In episode 60 of the Super Best Friends Friendcast, Wollie, who was on vacation in Japan at the time, makes this comment a little bit after the two hour mark (echoing earlier comments from Liam):
You guys, there’s no handheld consoles anywhere man. It’s all motherfucking phones dude. I’ve not seen one. Not only have I not seen any, I’ve been StreetPassing nothing.
While I do have to agree that phones outnumber handheld consoles, I think that this has probably been true for a long time. I doubt the advent of smartphones has really changed this all that much. You do see handhelds out and about, especially in the hands of children. I’ve often been surprised to be at some aquarium or park and see little kids taking photos with their 3DS, which always struck me as a bulky thing for taking pictures.
Part of the problem with making observations as a tourist is that you are generally out of step with the pace of life going on around you. You might think that some attraction is not at all popular locally, but it is just because you are there on a Wednesday. Come back on a Saturday and the place might be full up. You might wonder why lots of stuff is closed for seemingly no reason, when if fact you scheduled your vacation during one of the major holiday seasons. Or you might wonder why you don’t see any 3DS or Vita consoles on the trains, but all the children are in school right now.
In any case I’ve just recently acquired a 3DS for the first time, which quickly answered my question about the photographs: there are two cameras mounted on the outside of the thing for taking three dimensional pictures! Now I want to join those little children taking 3D photos of cherry blossoms and whatnot.
However, I hadn’t actually taken the thing with me out of the house yet. Despite this, I already had one StreetPass, either from someone walking close to my building or more likely from a neighbor. And I know that the 3DS sells like crazy in Japan, so I was very suspicious about Wollie’s above statement. As I test, I took it out with me for the very first time, just down the road to my local grocery store and back. And wouldn’t you know it, in less than half an hour I got four new StreetPasses (5:39, 5:58, 5:59, and 6:07PM). As you can see it was late enough for school to be done for the day (though not necessarily club activities), though it was just a weekday, and I didn’t even go downtown.
I suspect that Wollie’s lack of StreetPass encounters can be put down to the odd times he was out and about with his 3DS in tow and/or some sort of incompatibility between 3DSes of different regions. Suffice to say, handhelds are clearly alive and well in Japan.
UPDATE: Since originally writing this piece I’ve had more time to experiment and everytime I go downtown I have no trouble filling my 3DS up to the maximum ten StreetPasses you can hold at once. In fact, this past weekend I was sat outside the main train station in my city and StreetPasses were coming in as fast as I could clear them off!
It seems to me that things aren’t as simple as they seem; it’s not a zero-sum game with smartphones, most game-playing people have handheld consoles as well (and are carrying them about). I suspect a lot of people prefer the slimmer, shorter, and more easily interrupted smartphone games for their daily train commutes, but still carry their 3DS to play Monster Hunter or whatever once they actually meet up with their real-life friends.