Jiji PressTOKYO (Jiji Press) — Old-style Japanese mobile phones, known as “garakei,” refuse to go away in Japan, although smartphones are now used throughout society.
Keitaiichiba Co., a Tokyo-based company operating some 10 shops for used garakei phones, receives letters of gratitude from customers with comments such as, “I could find a mobile phone for use by my 85-year-old mother.”
Garakei is a compound word, from the Galapagos Islands, known for the indigenous species that inhabit the isolated islands, and “keitai denwa” (mobile phone), because the handsets come with functions unique to Japan. The old-style flip phones are still in use because of their low prices and communication charges as well as easy operation.
Shops handling used garakei phones are visited by many people looking for handsets for their elderly parents, including the same models they used to have.
Keitaiichiba has been logging strong sales since it opened its first shop in November 2017. Handsets priced between ¥5,000 and less than ¥7,000 are in strong demand, according to the company.
Roughly 70 percent of buyers are men, including many businesspeople who purchase garakei phones exclusively for communication with their clients.
“About 20 [percent]to 30 percent of visitors buy handsets as gifts for their parents,” Hamakazu Awazu, president of Keitaiichiba, said.
Smartphones with a variety of advanced functions, such as access to social media and online payments, are standard items for young people of the digital generation. But older people, unfamiliar with high-technology devices, tend to prefer old-style handsets.
Low cost is a feature of garakei phones. According to research firm Mobile Marketing Data Labo, smartphone users often pay ¥7,000 to ¥9,000 to mobile phone service providers per month to cover communication charges, handset prices and other expenses, compared with ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 paid by garakei phone users.
The first generation, or 1G, of mobile phones mainly for voice calls, appeared in the second half of the 1980s, followed by digital 2G phones, and 3G handsets that can access websites. While the current 4G technology makes it possible to stream and broadcast live events, ultrahigh speed 5G services will become available from next spring.
Mobile phone service providers, in cooperation with handset makers, introduced a succession of innovative 3G sets, such as those capable of sending and receiving photos taken by built-in cameras. NTT Docomo Inc. achieved a blockbuster hit with its mobile Internet surfing service called i-mode.
But mobile providers are set to end the 3G services used by garakei phones. Docomo and KDDI Corp., a provider of services under the name of “au,” will discontinue them in the middle of the 2020s and at the end of March 2022, respectively. SoftBank Corp. plans to partially end 3G services at the end of November.
The life of garakei phone service thus appears numbered. Before the expiration of 3G services, mobile providers plan to introduce 4G-compatible “garaho” phones, or garakei-type handsets that can use smartphone apps, including popular social networking services such as the Line freeware platform for exchanging texts, images, video and audio, in a bid to encourage garakei users to shift to smartphones. Garaho is a term coined from garakei and “sumaho” (smartphone).