Garakei: Galapagos cell phone
My wife just came across this term on a recent trip back to Japan. Garakei or another version, Gara-phone.
It literally means “Galapagos Cell Phone”. The backdrop actually goes back to Charles Darwin and how he made the Galapagos Islands famous for uniquely eveolving animal forms and this formed the basis of his “Origin of Species”.
Recently I’ve been hearing about a Japanese electronic device called a “garakei ガラケイ”. Mystified by this katakana word, which I assumed to be at least partially the transcription of some foreign term, I set about trying to find out more about it.
It wasn’t hard to discover (here and here) that the word basically means “Galapagos cell phone”. What a strange name for a kind of cell phone!
If we recall back to before 2007 Japan had their own industry leading and very efficient phones which had apps and characteristics that were unique to Japan. iPhone entered in 2007 and smart phones are mainstream around the world now including Japan.
However there remain a diehard group including my wifes dad who continue to use the unique Japanese phones bearing the pre-2007 style. These are the Gara-phones and hence the reference to Galapagos.
More from language log.
The idea is that, like the animals and birds of the Galapagos Islands, which developed unique traits in isolation from mainland species so as to fit their special environment, the garakei ガラケイhas features that were developed solely in and for people of the Japanese islands without regard to global IT trends. Thus, garakei are not known or used in places outside Japan. Naturally, they have some features that are shared with cell phones elsewhere (e.g., built-in camera), but they also have functions that do not exist outside of Japan.