As Japan prepares for the end of Heisei and the beginning of the new Reiwa Era, I happened to see that Yahoo! Japan finally decided to pull the plug on the local version of GeoCities, one of the first platforms that allowed inexperienced users to publish content to the web. Yahoo! Japan, a separate and generally more competent company from the U.S. Yahoo! — which walked away from an offer to buy a fledgeling Google for $1 million then failed to sell itself to Microsoft for $44 billion — is headed by Japan’s richest businessman, Son Masayoshi, who has done a credible job of moving his company into the future. But all too often, other companies in Japan seem impossibly backwards when it comes to keeping up with the fast pace of technology. Why is Japan so slow to change?
There seem to be dozens of examples of how Japan is slow to embrace change. Japanese websites (and KanColle!) that are still tied to Adobe Flash, and which still haven’t embraced the “mobile first” design principles required in 2019. That whatever web or app development framework is the current hotness around the world, Japanese companies will find a way to be one or two generations behind. The fact that J-List still receives faxes from our toy distributors regularly.
It wasn’t always this way. I remember when Japan was viewed as a super high-tech country, and you went to Akihabara to find impossibly small computers (for the time) rather than to buy naughty doujinshi and eat Seishun Buta Yaro ramen. Japan had the smallest and coolest PCs, and even had a semi-cool mobile platform that allowed information to be read normally on those tiny screens. But while Japanese companies do well when competing in the “Galapagos Islands” that are Japan, they were ill-suited to going head-to-head against Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft in a world where being behind your competitors by even a year was instant death. Other factors, like a lack of cutting edge tech skills by workers and the conservatism of middle-aged executives, desperate to avoid taking risks with their companies that could endanger their own pensions, also contribute to the problem.
Is it such a bad thing that Japan is slow to change? It’s certainly doesn’t seem to be for people living here, where pretty much anyone can find employment if they want it. Japan has a pretty good balance between embracing new technological change and keeping things inefficient on purpose, to promote a happier society overall. As one Twitter responder said, “I love [that Japan is slow to change.] I feel like most of the world changes too quickly, but then I can look over at Japan and think, ‘ah, there’s good ol’ Japan.'”
What do you think? Why is Japan slow to change? Give us your thoughts on Twitter!
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