Tag Archives: Technology

Mind the Flash

Japanese people have mastered the camera pose. Crafted it into a fine art and bequeathed it unto their young in such a fashion that one might even begin to think it genetic, a biological imperative perhaps, an evolutionary tweak that has emerged along with the technology it is bonded to.  Because in the mere instant one has to pose correctly for a photograph, the Japanese are already there, two fingers held aloft in a peace sign yelling, “cheezu!” Meanwhile, I’m blinking like a deer in headlights, stunned by the blast of camera flash.

One photographic incident in particular got me thinking. I was at Fuji Q Highland, an Amusement Park that resides at the base of; you’ve guessed it, Mt. Fuji. Inside are three particularly amazing rides: Eejyanaika (translated to, ‘isn’t it good?’ Ok, not everything translates in a cool way), FujiYama and the mind bogglingly fast Dodonpa.

I was waiting to ride the incredibly fast Dodonpa with a friend whom, repeatedly terrified by announcements over the tannoy as to just how fast this machine is, responded with yelps of, ‘muri!’ or in English, ‘impossible, I can’t do it, argh!’ Once aboard the ride she continued to yell this phrase except for one brief moment that I realized had been the camera flash, only to continue on with her cries afterwards. Instinctively, during an experience otherwise dominated by the excitement and fear of the ride she had twisted, smiled and posed for the camera. I on the other hand was more concerned that my cheeks not tear from my face due to the g-force.

Photography is everywhere in Japan. From high quality camera phones to the ever-present purikura. Photography is incorporated into life here in a way that goes beyond any other nation. The stereotype of a Japanese travel group abroad, all wielding state of the art cameras, endlessly pointing and snapping photographs is a well earned and thoroughly deserved one. While the teenage love of purikura, essentially photo booths with a variety of special effects that can be applied to your group photos are so popular that they can be found with ease almost everywhere you go.

That photography is such a significant part of life here is at times hard to believe, particularly when one considers that the camera industry only began to emerge in Japan in the 1930’s. When of course it was beyond the reach of even the comparatively wealthy as,

“In those days, the average starting salary of a graduate of an elite university in Japan who was hired by bank, the best-paying job, was around 70 yen per month. In contrast, the price of the Leica camera was 420 yen.”[1]

Yet, from those early days has sprung an enormous industry fuelled by a love of technology that is visible in all walks of life and among all ages in Japan. At arcades I have seen young people with staggering coordination in pursuit of the high score on a dance machine and a vast number of people with a mind numbing addiction to Pachinko (a low stakes gambling machine with a resemblance to pinball, without any of the skill). While undoubtedly gaming technologies such as these have had and will continue to have such an affect on us, I still believe that the camera and its simple yet beautiful power to capture a moment will continue to be of greater significance. At least until the day that Wii bowling is entered into the Olympics.

However, the truth is, I can’t help but feel that here in Japan is where technology and society meet first. Through computer games, mobile phones, 3D TVs the Japanese people engage with technology faster and with an aplomb that perhaps only South Korea can beat. As such, if technology and biology are going to crash into one another it’ll happen here long before reaching foreign shores.

While visiting home this summer I met a friend of a friend, a Japanese Doctor no less and I took the opportunity to pitch this very theory to him. Essentially I believe that the response to the camera has become so ingrained at a biological level, that just as one can tell the sex of a child from an ultrasound, that one could also tell the child’s ethnicity… well, in one particular case.

Note: This picture is the fine work of Max Joseph, find his blog here.

This blog post was originally featured on travelblogs.com as a guest article. The original post can be found here.



チーズ or Cheese: Technological Trouble in Japan

In Japan I have a peculiar relationship with technology, simply put, I just don’t get it.

Cameras are state of the art. Mobile phones are a generation or two ahead. The fax machine still prevails. Broadband Internet is around the fastest and cheapest around, yet take-up is lower than in the US and far lower than that of neighbouring South Korea. I can press a little red button in the Izakaya for instant service and my sushi can be delivered by tiny bullet train (it whisks specific orders directly to your table, as opposed to via the conveyor belt below from which anyone can pick up food). Vending machines greet me in a high-pitched yelp of digital politeness. Lifts in some government buildings appear to pre-date the buildings themselves. My sixty-year-old student can watch TV on his phone, but I don’t think he knows what Google is. When my high school kids tell me they were talking to their friend, they mean they were emailing them. Japanese people buy the best technology around… so long as it isn’t Korean, and then they do it again next year and the year after. The TV is always on, yet no one is ever watching it.

As I’ve noted before, the Japanese have a peculiar relationship with technology. Driven by a rapidly ageing yet economically driven society, consumer goods are constantly bought only to be dispensed with a year later for the shinier new model.

Japan seems to have an endless supply of engineers and a desire to have the best products in the world (look at Toyota’s misfortunate and excessively rapid expansion) yet, Apple’s attempts to get Macs into Japanese schools has been rebuffed with little thought. Technology is welcome in some spheres and clearly not in others.

At times, I find it difficult to cope with this contrast.

When I was younger, my relationship with technology was far more simply defined. My brother would convince me as to what now ancient games console I obviously wanted for Christmas. One so costly as to require the budgets from both our respective birthdays and Christmas days to be combined so that come Christmas morning we could open something that I had not known I had even wanted until a month earlier. Possibly as I hadn’t known of its existence until my brother made it abundantly aware that I too wanted it. Funny that…

While owning a games console, laptop and mobile has become an aspect of my life that I would find strange to do without now, other areas of technology have on occasion left me baffled. Particularly in Japan where I sometimes think that maybe, just maybe I’m too tall for it…

I was entering the gates of Fuji Q Highland, an amazing amusement park that sits just below Mount Fuji. I handed my ticket over and headed over to the machine where I would get my personalized ride pass. It was a metal box, akin to a photo booth without the curtain and seat. Instead of said seat there were two foot prints where one was supposed to stand. So there I placed myself, only to realize that the camera was about chest height on me. I crouched down a little to get my head level with the camera but nothing happened. Wondering if the damned thing was even working I leaned forward for a split second, the wrong split second as it happened.