Japan Social Media

Statistics released in December 2011 reported that Japan’s population of internet users had reached over 101 million (around 80 per cent of total population). These users spend an average of 2.9 hours online per day – longer online than both China (2.7 hours) and the US (2.3 hours).

“Japanese users spend longer online than
both China and the US.”

Unlike China, Japan doesn’t block western social networks; in fact Twitter and Facebook are the most popular micro blogging and social networking service in the nation. However, there are also a few domestic networks that are also incredibly popular, the most notable of which is Mixi, with more than 21 million registered users.

  • After a rocky start, Facebook is on its way to becoming the most popular network in Japan with over 10 million active monthly users
  • Twitter is still ahead of Facebook in Japan, with 30 million accounts. 14% of the worlds tweets are in Japanese
  • Mixi, Japan’s answer to Facebook, is still the most popular social network with 15 million active monthly users
  • 2 million of Google+’s 40 million accounts are Japan based and LinkedIn has around 400,000 users in Japan
  • Social gaming is massive in Japan. Gree has around 190 million subscribers and Mobage 21.7 million users
  • Blogging is hugely popular, 80% of Japans online population visited a blog in June 2011
  • YouTube has a reach of almost 47% in Japan


Facebook had a real struggle getting a foothold in Japan. The main barriers to adoption initially were language (the Japanese network Mixi makes it far easier to converse in Japanese), security concerns (people felt Mixi was a much more secure platform and less spammy) and market penetration issues (if all of your friends are on Mixi and not Facebook, you’re going to use Mixi). In addition, Facebook organizes information in a way most Japanese social network users were unfamiliar with, which also proved a problem.

Another stumbling block was Facebook’s real name policy. Japanese internet users are very protective of their privacy and prefer to be anonymous online. Home grown sites such as Mixi, Gree and Mobage adopted elements of Facebook, such as allowing third party apps – which further reduced the drive for users to make the switch. Although users continue to find the site difficult to use, Facebook did get some elements right, for example, Facebook Japan lets users display their blood type details, as it’s considered important information to share with friends.

“Another stumbling block was Facebook’s real
name policy. Japanese internet users prefer
to be anonymous online.”

But after years of slow growth, Facebook’s user numbers have surged in the past year. It’s thought that the 2011 earthquake and tsunami resulted in people taking to Facebook to find friends and family in order to keep them informed of their situation. It’s also likely that the release of The Social Network contributed to Facebook’s popularity. Facebook is now set to become the most popular network in Japan, with over 10 million active monthly users currently, and this figure is growing fast. (It’s worth noting that Japan has a Gaijin (foreign) population of around 2 million, who probably account for some of this figure.)

Japan is currently the only country in which Twitter is more popular than Facebook. Unlike Facebook, tweeters can stay anonymous if they prefer, and hardly have to provide any information to establish an account. It’s also far less risky for them, as friends can’t give away too much information about them accidentally.

In October 2011 it was reported that 14 per cent of the world’s tweets were Japanese language. Twitter is so popular in Japan that the 16,197 tweets per second the nation sent during New Year 2012 celebrations crashed Twitter, and a massive 25,088 tweets per second were sent when Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky was shown on TV on 9th December 2011. In January 2012, Japan was the third most represented nation on Twitter, behind Brazil and the US, with just under 30 million accounts. According to figures from December 2011, teenage girls spent the most time micro-blogging.

Again, the 2011 disaster saw people turn to Twitter for fast, free and reliable communication, and although many used Facebook during this time, the numbers relying on Twitter were greater. However, the rapid rise in the popularity of Facebook has led Twitter to be worried enough about its position as top dog to form a partnership with the Japanese answer to Facebook, Mixi.

Mixi is Japan’s answer to Facebook, and it currently remains the most popular social network with over 15 million active monthly users. Like Facebook, users are allowed to post photos and share links and comments. Mixi users talk on forums dedicated to specific themes.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Mixi, like other Japanese networks, is very popular on mobile platforms which can result in differences in quoted user numbers – for example, ComScore has said that Mixi has 13.4 million users, but track the mobile users and that figure goes up to around 23 million.

Founded in 2004, Mixi has over 21.6 million registered users, accounting for roughly 80 per cent of the social network market in Japan. It was heavily influenced by Friendster, and remained the most popular social networking site or micro-blog until 2010 when Twitter overtook it. It tried to fight back against Twitter by allowing users to send tweet like messages of 150 characters from 2009, but this change didn’t stop people flocking to Twitter, and while both Facebook and Twitter user numbers are still growing, Mixi’s numbers are remaining rather static.

One of the big attractions of Mixi over Facebook was the ability it gave users to fine tune their privacy controls to dictate who could see specific posts and uploads. Users could even see who had viewed their profiles. However, Mixi removed this feature in mid-2011, and users were not pleased with the change.

“Mixi has over 21.6 million registered users,
accounting for roughly 80 percent of the
social network market.”

Other western networks, like Google+ and LinkedIn, are still trying to make in-roads. Google+, which has 40 million accounts worldwide, has only 2 million users in Japan. Google gave Google+ localized features at launch, such as Japanese language user menus, which made it easy to use the site, but it stumbled on the same real name problem that had irked users of Facebook. Japanese users, keen to use their online identities on Google+, decided to change their usernames over – which resulted in finding themselves locked out of their own email accounts.

LinkedIn has been late to the party, launching in Japan during October 2011. Like Google+ it launched with localized language support. By April 2012 it had over 400 thousand Japanese users, and in the same month it launched a How-To site to introduce new users to the service.

Mobile games/social gaming

Mobiles, especially mobile gaming and social networking, are big business in Japan. The country has 122 million mobile subscribers, and 65 per cent of mobiles shipped in 2011 were smartphones. The 2011 earthquake caused a spike in demand for smartphones, as supplies were temporarily cut and people began to realize that they wanted a phone with increased functionality. One in five mobile users access social networks or blogs from their mobile phones, and over 55 per cent access apps (only 45 per cent text).

Mobile gaming is incredibly popular in Japan, and many use in game social features to keep up with friends. Japanese mobile social gaming publisher Gree has around 190 million subscribers (mostly via recently acquired platform Open Feint) and around 29 million actual users – almost twice the number of Mixi. Gree operates a gaming platform where users can play free games using manga style avatars to interact with each other. The games are monetized via special in-game items such as weaponry and clothing.

“Gree has a greater revenue than rival
western gaming giant Zynga.”

Gree is now in worldwide Beta, and currently has a greater revenue than rival western gaming giant Zynga. It’s even tempted long time Facebook social game producers to leave Facebook for its specialist network. It’s recently made a number of regional acquisitions, in an attempt to extend its reach. Gree is one of the social gaming providers that has promised to work with the Japanese government to create industry guidelines in the wake of recent in game gambling scandals.

Mobage is Gree’s main rival with around 21.7 million users. Mobage rebranded from Mobage-town and designed an English language logo in 2011 as the company wanted to take its social gaming platform to western markets. Described as a mixture of Facebook and Zynga, Mobage also lets its users earn virtual money by clicking on advertising.


Japanese blogging platforms are hugely popular, with 80 per cent of Japan’s online population visiting a blog in June 2011. Japan also leads the way in time spent reading and engaging with blogs, with people spending an average of over 60 minutes in the same month. Platforms such as Ameblogo beyond simple blogging and allow you to create an avatar which you can dress and use to engage with other Ameblo users. The most popular blogging platform, FC2, has now launched in multiple languages and localities.

Blogging is so popular in Japan that 2011 statistics place FC2 as the most popular social media channel, reaching 50.5 per cent of the online population, and two other blogging platforms are also in the top five social channels – Ameblo (38.2 per cent reach), and Seesaa (29.2 per cent).

Other networks

Groupon has had a bit of a tough time of it in Japan. After launching in mid-2010 it had a PR disaster in the New Year when it delivered late and inedible food to customers. Several Japanese competitors have sprung up since the arrival of Groupon, and one site, Ponpare, is quickly gaining on Groupon.

YouTube is currently the social media channel with the second highest reach (46.9 per cent), just ahead of Wikipedia at 46.3 per cent. This may change soon, as new copyright restrictions could mean the government places restrictions on YouTube, or, according to some reports, block it completely.


  • 96% of Japanese brands use Twitter, but 60% of the top 100 brands don’t engage followers
  • The majority of the top 100 Japanese brands are not on Facebook
  • Mixi introduced social pages (like brand pages) in September 2011
  • Google+ has partnered with Japanese pop sensation AKB48 – the group has 90 accounts on the service

Japanese brands, which are of course best placed to know their own market, use Twitter (96%), YouTube (82%) and blogs (54%) for most of their social communication; with Mixi (34%), Gree (30%), Facebook (24%) and Mobage (16%) as less popular alternatives.

It may seem odd that brands are not making greater strides with Facebook engagement, seeing as that’s one of the first choices for western brands, but the reluctance of Japanese web users to embrace Facebook has played a big part in that. Research into the top 100 Japanese brands found that the majority of them were not on Facebook at all, and that those which were didn’t try to engage fans. Many didn’t permit users to post to the brands wall or provide many updates themselves. Compared to western brands, they didn’t provide many methods of contacting the brand.

“Research into the top 100 Japanese brands found that
the majority of them were not on Facebook at all”

Of the three most popular Facebook pages in Japan, the most popular is Facebook, the second is a golfing magazine and the third a Japanese fashion label. Many brands prefer to use an anime avatar as the official voice of the brand, as they know that Japanese web users also prefer to use them. A few brands are starting to tailor their Facebook offering by providing exclusive content and running campaigns to generate likes and engagement in exchange for free flights, virtual currencies, or collector’s items.

Facebook’s user numbers continue to rise. As well as the Facebook movie, and the network acting as a way to keep in touch during the crisis, celebrities and other high-profile users have been repeatedly pushing their Facebook pages in interviews and on the news, giving it more publicity and encouraging people to take the leap.

Now that Facebook is becoming more popular in Japan, brands looking to use it to engage fans may wish to consider the cultural differences when encouraging interactions. Japanese fans are more likely to engage with other users, by offering advice for example, than they are to respond to the brand itself. One study which looked at the APAC region found that they were the nation least likely to give praise. Brands need to remember this, as well as the cultural norms that fans adhere to, when they communicate over social networks. Otherwise they risk being seen as intrusive and impolite.

60 per cent of Japan’s top 100 brands are on Twitter, but do not engage fans. The cultural sticking points that craft user responses also shape those of the people behind the brand. If Japanese social network users find it intrusive to talk about themselves too much – even on their own Facebook wall – just imagine what that same person would do when asked to market their brand on Twitter! 40 per cent of Japan’s largest brands are so stumped on what to do with Twitter that they don’t even have an account.

Social Pages, like brand pages, were introduced on Mixi in September 2011 and brands have used them to host similar campaigns to Facebook, asking participants to become friends or install apps in exchange for the chance to win prizes.

The major mobile social gaming companies, Gree and Mobage involve brands not only through advertising, but through branded social games (such as Disney on Gree’s platform) and tie-ups with major gaming franchises like Final Fantasy on Mobage.

“McDonald’s makes good use of Google Hangouts to launch
new products straight to bloggers”

In an attempt to increase its user base, Google+ partnered with the Japanese pop phenomenon AKB48(a pop act of 64 girls in their teens and early 20s). The group comprises four sub-groups and has a team of trainees who aspire to be included in the act. 2011 record sales were a massive $200 million. The line-up for a particular single is determined via two annual events, one in which members of the public vote for their favourite star, and the other where the 64 girls play rock-paper-scissors to determine who will be singing. AKB48 has a total of 90 individual accounts on Google+ and make up most of the top 100 most popular Google+ Japan pages.

McDonald’s Japan has gone from being in 10,000 circles in February 2012, to over 50,000 in July 2012. The brand makes good use of Google Hangouts to launch new products straight to bloggers – which shows just how well the MacDonald’s knows its local audience.


  • The official language is Japanese
  • Japanese users had problems taking to Facebook due to certain cultural traits which prevented them from sharing the networks ethos, including the need to use real names

The official language of Japan is standard Japanese, which has a grammar system designed to re-enforce politeness (Honorific speech). Japanese is the second most used language on Twitter.

The Japanese have been reluctant to embrace social media. There are fewer people visiting social networking sites, and they spend less time on them than other nations. Forrester reported that 13 per cent of online Japanese adults visit Facebook on a monthly basis, with more preferring to visit sites such as Twitter or Mixi because of the anonymity allowed on these sites.

“Japanese is the second most used language on Twitter.”

As mentioned, Facebook clashed with specific cultural traits which made adoption problematic at best. Traits such as:

Risk Avoidance – Japanese users see a huge potential for embarrassment on Facebook. Users would be deeply embarrassed if they noticed that they made a spelling mistake or factual error on their wall. This could be one of the reasons that Facebook has recently allowed users to edit old status updates. Additionally, the idea that a friend could upload a picture of you, tag you, and that complete strangers to you could be seeing your picture and name is highly undesirable to the majority. One survey result showed that 89 per cent of respondents did not wish to disclose their real names online. Unlike some western nations, Japanese social network users would rather keep their virtual friend list to close friends only, rather than casual acquaintances.

Deference – is so ingrained in Japanese culture that a reluctance to question authority has been cited as being at the heart of the Fukushima disaster. On a social networking level, if anyone you regarded as higher status than you tried to add you as a friend or contact you would feel obliged to accept – which in turn would make you more concerned about what you shared. You would not want to be viewed poorly by a superior.

Harmonyis central to Japanese culture. People are more likely to use the most popular social network, the one that most of their friends are on. Note how Facebook had a hard time attracting users until people were forced to use it during a crisis and it became a cultural force (with the movie and high-profile endorsements). One on Facebook, most would not feel able to reject or ignore friend requests, even if they wanted to because it would be considered rude. Manners and politeness are very important to the Japanese, and most users would rather posts very few updates than risk looking self-important by cluttering up people’s newsfeeds on Facebook, or appearing critical of others (especially someone considered superior to them) or brands.

“The influence of friends and family should
not be underestimated”

Escapism – Japanese web users place a high value on anonymity online, as many choose to use their online activities as a form of escapism. Privacy is a core value for the Japanese web user.


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