Despite my work address being “The Internet,” my personal use cell phone actually isn’t a smartphone. Maybe it’s a result of spending several hours a day looking at websites, but to me there’s still just something that feels right about a compact phone that folds shut with an oddly satisfying snap, even if the sound provokes a Pavlovian response of laughter from any technophiles in earshot.
But like skinny ties and 8-bit video game graphics, it seems like flip phones aren’t quite ready to fade away entirely. As a matter of fact, busting out an old school flip phone in Japan just might make a man more attractive to women.
First off, we do have to acknowledge that in the short six years since Apple’s iPhone went on sale in Japan, smartphones have rocketed to widespread popularity and acceptance. Analysts calculate that there are now over 53 million smartphone service contracts in Japan, and expect the number of these high-tech communication devices to overtake their older folding brethren by the middle of the year. Nowhere is this more apparent than by a quick glance into an electronics shop, where month by month the display area for smartphones expands while the one for flip phones grows smaller.
Flip phones have even been saddled with an unfortunate nickname in Japan, garakei. Coming from the Japanese pronunciation of Galapagos and the word keitai (cell phone), garakei evokes an insular, somewhat warped development, and an overall inability to keep up with the ways of the rest of the world.
One electronics store manager in Osaka says he estimates 90 percent of his mobile phone sales are smartphones. “Almost all of our younger customers choose a smartphone, so they can use things like Line,” he explained, referring to the popular social networking service.
But while garakei sales make up just one-tenth of his sales, the manager says this is actually an increase from previous months. It seems some customers find the less-advanced models, with physical switches and buttons as opposed to a touchscreen, easier to use. Garakei service also tends to end up less expensive, with the average garakei user paying 3,674 yen (US $35.25) a month to the smartphone adopter’s 6,826 yen.
But garakei have more than thriftiness going for them, according to a recent survey of Japanese women asking what their image is of garakei guys who haven’t given up their flip phones yet.
The fifth-most common answer, accounting for eight percent of the 50 women polled, was that garakei men are “cute.” We don’t know if that’s “boyfriend material cute” or “dog gets confused by escalator cute,” but a compliment is a compliment.
▼ There are worse groups to be lumped into than this little guy’s.
Number four on the list, with 12 percent of responses, was “they take good care of the things they have,” a characteristic that’s also sometimes attributed to guys in Japan who’ve had the same car for many years. In either case, the idea is the same. Here’s a guy who values quality over novelty. He’s not going to be chasing after every new girl he sees. Once he gets serious about the relationship, his girl can trust him to stick by her until his hearing starts to go.
▼ “Dear, are you sure you don’t want a new phone?”
“Huh? A new bone? But I just got my hip replaced last week!”
Exactly 14 percent of the women polled said they see garakei guys as being earnest and honest, some of the highest praise you can give a person in Japan. This likely stems from the far fewer entertainment options for garakei. With a smartphone, you can check out websites, play exciting games, and watch full-length movies. With a garakei, you can…. well you can send email.
Actually, garakei users were said to be more likely to write more courteous, intelligible emails. This could be due to the lack of distractions, since like we said, if you’re killing time on the train with a garakei, you’ve got nothing else to do except spend it writing messages. Garakei also don’t allow for nearly as much auto correction or decorative embellishments as smartphones and services like Line do, which encourages garakei guys to carefully consider what they’re writing in their emails. It’s how Shakespeare would compose sonnets on the go.
▼ “Oh, that I were still alive today, so that I might, myself, have a garakei.”
Unfortunately, it’s not all good new for garakei users, as one in five women said that when they see a guy flip out his phone, it makes him look behind the times. But, this was countered by the number one response, in which 26 percent of the participants said that a man who still uses a garakei is a man who doesn’t let himself get pushed around by the latest fads and trends. He doesn’t need a smartphone. Why? Because he’s a veritable rock in a sea of change.
▼ There’s no Wi-Fi on the rock, anyway.