Generally it’s nice to have your country or town be number one in something. Even if it’s for something as despicable as bag snatching, you can at least gain a slightly twisted sense of pride for toughing it out in such a rough-and-tumble locale.

However, when a recent study reported by Bloomberg Japan declared that Japan had overtaken the U.S. in smartphone and tablet app purchases, people we less than enthused leaving comments such as “Japan’s screwed,” and, “This is sad news indeed.”

Japan had a rather rough transition into the smartphone world. About a decade ago the nation was once heralded as a magical utopia of mobile phone technology which provided such luxuries as a camera, TV, and (limited) internet access. However, these phones were isolated and bound to the extensive Japanese infrastructure that was built for them.

These phones were unable to adapt to the global market and earned the moniker “Galapagos phones”after the islands of the same name. This unique situation caused a slight delay for the entrance of smartphones to the Japanese market compared to the rest of the world. Still, the country was able to catch up quickly – and then some.

According to the report compiled by App Annie, in October 2012, app sales in Japan were roughly 60% that of the U.S.A. However, at the exact same time the following year, app revenue from Japan had tripled and moved it securely into the top spot, pushing the U.S. down to number two.

To give a further sense of scale, the amount of revenue acquired from Japan for apps and in-app purchases was three times that of South Korea and six times the money spent in the United Kingdom. Even the top grossing companies were in Japan–they were ranked in the report as Gung Ho Online Entertainment (Puzzle & Dragons), Line, Colopl (Quiz RPG Mahotsukai to Kuro Neko No Wiz), Sega Sammy, and Namco Bandai (Taiko No Tatsujin).

Many of the top-grossing games follow the model in which they are free to play but packed full of potential “micro-transactions,” asking for money to purchase upgrades which expand the game or allow you to progress more quickly.

Experience with mobile phones may have had a part in Japan’s sudden embrace of apps. During the Galapagos phone years, people in Japan had already become well-accustomed to purchasing special features for their phones such as dictionaries and games.  By the time iTunes and Google Play hit the scene they were already second nature to a lot of people.

You might think that becoming the world leader in something like this would be a positive thing. In a way it’s a good sign of economic activity, much like how China is steadily becoming more of a major market for motion pictures. However, netizens in Japan showed very little optimism over claiming the top spot for app buying.

Here are some of their comments.

“I’m not all that proud.”
“Eh, either way is fine.”
“This is kind of embarrassing for Japan.”
“What’s fun about juvenile apps?”
“That Pokémon rip-off Puzzle & Dragon is selling?”
“We should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Among the negative, there were a few comments along the lines of “Hooray for Japan! We’re number one in something!” but they were few and far between. It should be noted that the data App Annie based their study on were not published, which might raise a few eyebrows.

Still, in light of this news, I’m going to make some last-minute changes to that app I’ve been working on:

I just know it’ll be a big seller!

Source: Bloomberg via Hachima Kiko (Japanese)
Top Image: Amazon
Mobile Phones Image: Amazon
Puzzle & Dragons Image: Amazon
Eagle Image: Wikipedia – Saffron Blaze