Reflections on Japan: Power User Nation

Japan is the nation of power users. Yes, power users exist globally but in no country other than Japan do they represent the mainstream.

I had this realization while sitting on the toilet in Tokyo. I stared down at the advanced features of the toilet’s control panel and pondered, “Why don’t we have these at home?” My theory: They are power user toilets. They are far too complicated for most people outside of Japan (hell, they even have their own wikipedia page). Most of the world likes their toilets simple — one button or lever; one action: on. There isn’t even an off button. And yet in Japan these are the control panels. The one on the left has 38 buttons.

And then I realized this is true for almost everything in Japan. Everything is made forpower users. And the power users are the mainstream.

Some quick examples from a few days in Tokyo.

Karaoke: Advanced Scoring

Graphs, radar charts and metrics. 3-decimal place precision.

Taxi Cab GPS compared to Google Maps

Google Maps is available but all taxi drivers use the device to the right. Compare the data density.

The Subway

Granted, the fact that I can’t read in Japanese contributes to this but I think Tokyo’s is a wee bit more dense.

The Stationary Store

First, they still have them in Japan. They’re amazing. The middle two images are from a floor dedicated to paper. The last is a floor dedicated to stationary. There is also a floor dedicated to paper agendas (calendars!) — it was packed.

Same store: The Christmas Card Floor

The most amazing Christmas cards I’ve ever seen.

The Chopstick Store

Tourists were not the target audience…

The Japanese attention and relish in detail is fantastic but it also is a big problem for Japan: the products are just too complicated for most non-Japanese. They can’t internationalize. I think this is one of the main reasons why despite having the smartphone 10 years before Apple, Japan couldn’t spread it internationally. Wherefore the dream of the MiniDisc?

I think this also explains why Japan was good at consumer electronics in the 80s and 90s. Most devices back then were still power user tools. They required reading manuals and education. People had more patience. Today, most people prefer the immediately obvious to the rewardingly complicated.

Similarly, Japan still dominates in industrial applications, sectors where the main customers are power users that appreciate thoroughness and flexibility.

I don’t know enough about Japan to offer why this came to be. Is it the language? The high levels of education? The religion? The innate love for detail and perfection? If you have any more insights, please share below.

Thoughts? Comments? On Twitter: @gascasf
Photos are originals unless stated otherwise.

San Francisco | @gasca on Twitter

San Francisco | @gasca on Twitter