Looking forward from a point in time: not too long ago, people used to think of that the Japanese had extremely advanced and sophisticated mobile device networks and habits, but not as advanced internet tools e.g. they paid their bills through their keitai and chatted with others using BBSes.
Looking backwards from a point in future: Now that it’s clear that what we previously thought of as “online” and “mobile” worlds are converging however, those looking back at this period in future (researchers, analysts, academics?) might see that the Japanese experience simply evolved differently.
Lisa Katayama sketches in a Wired article:
The Internet didn’t take off in Japan the way it did in the US. It was strictly a place for geeks and otaku until relatively recently. The key reasons were obvious: Most sites were in English, and typing in Japanese on a computer keyboard was arduous and counterintuitive. (Even today, more people in Japan access the Web via their cell phones rather than on their home or work computers.)
Tokyo had its own mini-dotcom movement called Bit Valley in the late ’90s, and a few of those boom-era companies remain today, including popular Web portals like Rakuten and LiveDoor. But there’s a generally accepted sense that the country has lagged behind the West in developing its own innovative companies focused on the Web. Tellingly, some tech companies that vanished entirely from the US when the bubble burst, such as Infoseek, still exist in Japan.
This parallels a bit Chinese writing was first absorbed into Japan, innovated on to suit local conditions — hiragana, katakana — but had certain elements that stagnated, such as kanji writing. Visually, some characters in Japanese are still written in ways that aren’t used any more. Practically, meanings have changed too.