Egalitarian Canada Kinder to Consumers Than Japan?
“How come Canadians don’t have GPS (global positioning system) in their cars?” This innocent question from a Japanese college student on a study program, who recently stayed with us, got me thinking. As such car navigation devices are common in Japan, it surprised him that they were not in general use here. It was during a visit several years ago that my cousins drove me and my family around Tokyo using GPS to find the best routes.
So I checked with auto dealership contacts, and found out that in Canada such on-board devices were still expensive, anywhere from simple $500 units to integrated systems costing thousands. Also, the imported technology, being three or four years behind what’s available in Japan, was not user-friendly enough. Too many buttons to push and indicators to look at while driving. When I checked with friends and acquaintances, they told me that they were so familiar with the streets and routes in and around Vancouver that they just didn’t need a GPS. Only about 5% to 10% of new car buyers opt for an onboard electronics package including GPS, according to one source. In contrast, the aforementioned student said about one-half of Japanese drivers, including himself, had these devices in their cars.
Addresses in Japan’s cities, towns and villages are always given in terms of districts and sub-districts, and there are no street directories like we have here. So the greater demand for these devices is understandable, though apparently about one-half don’t seem to need it. I suspect there might be another factor behind the spread of car navigation devices in Japan—greater pressure for social conformity. In Canada and other less “face conscious” western societies, consumers can decide what to buy, without worrying too much about “what the neighbors would say” or “being behind the latest trends.” In Japan, if most of one’s friends and peers had it and one didn’t, one might worry about being left out of a common subject of interest, or worse, being considered too stingy to buy one.
Another amenity, probably more widespread in Japan than anywhere else, is—even as I strive to uphold the decorum of our esteemed community magazine—the “wosshuretto,” i.e. those toilets that wash you with jets of warm water when you’re done. I checked with my usual on-line encyclopedia and learned two things. “Washlet” developed and marketed by TOTO of Japan is defined as “an innovative toilet seat that features an integrated bidet.” Also, the hi-tech toilet is not mentioned at all in a comprehensive report on the history of toilets in different parts of the world..It has evidently not really caught on with consumers outside Japan. According to the aforementioned student, probably 90% of homes and businesses in Japan have them. It has been a standard fixture for many years.
We recently replaced our family car which used to be a luxury 2003 model Japanese SUV we bought in 2005, almost on a whim. We had some trade-in credit from our previous car, and the salesman somehow sweet-talked us into believing we “deserved” such a luxury model. It was an unwise decision, as the model turned out to be a gas guzzler. All that power under the hood sure was great for rapid acceleration, but how could I have overlooked the capacity of the 3.5 liter V6 cylinder engine? But we didn’t, so we had to put up with low gas mileage for five years, until we finally traded it in recently for a smaller SUV from the same automaker, a 2009 model that eats about 30% less gas. We’ve been very happy with its gas-mileage.
They say that after the family home, cars are the biggest purchases people make in their lives. Quite apart from the dollars and cents of gas-mileage, I do feel that driving around that luxury SUV, targeted for people with much higher income than us, has taught me a thing or two about my priorities in lifestyle.
At first, one gets a kick out of the quick acceleration that can leave smaller cars behind when the traffic signal turns green. One is also thrilled by the superior riding comfort, reminiscent of the way those big American cars of the 1950s felt so smooth as they glided over Tokyo’s still-bumpy streets back then. My parents had American friends who occasionally gave us rides.
But driving around Vancouver of the 21st century, such thrills dissipate pretty quickly and one gets accustomed quickly to driving around in a car that’s a little bigger and faster than average. The power doesn’t make much difference especially in city streets, and the bigger girth turns out to be something of a hindrance when negotiating one’s way in and out of tight parking spaces. And that gas consumption! It felt like one was buying gas every 2 or 3 days, and we don’t even drive that much.
For an old timer still more used to windows one had to roll up and down manually, the array of electrically controlled mechanisms from seat position and height adjustments, seat warmers, and mirrors and the top quality audio system with 6 disc CD player turned out to be a novelty, but not a must. How many CDs can one listen to during a 30-minute ride? How often does one adjust seats? All these little amenities that people who live in big houses with electronic controls and indoor swimming pools might take for granted were in fact superfluous as far as our lifestyle was concerned.
If I lived in Japan and drove, I might use a GPS, car navigation device. As far as wosshuretto is concerned, it might take some getting used to. As a consumer, though, I’m obstinate enough to prefer deciding for myself what I need to or want to buy next, without having to worry about “what my friends and neighbors might think.” This I consider to be one of the big advantages of living in egalitarian Canada.