Japanese manufacturers became experts at miniaturizing and creating multiple-function devices (like, say, refrigerators that let you browse the Web) simply because the average consumer really needs the room. "Space is everything," says Farber. "Many years ago, I sat down with a person — an American — who was trying to sell telephone extensions into the Japanese market. His sales pitch was that every family needs five phones — one for every room in your house. Japanese people looked at him and said, ‘Well, my apartment is so small that when my phone rings, I just reach across the room and pick it up.’ He wasn’t doing so well."
There’s a subtle secondary manner in which real estate prices have shaped consumer behavior in Japan: housing is so expensive that young people have virtually no means of renting or owning their own homes; even after they’ve joined the workforce, they continue to live with their parents for years or even decades after graduation. Given that the average American spends up to one-third of his or her take-home wages on shelter, by sponging off Mom and Dad, young Japanese men and women have significantly more disposable income to spend on themselves; a $600 Louis Vuitton purse — or a $3,000 ultrathin 1.2-pound laptop — becomes instantly affordable when you’re living rent free.
"A couple of months ago, Newsweek Japan did a special issue that listed the 100 most influential Japanese people in history," says Douglas Krone with a chuckle. "Along with ancient emperors, best-selling authors, inventors and scientists, they listed ‘Japanese Schoolgirls,’ because they’ve been so influential, inside of Japan and out."