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The impact of the iPhone in Japan

The flight to get from San Francisco to Tokyo is just over eight hours. It takes less than to return to old Europe. Still, the journey seems longer. And, once landed in Narita and arrived in the capital of the country of the Rising Sun for the time of a short vacation, one thing seems clear. The iPhone here what was at the time the black ship of Commodore Perry: arrived in front of the bay of Tokyo and has forced the Japanese isolationists to take note that the world is changing and they are not always and necessarily in the most advanced part of the earthquake .

Japan has built a very special market on consumer electronics and on the linguistic particularity that makes it unique in the world. Autarky as an idea and practice has been redefined and brought to levels never seen before. Everything that runs in Japan and that has a microchip inside ninety-seven times out of a hundred was produced by a Japanese company for the Japanese public. And the exception does not derive from the products that arrived from the West, but twice out of three, from those always produced by Japanese companies but for the international public, such as the Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii, to be clear.

In this context, cell phones or keitai denwa, portable phones (for short called keitai), are a real culture apart. The fact that they are similar to some extent to those used in the West must not be mistaken: they are completely different. The "keitai culture", the culture of mobile phones is one of the foundations of Japanese youth society and beyond. Because the country, which one of those in which the population ages faster (worse than Italy) actually has a great penetration of technologies even among adults and increasingly among the elderly. The idea that the mobile phone is part of everyone's life, strongly ritualized, full of extremely complex functions, based on technologies alien to Westerners.

Well, as in a sudden bath of reality comparable to what the black ship of Commodore Perry made the Japanese on his first voyage of 1953-54 docking in the Uraga bay in front of Tokyo, the iPhone ends the secular isolation. Of course, there were already the Nokia, similar to the Portuguese priests, who hung out among some original and pro-western children of the goddess Yamatai. But the mass is only now changing direction, as the numbers also indicate. A drop in the sea, but the direction marked by the iPhone is clear. So much has moved the bar for his opponents in the West (Nokia, Rim with the Blackberry and so on), so he is moving it to Japan. The lessons are three, they explain in the meeting places of Omotesando: simplicity, integration, candor.

The simplicity given by the intuitive way in which the Apple phone is used compared to the super-complex Japanese phones, in which manufacturers insert thousands of features to make them increasingly attractive to the eye of the savvy public. Integration is something that even complex Japanese mobile phones have, but not at Apple's level. Finally, the candor that manages to spark the spark of genuine surprise in the local public. The Japanese is excited because he thinks with his brain – much more than what the western individualist actually crushed by fashion and advertising does – and finds some reason for hesitation within the iPhone but also logic and intensity of a new, innovative and beautiful appliance, which at the same time communicates power of use but also simplicity.

Commodore Perry's naval team had unlocked Japanese commercial and cultural isolation after a few centuries, leading the anonymous poet to compose a short double-reading kyoka based on the ambiguity of Japanese homophonies: "awakened from the sleep of a world in peace and quiet from the fort t Jokisen, with only four cups of the drink you can no longer sleep at night ”. Which, in the alternative reading, instead sounds: "The steamships broke the long period of calm in the Pacific, four simple ships were enough to make us lose sleep at night".

The iPhone arrives just over a century and a half after Mississippi, Plymouth, Saratoga and Susquehanna, but it is having an even more destructive effect on the mind and spirit of the Japanese.