ENG | 日本語
ENG | 日本語


BORN Tokyo

6 months ago

By sangeetha m

Artists and designers the world over have always been inspired by age-old Japanese art and culture, but it is some of the country’s most recent technological innovations that have resonated with the eCommerce world and beyond.

In 1979, telecom giant Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) were the first in the world to introduce a commercial 1G mobile phone network for analog cellular phones. Emojis already appeared on competitor J-Phone’s cellphones in 1997, but the first widely used set of emojis – from the Japanese words ‘e’ for picture + ‘moji’ for character – were created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999. A part of the team working on subsidiary and wireless provider NTT Docomo’s i-mode mobile Internet platform, Kurita found inspiration in weather forecast symbols, Chinese characters, street signs and manga. i-mode users had access to services such as e-mail, sports results, weather forecasts, games, financial services, and ticket booking provided by the mobile carrier.

J-Phone also introduced features still in use today, such as downloadable ringtones or more importantly, in November 2000, ‘sha-mail’, the ability to send the photos via email or messaging on a camera phone from Sharp. In 2001, NTT Docomo was the first to set up 3G mobile networks based on W-CDMA, allowing for video conferencing and large email attachments.

With very high levels of penetration and usage, Japan’s mobile phone culture is so pervasive, it has its own terminology – keitai culture. The Japanese word for mobile phones are keitai denwa, literally, portable phone. 

The unique features of Japan’s mobile phones have resulted in users using their chip-enabled phones for mobile payments and near-field communications on public transit. The Osaifu-keitai system, whose core technology, Mobile FeliCa IC is partly owned by Sony and NTT Docomo, is the de facto method for mobile payments around Japan. Users frequently scan QR codes, another Japanese invention, this time by Toyota sister company Denso Wave, to track vehicles during manufacturing

While contactless smartcards prevailed in the last decade, Japanese consumers, even the older ones, have also been heading online in greater numbers. Rakuten, the largest eCommerce site in Japan, is also among one of the top 20 largest Internet companies in the world by revenue, serving over a billion customers in 29 countries. Set up in 2007 by Hiroshi Mikitani, its offerings include not only eCommerce but also fintech, digital content and communications.

Tokyo’s metropolis title is well-deserved – it is home to about 11% of Japan’s total population. With over 38 million residents, Greater Tokyo is today the most populous metropolitan area in the world. A far cry from the fishing village called Edo that it grew out of, Tokyo only became the Japanese capital after Emperor Meiji moved his seat to the city from Kyoto in 1868. 

Host of next year’s Summer Olympics (the first Asian city to do so twice), Tokyo is home to the newest BORN outpost. Our office is located just south of Yoyogi Park in Shibuya, one of 23 such wards that make up the city. Together with the forest where the Meiji shrine is located, Yoyogi Park is central Tokyo’s green lung – drawing thousands to jog, picnic, cosplay, or simply enjoy the cherry blossoms during hanami season. Coincidentally, NTT Docomo’s iconic Yoyogi Building, one of Tokyo’s tallest, is also located in Shibuya.

The Olympics bidding ambassador and TV host Christel Takigawa introduced to the world, in her speech, to what the Japanese called omotenashi, the concept of heartfelt hospitality that is deeply embedded in Japan’s service culture. With hallmarks such as attentiveness to and anticipating the needs of the customer, and politeness, it puts the customer first and foremost. BORN looks forward to putting the omotenashi principle into practice with its clients.


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