"Pokemon Go will be the end of Japan!" screams the headline in Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu (October). Okay, so Nintendo's share prices briefly shot up by 80% and the 2,900 McDonald's outlets where the cute characters could be hunted reported their year-on-year revenues up by 26.6%. Big deal.
Soon after the game's July 22 release in Japan, throngs of people staring at their smartphones could be seen flocking to such parks as Shinjuku Gyoen and Setagaya Koen in Tokyo and Tsuruma Koen in Nagoya's Showa Ward, to hunt "rare" Pokemon.
Such is the way of overnight fads that their manic appeal began tapering off after just one week. Even during that brief duration, however, some 100 motor vehicle and bicycle accidents (with two fatalities) attributed to Pokemon Go were reported nationwide.
It goes without saying that Pokemon Go requires players to engage in the act of so-called "aruki sumaho" (walking while looking at or operating a smartphone). It's dangerous. In a survey of actual users undertaken by Tsukuba University, 42% of mothers accompanying small children said they had the experience of bumping into someone while texting, and 47% of people over age 70 said they had been jostled by someone using a phone. The same experience was stated by 50% of wheelchair-bound individuals questioned in the survey.
Actually hardly a day goes by that the news doesn't report someone hospitalized after accidentally colliding with a glass window or disregarding the warning at a rail crossing and getting pulverized by a passing train.
Another dismaying statistic reported by railway companies was that over 20% of train delays in the Tokyo metropolitan area could be attributed to passengers at stations dropping their mobiles onto the tracks.
Unlike the "gara-kei," the old-style mobile phones with a hinge to fold it shut, the larger screens on smartphones display much more information, which is distracting to the point that while looking at the screen, the brain only perceives objects 20 to 30 centimeters away.
Two years ago, NTT DoCoMo conducted a computerized simulation at the famous "scramble" pedestrian crossing in front of JR Shibuya station. It hypothesized that if 1,500 people were to attempt to cross the intersection while focused on their smartphones, only about one-third (547) would make it across completely unscathed, while 446 would bump into another person and 103 would be knocked off their feet. That, the writer suggests with a touch of hyperbole, is as reckless as a drunk racing through city streets while driving a Ferrari at 300 kilometers per hour.
What about good manners and common sense? The sad fact is, these devices -- whether used by gamers, texters, or whatever else they do with their phones -- are addictive. Smartphone users can't control themselves. In Japan, people addicted to the internet from some time ago were given the sobriquet "netto-haijin" (internet human wrecks). And smartphone addicts are hooked to their devices just as hopelessly as are the people addicted to alcohol. Or nicotine. Or gambling.
What can you call those so addicted to their Pokemon Go game that they poke at the screens of their smartphone even on congested station platforms during the rush hour, except what they are -- world-class junkies?
It's futile, the writer believes, to merely criticize such behavior as a lapse of good public manners or common sense. Stimulant addicts aren't nagged to quit the drug because it's bad for them -- they're arrested and thrown in jail. That's the penalty they pay for being unable to control themselves. And unless someone does something, soon, the numbers of Pokemon players, Line texters and the rest are going to overwhelm the system, wrecking whatever's still left to be ruined in hapless Japan.
What to do then? Start slapping the mindless zombies who use their smartphones in public with fines, the way Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward now does with public smokers. The ward initially identified nine areas of heavy use, including Yurakucho, Kanda and Akihabara, and 12 years ago began levying fines of 2,000 yen on pedestrians who walk while puffing on cigarettes.
Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu thinks the imposing of similar penalties will work to discourage those unable to refrain from walking about while immersed in their smartphones on crowded sidewalks and at intersections. Let them be recognized as the public nuisances they are, and let them pay the price for their foolhardy addiction with lightened wallets -- and even criminal records.© Japan Today