Social Media in Japan

By: Zach Newsom

Damian Radcliffe’s presentation on social media use in the Middle East caused me to reflect on my own experience living abroad in Japan and how social media use there differs from social media use in the United States. Because I was volunteering as a missionary while I was there, my own use of social media and even my exposure to social media was very limited. I am friends with many of the people I met there on Facebook and Instagram (especially the younger crowd for Instagram) now and am familiar with the platform LINE, but I was surprised to discover that Twitter is actually the most popular of the major global platforms in Japan, with 64% of the population logging in at least once in 2018. Interestingly, I am not connected with any of my Japanese friends on Twitter.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

While LINE has many of the same features as the major global social media platforms, the primary use in Japan is as a messenger app used to send individual or group messages (very similar to WhatsApp), so despite the platform’s over 80 million monthly users, compared to Twitter’s 45 million, the lack of posting makes it slightly different than “traditional” social media.

However, the lack of posting seems to me to be a cultural phenomenon that crosses all social media platforms as many of my Japanese friends rarely post on their accounts, although they often like or react to my own posts. Perhaps this is linked to the tendency to place society over the expression of self in Japanese culture, whereas Americans tend to be far more individualistic (even narcissistic?). These differences in culture are a good reminder that just being on a social platform in a country is not enough for a business–they must understand how to be effective on social for that specific audience.

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This Article Has 12 Comments
  1. Sara Espinosa says:

    That’s a very interesting topic! I am also curious about how different cultures treat social media and the purposes each platform serves. Based on my experience with my friends in Mexico, it seems like WhatsApp is used the most for instant messaging and posting statuses. While Facebook in the US is mostly used by the older generation nowadays, in Mexico it’s actually thriving with memes and original content. I think some factors to consider in comparing social media platform use by countries include cultural values and access to the technology. It seems like people in Japan tend to be very private with their lives online and maybe that influences their social media platform choice.

  2. Mary Edman says:

    This is a really relatable topic for my family and I as my mom communicates with her family in Japan exclusively on Line or Facebook. My friends I made from studying abroad there are connected with me via Facebook or Instagram but Instagram is the most recent. It is nice that even though I haven’t seen my cousins in years we are able to communicate and see what each other are doing via Instagram Stories. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles exclusively use Facebook to keep track of my life or wish me Happy Birthday. I know for myself, I follow tennis players from Japan on Twitter but other than that I didn’t realize it was so popular to use.

  3. Monty Miller says:

    Hi Zach!
    Great post! I find it very interesting that depending on where you go in the world, social media habits differ so much. Depending on the culture and exposure to media that a country has, it will utilize different websites and platforms. I am surprised that Twitter is so popular in Japan! My family lives in Mexico and I find that the United States’ social media habits differ a lot from Mexican ones. For example, they primarily use WhatsApp and we use it much less. I also find that we use Instagram much more in the United States whereas Mexico is more focused on Facebook.

  4. Kyra Lindsay says:

    I really liked reading about your perspective on social media around the world. It is interesting to know how certain social media apps are utilized around the world. It is one thing to download, but another to actually communicate. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jillian Fraccola says:

    Hi Zach, it is interesting getting your take on social media in Japan when you were on your mission trip. I think your point of different cultural standards impacting type of social media use is important for brands to understand when using social to market in different geographic areas. I would be interested to hear how your personal habits changed (or didn’t) from before the trip and then after spending 2 years in a place that had a different purpose for social media.

  6. Jessica Klockman says:

    I have always found this topic interesting, especially when opening the floor to the differences that occur with social media with people in a different country. It is really interesting how we can live such a different life from others based off of our social media consumption and what our normal is compared to others. This is especially interesting to reflect on when comparing and contrasting the difference between two countries and their usage. Social media habits tend to have certain patterns everywhere you go, but when you take a step back and really reflect on the differences its really interesting to notice how much exposure we are getting compared to others.

  7. Ashley Peters says:

    Zach,
    I found the insight you shared about LINE to be really informative as before reading this I had no idea what it was or any of the norms surrounding social media in Japan. The link between the societal tendency to put others before yourself is a well-thought-out explanation as to why your LINE network responded yo your content more than posting on their own. This too explains why Americans are on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to posting about themselves and being more individualistic. While it is interesting to see people’s lives through their social media, maybe adopting a more collective concern for others like you explained Japanese culture encourages could be beneficial when it comes to being less narcissistic.

  8. Brandon Hargrave says:

    Thank you for sharing this Zach! Do you think that you would probably have your Japanese friends on twitter had you been able to use the platform during you’re mission? It is interesting to see that China and Japan use different messenger apps than the popular ones in the US and Europe. It seems like the Japanese culture is more app to react to your post which reminds me of the discussion on facebook “reactions” that we had a couple weeks back. Now I am interested to see some data on reactions in Japan and how that differs from the US.

  9. Ty Hancock says:

    Yep. I agree. And I do not feel that narcissistic is too strong of a word to use in describing the current American social media culture. One of the main takeaways that I had from my travels abroad in Japan and China was that, marketing there is no different than it is here in the US. Localized markets. NY differs from LA in a similar way that Tokyo differs from Sapporo. You’re correct when you say that simply being in a country or on social media within a country is not enough. Just like marketing to users in the States, you must be able to locally connect to consumers and understand their lives, traditions, and culture. Japan is not a homogenous mixture of single-minded people, just like China isn’t either. A company’s strategy cannot simply be, “open new stores in China,” or “market to Japanese people.” The strategy must continue to be tailored to subcultures and pockets of targeted individuals. This may seem fairly intuitive, but many companies have gone awry in their foreign strategies by blanket-marketing to a single stereotype of the culture.

  10. Evan Spisla says:

    I also went abroad to Japan for several months a few years ago. The stereotypes are so real — the population is incredibly group-focused and far less individualistic. I think this for sure shapes the way Japanese users interact online, and I’ve also noticed these friends share less and engage more.

  11. Josie Ruff says:

    I like how you connected your experience living in Japan back to the class content of social media for brands. Reading this and Professor Radcliffe’s presentation both serve as reminders of the importance of thinking about different cultures and their belief systems when it comes to marketing. I personally would love to work abroad some day and it will be interesting breaking down cultures and countries by their most used platforms and also how they use the platforms.

  12. Kyra Hanson says:

    Hi Zach,

    I thought this was very unique and interesting topic to write about! I liked how you were able to speak from your own personal experience on the topic. It is intriguing to hear about different apps, such as LINE and WhatsApp, and how they are very popular in certain countries like Japan but aren’t used very much at all in the United States. In the U.S. it seems like Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, along with text messaging, are the main ways that people communicate. It is also intriguing to consider the difference in culture and how that impacts the ways in which people use social media. It would make sense that people in Japan focus more on interacting with who they follow rather than posting a lot, because that is reflective of the culture. The same can be said for the U.S. Overall, this was a great topic and I loved to read your insights!

    Best,
    Kyra

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