Keitai and Japanese Adolescents

Keitai and Japanese Adolescents

Jack Jamieson (Ryerson University, Canada & York University, Canada) and Jeffrey Boase (Ryerson University, Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch113


Keitai, Japanese mobile phones, have thoroughly permeated the lives of adolescent Japanese. This article describes the connection between adolescents and keitai by discussing the ways that keitai technology has been shaped by youth, how keitai have been used by teenagers for social empowerment, and how the autonomy afforded by keitai has supported new digital creative and expressive forms. These topics are discussed through a review of the English language scholarship about keitai that first emerged in the early 2000s. This article concludes by discussing possible directions of future research.
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Adolescents are among the world’s more enthusiastic users of mobile phones, demonstrated particularly by their early adoption of data and text-based features, such as mobile e-mail and ringtone downloads. Much of the scholarly attention paid toward Japanese mobile communication activities focuses on keitai, which are an early type of feature phone primarily used in Japan and characterized by capabilities such as Internet browsing, e-mail, and support for the creation and consumption of a variety of media. This article discusses the integration of keitai into the lives of Japanese adolescents, concentrating on ways in which adolescents influenced keitai designs and functions, how keitai have helped adolescents reconfigure their social ties, and how they support new forms of expression and identification through their media capabilities.

The Japanese phrase for a mobile phone is keitai denwa, but the word denwa (telephone) is frequently omitted, shortening the phrase to simply keitai–literally, “something you take with you.” This term is an apt descriptor given the constant presence of keitai in everyday life. Okabe and Ito, two leading scholars on keitai, explained that:

In contrast to “the cellular phone” or “the mobile” which stress technology and function, the Japanese term stresses the relation between user and device. A keitai is not so much about a new technical capability or freedom of motion, but about a snug and intimate technosocial tethering, a personal device supporting communications that are a constant, lightweight, and mundane presence in everyday life. (Okabe & Ito, 2005, p. 1)

In this article, we use the term keitai rather than mobile phone, following the recommendation put forward by Matsuda (2005a) that this term allows one to refer to mobile phones as existing within and shaped by Japanese society, rather than external objects. This is intended to support a conception of keitai as more than simply cell phones used in a particular region, but as cultural artifacts deeply informed by Japanese customs and culture.

During the 1990s, keitai were designed with communication as their main purpose, but since 2000 have come to permeate numerous other everyday activities. This has led young people to joke that “they would not be able to ride the train or even get up in the morning” without their keitai (Matsuda, 2010, p. 32). One of the most striking aspects of keitai compared to mobile phones in other regions is the rate at which they are used for accessing the Internet. The emergence of mobile media activities in Japan was supported by the launch of i-Mode by NTT DoCoMo in 1999, which was the world’s first commercial mobile Internet service. Although i-Mode quickly developed a large user base, many adolescents bemoaned the high cost of bandwidth, using the term pake-shi (packet-death) to refer to using keitai services they couldn’t afford (2010, p. 33). These concerns were one reason that some users limited themselves to basic Internet features, such as e-mail, which became extremely important for young users particularly. A survey conducted in 2002 indicated that 89.2 per cent of teens (ages 12-19) used the e-mail function of their keitai, 82.7 per cent of users in their twenties, 66.8 per cent of users in their thirties, and a steadily decreasing percentage of users in older demographics (Matsuda, 2005b, p. 124). A 2001 survey indicated that are the most zealous users of mobile e-mail, typically devoting for 1 hour 58 minutes each day to exchanging e-mail on their keitai (2005b, p. 126). The introduction of flat rate data plans in 2003 encouraged heavier use of rich Internet services (2010, p. 33). Internet use became diversified across a variety of functions, such as social networking and exchanging media. A survey in 2007 indicated that far more teenagers accessed the Internet via keitai than by PC, illustrating the keitai to be their primary media device (2010, p. 34).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Keitai: Common term for a mobile phone in Japan. Short for keitai denwa , but denwa (telephone) is often omitted. Keitai translates literally to “something you take with you” and the term thus emphasizes the relationship between user and device.

Telecocoon: An intimate space wherein people can maintain a relationship that began in-person, but has since shifted to become electronically mediated. This allows relationships to be maintained without geographic or temporal restrictions.

Social Construction of Technology (SCOT): A theory that human activities shape technology. This opposes technological determinism, which argues that technological innovations determine humanity’s future. One of the most important concepts of SCOT is that technological artifacts have different meanings for different groups of people. Disagreements between relevant social groups lead to conflicts, and the resolution of these conflicts shapes the development of that technology.

Networked Individualism: A theory first put forward by Barry Wellman, which describes the increasing importance of personal networks. This reflects a decreasing emphasis on communal and family bonds, and is supported by technologies such as the Internet, social networking, and personal communication devices.

User Created Content (UCC): Media content created by amateur users of a technological platform or service, rather than paid professionals. Reflects a shift supported by social media and related technologies, in which audiences have transformed into active participants.

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