What Social Networks Are Used In Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Kimi asked:

I noticed that when the NA version of Fate/Grand Order was released, a lot of the fan engagement landmarks in game were on Facebook while they were originally for Twitter during the JP release of the game and it got me thinking - what social media is big in Japan? Do certain demographics congregate on certain social media more?

The social media in Japan is a little bit different than it is in the West, but not dramatically different. In fact, Japan's social network practices grew up very differently from the US and the Western world, but in recent years things have become far more similar to everyone else.

The first social network to really take Japan by storm was Mixi. Mixi was founded as a job search company in 1997, and launched its social network in 2004, the same year as Facebook. Mixi was different than other social networks in a few ways. Since Japanese consumers were far more likely to use the internet on mobile devices than computers, Mixi delivered a network that was very optimized for use on cell phones, and the limited web browsers that were built into the advanced flip-phones that were popular in Japan at the time. (Keep in mind, this is three years before the introduction of the iPhone.)

Mixi was (and still is) locked to Japanese users only. Registering for the service requires a Japanese cell phone number, and there is no real English version of the site. Mixi was invitation-only for many years, so if you wanted to join, you would have to ask friends for a registration code. The site was initially very MySpace-like in that there were sections to blog, write reviews, post music, and create photo albums and communities. There was also a feature that showed the last 100 people to visit your page, which lead to some people being skittish about visiting.

OZ, the social network in the film Summer Wars, is in fact based on Mixi. When I interviewed Mamoru Hosoda following the film's release, he speculated that Mixi's popularity was partially due to the anonymity it afforded its users: people usually only went by obscure user IDs, never mentioned their real names, and very seldom posted pictures of themselves. Japanese internet users are commonly referred to as "shy" in that for years, they preferred not to identify themselves online when possible.

Mixi still has its users, but it's hard to tell how many: the site's popularity peaked in 2012. The site's user experience over increasingly-ubiquitous smartphones lagged behind that of competitors, and many people simply felt burnt out on the experience (to the point where "Mixi tsukare", or Mixi Fatigue, entered the vernacular). While the service once had over 30 million users, the company stopped publishing its user numbers after its number of active users fell by over 50%. In recent years the company has pivoted to being more of a gaming company: its Monster Strike game has been a huge hit (and has spawned an ongoing anime web series as well as a movie). The game has been downloaded 40 million times, almost entirely in Asia. (The US version was shut down due to lack of interest in August.)

At the time Mixi's user base started to decline in 2011, Facebook's popularity exploded. The release of the film The Social Network raised the site's profile, and people were increasingly interested in interacting with people outside of Japan. But since Facebook insists that people use their real names, many people use it somewhat like LinkedIn (which has next to no Japanese user base), using it mostly for business and professional-faced activities. Today, Facebook has overtaken Mixi in the country, with about 29 million users nationwide as of July. While Twitter took off around the same time, recent adoption has slowed considerably, with users hovering around 26 million for the last few years (depending on your source).

While those numbers sound impressive, they are still well behind the US. 29 or 30 million people is only around 23% of Japan's population. By comparison, 202 million Americans use Facebook, which is 62% of the country.

What are we to take from this? Perhaps the knowledge that most Japanese simply don't feel the need to use a full-fledged social network. The IM app LINE has 71 million Japanese users, which is 56% of the population. LINE is really more of an IM platform than a social network (although it does offer simple games and interaction with professional content). But if you want to know what platform Japan most uses to communicate socially... that's the real answer.


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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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