In Japan, magazines, environmental warnings, and companionship top the charts

January 14, 2012

Normally billed as a nation of gadget freaks, the Japanese are actually just starting to warm up to the iPad and other tablet-sized offerings.

According to a recent survey, half of the Japanese polled did not know what an iPad is. However, about 22% say they already own a tablet, while 10% say they definitely want to buy one soon.

So which apps are high on the charts there? As you might expect many universally popular apps such as Skype and Angry Birds are consistently top downloads. But there are other apps and trends that are a little more surprising. Here are the highlights:

Bags of Mags

As Kindle tablets have yet to hit Japan (Japanese language and writers’ copyright issues have made it a land mine) the iPad and other tablet forms are scoring well as e-readers.

For paid apps for the iPad, for example, advertising giant Dentsu has topped number one for gross sales via its “Mag-star” app, a one- stop shop for many of Japan’s favourite reads available in ipad format. 

Mag-star is effectively Japan's largest electronic magazine bookstore, handling more than 240 current titles. Dentsu is actually the world’s biggest single brand ad agency and as such is investing heavily in digital content and applications for tablets. For updates on what they are up to, watch this space.

In the meantime there are rumors in the Japanese press that Kindle may come to Japan by the end of the year but that Amazon itself will almost certainly create an an online e-book store so Japanese users can download content to their phones and tablets.

Geiger Count the Pennies

Rising high in the charts of late is an app that helps users measure just how much radiation surrounds them. Given some of the very-real hysteria that has recently existed in the country, people are more motivated than ever keep tabs on just how many rads they are being exposed to.

Geiger counters are prohibitively expensive, unfortunately. Cue a Fukushima-based firm that wished to bring a Geiger counter “to the people”. The answer is a 10,000 yen ($130 USD) probe which when plugged into an iPad or iPhone becomes a fully functioning Geiger counter when used in tandem with a special app such as Geiger Bot.

Geiger Bot is a free iOS app by ND Appsm which says that 80% of the app's downloads have occurred in Japan so far.

Shaken Not Stirred

Another mega-popular category of apps you may not see outside Japan are those related to quake warnings.

Since the terrifying tremor that hit last March, Japan is now saturated with early warning systems that are even capable of announcing themselves on Japanese TV. Specifically designed for tablets and phones are Yurekuru Kooru (Tremor-on-its-way call) by RC Solution Co. For Android users there’s the Namazu Sokuhou β (Catfish Report β).

According to Japanese myth, catfish in Tokyo bay are thought to augur coming quakes, which explains the icon for Yurekuru Kooru and the Catfish reference for Namazu Sokuhou β.

Here's how they work: Early warning “P waves” emanating from the start of an earthquake are picked up by a science institute which then beams the data/warning to warning/weather services, which then transmit the data to apps on tablets and phones. Advanced warnings can vary from a few seconds to up to a minute.

Light Petting

Experiencing some of the mentality toughest urban lifestyles on the planet, many Japanese crave stress-busting pets. But with many living alone in Japan’s cities and with strict rules about pets few can even boast daily touch-time with any type of living entity. The ever-popular virtual cat app continues to fill the gap for those desperate for a stroke even if it is only virtual.

Virtual Kitten for the iPad/iPhone reacts to touch, movement and has an augmented reality function that allows you to project your cat onto your home interior view from the iPad’s camera.

“By always being with a cat, you can become a sweeter person,”  says the  strap-line for the Japanese version.

The Feelies

Loneliness apps don’t stop at virtual kittens in Japan. Given that anybody in a serious job rarely gets home before midnight in Japan’s cities, romance suffers monumentally. The average Japanese gets to have sex less than anyone else on Earth, according to a recent survey by Durex. This is a great opportunity for app makers.

A recent top download for the Android platform, according to Androider.jp, was an app called “Beauty Touch” from Mobile One Technology. Single men are presented with a series of photos of fully clothed women and invited to “touch them.” Doing so elicits responses that that can be loosely translated as “oh, you are awful, but  I like you”.

Virtually Dating

Women, it seems, have their own ideas how virtual relations should be conducted. And given that many women are putting in the insane hours at the office that salary-men have traditionally worked,  Japanese women too are increasingly pressed for time and, as is often suggested, have little inclination to make rendezvous with the opposite sex.

If a pot noodle dinner for one makes a girl glum, she can reach for her iPad and the Kare to gohan (Dinner with My Boyfriend) app that displays a variety of virtual partners with differing looks and personalities to pick from.

Once chosen, your new other-half will welcome you back with heart-warming banter such as: “Welcome home!” or “My happiness depends on you”, while cooking a virtual meal for two before you.

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