Student English Newspaper

The New York Times “Secret Life of Passwords” Reaches College Campuses in Japan

What do you think of when you hear the word password? The first thing that probably comes to mind is a highly secure cipher which is unlikely to be guess by even close friends. However there are some to whom these combinations of letters and numbers serve as motivators or sanctuaries housing their cherished memories. Ian Urbina, a journalist for the New York Times, became interested in this aspect of passwords after 9.11, and began interviewing his friends, family and strangers about their passwords and the histories behind them. Many of these stories are comical revolving around families or lovers, yet others take on a more serious tone reaching a deeper level of memory and emotion.  Passwords are not simply numbersbut the act as ciphers to the soul, to the recedes of out deepest memories.

Offered the chance to undertake a similar project by New York Times, we have interviewed our friends about their passwords. Many college students in Tokyo have put little thought into the process, and seek simplicity, and memorability in creating their passwords; such as their birthday, their telephone number, or their name. On the other hand, there are some who have original passwords, and each has its own history and emotion. The following article is the stories of three such passwords.

“The essential point of passwords is that we craft them to be unforgettable. Something that remarkable doesn’t happen every day soit’s hard to forget,”

says a student at one of Japan’s top universities whose password is the name of a place she visited as an elementary school student while on vacation with her family in America. It is a place seemingly set apart from reality, a place that makes one reminisce about the natural world around us. She says that just as they got into their car, a buffalo happened to pass by. The scene is strongly imprinted in her memory even now.

Another student, a sophomore uses as his password a combination of his uniform numbers from clubs he joined during middle and high school. His password only four digits, but he said his uniform numbers from his junior-high baseball club and high school handball club hold particular importance for him. Upon receiving his first number (in Japan positions in baseball are decided by number) he resolved to become stronger and he worked hard until his efforts were recognized and he was able to attain the number (position) he had been working towards. The number of his handball club uniform was one that he inherited from a senior member whom he admired and respected.

My coaches told me on an almost daily basis that I was a failure, that I had no talent, and that I would be better off quitting. This was an incredibly difficult time for me, but eventually I overcame it”.

The practice was demanding, and there were times he says he wanted to quit, but thanks to his seniors and juniors, he was able to persevere. Even now they meet on a regular basis. The numbers of his password are engraved on his being as a mixture of hardship, friendship and pride in his own inner strength.

There is another example. A commonly held belief is that people create their password for themselves.On the other hand, we met one student whose password is one that her father created for her when she was 12 years old. Even now as a university student she still uses the same password. She says that she has become incredibly attached to the password and the thought of changing it has never once crossed her mind. “I was really happy he made such a complicated looking password” she said reminiscing about the day her father created her it for her. At the time she was too young to create a password that was both relatively hard to guess and one she could use for a long time, so she had her father create a secure one her. She says that the fact her father created the password is not particularly meaningful, but that she and her family “are on very good terms”. 

“To some extent we maintain a good distance from each other, but it is an incredibly loving family and one I am proud of.” 

The reason she has been able to use her password for so long and become so attached to it she says is, of course there was no real need to change it, but the was also no reason to change the password which her family had lovingly created for her.

What these people have in common is the fact that they don’t simply make garden-variety passwords, rather they create passwords that are entirely their own. Even though these passwords are essentially used as security measures, they also have the potential to be important tools through which users can carve their lives like photos. It’s only password, but it is password, after all. They are simply words and numbers on an inorganic screen, yet they are full of numerous memories and thoughts.

Written by MitaCampus members

Edited by Andrew Upton, Takumi Ishikawa

Japanese Version


“The Secret Life of Passwords story was written by Ian Urbina of the New York Times. It was translated by Mitacam. Ian Urbina is looking for input from readers. Please email him with your password stories and other comments at

Original article from

Comment (1)
  1. Natsumi says:

    It would be interesting to find out what kind of passwords people use around the world, only if people were open to share their passwords. However, this is most likely not possible because they are ‘passwords’ afterall. After reading this article, I feel that a passwords tells a lot about that person’s state.