Keitai and Its Effects on Youth

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In Japan, most youth access the Internet primarily through keitai (mobile phone) rather than via PCs. This was a trend that started in the early years of the mobile Internet in Japan, and continues to persist today even as more Japanese adopt broadband access via PCs. Mizuko Ito (2003, para. 4) has even suggested that, "To not have a keitai is to be walking blind, disconnected from just-in-time information on where and when you are in the social networks of time and place." Such is the level of reliance Japanese youth have on keitai today. Since the late nineties when keitai started to become popular with Japanese youth, new social issues and problems have emerged. Many scholars have written on the drawbacks arising from excessive use of keitai by youth. Indeed, ever since youth adopted such mobile communications in the late 1990s, innumerable public concerns have been raised over several aspects of the use of mobile media. The most serious criticisms were directed at deai-kei (type of encounter) sites. Young females were thought to be practicing enjo kosai (teenage prostitution) and furthermore, such sites propagated undesirable activities such as slandering and fraud. Furthermore, the introduction of the mobile Internet has intensified the existing problem of bullying in Japan today. Traditional forms of bullying such as physical assault have been transformed into so-called netto ijime (cyber-bullying). Bullying has been made easier with sites such as the gakko-ura saito (school backyard sites) that can be conveniently accessed with a keitai. On top of that, Japanese youth make use of the e-mail to send messages containing defamations and vulgarities to their peers. Such practices caused psychological problems for recipients. However, I believe that it is wrong to conclude that keitai have had a wholly negative influence on youth. On the contrary, there is compelling evidence that keitai are producing new forms of community in the country and do not necessary signal the decline of interpersonal relationships as maintained by some scholars. In contrast to popular assumptions, there are researches, which show that keitai use strengthens family bonds and improves relationships among friends. Therefore, in this paper, I will argue for a more balanced understanding of the keitai phenomenon, pointing to both its positive and negative outcomes for Japanese youth.

Literature Review

The first users of the mobile phone in Japan were executives and then businessmen; however, in the late nineties, keitai became exceptionally popular among youth. This sudden upsurge in popularity drew public attention as well as the interest of researchers.

Several researchers have conducted studies that show the negative influences of keitai on Japanese youth. In the late 1990s, deai-kei sites that could be accessed via the Internet and keitai attracted public attention. These sites enabled keitai users to connect with those that they did not know. Matsuda (2010, p. 39) suggested that many parents were worried that such sites facilitated enjo kosai. Moreover, many young people who have used the sites were embroiled in other kinds of incidents and crimes.

Shariff (2008, p. 48) has suggested that the other problem, which raised public concern over the years, would be the prevalence of bullying in Japan. Bullying has been identified as a serious educational issue since two decades ago. However, as technology progresses, traditional forms of bullying such as physical assault have transformed to become netto ijime (cyber-bullying). Shariff (2008, p. 53) explains that the use of mobile phones is very popular in Japan, resulting in considerable "mobile bullying" among students. Students created websites such as the gakko-ura saito (of which can only be accessed via mobile phone) where new forms of group bullying occur. In a Reuter article, Kubota Yoko (2007) also noted that, "For many Japanese children, a cell phone is a social lifeline they can't imagine being without. For high school student Makoto, it became an instrument of mental torture that nearly drove him to suicide." The number of students like Makoto who suffer psychological damage because of their use of keitai is believed to be constantly increasing.

However, while there are many negative influences that keitai have on youth, there are also the positive sides of them. There is a popularly held notion that keitai usage promotes superficial relationships among young people. However, Hashimoto's analysis of public statistics from 1970 on contests this belief. Instead, he finds that heavy keitai usage correlates with a preference for deeper friendships (Matsuda, 2005, p. 30). Matsuda (2005, p. 30) carried out further research building on Hashimoto's work and found that young people's relationships are tending not toward superficiality but toward selectivity. This implies that young people might have large numbers of contacts in their keitai but essentially they are constantly in contact with only a select few. As a result, youth relationships tend to become closer among these few.

In addition, a common misconception is that keitai damage family bonds. According to Matsuda (2004, Keitai and family section, para. 1) there are contradictory indicators that keitai have increased contact with family members, assuming that family members do communicate with each other in the first place. Therefore, we can conclude that in certain cases, keitai actually enhance family bonds instead of damaging them.

Some scholars have a tendency to excessively emphasize on the negative outcomes of keitai and tend not to discuss the positive sides of them. More research has to be done to examine the positive aspects of keitai on Japanese youth.

Keitai and its Effects on Youth

The car phone was introduced in Japan in 1979 followed by the shoulder phone in 1985, which could be taken out of the car, and in 1987, the handheld cellular phone (keitai) was introduced. There was not much growth for this new invention until 1993 and various reasons contributed to the slow adoption. One fundamental reason would be the problem of high subscription fee. According to Matsuda (2005, pp. 22), subscription cost in 1991 was ¥50,000 yen (approximately US$450) and this amount was reduced to ¥36,000 in 1994. On top of that, subscribers were asked to pay a ¥100,000 deposit (which was done away with in 1993). Due to high costs, the users of keitai were predominantly men who needed a portable phone for their work. However, as subscription cost decreased over the years, primary users of keitai shifted from businessmen to youth. In the late 1990s, there was a sudden explosive growth in the number of youth subscribers.

Table 1 Number of Students who has Keitai

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, 2011

According to Table 1, which shows the percentage of keitai users among school students in 2009, the percentage of high school students in Japan who possesses a keitai is 96.8 per cent, an overwhelming high percentage. The percentage of junior high school students who has a keitai is 44.2 per cent while percentage of elementary school students who has a keitai is the lowest at 14.1 per cent. According to Matsuda (2010), only 15 per cent of junior high school students used keitai in 2000. This means that over the past 9 years, there was an increase of 29.2 per cent in the number of junior high school keitai users.

Table 2 Number of Students who uses the Mobile Internet (only users of Keitai, by age)

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun

In addition, Table 2 shows that the percentage of high school mobile Internet users is well above the average of 68.1%. Although the number of elementary school and junior high school students who used the mobile Internet is not as high as that of high school students, it is significant if we compare the current statistics with those of a decade ago.

As mentioned, high subscription charges was the fundamental reason for low keitai adoption. In 1999, when Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo launched the i-mode service, adoption rate was also low. This was because of the high access charges evidenced by the term pake-shi (packet-death) coined by youth at the time to refer to using keitai services beyond one's budget. However, after the introduction of flat-rate service packets by service providers in 2003, Internet use via keitai spread rapidly, especially among young people, who were no longer concerned about pake-shi (Matsuda, 2010, pp. 33).

Due to the increasing ease in obtaining keitai and keitai Internet services, the number of youth who possesses keitai increased exponentially. Eventually, like any other youth new media form, the public media voiced a range of concerns, ranging from issues about the disruption of public space, the use of keitai for enjo kosai, and the association between keitai use and crime. Recently, a new public concern has been raised over the issue of cyber-bullying (netto ijime) using keitai.

Deai-kei and Other Social Networking Sites

According to Mizuko Ito (2003), to the youth of Japan,

"To not have a keitai (cell phone) is to be walking blind, disconnected from just-in-time information on where and when you are in the social networks of time and place."

Indeed, in the twenty-first century, high school students without keitai are seen as old-fashioned because almost everybody in every high school carries one. But, what exactly do they do with the keitai? Several sites have become particularly popular with youth such as the Moba-ge Town (a site with an Table 3

abundance of free games), Maho-no I-land (a free website creation site where users can also contribute to and browse keitai novels), and personal profile sites, referred to as purofu, where users can create profiles of themselves to connect with others (the most popular site being Zenryaku Profile) (Matsuda, 2010, pp. 39). And according to Yomiuri Shimbun (2007), from approximately 2005 to 2007, the number of people using purofu has increased to several millions of people. These statistics indicate that over the years, while the number of keitai Internet users increases, we see a similar increase in crimes related to social networking sites. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (2007) shows that in 2005, the number of keitai Internet users has increased to 69.23 million people. Out of the 13 to 19-year-old surveyed, 64 per cent said that they use the keitai Internet every day. Similarly, following the increase in Internet usage, in 2006, crimes related to deai-kei has also increased to 1915 cases. 1153 victims out of the total number of 1387 victims were below the age of 18 and 97 per cent of the 1153 victims were victimized using the keitai Internet.

Source: Personal, Portable, Pedestrian, 2005, pp. 193

As seen from Table 3, the number of deai-kei sites accessible from mobile phones is much higher as compared to the PC. Furthermore, the number of cases tied to keitai is 32 times more than the number of cases tied to PCs in 2002. These figures are exceptionally significant because this implies that keitai have brought about an increase in the number of deai-kei related crimes, which might not have been that serious without keitai.

Deai-kei sites differ from normal chat rooms in that they are more specifically romantic matchmaking services. Internet deai-kei generally involve providing information on age, sex, and address with the intention of searching for compatible others. Keitai deai-kei work in the same way. Young people who have used these sites caught public attention, as they were embroiled in certain crimes and incidents and one major problem was enjo kosai. Out of the total number of 1731 arrests related to deai-kei incidents (Table 3), 813 cases were "child prostitution or child pornography" (Tomita, 2005, pp. 193). To curb enjo kosai, the Legal Plan to Address Entrapment of Children through Internet Dating Industries, otherwise known as the Act on Regulation of Net Dating Sites, was enforced in 2003. With the implementation of the above, it is no longer possible to arrange deai with a child under the age of 18 on deai-kei (Matsuda, 2010, pp. 39). Hence, websites such as the abovementioned purofu and other social networking websites such as Mixi and Gree have replaced deai-kei in acting as the medium for enjo kosai. As a result, the number of cases of enjo kosai continues to rise even with the implementation of several policies to restrain enjo kosai.

On top of teenage prostitution, deai-kei have served as a platform for other youth related crimes. According to the National Police Agency (NPA), in Tochigi Prefecture an 18-year-old boy stabbed a Saitama housewife in her home. The two had met three months before through deai-kei. After exchanging mail for a time, they met and became intimate. In court the boy claimed that he attacked at his lover's behest. The woman had become suicidal, he alleged, when she began to fear the damage resulting from public exposure of their affair (Todd and Tsuruki, 2003, pp. 37). Cases like the above have mostly been facilitated by keitai deai-kei. Indeed, with the introduction of keitai and keitai Internet services, many Japanese are able to connect with those whom they want to conveniently and they can even get to know others who share similar interests. However, without close monitoring, these services might be misused.

Netto IjimeGraph 1

Source: HakuhodoDY Media Partners i-Media Agency

According to a survey conducted in 2007 (Graph 1, 1451 interviewees, aged 15 to 49), when asked what the interviewees do during their free time, 54.0 per cent of the group aged 15 to 19 said that they send email with their keitai; however, only 38.4 per cent of the group aged 20-49 sends email during their free time. Frequent email exchanges among youth have caused another widespread public concern - cyber-bullying, also known as netto ijime. NTT DoCoMo Mobile Society Research Institute senior researcher said that a 30 minutes rule exists. This means that if the recipient of an email message does not respond within 30 minutes, it will cause friction with their peers (Yomiuri, 2011). Many students who do not follow this rule often become the targets of bullying in school.

"Even when I stopped going to school and stayed at home, my cell phone kept ringing with harassing e-mails," said Makoto, who became anorexic and rarely emerged from his room for nearly half a year after becoming the target of "cyber bullying". (Kubota, 2007)

Nineteen-year-old Makoto, who is working as a hair stylist after graduating from high school, said that his classmates posted photos of him along with insults on an Internet webpage and e-mailed him constantly telling him to die. As a result, he attempted committing suicide twice (ibid). Bullying, such as physical assault and verbal abuse have been a serious educational issue since 1984 when sixteen pupils committed suicide under suspected bullying circumstances (Shariff, 2008, pp. 48). However, after two decades, traditional forms of bullying have transformed into psychological bullying using new media forms, such as the PC Internet or keitai Internet. In Japan, parents seem to be less concerned with their children's use of keitai as compared to the PC. According to Shariff (2008, pp. 50), 80.8 per cent of junior high school keitai users and 92.9 per cent of high school keitai users do not have any restriction on their mobile phone use. Parents simply do not interfere with their children's Internet use via their keitai. As a result, the number of cyber-bullying cases continues to increase. Although a previous study by Hasegawa suggests that the worst thing that can happen to them when using the Internet was virus infection of their computers, a number of worrying cases of netto ijime have drawn the attention of the Japanese Ministry when they received an anonymous suicide note (ibid).

There were several cases of netto ijime that were found on a Japanese police website:

Case 1: In February 2007, six middle-school students girls in Kobe used their cellphones' digital cameras to photograph another naked (female) victim. They posted the photographs on a bulletin board, inviting online visitors to tank their favourite parts of her body. The Kobe Prefectural Police filed charges for engaging in obscene acts (Shariff, 2008, pp. 50)

Case 2: Two grade 9 male students send around 800 anonymous emails to a female students' cell phone in mid December 2006. These messages said 'Die! Feel sick to be with you! Ugly! ... Do not come to school!' and so on. The victim's parents found her depressed and asked the police for advice. The boys were arrested for unreasonable nuisance under prefectural measures. The prefectural measures set down a maximum of ¥500,000 (around US$5000) fines for unreasonable nuisance (ibid).

Japan has always been the leader in technological innovations. However, we observe that there is significant misuse of these innovations by youth. Netto ijime is becoming more prevalent in Japan. Also, we realize that netto ijime happens mostly through the use of the keitai. The reason is that Japan has a traditional belief that hard work is better than smart work. One who uses the computer to complete his or her tasks is seen as being lazy. Teachers in schools and parents at home do not encourage their children to use computers or the Internet to aid in their studies, unless there is a special need to do so. Therefore, keitai have become alternatives to the PC.

As mentioned, keitai adoption rates for youth are high. This has resulted in undesirable activities such as mobile bullying. School students created unofficial school websites, known as the 'gakko ura saito' where new forms of group bullying occur. In order to prevent netto ijime, several local governments in Japan, such as The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has paid an IT company 19 million yen this year to monitor gakko ura-saito bulletin boards in 2,200 public high, middle and primary schools. Typically, the company will check all messages posted on the bulletin boards for abusive and threatening remarks. Such messages are deleted and reported to the Board of Education.

Relationship with Friends & Family

In this paper, I have discussed the two main youth problems in Japan today. I have mentioned at the beginning of the paper that it is rather unfair to conclude that keitai have a wholly negative influence on Japanese youth. In fact, some scholars have suggested that the use of keitai helps in building closer relationships among family members and friends.

The public's interest in the effects of keitai on the family has grown as the age of keitai users has dropped from those in their twenties to teens. Some scholars argue that keitai push families apart as it becomes more difficult for parents to monitor their children's relationships while some other scholars provided an opposing view which recognizes that keitai can strengthen family members' existing connections (Matsuda, 2006, pp. 31). The rapid penetration of mobile phones may affect parent-child relationship (NTT DoCoMo, 2010, pp. 46); however, according to the report published in 2010 by the GSM Association and the Mobile Society Research Institute within NTT DOCOMO Inc, Japan, no correlation was found between mobile ownership and trust. Concerns that owning a mobile would negatively affect trust and weaken family relationships have no grounds (NTT DoCoMo, 2010, pp. 48). On top of that, according to Matsuda (2004), there have been many cases of family members making new forms of contact through mobile phones, such as a mother and daughter making frequent keitai contact or a grandfather and grandson who exchange keitai email. 

It has been suggested by scholars that keitai use has resulted in superficial relationships among friends. However, in response to concerns that keitai communication was leading to more superficial kinds of social relationships, Misa Matsuda (Ito, 2009) has argued that on the contrary, these forms of communication result in what she calls "selective sociality" in relationships. This means that youth choose the people whom they wish to contact and form close relationships with the select few. Research has also shown that while the most common communication partner is 'a friend currently in school', email is also used often in contacting friends not seen on a regular basis. In the interview survey of youths conducted by the Mobile Media Research Group in the summer of 1996 in the amusement and shopping districts of Tokyo and Osaka (Matsuda et al.1998), there was widespread use of several slang terms. Jimo-tomo, Chu-tomo and Ona-chu were three of them. Jimo-tomo is the short form of jimoto no tomodachi, which means a friend who stays in the same area but not necessarily studying in the same school. The terms Chu-tomo and Ona-chu are contractions of onaji chugaku ni kayotta tomodachi, which means a friend who attended the same junior high school but different schools after that. These terms were created when pagers became popular youth devices in the late 1980s. Before the introduction of pagers, even the closest friends in junior high schools found it difficult to maintain their close relationships when they entered different high schools. However, pagers allowed friends to remain contact with one another at convenient times. Through pagers, friends were also able to arrange face-to-face meetings. However, from the late 1990s, keitai have taken over the role of the pager in maintaining friendships (Matsuda, 2005, pp. 126).

Frequent use of keitai keeps alive what Misa Matsuda calls a 'full-time intimate community'. This was confirmed in a survey in Japan, which showed that those who maintain contact with their friends via keitai on a regular basis tend to spend more time together physically as well. However, unlike heavy PC Internet users who tend to avoid socializing, high intensity users of the mobile Internet users are found to be more active in interpersonal communication and socializing (Castells, 2007, pp. 92).


In the twenty-first century, it is not possible to isolate youth from the keitai-embedded Japanese society. Problems like enjo kosai and netto ijime have been thought to have emerged because of keitai use and since youth adopted keitai, they have been receiving undue attention from the public. Because keitai have been facilitating functions like e-mail and online social networking sites, they are then thought to be the root cause of the above problems. Without a doubt, keitai have played a role in facilitating enjo kosai and netto ijime, but their positive impacts on youth have been largely neglected. Online news, studies and researches report excessively on keitai addiction and other social problems related to keitai. Although there are also articles and reports, which relate to the positive sides of keitai, these sources are limited. Keitai are a relatively new form of media and they have wide potential for development. On top of building close relationships with families and friends, there are certainly other positive aspects of the handheld device. Keitai have become a social necessity in Japan, particularly among the younger set and wireless Internet is a key to this need with keitai e-mail usage approaching 100 per cent among middle school and high school keitai owners. Keitai are now tools that are used to construct and maintain youth relationships. At present, it is almost or wholly impossible to restrict the use of keitai. Therefore, instead of putting in the effort to research on the negative aspects of the cellular phone and educate the public on how one should not use keitai because of the damaging effects, I believe it would be better if researchers conduct studies on the positive aspects of keitai and work on making the keitai a better tool for communication and education for youth.