Japanese and Social Media — A Little Different

When I moved to Japan in 2009, everyone in the country was on mixi, the Japan-only social network. In the following years, Japan finally stepped out and began using international networks for the first time. 
Still, their preferences and behaviors are a little different. Here are my observations:


Japanese prefer LINE as their go-to social app, and it has the most users out of any in the country. They may prefer it because it’s Japanese, for one, and they started a “cute sticker” culture that matches Japanese “kawaii” culture quite well.

It allows for private communication with people they know, without requiring info like their phone number to be given out, lessening risk which works well for their risk-averse culture.

More popular messenger apps like WhatsApp is almost non-existent in the country, as the typical person has no need for it.

2. Twitter

Twitter is used like a big chatroom more often than a global listening and a direct engagement tool.

Many keep their accounts private and use icons that are not their normal selves (ex: anime characters, highly modified photos, a celebrity’s photo, etc.). Many ignore engagement from people outside of their circle completely. After tweeting at someone, I’ve seen people tweet out “A stranger tweeted me…” or reply and ask “Who are you??” (Not a ‘Who do you think you are?’ type of way but literally a ‘Do I know you? Why are you contacting me?’ way).

3. Facebook

While not as big with the teenage and early-20’s demographic, Facebook is big. It loses out on potential users early on, however, as I’ve noticed many not being able to figure out how to use it. There must be some UI issue that has trouble hurdling the culture.

One big difference in how Japanese use Facebook versus say, the US, is that it is also kind of their LinkedIn. Many will use it for business connections and will frequently post job-related topics. 

4. Instagram

Instagram is gaining in popularity but is still far less popular than Twitter, even for the young. Similarly to Twitter, many will keep their accounts private and a significant amount of them will choose to not post their faces and keep their identities ambiguous.

Since Instagram Stories got released, I haven’t noticed any significant difference in usage between Japanese and other nationalities. It’s worth noting that Snapchat has yet to crack the Japan market, and while SNOW (the Snapchat copy) is popular amongst the young, it’s not used as a social app but rather just a face lens app.

My observations are also reflected in the monthly active user count for these networks:

Japanese MAU in Japan as of 12/2016, by  IMJ Backyard

Japanese MAU in Japan as of 12/2016, by IMJ Backyard

And for reference, you can see that Japan’s preference of social apps are quite different from most other countries:

Generation-Z social app preferences, by  LSA

Generation-Z social app preferences, by LSA