It is astonishing to see how widespread and important Information and Communication Technology like the Internet and cellular phones (keitai, “something you carry with you”) have become in Japanese society. Japanese youth use keitai more than PCs, according research. Even elementary school students are using keitai to communicate with their friends and to protect themselves. Adults not only make calls via Internet or keitai but collect information, chat, shop, and read. They also use Internet und keitai to work at home while they are caring for children and doing housework.
The possibilities of Information and Communication Technology are an unknown quantity. Since 1980, scholars of social history and cultural studies on technologies in Japan and in the West have studied the history of early mass communication—specifically the telegraph and telephone—in the context of today's Internet and cellular phones. The economic and business applications of Japan's communication infrastructure have aroused the interest of Japanese scholars. Since the 1990s, however, there has been increasing scholarly attention to social and cultural aspects of pagers and keitai in Japan.
Personal, Portable, Pedestrian is a collection of scholarly essays, with a disciplinary base in social and cultural studies, examining the relationship between keitai and the Japanese people. The book breaks new ground in two ways: First, although this is only the most recent instance in which Japanese scholars from the disciplines of sociology, cultural studies, media studies, anthropology, and education have turned their attention to keitai, its Japanese version is easy for college students to access because of its reasonable price and its straightforward contents and layout. Second, this book was initially released in English with the intention of informing non-Japanese-speaking people of the development and diversity of keitai research in Japan (see p. i in English version). Most of the papers collected in this volume were initially presented in Japanese at a workshop sponsored by the DoCoMo House design cottage at Keio University (December 2002). These presentations were published in English in 2005. The DoCoMo House was founded by the Nippon Telegraph & Telephone DoCoMo to conduct research about keitai and provided the financial support for translation and editing of this book.
The editors specify to reasons why it was specifically important to introduce the newest keitai research in Japan to English-speaking people. The first is that “almost all keitai matters transmitted from Japan to foreign countries are talked of in the context of a success story of business or of a kind of Japanese techno culture like anime (animation) and video games” (p. i in English version). Therefore, sociological and cultural studies of keitai have gained little notice because of linguistic and disciplinary barriers. Although a steady stream of English social science texts have been translated into Japanese, the reverse is rare (p. 4 in English version). That is why its impact is all the more important and why it is heartening that foreign journals like New Media and Society and Wired New noticed and reviewed the book. In 2006, this book appeared not only in its second edition but also in paperback. The Japanese version contains revised and new papers. This Japanese version has also entered its second edition, with an introduction by Nihon Keizai Shinbun (17.6.2007), one of Japan's most prestigious newspapers.
In terms of structure and content, there are several differences between the English and Japanese versions. Between 2002 and 2006, not only Japanese society but also keitai technologies changed. In this book review, I will restrict myself principally to examining the Japanese version because, with the exception of newly added papers like Chaps. 3 and 11 in the Japanese version, all were written in Japanese for presentation at the workshop and were then translated into English. Many of the original Japanese texts were published in the Japanese version. The Introduction and Chaps. 6, 7, 9, and 10 were amended and expanded to reflect new research and new keitai technologies. However, the following three themes are central to both versions: “Cultures and Imaginaries,” “Social Networks and Relationships,” and “Practice and Place.” I will now summarize the papers in the Japanese version in terms of these themes.
“Cultures and Imaginaries” Chapter 1, “The Anti-Ubiquitous Territory Machine” (by Kenichi Fujimoto), frames keitai as a business-oriented technology that was hijacked by popular youth cultures in the late 1990s. Since then, keitai have been used with straps by young people as a “territory machine,” to create personal space within the urban environment, and it therefore became the original object of gadget fetishism and technofashion. Chapter 2, “Japanese Youth and Imagining of Keitai” (by Haruhiro Kato) analyzes the themes of video productions by Japanese college students on the subject of keitai. They portray keitai as an indispensable aspect of everyday life. Chapter 3, “From Research about Keitai to Research with Keitai” (by Fumitoshi Kato), shows one example of the multifunction use of keitai discussing so-called “mobile research” in the area of marketing, in which camera-equipped keitai are used as a research tool.
“Social Networks and Relationships” Chapter 4, “The Mobile-izing Japanese” (by Kakuko Miyata/Jeffrey Boase/Barry Wellman/Ken'ichi Ikeda), finds, through its case study in Yamanashi, that keitai use is correlated with a greater volume of e-mails to people who are geographically and socially closer than those sent by PCs. Keitai communities have become wider and more pluralistic than traditional village communities. Chapter 5, “Accelerating Reflexivity” (by Ichiyo Habuchi) focuses on deai (dating in Japanese) practices among Japanese youth and interviews with young keitai users and examines the current role of keitai communications. Chapter 6, “Keitai and the Intimate Stranger” (by Hidenori Tomita) focuses more specifically on deai cultures through telecommunication, sketches its historical development in Japan, describes the emergence of anonymous relationships between men and women, and looks at the new relationships of the future.
“Practice and Place” Chapter 7, “Keitai in Public Transportation as a Site of Negotiation” (by Daisuke Okabe/Mizuko Ito) interviews people in western and eastern parts of Japan, analyzing the negotiations and the web of interactions surrounding the manners of keitai users on trains, and sketches the process of domestication and incorporation of the new technology in changing socio-cultural circumstances. Chapter 8, “Home, Housewife and Keitai” (by Shingo Dobashi) consists of interviews with housewives, their husbands, and children and analyses the status and the meaning of keitai in comparison with the personal computer. The author insists that keitai reproduces the social order in the family, and does not destroy it, even though keitai is the new technology. On the other hand, keitai enables children to have privacy and therefore to separate themselves from parental constraints. Chapter 9, “Design of Keitai Technology and Its Use Among Service Engineers” (by Eriko Tamaru/Naoki Ueno) examines keitai as an instrument that service engineers can use to supervise their colleagues and describes how keitai can help to restructure the hierarchal relationship between workers and the call center at the employment agency which tells the people, who have registered with them, where they should report to work. Chapter 10, “Technosocial Situations” (by Mizuko Ito/Daisuke Okabe) interviews people in western and eastern part of Japan, uses a diary-based method to collect private mail, and concludes that keitai could not only destroy the old border but also structure the emergent technosocial order. Chapter 11, “Ethnography of the Use of Keitai Camera” (by Daisuke Okabe/Mizuko Ito) introduces a new way to use a keitai camera for “personal archiving” (for example: visual and news sharing among friends) and shows that visual messages are more selectively shared among close friends compared to mail.
The book has succeeded in showing the role of mobile communications in Japanese culture through rich empirical case studies examining human relationships in contemporary Japanese society. By using interviews and participant observation, this book spotlights diverse sites like trains, homes, and workplaces where keitai are used every day, also examining relationships between parents and children, friends and lovers, in the context of communication by keitai. The range of approaches, from the voices and ethnographic films of college students to the keitai story, keitai photos, keitai mails, and the tracing of activity by Global Positioning System, is one of the attractive points of this book. In each chapter, we can see the transforming process of keitai use among businessmen, media, and youth, “moral panic” in the train in relation to the manner of its use, changing human relationships between family members and friends, and changing hegemony in society and in the workplace. Further aspects are the uses and possibilities of keitai and “techno-nationalism,” which emerged after the burst of the technology-bubble economy, and the explosive popularization of keitai. Through this collection of diverse works, we can see the Japanese (and global) contexts of keitai and understand why the Japanese use this term for their cellular phones. This term does not connote technical capability (the cellular phone of the USA) or freedom of movement (the mobile of the UK) but intimacy and portability, a defining personal accessory that allows constant social connection.
Finally, I suggest three points for further research. The first has to do with comparative and cooperative surveys about keitai. This book is certain to be very helpful for non-Japanese-speaking researchers wishing to understand the Japanese socio-cultural contexts of keitai. Ito states in her introduction that this book examines the social and cultural diversity of mobile phone use. The book's strategy, however, is to approach this issue not through a comparative or global survey of mobile phone use but rather through a multifaceted and sustained engagement within a single national context (p. 4 in English version). However, there are not only cross-national similarities but also differences, which we can call “Japanese culture embedded,” and that developed under specific historical, political, and social conditions. For example, I am not sure that the train can be a site for negotiations in the manner of keitai users in other countries. In Japanese trains, people have to take more care not to bother other passengers because trains are often filled to bursting, especially in the big cities (Chap. 7). I also wonder if the nexus of home, housewife, and mobile phone is as solid in other countries. Is it a universal phenomenon that children use mobile phones to have privacy and to separate themselves from their limitations imposed by their parents? (Cha. 8) Through these case studies, we can see how different the meanings and functions of Japanese trains and families are from those in other countries and how deeply keitai is embedded. We can understand this only through careful comparative studies of countries and regions: what meanings and functions keitai has and which historical, political, and social conditions in Japan contribute to them.
My second suggestion is to turn our attention not only to the beneficial aspects of keitai but also to its more sinister ones. Many authors in this book hint at a negative side of keitai. For example, Tomita mentions (p. 186 in English version; p. 150 in Japanese one) that anonymity enables people to date without meeting and causes social problems such as slander, defamation, or the misrepresentation of identity (Chap. 6). Another example: When some people were killed in Akihabara (Tokyo) earlier this year by a young Japanese man (25 years old), passers-by took pictures of the crime scene and the dead bodies with keitai cameras; the media accused them of being “immoral.” In the age of Information and Communication Technology, media ethics is of critical importance. Incidentally, this criminal was hired as a temporary worker at an auto parts factory, though he was recently told that his job was going to be cut. According to his testimony, that was one of the motivations for him to massacre innocent people. Nowadays, working conditions for young Japanese people (so-called “Lost Generation,” which includes Japanese people from about 25 to 35 years old) are getting harder. Many of them do not have the security of a lifelong job and tend to take temporary jobs in which working conditions are often miserable. They receive information about such jobs from the employment agency, with which they are registered by keitai. As many authors mention in this book, keitai themselves are not responsible for that. Tamaru and Ueno, the authors of Chap. 9, articulate it as follows: “Rather, the meaning of keitai is located in specific practice and use contexts” (p. 255 in the English version; p. 220 in the Japanese one). Social scientists have to be more aware of both sides of keitai; although keitai has limitless possibilities, they can be abused and lead to alienation.
In this connection, I puzzled as to why only Chap. 9 is concerned with keitai use in the workplace. This chapter is an empirical case study of the relationship between keitai and workers and the restructuring of a control system from a centralized to a self-regulated one. Indeed, we can learn many things from its approach, framework, and dense ethnography, but its conclusion is ambiguous. According to Tamaru and Ueno, the self-dispatch system appears to be operating smoothly, but new problems could emerge from this self-regulated system. During busy times, the ability to visualize the whole working area makes some technicians feel rushed or feel that it is easier to be directed (p. 249 in English version; pp. 212–213 in Japanese one). The self-regulated system could cause overwork, although workers feel as if they are not controlled by the company and the call center. It is certainly not the aim of this chapter to give an opinion about that kind of problem, but this issue is becoming critical in Japanese society where many people are literally dying from overwork. My third suggestion is therefore to investigate keitai use in the workplace, to analyze Japanese society more critically, and to arrive at the real picture.
In any case, this book has made it to the top of Japanese academic research about keitai from sociological and cultural perspectives and is a guide for Japanese scholars of the humanities and social sciences. Its example provides a motivation to Japanese scholars to share their original research with scholars in foreign countries and not just to receive English social science texts and translate them into Japanese.