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News: Phone Rage in Japan - Have We Reached Saturation Point?


I always thought the best way to get a Japanese person to resort to direct physical action was to try and walk into their house with your shoes on.

Turns out there’s another way to get the blood boiling; take someone to task for bumping into you because they were too busy fawning over a mobile device.

On Saturday, Japan Today reported on the arrest of a 30-year-old man suspected of assaulting a 72-year-old man who had had a stern word with him for using his smartphone while walking. The 30-year-old in question is said to have had a few drinks and was heading home when the incident occurred near Ueno Station in Tokyo. The victim, after getting angry at the suspect for nearly bumping into him, was struck in the face, knocked down, and as of Saturday was in critical condition due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding of an area surrounding the brain).  

This is a sorry tale indeed.  

But this has been coming hasn’t it? Phone rage! I’ve suspected for some time now that Japan’s saturation point for people using smartphones was on the horizon. Maybe that’s where we’re at.  

For a long time there seems to have been an unwritten competition amongst foreigners in Japan to see who can snap the most locals at one time, playing on their smartphones whilst waiting for a train, usually followed by some pithy posting on social media (the nuance being something along the lines of, Look at these zombies on their mobile devices and how depressing it is. Losers!, neglecting the irony that said image was probably taken by someone with a smartphone, and too much time on their hands).

This has been followed by a new generation of signage in Japan’s subway stations and on train platforms warning people of the dangers of getting too ensconced in whatever is emanating from their smartphone, lest they end up being the cause of a delayed train.

Seems like something one wouldn’t need to be told, but we’re being told nonetheless. Last week when we reported on the opening of Tokyu Plaza Ginza we spent the first few minutes of Tokyo’s newest shopping experience being barked at by guards about the dangers of moving in a queue while looking at a smartphone (there were no warnings about the psychological dangers of having to queue up to get into a shopping mall).

But the incident in Ueno might be setting a new and worrying precedent. How many times have I wanted to have a go at someone for getting in my way because they were too busy pissing about on their phone? (And the other way round, I should add). How many times have I given the death stare to that person who on an űber packed train still insists on forging out a bit of space so that they can complete their inane game of arranging psychedelic fruit into nice lines? Ultimately though, I’ve yet to take any verbal action beyond an exacerbated sigh, or an utterance under my breath when I finally got the chance to overtake.  

And I’m less likely to now, for as Saturday’s incident may be about to show, the smartphone users have revealed a potential to fight back. This is worrying.

When I was a kid/youth back home, messing about on the neighborhood streets, you used to be scared of being caught getting up to no good by an adult neighbour or a friend’s dad. You’d scatter like pigeons at the sight, and hope to God that you weren’t in for a stern word when you got back to the house. These days, the tables have turned. Now it’s the adults who are scared of the youths, reluctant to set them straight lest they end up in hospital or on the news.  

Is this the kind of relationship we’re going to have with smartphone users in Japan?  


How about you? Would you admonish a smartphone user who gets in your way, or would you just give them a wide berth?

Don’t hold back now. Drop your comments (but not your phones) in the comments below.


Twitter: City_Cost_Japan

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Image: Andrew Mager Flickr License 

Source: Japan Today


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