Some Japanese developers didn't even need the lure of potential riches to embrace Apple. Hideo Kojima, the man behind the Metal Gear series of games, has been a longtime Apple fan, going so far as to include Apple product placements in Metal Gear Solid 4. He has even made appearances in Apple stores in both Japan and the U.S. (Of course, there's also the small matter of Kojima designing from the ground up an iPhone entry to the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Solid Touch.)
So many (though by no means all) Japanese apparently love Apple. That begs the question: Why has Apple succeeded in the Land of the Rising Sun where other Western companies have failed? Apple itself has tried to frame its answer in terms of the iPhone and iPod Touch's superior feature sets compared to other portable gaming devices. But that answer alone isn't satisfactory. While the quality of Apple's products is as plainly evident as the company's ability to market them, there's another force that has helped Apple's performance in Japan: curiosity.
As radically different as Japanese and Western cultures are, both share a fundamental curiosity about their distant neighbors; indeed, the Japanese are as curious about us as we are about them. And for those who may not be willing or able to travel across continents to experience a culture firsthand, trade is one way to satisfy that curiosity. Need proof? Take a look at a typical listing of box office performance in Japan. For example, in 2007 five of the top-10 highest grossing films were American. And American-style fast food does pretty well in Japan if the enduring popularity of McDonald's is any indication.
Apple has tapped into this curiosity in Japan by providing a product and attitude that is unabashedly Western. Granted, any Western company who wants to make inroads in Japan will adjust its marketing strategy accordingly, and Apple has done so to some extent via its partnership with Japanese carrier SoftBank. But Apple has accomplished this without overcompensating and venturing into the disingenuous territory of attempting to appear natively Japanese, something that has plagued many Western companies' attempts to make a dent in the Japanese market.
This becomes apparent when you examine the typical iPhone user in Japan: someone who is savvy with Western media. Many Japanese who purchase the iPhone use it to access social networks that are popular in the West, such as Twitter and Facebook; Apple's handheld isn't nearly as popular among those Japanese who regularly use Japanese-specific social networking sites like Mixi and Gree. This strategy seems to be working well for Apple in Japan, and for a good reason.
Think of it this way: Western fans of anime and Japanese videogames look to those media precisely because of their Japanese-ness. If they want to watch or play something Western, they watch or play something by a Western company; they don't look to the East for something their home turf can easily provide. The same goes for Japan as well - if someone in Japan is curious about Western culture and technology, they're more likely to purchase a product made by a Western company.
We can attempt to "other-ize" the Japanese all we want, but as Apple has aptly demonstrated, sometimes in trying to find things that make us different, we end up reaffirming our similarities. How do you like them apples?
Phillip Miner is a freelance writer from Rochester, NY, who likes both apple pie and sushi ... and apple pie sushi.