Hello Kitty
anti-virus firewall
There were 94.08 million Internet users as of 2009 according to the communications ministry. But took Japan a little while to get to that point. In 1999, only one person in four in Japan had a personal computer. The reason for this included the high cost of computers, the difficulty in typing in Japanese, the high cost of using the Internet, and the fact that PCs take up a lot of space in cramped Japanese homes. At that time the use of computers in offices was often very inefficient. Computers were hooked to old main frames and used out-of-date software. Sometimes only a couple were hooked up to the Internet.

Japan also lagged behind the United States and Europe in developing Internet technology. In 1999, only 20 percent of the population of Japan had access to the Internet and most used slow, expensive, dial-up services. Internet users could not get unlimited access for a monthly fee like they could in the United States. They had to pay relatively high NTT telephone usage fees for every minute they were on line. A person who used the Internet two hours a day had to pay around $100 a month The Internet is often most busy late at night when the phone rates go down and at lunch time when employees can surf the Internet at their company’s expense.

By 2003, 40 percent of the population of Japan had access to the Internet and most used fast broadband services. The expansion of the broadband market in Japan is credited to a small company called Tokyo Metallic, which forced the telecom ministry to put pressure on NTT to let other companies use its copper lines for ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) service, which provides Internet service 30 times faster than conventional dial-up service.

Against its wishes, NTT was forced to sell access to its phones lines at prices much cheaper than they had before, opening the way for a flood of ADSL start-up companies fighting for a share of the emerging market. The opening of Japan’s copper lines to ADSL also opened the market to competition for ever increasing speed and better service.

The Internet and cell phone company Softbank quickly assembled Yahoo BB and through some underhanded means quickly gained the dominant share of the Internet market. It offered broadband that was much cheaper and six times as fast as NTT. It market share was 37 percent in 2007.

Japan still lags behind in the development of computer software. In 2004, Japan imported ¥364.5 billion worth of computer software, excluding computer games — and more than ten times as much music as it exported. Imports from the United States accounted for 90 percent of the total.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Danny Choo on Japan’s Fiber Optic Internet ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Information and Communications Section ; 2010 Edition ; News Internet Initiative Japan ; Japan Analysis and Research Through Internet Information ; Internet Research Institute ; What Japan Thinks, a blog with info on demographics and statistics ;


Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive ; Japanese Newspapers and Media ; The Evolution of TV in Japan ; Media and Communications in Japan ; Media Intimidation in Japan ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Media Section ; 2010 Edition ; News

Japanese English-Language Newspapers: Daily Yomirui ; Japan Times ; Asahi Shimbun with the International Herald Tribune ; Mainichi Daily in English ; Japanese Television Stations NHK ; Nippon Television Network (NTV) ; Fuji Network ; TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) News (in Japanese) ; TV Asahi ; CNN on Japan ;

Radio Streaming Radio on DMOZ DMOZ

Internet Service in Japan

Commercial Internet service providers appeared in Japan in 1993. It is estimated that Internet users numbered 90.91 million and the Internet penetration rate was 75.3 percent in 2008. Two factors that have significantly increased the Internet user population are the start of cellular telephone access services, which occurred in December 1999, and the fact that Japan has the most inexpensive broadband access fees in the world. In 2010 77.9 percent of all households had broadband access, among which 52.2 percent had fiber-based services. Broadband is rapidly gaining ground, fueled by the growing use of fiber optics. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

WiMax wireless broadband service has been offered in Japan since February 2009 by UQ Communications. Costing about $45 a month, and requiring the purchase of a $125 card for the computer, it allows downs at up to 40 megabytes per second, compared to 7.2 Mbps for existing high-speed mobile data services.

In December 2006, Isamu Kaneko, the inventor of the Winny file-sharing system, was found guilty of violating copyright infringement laws. The system is widely use to illegally copy online music and movies. The ruling was a surprise because Kaneka had not been caught violating copyright laws directly he merely designed software that could be put to that use. The judge said Kaneko — a skilled programmer and Tokyo University graduate who released the program on the Internet for free in 2002 — “clearly knew” that Winny “was being used in violation of the law and allowed users to do so,”

Cicadas have been messing up Internet service by piercing fiber-optic cables to lay their eggs. Normally they lay eggs using their ovipositors to pierce tree branches and mistaking the cables for branches and penetrating them.

Broadband Service in Japan

In 2008, 73.4 percent of households used high-speed broadband. Of these 53.1 percent used fiber-optic networks.

Japan has the world’s fastest Internet connections. Broadband was eight to 30 times faster in Japan and it is the United States in 2007 and cheaper too. Media download speeds, in megabits per second in 2007: Japan (61); South Korea (46); Finland (21); Sweden (18); and the United States (2). High speed Internet allows doctors to diagnose disease from far away using teleconferencing for medicine and allowing more people work at home.

The DSL technology in Japan is often no different than that used in the United States but newer, shorter wire makes it much faster. The DSL s often considerable fast than cable in the United States which is viewed as the fastest American carrier.

The copper that is used to connect Japanese homes is newer and runs in shorter loops than that used in the United States and this translates to faster Internet service. Much is this is the result of Japanese living so closely together n urban areas but is also a legacy of the destruction World War II that resulted in much of the nation being rewired.

By the mid 2000s, Japan was a leader in broadband service. Broadband services has grown quickly and is now worth tens of billions of dollars. The move to broadband has dealt a severe blow to NTT. Yahoo BB and other companies grabbed up 60 percent of the market for high-speed Internet. Moreover, Internet phone business has NTT to loose a lot of its business.

In 2005, Japan was No. 1 in the world in the number of users of broadband Internet services via mobile phones. The number of mobile broadband Internet service subscribers totaled 17.79 million in Japan in 2005, followed by 12.53 million in South Korea and 10.26 million in Italy.

Internet Users in Japan

There were 94.08 million Internet users as of 2009 according to the communications ministry. In 2008, Japan ranked third in total Internet users behind China and the United States. Japanese account for 7.1 percent of the global online population.

The number of Internet users in Japan reached 90 million for the first time in 2008, 75.3 percent of the population over six, and up from 31 percent in 2001. Of these 82. 5 percent access the Internet from computers and 75 percent access it from their cell phones and 5.7 percent from game consoles.

A study in 2009 found that Japanese men in their 20s spend more time surfing the Internet than they do watching television They study found that these men spend 116 minutes accessing the Internet, five minute longer than they watch TV. Japanese on average spend 60 minuets accessing the Internet and 164 minutes watching television a day

Females between 10 and 19 spend an average of 99 minutes a day accessing the Internet with their cell phones, The national average for that is 18 minutes.

On study in the mid 2000s found that older Japanese like to surf the Internet as much as younger people. One study found that Japanese between the ages of 50 and 69 spend 2.4 hours a day online compared to 2.5 hours for all age groups and older people tend to use the web for reading the news and practical matters like making airline reservations and checking out maps rather than checking out blogs and engaging in online communication.

On the Internet in Japan, anonymity rules. Few regular users post their pictures or use their real names, with the most extreme version referred to a “net transvestites.” Some say this is the case because Internet users view the Internet as a kind of scape valve which they can use to openly express themselves while remain invisible at the same time.

Japanese Internet Cafes

Internet cafes are also havens for dubious computing. More than half of all illegal computer access in 2005 such phishing to obtain passwords and credit cards information and other personal information. was made using computers from Internet cafes.

They have also become place where people with little money can spend the night, According to a survey in 2007 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry , 5,400 people in Japan regularly spend the night in Internet or manga cafes. Half have unstable incomes from temporary dispatch jobs and have difficulty finding stable employment with a permanent addresses. The survey found that 26.5 percent of “café refugees” were in their 20s while 23.1 percent were in their 50s. Men accounted for 82.6 percent of the refugees. The average income of those in Tokyo was ¥107,000 and ¥83,000 for those in Osaka.

The survey revealed that about 60,900 people stay overnight at Internet and manga cafes. Of these 21,400 stayed at such facilities four or more nights a week with the 5,400 mentioned above qualifying as full-fledged Internet café refugees. Most of the others were office workers who missed the last train home and needed a place to crash.

People began spending the night in Internet cafes in the early 2000s. Some Internet cafes charge customer about ¥200 an hour. Others have a flat fee of ¥980, including free coffee and soft drinks. The customers that show up are typically slightly grubby men with small rucksacks.

A typical refugee in his 20s sleeps in a cubical in an Internet café that is the size of one tatami mat — about 1.6 square meters. Only thin boards and a curtain separate one cubicle from the next. When sleeping the chair is moved out of the cubicle some the occupant can sleeps with his feet under the desk and computer. Rents for a very small apartment in Tokyo are around $500 a month but often require payment of big deposit up front. .

See Living, Society, Poor

Internet Defamation and Copyrights in Japan

In December 2007, the Japanese government announced it would begin extensive regulations of all web content with Japan, including content accessed by cell phones and file-sharing sites.

There have been objections to the use of copyrighted videos, music and movies on You Tube in Japan. In 2007 YouTube removed at least 300,000 videos from the site as a concession to the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers.

Posting libelous information on online bulletin boards can constitute a crime. In 2009, a blog repeatedly accused Smiley Kikuchi, a comedian, of being a murderer. The Metropolitan Police Department sent documents on nine men and women to prosecutors on suspicion of defamation and intimidation. In March 2010, a company employee called a company running a restaurant chain a "cult group" on his website and was charged on suspicion of defamation. Ruling on the case, the Supreme Court said, "the [personal] expression of opinions on the Internet isn't necessarily regarded as less credible information" In upholding a fine imposed on the employee, the top court ruled that such online postings should be based on trustworthy data or grounds, such as those provided by the news media. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

See Otsu Bullying Case

New Law Bans Computer Viruses

In December 2010, the Justice Ministry criminalized the creation of computer viruses.

The Microsoft Excel world champion in 2010 was 18-year-old Japanese university student Mishio Sashihara, who beat out 115,000 participants and 51 finalist at a competition in Salt Lake City Utah. She first used a personal computer in the third grade of elementary school and first used Excel in the forth grade to keep track of how she spent her allowance but still didn’t have a PC of her own when she entered the competition, borrowing one from her 22-year-old brother. Sashihar is a student at Waseda University who hopes to get a job in environmental protection.

In June 2010, a bill to revise the Criminal Code and other relevant laws was passed that directly criminalizes the creation or distribution of computer viruses. While the number of cybercrimes has been rising, there had been no laws to punish the act of creating a computer virus. Before then there had a handful of cases in which people who made computer viruses were caught by police. But most of them were prosecuted on charges of destruction of property or violations of the Copyright Law.

For example, Metropolitan Police Department arrested a 27-year-old man from Osaka Prefecture in August 2010 after he allegedly wrote the "Ika-tako [squid-octopus] virus" that covered the screens of infected computers with pictures of squid and octopuses. The offense charged in that case was destruction of property by rendering the hard disks of virus-infected computers unusable. When it came to "exposure viruses," used to steal and expose data stored in a personal computer, "there was almost nothing we could do," a senior MPD official said.

The bill defines a computer virus as an "eletromagnetic record that would make a computer function against a computer user." For creating such a "record" with no legitimate reason or distributing it on the Internet, a perpetrator would be punished by up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen.

In July 2011, a Tokyo District Court on Wednesday sentenced a 28-year-old creator of the ika-tako virus — Masato Nakatsuji of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture — two years and six months in prison without suspension on charges of property destruction for creating a computer virus, spreading it on the Internet and damaging data in infected computers. According to the ruling, Nakatsuji, who is unemployed, created a data-destroying virus, dubbed ika-tako (squid-octopus), that replaced files in hard disks of infected computers with illustrations of squid and octopuses.

Japanese Man Arrested for Revenge Virus Attack

In November 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 44-year-old man from Okayama Prefecture has been arrested on suspicion of sending a computer virus to a server hosting a Web site he had been partially restricted from using, causing the site to crash, police said.It was the first time an arrest has been made for the creation and transmission of a computer virus since the Penal Code was beefed up in July. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 3, 2011]

Takashi Tomiyama apparently sent a computer virus he created on his home PC to a server hosting a Web site owned and operated by a 38-year-old man in Tochigi Prefecture on Aug. 26, rendering the site's online chat service unusable, they said. When users attempted to access the chat service screen on the site, the virus caused browser windows to rapidly pop up one after another, potentially causing the browser to crash and overwhelming the PC.

According to the Tochigi prefectural police, Tomiyama, who was tracked down through his IP address and other data, said during questioning he had been blocked from posting messages on the chat site by the site's operator. He then created the virus to attack the site. The revised Penal Code defines a computer virus as an "electromagnetic record that would make a computer function against a computer user's will." Creating a virus without a legitimate reason or distributing it over the Internet is punishable by a maximum three years in prison or a maximum fine of 500,000 yen.

Tezuka fan site

Blogs and Bloggers in Japan

In late 2006, Japanese (with 37 percent) eclipsed English (with 36 percent) as the most common language used in blog spots, according to the U.S. blog survey company Technocrat, which is remarkable in that only 1.8 percent of the worlds’ population speaks Japanese and Japanese people account for 7.1 percent of the global online population.

In March 2005 the Japanese government said that 3.55 million people had registered blogs and the “buroga” (Japanese for “blog”) was selected as one the year’s top buzzwords. By March 2006 8.68 million blogs were counted.

Japanese blogs tend to be different from those posted in the West. Many are diaries, filled with photos and seemingly trivial matters, where as ones in North America and Europe tend be journalistic or opinion-oriented. According to the Blog White paper 2007 published by RBB Press 75 percent of blogs were a diary or about daily life, 70 percent were about hobbies or personal interests, 22 percent were comments on purchased items, 21 percent were information and thoughts on one’s own work, study or research. Experts say the reason for this is that Japan has a diary culture that has existed for centuries and there is an attraction tof expressing onself anonymously.

Many Japanese blogs are made for and aimed at women. According to Internet service provider Rakuten women account for 66.2 percent of blog users and “housewife” is listed as the most common category of Rakuten bloggers. Analysts say that the reason for this includes the desire of women to express their feelings and read about the feelings of others and the fact they have more free time to make and read blogs.

Privacy and the Internet in Japan

Privacy is an important concern among Japanese Web users, where even popular bloggers, typically hide behind pseudonyms or nicknames. A popular blogger known online as Akky Akimoto, who does not reveal his real name and refuses to be photographed in public, told the New York Times, “I’d hate it if people on the street recognize me, without me knowing.”

In a survey of 2,130 Japanese mobile Web users by the Tokyo-based MMD Laboratory, 89 percent of respondents said they were reluctant to disclose their real names on the Web. Specialists say that while Facebook users in the United States tend to recreate real-life social relationships online, many Japanese use Web anonymity to express themselves, free from the pressures to fit into a conformist workplace.

Facebook in Japan

As of end of 2010, when Marc Zuckerberg was named Time magazine’s Man of The Year, few people in Japan knew who he was and relatively few Japanese used Facebook, which had over a half billion members at that time. As of early 2011 there were fewer than two million, or less than 2 percent of the country’s online population, Facebook users in Japan. That is in sharp contrast to the United States, where 60 percent of Internet users are on Facebook, according to the analytics site Socialbakers.[Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 9, 2011]

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Japanese, until now, have flocked to various well-entrenched social networking sites and game portals — like Mixi, Gree and Mobage-town. Each has more than 20 million users, and each offers its own approach to connecting people online. One trait those sites have in common is crucial to Japan’s fiercely private Internet users. The Japanese sites let members mask their identities, in distinct contrast to the real-name, oversharing hypothetical user on which Facebook’s business model is based.”

“Facebook does face a challenge in Japan,” Shigenori Suzuki, a Tokyo-based analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, told the New York Times. “There are powerful rivals, and then there’s the question of Japanese Web culture.” To begin with, each of Japan’s own social networking sites, though no longer growing at the breakneck pace of the past few years, has at least 10 times as many users as Facebook, which was introduced in Japanese in mid-2008. Mr. Zuckerberg has promised to address the Japan gap.

“Facebook has stepped up efforts to tailor its service to Japan,” Tabuchi wrote. “A Japanese version of the site, translated free by volunteers, was introduced a few years ago, but the company opened a Tokyo office in February to customize the site for Japan. (Facebook’s Japanese site, for example, allows users to display their blood types, considered an important personality trait here.)” Facebook has also hired Dentsu, Japan’s largest marketing firm, to be its domestic sales and marketing representative.

Mixi, Gree and Other Facebook-Like Sites in Japan

“Most similar to Facebook is Mixi, started in 2004,” Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times. “Users post photographs, share comments and links, and interact on community pages that have become huge forums based on themes as diverse as recipe-sharing and Michael Jackson. Mixi has more than 21.6 million members. Fast-growing Gree, which overtook Mixi this year with nearly 22.5 million registered users, has expanded by buttressing a popular game platform for mobile phones that offers free games, which users play with manga-style avatars; fancy outfits or tools for games are available for a fee. Mobage-town, which has almost 21.7 million users, offers a similar combination of avatars, games and accessories. It also lets users earn virtual gaming money by clicking on advertisers’ Web sites.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 9, 2011]

“Now, all three sites are starting to incorporate elements of Facebook — like allowing third-party developers to make apps for the sites — giving Japanese users little reason to switch.Mixi, meanwhile, has been adapting some techniques of other popular Silicon Valley start-ups. Since late 2009, for example, Mixi users have been able to send short, real-time messages with a maximum of 150 characters, akin to Twitter, the popular microblogging service.”

“Such flourishes have not kept many Japanese consumers from taking to Twitter, which is catching on here at a speed Facebook may envy. A partnership with Digital Garage, a local Internet and mobile services company, has touched off a surge in Twitter users, who numbered about 10 million in Japan in July, according to Nielsen Online NetView. But Twitter does not require users to reveal their identities.”

Potential Facebook Users and Why They Like Mixi

“Some users complain that Facebook’s Japanese-language site is awkward to use,” Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times. “People like Maiko Ueda, 26, a Mixi devotee, see little reason to switch. Ms. Ueda, who works at a stationer based in Osaka, logs into Mixi at least once a day to read other users’ “diaries,” which resemble status updates on Facebook, albeit in longer form. She uploads pictures of her American shorthair cat, and sometimes writes about her day in her own posts.[Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 9, 2011]

But most people on Mixi do not know her real name, nor have they seen what she looks like. In her five years on Mixi, she has never uploaded a photo of herself. She has heard of Facebook but says she is suspicious of “how open it seems.” “I don’t want to give it my real name,” Ueda told New York Times. “What if strangers find out who you are? Or someone from your company?” She spoke on the condition that her Mixi user name would not be revealed.

“Mixi has grown by letting users sign up with pseudonyms, and gives its subscribers fine-tune controls over who sees posts and other uploads,” Tabuchi wrote. “Mixi also lets users closely monitor who has viewed their profiles with a function known as “footprints.” In contrast, Facebook has insisted that Japanese users adhere to its real-name policy. “Facebook values real-life connections,” warns a message that pops up when a Japanese user withholds information, like the traditional characters used in names. “Please use your real name,” it reads.” “I think there has to be an event, a celebrity signing up for Facebook, or something else that teaches Japanese users that identifying themselves online isn’t scary and can be useful,” Toshihiko Michibata, an e-commerce and social media consultant in Japan, told the New York Times.

“Still, Facebook may have a powerful force on its side: Japanese consumers’ penchant for all things new,” Tabuchi wrote. “With Mixi in its seventh year, it is starting “to feel old,” said Mitsuyo Nakata, a Web designer. Its growth has slowed, as have advertising revenue and investor confidence. Profits have fallen at Mixi for three of the last four quarters, and its stock price has slumped 70 percent since its initial public offering in 2006.”

“In an interview with the Nippon Television Network in November 2010, Taro Kodama, the Facebook manager for Japan, said he was confident that users would start warming to Facebook’s real-name policy once they discovered the usefulness of finding old classmates online. “The Internet in Japan has not been so closely connected with real society,” he said. “Those other community sites can keep offering the joys of staying remote from real life.”

Friendship and Facebook-Style Social Networking in Japan

In a 2010 survey by Microsoft of social network use among 3,000 people in 11 Asia-Pacific countries and regions, respondents on average said that only about one-quarter of their friends on social networking sites were close friends. In Japan, more than half of all respondents said that not one of their acquaintances on social networks was a close friend. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 9, 2011]

Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Social network researchers B.J. Fogg and Daisuke Iizawa made a study of the process of socializing on Facebook and Mixi, Japan's leading social networking service. The researchers note that when new users begin to use either SNS (social networking service) they are prompted to create personal profiles. Right off the bat, Facebook encourages users to reveal a lot of personal information, such as religious views, sexual orientation and romantic relationship status.”[Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, March 29, 2010]

“Mixi, on the other hand, doesn't ask for anything so private, but rather simply for hobbies and personal interests, and even this kind of information is not solicited immediately. Rather, Mixi users begin by making a self-introduction. A model is actually provided by Mixi, which the researchers translate as: "Hello, my name is Mixi Tanaka. I am a college student. I would like to be a counselor to help people. I am wondering if I can communicate with your friends in Mixi. I'm looking forward to meeting you on Mixi." Later, after trust has been established with this sort of innocuous profile, users add their hobbies and interests.”

“Fogg and Iizawa further conducted an online survey of Facebook and Mixi users regarding their friends on the social networks. While the average number of SNS friends was 281 among Facebook users, it was 58 for Mixi users. Twenty-three percent of the users of the American SNS hoped to increase their friends, but only 9 percent of the Japanese SNS did. Moreover, the "ideal" average number of SNS friends for Facebook users was 317 compared to 49 for Mixi users.”


“Otaku” describes a subculture of young, male geeks who lose themselves in a hermetic world of manga comic books and video games. In the past it was a derogatory term used to describe nerdy men obsessed with computers and hung out at game arcades and in the manga section of bookstores.

Cyberpunk writer William Gibson defined otaku as a being “pathological-techno-fetishist-with-social-deficit” and later as “the information age’s embodiment of a connoisseur,” embracing what Peter Schjedahl of The New Yorker called a bizarre mix of “apocalyptic violence, saccharin cuteness (“kawaii”), resurgent nationalism, and variously perverse sex.”

Otaku when roughly translated means “hey sir.” Otaku tend to fall into three different groups based on their obsession: 1) games and computers; 2) anime and manga: and 3) pop idols. There is some overlapping between the groups.

Otaku are seen “anemic, inward-looking, vaguely autistic” who “prefer “things to people” and virtual worlds to real world. Etienne Barral, a French journalist who studied the, wrote: "They know the difference between the real and virtual worlds, but they would rather be in the virtual world."

See People, Young Adults

Train Man

Train Man — a book made from a collection of Internet chat lines messages that became a popular manga and then a popular television series and finally a popular movie — was a big deal in the mid 2000s. The story revolves around a computer otaku (nerd) who helped a beautiful girl who is harassed on a train by a drunk. He helped her file complaint at a police station and then received a gift — two Hermes teacups — with a return addresses. He then frets over whether to ask her out or not and seeks advice from a popular Internet chat line called 2-Chanel.

The book Train Man (“Densha Otoko”) is comprised of hundreds of messages from strangers to a real person, giving him advise on how to woo the girl. Train Man is the nickname the person used online and “Hermes” was the nick name of the girl. The book published by Shinchosha Publishers under the pseudonym Hitoru Nakan sold more than 1 million and spawned a whole new category of Japanese publishing.


The author of “ Train Man “ has never let his real identity be revealed. Otaku say he was not a true otaku because true otaku could care less about woman their true passion is computers and video games.

Among the other books created from one chat line conversations were “This Week My Wife Is Having an Affair” and “Reality Report: Diary of a Brutal Wife”. As for the real Train Man, he doesn’t do interviews and has refused to have his real picture published. Two months after the drunk on the train incident he and the beautiful girl confessed their love for each other and from what can be ascertained from the book lived happily ever after.


“Otaku” describes a subculture of young, male geeks who lose themselves in a hermetic world of manga comic books and video games. In the past it was a derogatory term used to describe men who were obsessed with computers and hung out at game arcades and in the manga section of bookstores and had some issues that developed out of their passions.

Cyberpunk writer William Gibson defined otaku as a being “pathological-techno-fetishist-with-social-deficit...the information age’s embodiment of a connoisseur.” They embrace what Peter Schjedahl of The New Yorker called a bizarre mix of “apocalyptic violence, saccharin cuteness (“kawaii”), resurgent nationalism, and variously perverse sex.”

Otaku when roughly translated means “hey sir.” Otaku tend to fall into three different groups based on their obsession: 1) games and computers; 2) anime and manga: and 3) pop idols. There is some overlapping between the groups.

Otaku are seen as “anemic, inward-looking, vaguely autistic.” They prefer “things to people” and virtual worlds to real worlds. Etienne Barral, a French journalist who studied them, wrote: "They know the difference between the real and virtual worlds, but they would rather be in the virtual world."

Internet Bullying in Japan

Internet bullying involving middle school and high school age youths is increasingly becoming a problem in Japan. One survey in 2008 found that a high percentage of Gakki-Ura-site: bulletin boards used by young people in Japan contained abusive messages often directed by one young person against another.

E-mail bullying is especially common with middle and high school students. Those that engage in the practice often hide their identities; send hate mail and fake message using the return e-mail of others; and tap into certain cell phone website to get the e-mail addresses of others. In one case a couple received fake message from the other saying they wanted to break up. They did break up. The messages are believed to have been sent by someone jealous of the couple’s relationship. “Bombing” refers to practice of sending up to 10,000 messages with false return e-mail addresses.

In March 2008, a 13-year-old girl hung herself in the bathroom at her middle school. She apparently was distraught after being scolding by the parents of a girl she had sent a defamatory e-mail message to. In June 2008, a 16-year-old girl hung herself at her home, leaving behind a note saying that nasty things had been written about her in her blog. One student confessed later that she wrote “Die” and “you make me sick” in the dead girl’s blog.

In October 2008, of 14-year-old middle school student in Saitama hung herself in her room. The suicide was initially attributed to scolding by her parents over test results. But in a suicide note she left behind the victim said she hated middle school and mentioned the names of people who wrote nasty things about her — like she’s “disgusting — and “I don’t want to get into a swimming pool with her” — on a public cell phone Web site.

A professor at Gunma University designed an online-bully detector that uses keywords such as “irrigating,” “disgusting” and “kill yourself” to detect possible abusive messages.

So-called underground school sites are popular with school-age children. Each is set up for use on both cell phones and personal computers. These sites are often very aggressive and used to vent frustrations, bad mouth other people and post incriminating pictures or gossips. The kids that run the sites often gain a “sense of power” from their ability to delete messages or cut off access to certain users.

Internet Addicts in Japan

Addiction to the internet and online gaming a problem. There are cases of teenagers shutting themselves in their rooms for years, playing online games around the clock. The only thing that keeps them from starving are meals given to them by their mothers. One net addict told the Yomirui Shimbun, “I dropped out of high school, and then got hooked on online games...I had a lot of issues in real life and the games were a way for me to become a different person.”

In January 2006, a 20-year-old Ibaraki woman was attacked by her 18-year-old brother after she scolded him for spending more time playing video games that studying for his university entrance exam. The beating severed a nerve in her finger. When the boy’s family tied to hide his computer he picked up an oil heater an threatened his mother with it.”


“Hikikomori” ("social withdrawal") is a serious problem in Japan. It involves people — mostly men — who have withdrawn from clubs, activities and their jobs and become isolated, rarely leaving their homes or rooms and often spending all their time sleeping, watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet. Many develop the condition is school and become maladjusted adults. Some become physically ill when people visit them. Others try to commit suicide.

Estimates on the number of hikikomori — defined as person who has been sequestered in his room for more than six months with no social life outside the home.” Estimates of their numbers varies from between 100,000 and 320,000 and between 1 million and 2 million. Some come out of their rooms occasionally for meals with their parents or a run periodically to convenience stores for food. Some have lived in their rooms for 15 years or more.

Studies have shown that the average age of hikikomori is 26.7, with some as young as 14, and 80 percent of them are male. A typical hikikomori skips school a few times and a few weeks or months later stops going to school. Next they isolate themselves in their rooms. Some sleep all day and stay up at night playing computer games and watching television and get their meals at convenience stores. When their parent try to order them out of the house they retreat further into their shells. The longer a hikikomore withdraws the less likely he will be able to re-engage into society, get a full time job or form long-term relationships.

Describing one hikikomori, one expert told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “After spending more than 10 years in a state of hikikomori, his face was like a noh mask with no expression. He wasn’t sick, but he showed no emotional feelings giving me the impression that something had died inside him.

Reasons for Hikikomori

Hikikomori is blamed on the social pressures of school and work and life in general, hard economic times, social conformity, declining birthrates, lack of male role models, school bullying, overprotective mothers, parents allowing their children live at home, difficulty finding work, and expensive housing. Many men who suffer from it simply don't want to engage in life any more.

One the primary reasons the condition exists is that Japanese have traditionally lived with their parents before they got married into to their 20s. Parents can often easily afford to take care of their grown children and often do. Another reason is they simply do not want to bother living in the competitive world. One psychologist told the New York Times they reject pressures to succeed, saying “to hell with it. I don’t like it and I don’t do well.”

In other cultures the kind of people that become hikikimori would likely join another subculture such as join a gang, become a punk, or seek out fellow nerds. Many Japanese hikikimori are very good with computers and no doubt could find good jobs as programmers or software designers. In Japan they become depressed about not fitting and choose to close their doors and avoid situations where they will potentially be humiliated.

Image Sources: 1) xorsyst blog 2) Ray Kinnane 3) Hector Garcia 4) Tezuka English

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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