's look at those four square buttons at the bottom. From left to right we have dry, cool air, warm air, and ventilation. Yes, I have a built in air conditioner and heater in my shower. And of course you can set a timer for each one of those, because why not? It also has a low power ventilator that runs 24 hours a day. I don't know what kind of wizard magic is in this thing, but I have never had to put so little effort into keeping my shower mildew free. I mentioned this to my wife once and she said "that's because I clean it" but I still think it's mostly wizard magic.
I haven't even told you about my bath! If for some reason you spend a really long time in there and the water gets cold, no problem! Just push the button and the water gets hot again. It doesn't add new hot water, mind you, it just makes the water hot again. But don't touch the little port where the heat comes out of because according to the instructions, and my Japanese isn't perfect so I could be misreading this but, you will catch fire underwater.

What else can I say about Japanese plumbing? Well, I would be remiss to not make good on Paul's foreshadowing that I would talk about their amazing future toilets. I'll make this brief, because everyone has already heard all about these things. "Oh those weird Japanese with their weird toilets that shoot water weirdly," people laugh as they grab their toilet paper. NO! You people are weird! Toilet paper is just paper and paper is dead trees. What are we, a people of hobos living in the woods? This isn't about Japan being high tech here, this is the rest of the world sitting on devices no more sophisticated than what a pre-Renaissance serf would sit on on his little serf farm in the year of our Lord 1352. Yeah, the plumbing has improved, but the device itself is still the humble seat it has always been. Cold in winter and incapable of giving massages.

Massage is the green button. I haven't pushed it yet. I am Willy Wonka and this is my Wonkavator.
Moving on.

2. Fax
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There's a pun in there that I just barely dodged. Phew! Anyway yeah, still using the fax is a little weird. But it's not like they don't have email. They do! In fact, their mobile phones since forever ago have all used email instead of text messages. You can do some fancy stuff without being stuck with text messaging limitations. Like Emoji!

Yeah, I know American phones have emoji now, but they're from Japan! Every time I'm in the states, and go to text with my trusty American Verizon phone, I feel like I'm sending a telegram back in 19-dickety-3. "HI JIM. STOP. WANT 2 MEET UP? STOP. K, CU THEN. STOP." The last stop was sincere because I only have 160 characters to work with in this wasteland. Might as well fax.

3. Media Formats

I yield to Paul on this one. I rented DVDs at my local video rental shop today. Yes, video rental shops still exist here. And they're popular.

4. NFC Cards
I'm going to diverge from Paul now and talk about the easy to use NFC cards. NFC stands for Near Field Communication and it's used in Japanese mobile phones and train cards. It basically just allows you to transfer information by touching your phone or card to a receiver. I don't have a phone that can do that, but I do have a Pasmo card which is one of what feels like 100 different varieties of similar cards in Japan. They started simply as train passes. You put cash on the card at the station, and you can beep your way through the ticket gate so you don't have to actually buy a ticket. A great time saver of course, but how could it be better? If you can use the cards to buy anything! And now you can, for the most part. 
Pasmo: takes you anywhere you want to be
When I first arrived in Japan in 2008 the cards were pretty limited. I could use my Icoca card (another variety) only around Osaka. I couldn't use it in Tokyo, or down south in Hakata or wherever. You can now though! All the cards are on the same system now (or something, I don't know how it works) so you can use one card anywhere in Japan. Also, there are tons and tons of stores outside of train stations that you can use them in too. Convenience stores and vending machines are a given, but these cards can be used in supermarkets, and plenty of other crazy places. In fact you can even use them to buy games on your Wii U! Which I guess would be convenient if anyone owned a Wii U.

5. Internet Speed
Google has done an excellent job of bringing gigabit internet to the American masses. According to Google, their Google Fiber is "100 times faster" than their competitor's broadband internet solutions. As they roll it out in different cities in the US, people are getting a glimpse of the speed of the future. Or present day Japan. Well, half the speed of present day Japan. And Google Fiber is about $20 more expensive. Though, admittedly Japan doesn't have the fastest internet in the world. That honor belongs to Hong Kong, followed by South Korea, with Japan next in line. America is unluckily thirteenth. 
Japan is also pushing to have the world's fastest wifi blanketing the country before the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. The goal is download speeds of 100 gigabytes a second, which is fast enough to download the HD version of the Back to the Future trilogy, or the HD version of the Godfather trilogy, or the HD version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (minus one or two of the endings) in one second. That's faster than using a Bluray as a Frisbee!

Japan is clearly a high tech country, though admittedly sometimes that's difficult to see. Maybe the best way to sum up Japan and technology is that they like their technology like they like their coffee: fast, conveniently everywhere, and slightly weird when viewed by the outside world.


  1. Well said, Joe. You know, as old and crappy as my apartment was in some ways, I got my ADSL internet connection set up pretty quickly, and in my three years there I don't remember having one internet outage ever.

  2. Internet in Japan is awesome. It was kind of hard buying a wireless router though...