Although Japan has now fallen behind in the global market of producing phones and phone components, many elements of cell phone culture that we take for granted in the west actually first appeared in Japan. Mobile phones, known as “keitai denwa” or just “keitai” in Japan, became ubiquitous in the Land of the Rising Sun years before they became a global phenomenon. Here are four ways in which Japan was a trendsetter in keitai culture.

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Japan Set the Mobile Games Trend

Today, people in Japan and all over the world regularly play games on their phones, from games specifically designed for mobile to online games like first-person shooters, MMORPGs, and casino スロットゲーム (slot games). But mobile games were massively popular in Japan back in the early 2000s, long before they found their way to the rest of the world. Back then, people in the west were only just starting to discover the mobile game Snake. By 2003 in Japan, a broad range of mobile games was available on Japanese cell phones, including virtual pet titles, puzzle games, and 3D games, with graphics that were just as high quality as PlayStation games. Namco was behind some of the top titles, with games like Ridge Racer. It was not long before Namco began to export its mobile games to other parts of the world.

Japan Created Camera Phone Culture

A camera is now an integral element of any phone, but camera phones did not become the norm in the west until the late 2000s. But the very first commercial camera phone was released in Japan in May 1999: the Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210. A year later, the first mass-market camera phone was released. The J-SH04 could not only take photos. It could also send the images via email or messaging, which is the primary reason why the phone became such a success and paved the way for global camera phone culture.

Japan Started Selfie Culture

Without the camera phone, the selfie age would not exist. Japan did not only set the trend for taking photographs with phones. The selfie also first emerged in Japan. Its origins come from the Japanese kawaii culture, which involves beautifying self-representations in photographic form. Self-photography was already a major preoccupation in Japanese teenagers, especially schoolgirls, in the 1990s. They would print out photos at sticker booths and paste them into kawaii albums. The activity was known as purikura, which is Japanese for “print club.” To capitalize on purikura, mobile phone makers in Japan started including front-facing cameras on phones to facilitate selfie photos. The first phone to feature such a camera was 1999’s Kyocera Visual Phone VP-210.

Emojis Started Life in Japan

Most everyone uses emojis today. But did you know they have their origins in Japanese mobile phones? Emojis were popular on Japanese phones back in 1997, but they did not become a worldwide phenomenon until they were added to various systems in the 2010s. The first known Japanese phone to feature emojis was the SkyWalker DP-211SW, manufactured by J-Phone. It supported a set of ninety emojis. Although the high price of the phone meant it did not take off commercially, it was not long before J-Phone became Vodafone Japan, and the company expanded its set of emojis for its early iPhones. The most influential set of emojis was created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999. The 176 cellular emojis were inspired by Japanese manga, in which characters are often depicted with symbolic representations known as manpu. For example, a bead of sweat could represent nervousness. Today, there are thousands of emojis available.

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