At first, it was sensational. Then it became a trend. Now we’ve all had enough. Someone has been there, and someone else has done that.
This summer, Japan witnessed a great number of youngsters exercising their freedom of expression on the web. In most cases, their “artwork” — or photos — shows them posing inside various equipment or playing with food at their restaurant or store at which they worked part-time.
The picture below was the first to make headline news. It shows a young man inside an ice cream freezer at one of Lawson’s convenience stores in Kamobe, Kochi. The photo was originally uploaded on his friend’s Facebook page on June 18th. Later we learned that he was the son of the store owner.
Lawson was quick to react, not so much to discipline their young employee, but to protect their brand image. They issued a statement on their website, one month later on July 15th, saying that they had decided to terminate the franchise contract with the owner and to close the store “indefinitely” — until they find a new owner.
Following the above post, a number of similar photos went viral on the web, some of which made their way onto TV news.
There was a photo of a Burger King employee lying on a pile of burger buns on the floor. An employee at Marugen the ramen chain restaurant, posted a picture of herself holding frozen sausage in her teeth, winking at the camera. A young guy working at Hotto Motto, one of the biggest bento chains, got himself inside a kitchen fridge presumably trying to take a little nap during his break.
And there was this guy, a Pizza Hut employee who tried a little harder to entertain his fellow workers and some other millions of potential crowd on the web.
In his tweet, he says that it is his “privilege” as an employee at a pizza store who gets to play with pizza dough. The photo was originally taken and uploaded back in May, and the parent company, KFC Japan, posted an apology on its website on August 19th, stating that they would “take severe action” against him. The three months “gap” we can see here tells that he was not necessarily a copycat. When we look at this trend, we should keep in mind that some photos were taken before the Lawson news came out. The “viral” part has a lot more to do with millions of netizens in Japan, trying later to dig out the undiscovered photos of “inappropriate” pranks exposed on the web.
Although many of the affected companies have quickly issued an official apology on their respective websites and stated that they would take “severe action” against the involved parties, some of them completely missed the point. For example, Burger King and KFC Japan stated that the food in the photos was to be disposed of and was never served to customers — as if such excuse could make them less guilty of the act. Hygiene, after all, is not the only issue here, but disrespect. On the other hand, Bronco Billy, a steak chain, went so far as to shut down the store after a photo was discovered of an employee playing inside the kitchen fridge.
Finally, on August 26th, two 19-year-old fishermen in Kushiro, Hokkaido, were arrested for damaging a police car. The photo was posted the day before on August 25th, and they probably never imagined that one Twitter photo could turn into a criminal record in a matter of hours.
Thus (hopefully) concludes the summer trend of 2013. Facebook or Twitter has once again proven itself to be a great tool, allowing us to see what could be happening behind the counter. In fact, there is nothing new about the prank itself. We just didn’t have any visual testimony till now.
Forget the retro charms of Instagram, transform the photos taken with your phone into a personal comic book strip instead!
Manga Camera is an phone app that converts your regular image into a frame from a manga comic, complete with onomatopoeic phrases to give an extra edge to the latest portrait of your cat or loved one.
The iPhone app took the country by storm last year and received around 3 million downloads in its initial month of release, 1 million in the first week alone.
Japan is the home of manga (and Purikura photo booths), of course, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone but the relatively simple app really tapped into an as-then hungry niche. This is expanding, though, with a rival “Otaku Camera” app now available as well.
The life of the average salaryman could no doubt do with a bit of spicing up and pictures of your colleagues converted into comic book characters is certainly one way to make the twelve-hour stint at the office go faster.
The brainchild of Shunsuke Funaki, Manga Camera received some welcome publicity overseas when it was first released (yes, I know we’re late to the party!) and is still going strong (it released an Android version in December). Downloads are not just from Japanese users either. Taiwanese and Koreans also apparently rank high.
The problem is how to make this kind of app not just a quick blink-and-it’s-gone hit. Sure, there are 32 kinds of manga frames to choose from but can this genre of app keep going? The development time was apparently just under a month — but can the popularity of the app last any longer?
SNS functionality is a must, for sure, as is targeting other Asian regions, especially China.
Other photo-editing local apps on the market that have done a good job with this include Snapeee, which brings the uber-kawaii feminine touches of Purikura to your phone.
There is also miil, an app especially for sharing images of food. The Japanese are obsessed with taking photos of their meals and then uploading them to blogs and social media. Can this more esoteric kind of app, which has also passed local user milestones in the millions, grow in other regions as well? The jury’s out for now.
Pairy was announced in June, a special iPhone and Android app just for a couple to communicate between themselves.
Pairy is not a pioneer in a global sense but it might provide solutions to local digital dilemmas.
But privacy is more important to Japanese web users than Americans and Europeans (sometimes a Google search for a Japanese person will literally bring up nothing). This isn’t just for saccharine and schmaltzy couples: Pairy will mean that you can chat on Facebook and tweet just between yourselves (like the app Path), which is very important for Japanese.
Forgetful men will like that you can have the app notify you about your anniversary and for the sleazier amongst you, you can even chronicle those “milestones” you have reached with your partner (first kiss etc) in a “couple timeline”.
The developers have taken out any potentially negative or problem-causing issues too, such as giveaways like your present location (after all, knowing where your lover is might create all sorts of relationship issues!). There is also a (tongue-in-cheek?) warning at the bottom of their website advising that this is not a service for “monitoring or restricting” your boyfriend or girlfriend. People prone to jealous paranoia will likely find it frustrating.
The focus is on chatting, writing a mutual blog, sharing links and getting information about dates and places to go (restaurants etc) tailored to the particular couple.
There is also a digital “stamps” feature where you can add cute illustrations to express yourself like emoticons (this is surely how they make their money?). In this respect the user interface and interaction retains a very Japanese look.
Line has also seen success with this kind of “virtual sticker shop” feature. A free Japanese phone call and messaging app, it was launched after the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami and currently has some 60 million users worldwide.
Japanese users took to Facebook very slowly because of the concerns over privacy so local developers have found ways to exploit the best things about the platform, while also respecting vernacular worries. According to research by the University of Tokyo’s graduate school in the summer, some 56% of users across the generations are now using some kind of SNS, a 23% jump from 2010 levels. Though it hasn’t been plain sailing for all platforms, that is not to say there isn’t a strong craving for digital communication.
Another reason for Facebook’s initially turgid growth was that Mixi had made such a success out of the “diary” SNS genre. This is still popular, it seems, as witnessed by the launch very recently of wakka (pictured above), a diary app from Cyber Agent for sharing your mini blog entries with your friends.