Galapagos Syndrome: It Makes Japan Unique Country

What kind of image do you have on Japanese culture? One common answer must be “Unique”. But why do you think so? Is it because of Anime? Vidoe Game? Fashion? Yes, they have unique styles. But all are products of “Galapagos Syndrome”.

What is Galapagos Syndrome?

Galapagos Syndrom is a term describing the currently isolated Japanese industries and businesses from the world. The word’s origin is Galapagos Island, which is about 1000km from South America, completely isolated from other ecosystems. Because of the environment, creatures in Galapagos Island evolved uniquely with no external influences. In fact, the situation in Japan resembles it a lot.Galapagos Island is also famous for that Charles Darwin got inspiration about “On the Origin of Species”.

When exactly the word “Galapagos Syndrome” was used is not sure, but it seems to have been widely used since the late 2000s. In Japan, people know this term because of the word “ガラケー (Garake)” which is a coined word of “Galapagos” and “ケータイ (keitai) = mobile”.

mobile phones

Current Situation in Japan

Until a couple of decades ago, Japan was definitely one of the most advanced countries in technology. But now, people have a doubt, and I think you too. Do you use any Japanese electronics? I love watching videos introducing cool and innovative brand-new gadgets on YouTube. But hardly ever do Japanese products show up on their videos. Does it mean the Japanese products have fallen completely even inside Japan? No, they haven’t.

For instance, when you look at Apple Music’s top 100 songs in Japan, you will find very few foreign songs ranked in the list. (Now I quickly checked it, only two foreign songs* were in the list apart from K-POP.) But what is the reason behind it?

*Bad Guy by Billie Eilish at 77th and Rain On Me by Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga at 96th

Causes Of Galapagos Syndrome

One human race in island

Obviously, Japanese people have fewer opportunities to interact with other cultures as they all are in one country, and the foreign people’s ratio is still low. This type of country tends to be somewhat exclusive to the other countries with a mixture of different cultures.

Structure of Japanese industry

In many industries in Japan, they have their own product specifications or regulations instead of the global standard. With this method, they were able to exclude foreign companies from the Japanese market.

Furthermore, to maximize the revenue, what they used to do was to create products with 1. High quality 2. High Price 3. Multifunctions. As a result, Japan succeeded in setting a higher average profit per customer and received a reputation for high quality, but built a barrier between other countries too. The Japanese still believe in “Made in Japan” brand a lot, and there are still quite a lot of people who don’t buy any products made in other Asian countries. 

Cost for the growth

It caused another problem as a side effect. After reaching a certain level, Japanese companies that hit their limit couldn’t expand the range of customers anymore. Unlike Toyota, high-quality products but high-price with its specifications were only for the limited number of people outside Japan. As the quality of other countries’ products increases, it became difficult for Japanese companies to push their selling points. As long as Japan had exponential economic growth relying on domestic demand, it was OK to focus on only selling to Japanese people. But the birth rate & GDP growth rate started declining, and it became tough for those companies to shift from the previous ways to the new ones.

I checked several websites of Japanese laptop makers, and their current selling points are all like “Guarantee” “Customer Service by native Japanese” “Made in Japan” emphasizing a sense of security. Sounds attractive enough? Hmm, I can’t say it does.

Can Japan make a revolution again?

Some people still believe that Japan is No 1. I personally have a doubt but also have a positive view on making Japan great again. (I’m not a Republican, by the way.)


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