Mobile Life: Japan vs. Toronto
We cover most major mobile telecom developments here in Japan and keep a close watch on the ebbs, flows, and trends of the domestic market. Broad, intrinsically related topics like social media also get plenty of our attention, and our greatest advantage is location: boots on the ground in Tokyo. However, gauging Japanese people’s experience with mobile telecoms while abroad, that’s slightly more difficult for us - but not out of reach.
Last year, through our Voluntern Program, we connected with Toronto-based contributor and long-time reader Ben Chiem. Ben is a communications coordinator for a Japan-focused NPO dedicated to helping Japanese visitors adjust to life in North America’s 4th-largest city. As it turns out, Toronto has a thriving Japanese community, and Ben is dialed in.
We were curious about the transition from Japanese to Canadian mobile phone life, and to get that inside info, Ben was able to connect with four individuals: 3 Japanese students studying abroad, and one Canadian student who spent a year studying in Japan: here’s what he found out:
Mobile Life in Japan, Mobile Life in Toronto
Over the past few years, there has been a notable increase in Japanese students studying abroad. Toronto is a popular destination due in part to the working holiday visa program, and the influx of students from Japan has created a thriving Japanese community here. Obviously, the Japanese expats are not going to go without mobile telecommunications devices!
Similar to Japan, Canada’s mobile phone market is dominated by three main companies, Rogers, Bell, and Telus, often collectively referred to as Robelus. However, there are smaller companies such as Wind Mobile and Mobilicity that only offer services in larger cities, but at a much more competitive rate. Many students choose to go with these smaller companies due to the lower cost.
As a volunteer at the Japanese Visitors Association, a non-profit organization that helps students adjust to life in Toronto, I had the chance to speak to several Japanese students about their mobile life experience in both Japan and Canada.
Daisuke is a student from Hiroshima currently studying English and Psychology in Toronto. Daisuke spent four months in Scotland before coming here. A primary reason was Canada’s lower cost of living. He also mentioned that the UK issues a very limited number of working holiday visas compared to Canada. In Japan, Daisuke used an Android phone with Docomo before switching to the iPhone with AU. He decided to go with the iPhone since he also has a MacBook Air and iPad, and can easily synchronize photos between the devices. Daisuke brought his iPhone to Canada and is still paying for the contract with AU. In Canada, Daisuke uses an Android phone on Wind Mobile, recommended to him by his agent due to the lower monthly fee. He regularly uses the Facebook app, and LINE to talk to friends and family back in Japan.
Masashi is from Nagoya and is currently studying English in Toronto. He moved to Vancouver for a few months before deciding to come back to Toronto. Masashi also had the option to study in US or Australia, but decided on Canada because the Canadian visa was easier to obtain. In Japan, Masashi used an iPhone 4 with SoftBank. In Canada, he currently uses an old Blackberry with Wind Mobile, which is the cheapest he found from researching online. Masashi has never seen a Blackberry in Japan. He prefers the iPhone for the number of apps available and also uses LINE on his iPhone to talk to friends and family back home.
Megumi is from Kobe and is currently studying dog training in Toronto. Before coming to Canada, Megumi used a non-smartphone or a “paka paka” phone with Docomo. She brought her old phone to Toronto but only to use as a clock and address book. She currently uses a rental Android phone with Telus as she wasn’t sure if she can bring the phone back to Japan. While she was in Canada, Docomo launched the iPhone, and she’s very excited to try the iPhone when she goes back to Japan. Megumi was very surprised at the free Wifi availability at some stores in Canada, as this is not very common in Japan. She was also surprised she could send text messages to friends on different carriers.
Hoson is a Canadian student at University of Toronto studying Geology and East Asian Studies. She became interested in Japanese culture during middle school when she saw a documentary on Japanese festivals. She spent last year studying in Yokohama before returning to Toronto to finish her final year. Hoson brought her unlocked Android phone to Japan but couldn’t get just a SIM card to use with her phone. She decided to buy another Android phone from AU as she likes the customizability of Android. She uses many messaging apps including LINE and WhatsApp, and while in Japan, she also used an app to look up the train schedule. Hoson is applying for graduate school and wants to research glass formation in Japan. She hopes she can use her AU phone the next time she visits Japan.
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So, a little snapshot of how it goes both leaving Japan and coming in. Aside from the wi-fi, the Japanese students don’t seem terribly impressed or disappointed by their Canadian mobile experience, but we do know that Japanese expect less-advanced networks when living abroad - which is usually not the case. Ironically, those coming into into Japan often expect a high-tech mobile telecom utopia, and they’re often quite surprised to learn how late Japan was to the smartphone game, and that, from day one, the dominant force in Japan’s smartphone market has been Designed in California. Assembled in China.
Lastly, we found it interesting, but not at all surprising, that none of these students mentioned Japan’s once dominant social networking service mixi; click through - we’ve got a few ideas why that might be.
Big thanks to Ben Chiem for doing the fieldwork in Toronto. Those interested in learning more about Ben’s organization, JAVA Toronto, or the Toronto Japan Foundation, can click on those words right before these words.