Mobile Internet Use in Japan: Text-Message Dependency and Social Relationships

Mobile Internet Use in Japan: Text-Message Dependency and Social Relationships

Kenichi Ishii
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch005
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Japanese mobile Internet-use is unique in that users are more dependent on mobile text messaging as compared to PC-based Internet and mobile voice communication. Previous studies show the following: (1) Age is the most important predictor for mobile text messaging. (2) Mobile text messaging is associated with strong ties in closed networks; on the other hand, some people enjoy anonymous communication with so-called “intimate strangers” in open networks. Mobile Internet use is significantly different from PC-based Internet use in terms of user motivation. (3) Cross-cultural comparison indicates that Japanese people tend to use mobile text messaging, while they are less willing to utilize mobile voice communication. (4) It has been hotly argued whether and how mobile phone use is associated with interpersonal relationships among young people. Some researchers claim that mobile phones facilitate “selective interpersonal relationship” among young people, while others investigate how mobile text messaging is related to social network characteristics.
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In this chapter, mobile Internet use is defined as using mobile phones to connect with the Internet. Mobile Internet use includes website viewing (e.g., social networking site) and mobile text messaging which includes e-mailing or texting via mobile phones. Text-message dependency is the tendency to use text messaging in dyadic communications while avoiding direct communication such as mobile-voice phone use.


Since the 1990s when Japan started to enjoy advanced mobile Internet use, many researchers including psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists, studied the mobile (keitai) Internet use in Japan where high text-message dependency is commonly observed, especially among young people. Japanese text-message dependency has been studied from different perspectives. (1) Determinants of mobile Internet use include younger age, while effects of socio-economic factors are not as strong when compared with PC-based Internet. (2) Cross-cultural studies reveal how Japanese mobile phone behavior is more dependent on mobile text messages than in other countries. (3) Mobile Internet and PC-based Internet are differently used in terms of users’ motivations. (4) Some researchers tested the “selective interpersonal relationship” hypothesis (Matsuda, 2000), while others assessed how text-messaging affects social networks, especially among young people.

Current Scientific Knowledge in Mobile Internet Use in Japan

Misa Matsuda published influential books (both in Japanese and English) on mobile phone use in Japan (See Additional Reading). She has engaged in the study of mobile communications since the age of pagers in the early 1990s, using mostly qualitative and some quantitative methods. Tasuku Igarashi has studied how use of mobile text messages is associated with social networks based on student surveys. Tetsuro Kobayashi has studied how social network characteristics (e.g., heterogeneity and homogeneity) and social tolerance are associated with mobile and PC-based Internet use. Kenichi Ishii has studied the determinants of mobile and PC-based Internets using nationally representative survey data.


Adoption Of Mobile Internet Use

Since the late 1990s, Japan has enjoyed the highest penetration rate of mobile Internet use in the world. One historical reason for the high penetration rate of mobile Internet in Japan is the adoption of “i-mode,” NTT DoCoMo’s Web Access Protocol (Ishii, 2004). Following the success of i-mode and other mobile Internet services, major Japanese mobile phone carriers started 3G (third-generation) mobile phone services. In comparison with other countries with regard to the 3G ratio (97.2% in 2010) and the mobile Internet penetration ratio (89.5%, in 2010), Japan was ahead of the others in 2012 (Ministry of Information and Internal Affairs and Communication, Japan, 2012). With advanced mobile technologies, mobile phones are used more widely in Japan compared to ten years ago. Table 2 compares communication methods for close friends between 2001 and 2011 based on Mobile Phone Use Surveys which were conducted in 2011 and 2001 in Japan (Matsuda, Dobashi, & Tsuji, 2014). Respondents were chosen from a two-stage stratified random sample and the number of successful respondents was 1,452 in 2011 and 1,878 in 2001. In these surveys, respondents were asked what methods they used for communicating with each of five closest friends except for family members who live together. Table 2 shows pooled results for these five closest friends. It indicates that usage rates of mobile text messages have doubled in the last ten years, while their counterpart of fixed phones has fallen to one-third. According to the above survey, 91.5% of the respondents owned mobile phones (Matsuda et al., 2014). Of the mobile phone owners, 89.0% used mobile Internet in Japan; 88.2% of them used mobile text messaging and 52.4% used other Internet services. In Japan, PC-based Internet is not as popular as mobile Internet. 58.7% of the respondents used PC-based Internet while more respondents (81.4%) used mobile Internet.

Key Terms in this Chapter

General Trust: Trust in other members of the society.

PC-Based Internet: Wired or wireless Internet access via personal computers.

Bonding and Bridging: Two opposite social relationships. Bonding is social relationships among strong-tied people, whereas bridging is social relationships among those connected with weak ties.

Mobile Internet: Internet access via mobile phones, including access via a carrier’s network and a Wi-Fi connection.

Selective Interpersonal Relationship Hypothesis: A hypothesis that young people prefer selective interpersonal relationships in which they maintain particular, partial, but rich relations, depending upon the situation.

Intimate Stranger: An interpersonal communication pattern in which people in an open network make intimate but anonymous contact ( Tomita 2006 ).

Tele-Cocooning Hypothesis: A hypothesis that texting is associated with increasingly insular communication because it strengthens strong ties at the expense of interactions with weak ties ( Kobayashi & Boase, 2014 ).

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