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The Japanese/American Tech Deficit

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the unsolved-mysteries dept.

Technology 787

Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets, while the U.S. is left with the second-tier, less-innovative ones? The San Francisco Chronicle delves into this age-old mystery and provides a few explanations for those of us who don't live near Akihabara.

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First things (4, Insightful)

SIGALRM (784769) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043341)

Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets ... ?
True, but let's put this into perspective. The U.S. usually views blockbuster movie releases first. Many hot game titles are available here first. It all evens out in the long run. Besides, our consumer markets are (of course) driven by entirely different value systems--for better or worse, Japan and the United States have contrasting prerogatives in importing/exporting technology and entertainment.

Re:First things (4, Funny)

savagedome (742194) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043368)

Many hot game titles are available here first

That's not true. Newest games are available first on the streets of Taiwan.

Re:First things (2, Funny)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043390)

while very very cheap pirate copies are easily available on the streets of the various other 3rd world South East Asian countries.

Re:First things (0, Flamebait)

ReeprFlame (745959) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043395)

Yes we do each do have different things that motivate them but most Americans are slackers. This is in the way that they don't really like learning, and therefore will take useless entertainment over beneficial invetions and technology anyday. The Japanese are more motivated into education and their cultural devotion shows through, even in US schools. That is probably why they develop more complex technologys and have the willpower and capacity to. If some parts of America would change, and people's perspective on education and development, then maybe we WOULD get some more advanced technologies before Japan, and even Europe in this case...

Re:First things (1, Offtopic)

realdpk (116490) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043447)

"This is in the way that they don't really like learning"

s/learning/teaching/

Teaching here is almost all memorization and regurgitation. Teachers don't care, though -- no reason to. Their jobs are safe. The worse they do the more money their school gets. A great system, American public education...

Re:First things (3, Insightful)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043546)

Any teacher worth keeping can make a lot more doing just about anything else. I'm for extensive reform of the US K-12 educational system - including a nationalized curriculum and a professionalized teacher's corp (along the French model, in which teaching is part of a heirarchical civil service), and the end to local school boards (populated by political failures with no background in education whatsoever.)

I would accompany all these changes with a dramatic increase in teacher's salaries and benefits. Then competition for jobs would improve performance. Teachers' jobs are secure because there is virtually no competition for them - school districts will take almost anyone they can get.

But it's the school boards and administrations that are the biggest problem. They politicize - in the worst way, the local way - education in a very destructive way. Administration of schools should be run by a very professionalized administration with a strong background in educational theory and practice, not a group of yahoos.

Re:First things (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043644)

The only thing wrong with education in North America is North American parents. Oh, and teacher unions.

But really, the parents are the big one. Kids don't eat right, they don't get any exercise, and they aren't pushed from home to learn. Anything that happens at school is "the teacher's fault", naturally, cause obviously the spoiled brat couldn't be at fault. Of course they can't learn anything - 3/4 of the day is tied up in classroom management, trying to keep all the spoiled, hypoglycemic monsters from killing each other, and the other 1/4 is spent teaching them things they should have learned at home before they were 4 years old.

Re:First things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043668)

It goes beyond K-12; to be a professor you don't have to have any form of teaching education, all you need is a doctorate and you're good to go.

Re:First things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043640)

Try working as a teacher in the American school system and then the Japanese school system. There is not as much difference you may imagine.

Re:First things (4, Insightful)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043704)

Teaching here is almost all memorization and regurgitation.

You're talking about the United States, right? I thought you meant Japan!

Seriously, isn't "learning by rote" the stereotype of Japanese education (with some basis in truth), after all?

Re:First things (1)

computechnica (171054) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043554)

Joe Sixpack gets very excited about the cool graphics on the Football Game. He also likes the recliner with built in mini-fridge, bet them foriegners don't have that!

Joe also gets technology edication on American Chopper.

Re:First things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043702)

"foriegners"
"edication"

" Joe also gets technology edication on American Chopper."

I'm wondering where you got your "edication."

Re:First things (2, Insightful)

sarlen (836953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043647)

Yes we do each do have different things that motivate them but most Americans are slackers. This is in the way that they don't really like learning, and therefore will take useless entertainment over beneficial invetions and technology anyday

It's more that Americans are much more conservative with our entertainment, and our money. 90% of Americans don't see a NEED for a robot that flashes lights, does your dishes and explodes randomly. I'm sure WE all do, but remember the community we're apart of here. It's all about what America's consumer driven economy can handle - it's not for lack of our ability to create these products, it's a lack of market.

Perspective (2, Funny)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043578)


True, but let's put this into perspective.
Pentium Xeon, Itanic, AMD-64 with Hypertransport, PowerPC, Sparc...

Windows 2003, OSX, FreeBSD, Solaris, AIX, OS390...

SQLServer, DB2, Oracle, Informix...

AS400, S390, Clariion, E15000...

Ford F-350, Chevy CK 3500, Dodge Hemmy Ram...

John Deere, Navistar, Cummings Diesel...

NASCAR, Bass Fishing, NCAA Tournament, Superbowl, Budweiser, Miller, Hot Chicks...

I mean - it's not like we don't have some cool toys of our own.

[Ours just aren't quite so damned gay...]

Re:First things (2, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043593)

Yeah, according to the article, the Japanese high tech gizmo market is driven in no small part ...

by teenage girls.

Now, that's a demographic that most slashdotters (including myself) have a very limited experience with. I'm not sure how envious I am of a market that that puts style and color in front of most everything (backed up by an infrastructure that this country will never equal). YMMV, of course.

Disposable income...I remember it well. (5, Insightful)

lamz (60321) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043344)

That article makes a lot of sense, especially about the cultural differences. The extremely tight real estate market ensures that people live with their parents for a long time, and that guarantees a higher level of disposable income. I can relate to that myself. Back in the summer of 1994, while I was working at Babbages and living at home, I bought an Atari Jaguar, and practically every game released for it.

The store manager's wife asked me how I could afford all that, and I told her that I had 100% disposable income. She freaked, and hated me forever for that comment, but it was true! I couldn't afford my own place or even a car, but I could buy all the game cartridges I wanted.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043376)

I couldn't afford my own place or even a car, but I could buy all the game cartridges I wanted.

In those days, I suppose the concept of "saving money" hadn't been invented yet..?

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043439)

You obviously have never been in a situation where that wasn't an option. Millions of people are. If you work 2 days a week part time...and pay rent....you don't have anything to save. College students fit in this category too.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (1)

AKnightCowboy (608632) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043555)

But if you're living with your parents and working 2 days a week part time and not paying rent then you most certainly can save that money. That's just fiscal irresponsibility.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (1)

rxmd (205533) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043584)

Technically, he's just reinjecting his capital into the economy. Fiscally speaking, this is more responsible than tucking the cash away under your pillow. What's the interest rate on your average bank account again, as compared to the inflation rate?

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (2, Insightful)

DaHat (247651) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043659)

It's good for the economy in the short term, but should he ever lose his free housing, he'd be SOL. Despite my inability to do it for years, saving for that rainy day is quite important.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043674)

I would put the blame on the parents for not teaching good financial habits early. If the kid ignors your advice, start charging him room and board.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043643)

You missed the point of the parent's comment. This guy obviously could have been saving money, but he instead spent 100% of it on things like video games. Instead he could have been saving money to move out of his parents' house.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (5, Funny)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043379)

The store manager's wife asked me how I could afford all that, and I told her that I had 100% disposable income. She freaked, and hated me forever for that comment, but it was true! I couldn't afford my own place or even a car, but I could buy all the game cartridges I wanted.

which is why your folks stll want you to move out.

Priorities (1)

mesach (191869) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043392)

Maybe if you didn't buy all the games you could have afforded a car/place to live...

but then it all comes down to priorities, and for some those are not priorities.

Re:Priorities (1)

Reducer2001 (197985) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043572)

That's right. In the USofA most people will trade their freedom for entertainment. Choosing a Jaguar and 30 or so games vs. living on your own.

Re:Priorities (1)

sarlen (836953) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043682)

That's right. In the USofA most people will trade their freedom for entertainment. Choosing a Jaguar and 30 or so games vs. living on your own

Most people you know are out of college and living with their parents? You need new friends, man.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (1)

Daimaou (97573) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043613)

I don't believe this is true any more than it is in America.

I lived in Japan for several years (about 45 minutes away from Akihabara, which was nice) and most people I knew lived in their own apartments. Of course, I knew people who lived with their parents too, but that was not the status quo.

Re:Disposable income...I remember it well. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043636)

Back in the summer of 1994, while I was ... living at home....
Where the hell else would you live? Isn't "home" by definition wherever you live?

Some tech I could do without (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043348)

Such as laptops, recognized as a growing fertility risk. [cnn.com]

FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043349)

Gadgets [eroticzipai.com]

Ummmm..... (2, Insightful)

JerC (121199) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043350)

Because they'll actually buy and use them?

Re:Ummmm..... (1)

curtoid (415759) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043445)

You got it!
It's a market driven society, just like ours! Too bad for us we Americans demand other uncool things rather than the neat gadgets the Japanese have....

Grass Is Greener (4, Insightful)

fembots (753724) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043355)

Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets, while the U.S. is left with the second-tier, less-innovative ones?

Maybe, just maybe it's because Japanese made those gadgets.

Or maybe it's just a "grass-is-greener" syndrome.

Re:Grass Is Greener (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043432)

No they get cooler gadgets. Personally I wouldn't buy them all, but damn they're cool.

Re:Grass Is Greener (1)

alteridem (46954) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043540)

I lived in Tokyo for awhile and when it comes to tech-gadgets, the grass is greener.

Yeah. (2, Informative)

Staos (700036) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043359)

I live in Japan and these Credit Card phones have been out for atleast 5 months. That said, I use one and it's really handy. Riding the trains is very nice since I don't have to wait in line to buy tickets any more. Untill the tech. is adopted in more convenience stores outside of the train stations though, I'll still need my change purse.

As we all know, the japanese love to use cash anyway, so I feel like a tech like this stands a better chance at becomming really really popular in the US or Europe, where credit cards are more commonly accepted. Pretty frequent to have busniess associates of mine get into jams at nice resturants because they don't have enough cash.

Moving back to asia (1)

Janitha (817744) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043364)

One of my main reasons which drive me to move back to asia, for all the gadget glory.

Re:Moving back to asia (3, Funny)

Swamii (594522) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043453)

One of my main reasons which drive me to move back to asia, for all the gadget glory.

The other reason being your fetish for Japanese midgets, for all the midget wrestling glory.

Re:Moving back to asia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043573)


The other reason being your fetish for Japanese midgets, for all the midget wrestling glory.


Don't forget watching girls slap each other with soiled underwear. ... double check that the post anonymously box is checked... yes, it is, ok, submit....

morning procedure.. (1)

boulat (216724) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043371)

Upon waking up in the morning, Johnny stumbles to the bathroom to answer the call of nature using the household's amazing Matsushita-brand Smart Toilet, which automatically measures his weight, body fat, blood pressure and urine sugar and sends the results to the Sokko family physician via the Internet.

how many doctors in US would really want to know that in the morning.. no, really?

Re:morning procedure.. (2, Funny)

UWC (664779) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043399)

What the article fails to mention is that the family physician is a 20-foot robot. He processes all this morning information while he "sleeps" in a closet in his office.

Ob. South Park Ref. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043373)

Japanese guy: "Yes, We may have best gadgets, but you Americans have bigga penis"

Re:Ob. South Park Ref. (4, Funny)

Schemat1c (464768) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043556)

Japanese guy: "Yes, We may have best gadgets, but you Americans have bigga penis"

Judging by all the Hummer II's I've been seeing, not so much.

In some respects... (3, Interesting)

nordicfrost (118437) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043384)

...USA lags behind Europe too. Europe was quicker to adopt the digital mobile world with SMS and e-payment. USA has been the leader in big iron, Japan and Europe leaders in small, creative and applied tech.

Re:In some respects... (1)

The Conductor (758639) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043691)

Both Japan & Europe have much higher population densities than the US. The FA mentions the commensurate effect on dwelling space, but they miss another factor: New-type gadgets have to be seen to sell. In an urban environment, everyone will see the new gadgets being used (hence the focus on promoting to the young ladies: that's where everyone is looking...). They can go to a local store to check new stuff out "in the flesh."

In the US, TV ads (and to a lesser extent, radio & print ads) are the prinicipal way to get the word out. But gadgets are too complex to put together a credible sell in a 30-second spot. You need that oh-so-American invention, the infomercial.

Plus, all the tech-savvy falks have Tivos by now & don't see the ads anyway. One cool gadget to killing all that come after!

duh (4, Funny)

nil5 (538942) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043387)

because we spend our money on the latest and greatest weapons and warfare.

inarguably.

Re:duh (1)

kyouteki (835576) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043622)

Mod this up, fo' sho'.

j-factor (1)

jiffyjon (830406) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043389)

Any industrial designer will explain to you: it's the J-factor. A mysterious power that comes from Japanese design. If you need to ask, you'll never understand.

Well, that's what an industrial designer told me when I asked.

Well one obvious reason is infrastructure (3, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043400)

it is a lot harder to change around cell technologies due to how spread out the US is, Japan you have a dense packed population.

if we were all packed into rhode island you would see some awesome technology becuase updating the infrastrucutre would take no time at all.

Fuck you wapanese bitches (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043402)

eat it

they don't have a social life (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043407)

In the US too many ppl have fun. In Japan, everybody's working hard, they don't have a social life. And they always find new innovative ways to comit suicide as well.

duplicate post (2, Interesting)

musikit (716987) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043413)

watch in 5 minutes someone will submit the story

"Japan beta-tests U.S. consumer goods"

frankly i rather they do... they spent the money on crap while we get the working model

Re:duplicate post (1)

agent0range_ (472103) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043605)

That would make sense... except for the sheer volume of crap released in the north american market.

No. They better stuff, and they get it first.

The US is conservative by nature. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043417)

We want to see things that are proven to work before we spend our hard-earned $$$s on them. If you think about it, this also explains why so many of us stick to Windows, even when there might be better alternatives out there!


Personally I'm glad that the USA has this conservative streak, as it acts as a bulwark against extremism of all kinds.

Re:The US is conservative by nature. (1)

Yaa 101 (664725) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043609)

bullshit!! Most american CxO's are just big cowards, that is the main reason.

Could it be... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043423)

Could it be that I prefer to not be monitored by my toilet?

Re:Could it be... (1)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043670)

"Could it be that I prefer to not be monitored by my toilet?"

The US has a lot more social stigmas regarding toilets and bathrooms than Japan. (In fact, the 'toilet' is generally separated from the rest of the bathroom appliances in Japan. Toilet and bathroom are different concepts over there.)

Re:Could it be... (1)

hobbespatch (699189) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043685)

Many of the houses in Japan don't have central heating. In Nagano, where my wife is from, it really gets cold in the bathroom - so having a heated toilet seat is one of the most wondrous inventions ever!

Other toilet inventions, I recall:
A noise button to cover up your, um, sounds.
More water spraying thingys than you can shake a stick at.
A leg massager attached to the toilet - for those long sessions.

The Article (0, Redundant)

Atragon (711454) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043431)

ASIAN POP The Gadget Gap Why does all the cool stuff come out in Asia first?

Sidebar: Our Top Japan-Only Gizmo Picks

Let's call him Johnny Sokko. A deputy assistant office manager and aspiring rock guitarist, Johnny lives in Tokyo in a cramped three-bedroom apartment shared with his parents and his teenage sister. Upon waking up in the morning, Johnny stumbles to the bathroom to answer the call of nature using the household's amazing Matsushita-brand Smart Toilet, which automatically measures his weight, body fat, blood pressure and urine sugar and sends the results to the Sokko family physician via the Internet. Over breakfast, he checks his daily schedule on his Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000 -- the first PDA to feature a 4-gigabyte internal hard drive -- and confirms he's free until noon. Great; he can spend the morning trying to beat the Puzzle Bobble Pocket high score his sister rang up on his brand-new Sony PlayStation Portable.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A., John Smith rises from his bed before dawn, roused by the crowing of the family rooster. He splashes some creek water on his face, then hikes out to milk the goats. Before he returns from the barn, he checks the suspension on the family buggy and makes sure the horses are properly shod -- it's market day, and if the weather's fine, he might get the chance to ride into town with Pa ...

Not the fairest of contrasts, given that the Amish actually make up a very small percentage of the U.S. population, but the fact remains: there's a tremendous divide between the average Japanese consumer and his Stateside counterpart. Call it the gadget gap or the device deficit -- call it what you will, as long as you recognize that, where cool high-tech stuff is concerned, America is light-years behind its counterparts in the Far East.

"I've been going to Akihabara [Tokyo's renowned electronics district] for 20 years, and I'm still amazed at the vitality of the scene -- the number of incredible toys you can find there," says David J. Farber, distinguished career professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie-Mellon University and former chief technologist of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. "You have stores that specialize in selling nothing but little robots. You have your tiny electronic devices -- cameras, music players. You have incredibly convenient kitchen gizmos. Every time I come back, I bring home something new."

Japan's trade surplus with the United States remains astronomically high, at over $6 billion; yet any regular reader of technophile Web sites such as I4U, Engadget or Gizmodo knows that the world's biggest exporter of consumer electronics regularly keeps its most innovative and exciting widgetry to itself, selling it only to the domestic market. Cell phones that do everything but make toast (although appropriate attachments are probably available from third-party accessory vendors). Gigapixel digital cameras. Laptops so tiny that "My dog ate my homework" is once again a valid excuse. And, of course, the most incredible toilets in the history of humankind.

Some of these devices eventually plod over to U.S. shores months or even years after they've become obsolete in Japan. But many never arrive here at all. Why is it that Japanese manufacturers (and, increasingly, those in Korea and China as well) have such a death grip on consumer-electronics cool? And why are Americans deprived of the choicest fruits of this technological bounty?

The answers to these questions offer an intriguing look at how culture shapes technology -- and vice versa.

May the (Market) Forces Be with You

Japan's gizmo utopia exists in part because of a happy harmonic convergence between its domestic market and its industrial sector: Japanese consumers are intensely style and status conscious, willing to pay more for better and cooler features and motivated to upgrade their core electronic devices at least annually, and sometimes even every six months.

"Japanese consumers tend to fall into one of two categories: they're either luxury seekers who are looking for symbols of conspicuous consumption or bleeding-edge-tech seekers who are looking for the most powerful and convenient tools they can find to make their lives easier," says Douglas Krone, CEO and founder of J-tech retailer Dynamism. "And, of course, many consumers are both. Here in the U.S., corporate buying tends to drive innovation -- technology goes where business wants it to go. In Japan, technology is largely driven by individual consumers. They save a lot, but when they spend, they buy the best. I mean, Louis Vuitton racks up over a third of its total global sales in Japan, and that's true for a lot of the luxury brands."

America has its share of early adopters, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule; the average U.S. electronics consumer is driven more by cost and value than by features and technological sophistication.

"We're much more Wal-Mart," says Carnegie-Mellon's David J. Farber ruefully. "We buy our electronics from big-box stores where the salespeople know nothing about what they're selling -- they know how to swipe a credit card, and that's it."

Geek Chic

Consumer behavior is learned young (as any parent of a child devoted to SpongeBob can attest), and America's relatively low-tech outlook is in part due to a fundamental difference in youth culture in the United States and Japan.

"Consumer behavior in Japan is totally driven by the teenagers," says Manfred "Luigi" Lugmeyer, editor in chief of the global gadget e-zine I4U. "They're not just buying toys -- they're buying electronics. They're competing in school to have the coolest stuff. American kids are into sneakers. Japanese kids are into technology."

Dynamism's Douglas Krone agrees: "Being cool in high school in Japan is all about having the right cell phone. And we're not just talking about brands or styles here. You need to have the functions, the features -- megapixel cameras, and so forth."

The cell-phone craze was born soon after the launch of NTT DoCoMo's wildly successful i-Mode wireless Internet service in 1999 gave rise to a phenomenon known as "keitai [mobile-phone] culture," fed by a generation of kids known as oyayubisoku, or "thumb tribes," whose handset addiction has shaped public health (as more and more "thumb princes and princesses" succumb to repetitive stress injuries); sexual mores (as enterprising schoolgirls subscribe to cell-phone "dating services," where they are introduced to lonely and generous older men); media consumption (as magazine vendors and bookstores find that browsers now snap high-quality cell-cam pictures of articles they want to read rather than purchasing their products); and impulse commerce (as Japanese cell phones increasingly become equipped with "e-money" devices that allow them to be used to purchase small items).

Unlike in the United States, where consumer electronics is an overwhelmingly male-driven industry, the critical vector in the propagation of keitai culture was its embrace by adolescent girls. That this demographic drives the market is no coincidence. Like many Japanese marketers, NTT DoCoMo had determined that i-Mode would live and die based on whether teen fashion queens adopted the handsets as the season's must-own accessories. A year and a half of aggressive marketing later, with 30 million active users, DoCoMo became the world's largest Internet access provider, surpassing longtime leader America On-Line. More than 10 million of these users are young women.

"A couple of months ago, Newsweek Japan did a special issue that listed the 100 most influential Japanese people in history," says Douglas Krone with a chuckle. "Along with ancient emperors, best-selling authors, inventors and scientists, they listed 'Japanese Schoolgirls,' because they've been so influential, inside of Japan and out."

House of Tiny Gadgets

Taste isn't the only thing driving Japanese gizmo-vation. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention; in Japan, the corollary might be that skyrocketing real estate prices are the godparents of cool consumer tech. Because the price of shelter is so expensive -- even after the collapse of the housing market, average real estate prices in Tokyo are the most costly in the world, at about $1,271 per square foot (New York, by comparison, averages out at a paltry $890 per square foot) -- Japanese apartments tend to be remarkably cramped.

"My wife and I lived in Tokyo for three months," says David J. Farber. "Our apartment there was around 360 square feet, and we quickly got to appreciate small, integrated devices."

Japanese manufacturers became experts at miniaturizing and creating multiple-function devices (like, say, refrigerators that let you browse the Web) simply because the average consumer really needs the room. "Space is everything," says Farber. "Many years ago, I sat down with a person -- an American -- who was trying to sell telephone extensions into the Japanese market. His sales pitch was that every family needs five phones -- one for every room in your house. Japanese people looked at him and said, 'Well, my apartment is so small that when my phone rings, I just reach across the room and pick it up.' He wasn't doing so well."

There's a subtle secondary manner in which real estate prices have shaped consumer behavior in Japan: housing is so expensive that young people have virtually no means of renting or owning their own homes; even after they've joined the workforce, they continue to live with their parents for years or even decades after graduation. Given that the average American spends up to one-third of his or her take-home wages on shelter, by sponging off Mom and Dad, young Japanese men and women have significantly more disposable income to spend on themselves; a $600 Louis Vuitton purse -- or a $3,000 ultrathin 1.2-pound laptop -- becomes instantly affordable when you're living rent free.

It's the Infrastructure, Stupid

There's another basic reason Japanese gizmos are cooler than ours, and a reason many of the best tech pickings are restricted to the domestic market. Simply put, Japanese companies (aided by government subsidies and cheap financial-sector loans) have spent billions of dollars in building out key infrastructure -- for example, widespread ultra-high-speed cell-phone networks and readily available broadband Internet access. (Japan is, after South Korea, second in the world in fast-Internet access penetration; the United States is 10th, behind such global tech giants as Belgium.) America's mediocre digital foundation means that devices like DoCoMo's bleeding-edge FOMA phones -- capable of such feats as mobile videoconferencing -- wouldn't work here even if they were available.

We're Just Not That into It

The hard truth is that even though a relative handful of gadget mavens, like this reporter, rail against the injustice of a world where the latest and sexiest gear is barred from entry into the United States, the vast majority of American consumers prefers to window shop -- experiencing new technology by proxy rather than shelling out the cash necessary to really own it. Web sites such as I4U provide a daily updated peephole into an exotic world of fanciful contraptions; but although I4U editor in chief Luigi Lugmeyer says the site is self-sustaining and profitable, it's still more of a labor of love and a technological test bed than a burgeoning commercial enterprise.

Even Douglas Krone, who started Dynamism right after graduating from Northwestern University when he realized his imported superslim laptop was drawing the equivalent of wolf whistles from everyone he knew, says his company is designed to fill a very defined, high-end niche. "We like to think of ourselves as a kind of technology concierge," he says. "We import top Japanese products that aren't available here and language localize them so that they're 100 percent in English, and then we offer unlimited lifetime toll-free tech support. We do well at our niche, but it's not about huge volume -- it's about offering really intense service for people who want best-of-class products."

As Krone points out, if he started moving thousands of units of something, it would rapidly be available in your local Best Buy. But he hasn't yet had to face that kind of competition. Nor is he likely to soon.

"The way business works here is simple," says David J. Farber. "In America, if you have a potential product, you do research, you try to figure out the size of the potential market. And if it's a totally new, totally innovative thing, where no one has any idea of the size of the market, and there's no guaranteed return on a large investment, well, forget it. No American company will touch it. In Japan, it's usually quite the opposite: manufacturers know that the home market loves new stuff; they'll take risks there, hoping that something will catch fire and take off. The only U.S. company that's doing that is Apple, and, honestly, I don't think that even Steve Jobs, in all of his infinite wisdom, thought that the iPod was going to take off the way it has."

Which means that for the foreseeable future, American technophiles will continue to experience a chronic case of gadget envy. Hey, is that a brand-new buggy whip I see under the Christmas tree? * * *

Seven from Gadget Heaven: Jeff Yang's Top Japan-Only Gizmo Picks

1. Sony PSP (Playstation Portable): It's only the most anticipated handheld gaming device ever -- a portable wonder that packs all the power of the original PlayStation in one palm-size package. And it doesn't just play games: according to Sony, it'll also deliver music and MPEG-4 video, display photos and offer 802.11 Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless gaming and messaging. It's going on sale in Japan this weekend. The United States, however, doesn't get it until March 2005 at the earliest. Envy factor: 4.5 out of 5.

2. Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000: For the hardcore gadget geek, the SL-C3000 is the latest in Sharp's heavy-duty Linux-based handhelds; more of a palmtop computer than a PDA, the SL-C3000 has an internal hard drive, a razor-sharp full VGA screen with zoom-in capabilities and a full QUERTY keyboard to go along with its swiveling touch screen. Plus, it looks damn good. Get it in a full-English version at Dynamism now. Envy factor: 4 out of 5.

3. DoCoMo "Mobile FeliCa" Payment System: A product, not a service, this e-payment system lets you buy stuff from convenience stores, software publishers, concert-ticket kiosks and train stations by transmitting virtual cash from your i-Mode-equipped phone. The system works in Japan because it's riding on the back of FeliCa, an existing, wildly popular smart-card payment system; here in the United States, we don't even have smart cards, much less i-Mode. Envy factor: 3.5 out of 5.

4. The NEC V601N: Sure, it'll display live broadcasts for only about an hour before its batteries give up the ghost, but this first-ever combination TV/cell phone also lets you grab screen shots and video off programs being played on its bright but tiny screen and browse TV guides to schedule programming, and it can even be used as a remote control for external devices. Japan gets it later this month; we get it, uh, never. Envy factor: 3 out of 5.

5. SONY Clie VZ-90: Sony gave up on making PDAs for the U.S. market but has continued to build new versions of its best-of-breed Clie in Japan. This edition is the first PDA to offer an OLED screen, producing brilliant, neon-sharp colors that can't be duplicated by LCDs. Sony has positioned the VZ-90 not just as an organizer but also as a portable media storage and playback device, with stereo speakers, multiple types of memory slots and integrated Wi-Fi; Dynamism has it, but, unfortunately, not yet in an English-language localized version. Envy factor: 3 out of 5.

6. Takara's Dream Factory: The geniuses behind the Bowlingual and the Meowlingual (universal translators for dogs and cats that turn woofs and purrs into human-intelligible speech) have created a product that allegedly helps you turn your nightmares into delightful dreams using musical tunes, sweet perfumes and prerecorded, whispered phrases. We'll be dreaming of the Sony PSP. Envy factor: 2.5 out of 5.

7. Sony HMP-A1 Portable Media Player: Wish your iPod could play back movies? Sony hopes you do. Its new HMP-A1 PMP offers 20 gigabytes of MP3 and MPEG-4 playback goodness; it even has a video-out jack so you can watch your flicks on a big-screen TV instead of its embedded sharp but tiny 3.5-inch screen. Envy factor: 2.5 out of 5.

Jeff Yang is author of "Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to the Cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China" (Atria Books) and co-author of "I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action" (Ballantine) and "Eastern Standard Time" (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin). He lives in New York City.

European cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043433)

Yeah it's really true, but even wierder, why do Americans put up with such slow crappy cars, instead of fast cars like here in Germany? (I drove to work this morning at a max of 190 kilometers /hour, about 120 mph) I can't figure that one out either.

Re:European cars (1)

demaria (122790) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043538)

With the exception of a few places in the Southwestern desert, most Americans can't legally drive faster than 80mph anyways. Most Americans look towards other features than top speed.

Re:European cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043545)

Because they don't have speed limits in Germany. And it works very well that way, unlike USA, who would probably end up killing 10% of it's population in one day if it ever happened (hell, a lot of the accidents in Germany are caused by strangers!)

Re:European cars (1)

anakin876 (612770) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043557)

nah, our laws just keep us from going that fast. The speed limits are lower and the requirements for driving are easier to pass. It costs us less than 300 dollars total to take any classes we need and get the drivers license. Whereas last I heard in Germany it is much more expensive. Add to that the lower fuel prices here and you are looking at a much larger selection of the population driving, including more "dangerous" teenage drivers.

Obligatory Simpsons Reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043442)

From the article:

"...Johnny stumbles to the bathroom to answer the call of nature using the household's amazing Matsushita-brand Smart Toilet, which automatically measures his weight, body fat, blood pressure and urine sugar and sends the results to the Sokko family physician via the Internet."

Does that toilet also have a camera in it that broadcasts Johnny's butt to the viewers of televisions in the house? Hey, maybe that Simpsons episode was quite accurate in their portrayal of Japan!

Because they're dorks? (0, Flamebait)

darken9999 (460645) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043459)

As geeky as the average Slashdotter is, the majority of Americans wouldn't be caught dead with some of the lame stuff that comes out of Japan. I mean, DDR? Perfect example.

Re:Because they're dorks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043560)

I mean, DDR? Perfect example.

What's wrong with DDR? I suppose you prefer Rambus. Oh, you meant Dance Dance Revolution. In that case, your right. ;)

Re:Because they're dorks? (1)

kyouteki (835576) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043650)

DDR is a great tool to help video game addicts lose weight and stay lean. I mean, look at the sexy bastard I am now, after a vigorous DDR workout?

...doesn't anyone believe me?

Re:Because they're dorks? (2, Insightful)

ChibiOne (716763) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043581)

You know, you think DDR is for dorks, whereas youngsters there would think it's cool. On the other hand, Japanese may think some of the cool stuff you like is worthless or dorky.

It's all a matter of cultural differences, and these include the forces that drive the market in each country.

Why? Let me tell you ... (2, Insightful)

jeff13 (255285) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043467)

... having lived in Japan and been to Akihabara I can tell you it's easy to have far more product, and far better quality product, in Japan because it has a massive population on a place the size of Nova Scotia.

With housing costs so high people live with family and have lots of spending money. Money to get this years new "whatever" model.

Wakata?

I didn't bother to read the article. I lived it.

no shit! (1, Insightful)

hicham (760236) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043472)

no whining! europeans get 'em even later. AND your mass-produced hollywood "blockbusters" AND the new and "kewl" computer games BUT (sadly) we do get new and more absurd american copyright laws about every half a year :(

The Amish don't have urine sugar sensing toilets! (3, Funny)

scotay (195240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043476)

Why do the Mennonites get all the good stuff first?

That's it (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043487)

I'm moving to Japan.

Re:That's it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043598)

Yes, but don't forget your parents have to move to Japan as well. You'll need to move back in with them to be able to afford it.

It's all about tradeoffs - (1)

Omkar (618823) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043489)

How about the space defecit? You know, the fact that Americans seem to have much more room to live in? Comparing national mores is hard, subjective, and, in the end, usually pointless.

Re:It's all about tradeoffs - (1)

Spellbinder (615834) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043692)

what good does this space to me if i am shoot for moving on it?

It's the tech in Japan, and the food in Europe... (5, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043499)

At least we can import Japanese technology. Customs won't confiscate something for not complying with FCC regulations, but they will confiscate food!

In Europe you're allowed to make and sell things that contain non-pasturized dairy products. In the US, you're not. Apparently americans aren't allowed to determine for themselves what is or isn't an acceptable risk. So the best European young cheeses and chocolates have poor substitutes as their namesakes in the US.

To make matters worse, they've convinced people here that "ultra-pasturized" means "better", even though it just means they used extra high temperatures to get it done more quickly and save money at the expense of flavor. That means the milk here doesn't taste nearly as good as it could under the current regulations. All this in the name of safety, yet at the same time, you can't get irradiated beef...

Sigh.

Supporting irradiated beef ??? (5, Insightful)

MyTwoCentsWorth (593731) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043684)

Of course, hearing the word irradiated beef makes one shudder... since people refuse to understand that irradiating food is one of the safest way of preserving it for long terms without the need for refrigeration, artificial preservatives, etc.
As soon as someone can how me ONE study showing ANY danger from irradiated food, and we can start comparing it against the well know risks of all the other preservation methods.
It's a pity that most people do not try to think about this, but reject it automatically.
Have fun posting.

foreign cars are always cooler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043506)

Japan always gets the cool cars first and sometimes they get them exclusively. For instance, the Skyline, which would by many predictions sell like hotcakes in the states and the STI. Its not just Japan either (as with SMS mentioned earlier), Australia also gets the cooler cars...think Ford Falcon.

Columns.. (1)

deego (587575) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043519)

That article's layout is so horrible. The entire text is in One small column to the left. Lynx renders it so much better!

Re:Columns.. (1)

akadruid (606405) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043626)

That article's layout is so horrible. The entire text is in One small column to the left. Lynx renders it so much better!

Tip of the Day: Click 'Print version' or whatever it's called, and it will lay the article out in a normal fashion.

Works on a great many sites which stupid layouts in fact. Having the text taking up a large %age of the screen allows you to resize it as you fit, one of the wonders provided by most windowing systems.

(x) Check here to recieve a new tip with every post.

OT: security Flaw in Linux image handling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043563)

http://news.com.com/Linux+groups+patch+image+flaw/ 2100-1002_3-5484080.html?tag=nefd.top

Smart toilet. (5, Funny)

titusjan (219930) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043570)

Johnny stumbles to the bathroom to answer the call of nature using the household's amazing Matsushita-brand Smart Toilet, which automatically measures his weight, body fat, blood pressure and urine sugar and sends the results to the Sokko family physician via the Internet.

"Your urine contains traces of an illegal subtance. The bathroom door has been locked and the police has been notified. Please remain seated until they arrive.

Thank you for using Matsushita."

In a nutshell ... (3, Insightful)

RealAlaskan (576404) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043571)

The article says that Americans don't get the gadgets because we

1) don't really want them very badly, and
2) don't have the infrastructure to support most of them (see (1)).

The Japanese are largely status-seeking early-adopters, says the article, while most Americans just don't care. Fewer Americans are early adopters, and those of us who are into conspicuous consumption prefer non-technological money wasters, like big houses, Persian rugs, and so on.

I'd say that most Americans I've met resemble those remarks.

There. Now you don't have to waste any time reading the article.

Meowlingual - Language Translator (2, Interesting)

hobbespatch (699189) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043583)

My wife is Japanese so we get to go to Japan once a year or so. Last year we got a 'Meowlingual' which really is very accurate on translating a cat's needs/wants/and moods. My wife mentioned that Taraka is making a handheld Universal Translator - when you speak into it - it will translate what you said into different languages or will translate what someone says into your language. Anyone heard about that?

Fantasy Island (4, Insightful)

HarveyBirdman (627248) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043594)

1. Sony PSP (Playstation Portable)

Wow! The power of a Plastation *1* with a tiny screen! Be still my heart! Sorry, but small and portable does not automatically equate to "cool" anymore. I feel the same lack of caring I felt when cell phones started having games I played on my Atari 800. TrueEnvy Factor: 0

2. Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000:

Another dumbass tiny computer running a dumber ass OS. Who cares? Why is this cool? TruEnvy Factor: One complimentary BSOD.

3. DoCoMo "Mobile FeliCa" Payment System:

Wow. More ways to spend money. I'm sure retailers like this. Is it that difficult to slide the credit card through the little slot, and then just pay the bills at the end of the month? Have some perspective, folks. People use to have to carry cows, sheep and dughters around with them in order to effect trade. And DoCoMo sounds like a Pokemon creature. TruEnvy Factor: -2

4. The NEC V601N:

TeeVee on my cell phone. Who cares? What sort of deprived life do you have to lead to give a fook about this stuff? TrueEnvy Factor: Undetectable by modern scientific instrumentality.

5. SONY Clie VZ-90:

I bought a PDA once. Within a month I was back to a small Meade paper and pen based scheduling system and never looked back. TruEnvy Factor: Planck's constant.

6. Takara's Dream Factory

New Age hits Japan. I fear for the anime industry. TrueEnvy Factor: Three tenths of a quartz crystal.

7. Sony HMP-A1 Portable Media Player: Wish your iPod could play back movies?

No. Not really.

Sony hopes you do.

Sony would like the PIN numbers to my accounts as well.

Its new HMP-A1 PMP offers 20 gigabytes of MP3 and MPEG-4 playback goodness

*snore*

it even has a video-out jack so you can watch your flicks on a big-screen TV instead of its embedded sharp but tiny 3.5-inch screen.

Thus illustrating its pointlessness. TrueEnvy Factor: One negasphere of nonexistence.

dynamism (4, Interesting)

necrognome (236545) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043601)

Check out Dynamism [dynamism.com] for import gear with US warranties and support. Compact Impact [compact-impact.com] has some cool gear to show off, and also has a showroom in the East Village (this store was previously named TKNY). If you are a New Yorker, the showroom is worth a visit, because the owner is a wacky guy who makes custom computers without moving parts.

Wooden Processor (1)

malia8888 (646496) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043604)

From the article: the vast majority of American consumers prefers to window shop -- experiencing new technology by proxy rather than shelling out the cash necessary to really own it.

Re:Wooden Processor (1)

malia8888 (646496) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043683)

From the article the vast majority of American consumers prefers to window shop -- experiencing new technology by proxy rather than shelling out the cash necessary to really own it.

Americans hang on to old, outdated computers so long (as witnessed in my partners computer repair company) it is almost embarrasing to argue with them that their old dog-of-a-machine should be retired. We run into a few people with the newest, hottest--most keep the old and busted. I mean really old and busted.

test dummies (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043620)

Market conditions in Japan and America are locked in a cause/effect loop. Underneath the Japanese teen rage for new devices, and the American sloth in buying a few innovations at WalMart, are the marketing machines behind the markets.

"Japan's trade surplus with the United States remains astronomically high, at over $6 billion; yet [Japan] keeps its most innovative and exciting widgetry to itself, selling it only to the domestic market."

Neither Japanese manufacturers nor American stores want to take big risks in marketing untested products to a fickle market, but they also depend on competing with their old devices based largely on "newness". So Japanese manufacturers test their devices in Japan, figuring out which are popular with whom, before they send any to the US to be sold for the big revenue.

None of that is going to change any time soon. The only way for Americans to get stuff first, as a test market, is to make it first. Like we do with content: movies, music, fashion; American manufacturers test that stuff here (even when the factories are overseas), then market the winners over there. It's not so much where the factories are, as where are the innovators and marketers, and the test markets where they can afford to fail before going global.

Yeah but its not all so useful... (1)

kabrakan (13409) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043632)

I have this book called '283 useful inventions from japan.' While a lot of them are great, and even simple designs that would make life much nicer in the states(like why don't we have pillows that allow proper airflow so they don't overheat?), a lot of them are absolutely useless and seem to have been designed just because they can be. I sure won't ever use the portable blatter sack. Just because they have the ability, doesn't mean they have the need.

europe (2, Informative)

drago (1334) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043637)

hey, be happy you don't live in Europe! We get the cool gadgets even later than the US and for twice the price anyways. And don't even _think_ about current movies!

Quite simple. (2, Funny)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043639)

The US doesn't recruit the mad geniuses the way Japan does. Japan has an aggressive program that attracts and subsidizes their research in many important fields, such as mecha research, mind control rays, cellular reanimation techniques, and psychic enhancement. As a result, we are trailing behind Japan in the tech race.

Some have pointed out that we don't have giant robots battling in the strees, gangs of psychic mutant orphans roaming the streets, and little to no defense against nude female aliens with magical powers, but I for one don't really find that to be a realistic assesment of the situation. As anyone in Japan can tell you, those problems are more than adequately delt with by the superhero cyborg schoolgirls that roam the countryside.

There are too many regulations & lawsuits in U (1)

tc1970 (744957) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043642)

I think the biggest problems are the strict regulations in North America. It's good that they are protecting us comsumers. On the other hand, we don't get to buy the latest and greatest "toys" from Japan. For example, the new Toyota MR2 is not available in Canada because of our higher crash-test standard (the front bumper fails). Also, rediculous lawsuits here do scare a lot of companies. It's true that Japaneses are beta-testing for us but products over here are "less-exciting" (things are overly-regulated). Just my 2 cents.

we're not all such big boobies! (2, Interesting)

Petrox (525639) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043651)

money quote:

""The way business works here is simple," says David J. Farber. "In America, if you have a potential product, you do research, you try to figure out the size of the potential market. And if it's a totally new, totally innovative thing, where no one has any idea of the size of the market, and there's no guaranteed return on a large investment, well, forget it. No American company will touch it. In Japan, it's usually quite the opposite: manufacturers know that the home market loves new stuff; they'll take risks there, hoping that something will catch fire and take off. The only U.S. company that's doing that is Apple, and, honestly, I don't think that even Steve Jobs, in all of his infinite wisdom, thought that the iPod was going to take off the way it has.""

how about that? who knew that I, with my ibook/ipod toting ways, was such a technological zeitgeist?

Three years ago... (4, Informative)

Chagatai (524580) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043658)

My wife and I went to Japan for our honeymoon. Naturally, we went to Akihabara twice during our visit. I was so amazed at the gear that they had there three years ago that is still barely showing up here. They already had full-blown DVD camcorders for fairly reasonable prices. We tried on a pair of goggles that gave the person wearing them a virtual cinema, projecting what appeared to be a 80" screen for TV, movies, and computer systems (!) in front of the user, complete with stereo sound. The cost? About $400. Hell, they even had cellphones playing some sort of Dreamcast game (I believe it was Space Channel 5). We both left the "Electric Town" wondering why we hadn't seen any of this in the US; now this article makes a little more sense of it.

Then again, everything is cooler... in Japan!!!

Great source for Japanese gadgets (1)

Shinzaburo (416221) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043669)

Given the topic, I couldn't resist the opportunity to offer up the most shameless of plugs. Shinza.com [shinza.com] is devoted to bringing the best Japanese gadgets to your doorstep. Be sure to check the popular line of ZeroShock notebook sleeves. The catalog is a little sparse at the moment, but the coming weeks will bring a lot of changes. Bookmark the site and drop by from time to time!

the world trade situation (1)

hyperquantization (804651) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043677)

the Japanese usually tend to be very liberally tech-savvy. it makes sense when you look at the fact that they really dont have much space to farm with. they have to depend upon engineering/manufacturing in order to compete in the world market.
and, as another slashdotter mentioned, we've got our space, theyve got their gadgets.

Akihabara (1)

BlueThunderArmy (751258) | more than 9 years ago | (#11043679)

Every slashdotter should go to Akihabara at least once in his life. It's a beautiful, beautiful place filled with tiny cell phones, strange and new configurations of everyday appliances, and Japanese nerds who manage to pull it off with style.

And as much as people are making fun of some of this tech, don't tell me there wouldn't be a demand in the US for a pressure-activated heated toilet seat, which Japan had more than five years ago.

Ask the army who has the coolest gadgets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11043699)

Japan weren't allowed to develop certain weapons after the second world war, they had to develop other technological industrys.

The US however spends its money elsewhere.
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