Here’s Why You Don’t Hear a Lot of Ringtones in Japan

The reason behind it is deeply rooted in their culture.

Photo Pakutaso


Back in the 2000s, ringtones were such a big thing in Japan, they even had chart rankings. This means that there was a good number of people during those years who took the time to meticulously choose a song that would represent them when their phones rang. It may be safe to say that this is also shared in a lot of other countries as a global phenomenon. However, in modern-day Japan, ringtone culture has now ceased and we think this is the reason why.


The introduction of manner mode 


You might be curious about what
manner mode means. Don’t worry! We also flashed the same question marks above our heads when we heard it for the first time. However, as new as it sounds for us, it is not a novel concept at all. In most countries, it is popularly known as the silent mode. Japan takes this noise-cancelling option and turns it into something deeply rooted in the multifaceted layers of its culture.


Please note that there are exceptions to this rule. This is merely an example and only paints a general picture.


Japan’s take on manners contribute to many rules within its societal walls. Although it is easy to label them as robotic, there is a good and beautiful reason behind this culture—the Japanese are relational people, and it manifests in their keen sense of protecting harmony among each other.


Considering the countless circumstances that brought this about including geography, topography, location, and so on, it is difficult to pinpoint just one. Whatever the reason, the Japanese have long embraced a non-confrontational stance towards one another to avoid forming rifts in their communities. This nurtures the tendency to act based on how a group thinks. And consequently, it shows through the unwritten rules that set the tone for how one should act in society. Here are some examples:


When to use Manner mode 


Manner mode is a phone setting and is usually the default setting for all phones in Japan. In the situation of being in public transportation, as well as school and office settings, you are firmly advised to switch your phones to manner mode. Forgetting to do so will reflect badly on your behavior. Society might label it as something opposite to well-mannered. Hearing a phone ring on trains happens once in a blue moon. If it does happen, it would come off as surprising.

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It all boils down to harmony


To a certain extent, compliance with silent mode reflects the Japanese culture. From a foreigner’s perspective, this could easily be passed off as a silly rule. This is only a tick off the long list of what a foreigner has to deal with but we can talk about that for another time. The bottom line is, in reality, there is more than meets the eye. This shows how far Japanese people would go to have good relations with the people around them—so far that it would affect how they use their technology every day.


Who would have known that the overly used silent mode option we often take for granted could be understood and treated differently in another country?


Yes, it might be controversial and, sad to say, ringtones have died out. However, it’s hard to deny that hearing a ringing phone doesn’t come as often in Japan. Although there was a time when ringtones thrived, we now live in a time where you question its very existence. Slowly, it has calmed down into low hums of vibrations, just mere monotonic echoes dancing through the airspace. On the surface, there is a tendency to see manner mode as a lack of freedom to express oneself with colorful tunes, but in reality, it stems deeply from the complex-yet-beautiful harmonious culture of Japan.


 (19 September 2019)

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