Japan: Ahead and Behind

Japanese mobile phone

Japanese mobile phone

I have been putting social media strategy in place for Cabana Bar & Grill, a local establishment here in Yokohama.

Since I am trying to attract Japanese and foreign clients, I’ve come to the conclusion that when it comes to social media and branding (and more importantly, mobile media), Japan is both ahead and behind. 

People in Japan have been using their kei-tais (mobile phones) as mobile social media devices since before the “social media” moniker was born. Japanese sites like TableLog, DokoIku (Doko iku? in Japanese means “Where to go?” or “Where are you going?”), and Yahoo Gourmet have been letting people dish on destinations for years. With their mobile phones. And these are just the big ones. There are plenty of specialized mobile and PC review sites for bars, nightclubs and restaurants that I just don’t have the time to research at the moment. The Japanese are used to using their phones to find information like this. And they’ve had 3G since 2001.

In fact, they are used to doing a lot more with their phones than Westerners, I don’t care how tech-geek you are. The mobile phone culture in Japan is so unique that it has been likened to the Galapagos Islands.

Ask a Japanese friend, though (you with your shiny new iPhone and they with their three-year old touch screen Toshiba or Panasonic  with 1Seg TV, built-in credit/debit card, mobile banking, Yahoo! Japan push mail, etc…) if they use Twitter, and you’ll most likely get a blank stare.

Facebook? Forget it. They’ve heard about it, but they have Mixi. Japanese people who use Facebook have a lot of foreign friends, and that’s why they use it. It’s hardly the full-on personal website slash marketing phenomenon it’s become in the West.

Yelp is not available here. There is no need, really. The only people who need Yelp here are visitors.

That’s not to say that even though they are ahead and/or behind (depends on how you look at it), they don’t catch up/slow down real fast!

One of the local mobile platforms I use in lieu of Yelp is Foursquare. Although it’s only been in Japan for about a month, its weekly check-in figures are expected to reach six figures imminently. That’s pretty quick uptake for four weeks, so it was one of the first tools I turned to when geolocating Cabana Bar & Grill (that, and Google Local Business Center, of course). As an aside, one really cool service that I’ve used here in Japan on my iPhone is 30min, an app that will provide you with things you can do within 30 minutes of your present location. It’s also available for Android (it used to be called 30minute lunch, so it was really my stomach that found it, not my curiosity).

Why is this keeping me awake?

Because while I am bringing my client up to speed on the mobile and social media sphere, it feels like I am also trying to bring all of my client’s clientele up to speed as well.

And they’re actually ahead of me.


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