Social media in Japan is a major component of most brands’ digital strategy. In this comprehensive overview of social media in Japan, we will go over the top social media platforms in the Japanese market as well as discuss some of the current trends you should know.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
As of 2023, nearly all Japanese citizens have access to the internet, smartphone penetration is around 94%, and almost 75% of the population is using some form of social media.
That being said, with new content continuing to be uploaded at a blistering pace across all platforms, social media now requires a more strategic approach in order to stand out from the crowd.
The need for an appropriate social media strategy becomes even more crucial when dealing with an unfamiliar market, such as Japan’s, where you will also likely find yourself disadvantaged due to both the language barrier and a totally different culture.
If you are considering entering the Japanese market, a better understanding of the social media landscape of Japan will help your brand determine where best to focus your time and efforts.
This is because while it is true that social media in Japan does share some similarities with global trends, the Japanese social media landscape also exhibits a number of unique characteristics, which can drastically impact both your strategy and chances for success in the Japanese market.
How Japanese Use Social Media in Japan
Japanese use social media for a number of reasons and these reasons can differ in important ways depending on their age group.
According to a survey conducted by public broadcaster NHK, however, the main reason Japanese across all age groups use social media is actually to find information or search for things that they’re interested in.
Rather than socialization, social media in Japan is primarily a tool for discovery and despite the word “social” in the name users who use social media primarily for socializing have become less common here in Japan.
That being said, Japanese do still use social media apps to meet and communicate with people who share niche interests and hobbies. However, these communities are increasingly less concentrated and exist in scattered pockets around the internet and may not be easily found, especially by those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese web.
Top Social Media in Japan
In Japan, Twitter is more popular than Facebook and this may be the only country where this is the case.
Twitter claims to have as many as 45 million monthly active users (MAU) in Japan. With a total population of 125.8 million people in the country, this works out to around 35% of the population.
Twitter’s Japanese user base is so prominent that back in 2015 when the immensely popular idol-group, SMAP, made a live, televised announcement to dispel rumors of the group’s disbanding, which interestingly enough ended up coming to fruition despite the highly publicized on-air denial, Japanese Twitter crashed from the sheer volume of users commenting and searching for this topic and related news.
The March 11th, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami greatly contributed to Twitter’s growth in the country. During the disaster and its immediate aftermath, Japanese users found the service useful as a means to obtain up-to-the-minute news as well as to communicate when phone calls couldn’t go through.
According to a statement by Shailesh Rao—at the time Twitter’s Vice President of Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets—by 2016 Twitter had seen a more than five-fold growth in usage since 2011, when the service had fewer than 7 million users in Japan.
Another reason for the platform’s growth in Japan is that Twitter allows for a greater deal of anonymity and privacy compared to Facebook, which is typically preferred among Japanese for cultural reasons—Japanese take personal privacy very seriously.
But Twitter’s enduring popularity in Japan may also have something to do with the nature of Japanese writing: In Japanese, 140-characters (the previous character limit) can convey much more information than the same amount of characters written in English.
This fact allowed the platform to develop in a somewhat different way from some other parts of the world as Japanese people rarely dealt with the issue of not being able to say what they wanted, exactly how they wanted to, in a tweet.
For the Japanese market, Twitter is a channel that should not be overlooked for market research and social listening due to its high user base. Additionally, its relatively equal distribution of usage among men and women in a range of age groups is a notable characteristic of the platform in Japan making it a suitable channel for reaching or communicating with various demographics.
Biggest Twitter Trend
Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter late last year brought about many changes to Twitter.
While big brands, such as Apple temporarily halted advertising on the platform, this hasn’t really interrupted things over at Twitter quite as badly as many media outlets proclaimed it would.
The bigger news was how 50% of the company’s global workforce was terminated almost immediately upon Musk taking control of Twitter.
Japan was, of course, not spared from this and a number of Japanese Twitter employees also were let go during the massive headcount reduction.
However, again, there hasn’t really been any noticeable difference to Twitter from a user perspective.
Finally, the ability for anyone to pay a monthly fee to get a “coveted” blue check mark is somewhat of interest, but in real terms, for most users and advertisers, it hasn’t changed how people use and interact with the platform as much as it has just introduced a revenue stream for Twitter.
In November 2017, Twitter increased its character limit from 140 characters to 280 characters.
For users in many languages, the previous 140-character limit sometimes led to the inability to complete a thought without careful editing. This change helped users who felt constrained by the previous limit and also made the platform a lot more suited to dialogue.
Admittedly for Japanese users this was not nearly as big of a change—for the reasons we pointed out earlier—but the extra characters per tweet certainly encouraged people to elaborate more than they did before, which for some users meant more engagement and time spent on the app.
Facebook claimed to have 25 million active users in Japan—19.6% of the population—at the end of 2015.
Although more recent data has shown that number to have slowly inched to over 26 million, growth of the platform in Japan has by in large stagnated and, like the rest of the world, is not nearly as popular among younger audiences who have moved on to newer social media apps, like Instagram and TikTok.
Although Facebook in Japan is not used to the same extent seen outside of the country, more and more conservative Japanese companies have come to see the benefits that the platform, as well as social media in general, has for their businesses.
The size of the social network—2.3 billion users globally and over 1 billion daily average users (DAU)—makes the platform essential for companies with any aspirations of reaching global audiences and consumers, and remains an important advertising channel for larger, Japanese companies.
As testament to this fact, advertising on Facebook has picked up greatly in recent years with over 5 million advertisers looking to the platform to promote their products and services back in 2017 and the majority of domestic companies using the platform to market to Japanese customers as well.
Facebook advertisements offer brands a number of advantages such as precise demographic targeting that allows brands to get their message in front of a highly specific audience.
For the level of control Facebook gives for targeted ads, allowing brands to focus on specific personas and audiences, it remains a platform worth considering for your next Japan-focused social media campaign.
Facebook has seen engagement rates for both organic and paid posts on the platform drop year on year. One plausible explanation is the fact that there is simply more content online than we can actually consume. Even when considering Facebook “stories” alone over 300 million are shared on the platform every single day!
However, despite this constant deluge of content being uploaded onto the platform, video has been shown to provide higher views and engagement (2x and 7x respectively) than any other type of post. That is why currently you see more and more brands shifting towards video ads and stories posts for Facebook.
In September 2017 Instagram reported that it had over 800 million users worldwide after gaining 100 million new users in a period of 4 months from April 2017.
Fast forward to today and Instagram now claims over 1.2 billion users around the world, who share over 500 million Instagram stories and 95 million photos per day.
According to a post made on their company website, Instagram surpassed Twitter in terms of global monthly users in December 2014 and the app hasn’t looked back since.
As of 2023 Instagram had over 33 million users in Japan. While Instagram nearly doubled its Japanese user base in the period from 2017 to 2019, when the app claimed 17.1 million users in Japan, its growth has plateaued since then, which would seemingly indicate that Instagram has exited its growth stage and reached its peak maturation in terms of market penetration in Japan.
Notable for Japan, women between the ages of 18-30 make up nearly 1/3 of Japan’s Instagram users, while females in total make up 2/3 of all Instagram users in the country. Although recent reports point to a more equal distribution among male and female users beginning to emerge, the heaviest users of the app still skew predominantly female. While Instagram may not have as many users as LINE, which is more of a messaging app than anything, businesses targeting female audiences would do well to take note of Instagram for their social media campaigns in Japan.
With a number of ways to utilize the app for business, such as sponsored posts or purely owned branding efforts, Instagram remains one of the major players in the Japanese social media scene.
In fact, meaningful engagement remains higher on Instagram in Japan compared to many other platforms and has proven especially popular with brands in the fashion and lifestyle categories.
Instagram ads, like the one pictured above from On, are widely used to promote products and to drive ecommerce sales in Japan
Japanese Instagram Trends Past and Present
Mirroring the rest of the world, Japan has plenty of Instagram influencers.
Also similar to anywhere else in the world, your brand should carefully consider whether or not a particular Japanese influencer (and their audience) is a good fit for your brand image, as well as attempt to evaluate the reach and engagement that influencer commands.
Influencer marketing is utilized by a majority of companies in Japan to some capacity, with 84% of marketers previously saying they plan on implementing an influencer campaign in the next 12 months.
A major trend a few years back—that was rolled out on an experimental basis at first—is no longer being able to see the number of “Likes” on Instagram posts. In a move that was suggested to be for the mental health and well-being of users, this hiding of Likes was implemented on a trial basis in a number of markets around the world.
The impact of this change has been that brands have one fewer metric to appraise potential influencers for collaboration. Similarly, Instagram influencers themselves have one less means of showcasing their “worth” to brands, as the number of Likes a post received was more or less the standard KPI when it comes to engagement.
Another previous Instagram trend, which has now become a key part of the app is video content on the platform. Whether it be in the form of Instagram stories or as separate posts, expect for Instagram to become a much more dynamic SNS app compared with before. Users do still upload static images, but videos are featured far more commonly on the app.
Recently the two biggest trends on Instagram are the ability for users to post GIFs in the comment section of posts and the rolling out of a system where users can pay to receive verification–in a move straight out of Elon Musk’s Twitter playbook.
The latter of these two trends may have some utility for smaller advertisers, but it is not yet clear if it will have a meaningful impact when it comes to driving ecommerce sales.
TikTok is the newest addition to the Big 4 social media platforms in Japan. The app got its start in China from a company called ByteDance, and has grown in popularity around the world to become a member of the over one billion user’s club. In Japan TikTok currently has close to 17 million users, replacing Instagram as the fastest-growing social media app in Japan.
While older social media users might recognize the similarity between TikTok and the now defunct app, Vine, it could be said that the social aspect was ramped up when it comes to TikTok, thanks to an emphasis on challenges early in the app’s history, which encouraged tons of engagement and videos that became viral sensations among users almost weekly.
The main reason your brand might be interested in TikTok in Japan is if targeting a younger audience, as they make up the biggest user demographic for the app both around the world and in Japan as well. With TikTok users reported as spending 45 minutes on average on the app, more and more advertisers are looking at its potential as an advertising channel to reach teen and young adult audiences.
TikTok ads come in a number of formats from which advertisers can select
While TikTok has attracted a lot of attention from businesses in recent years, the platform remains difficult for many advertisers to profitably integrate into their digital marketing strategy for Japan.
The primary reason for this is that TikTok has not provided the same level of results for as wide a range of brands and industries as other digital advertising platforms in Japan. This is especially the case for performance marketing.
TikTok is no longer a “new” social media app and despite its large worldwide user base it has not upended the digital advertising duopoly of Google and Meta to the extent that many thought it would.
When it comes to TikTok it is not the viral trends which last for a week and then are quickly forgotten, but rather the potential developments concerning the future of the app in the United States that is the trend to watch. TikTok is now banned from all government-owned devices used by the millions of Americans who work for the US government as of late 2022.
Were the scope of this ban to be expanded into an outright banning of TikTok in the US (i.e. removing it from all app stores and personal devices), it would have far-reaching implications, and might encourage similar moves by other countries with large consumer markets in Europe, Oceania, and Japan.
For those who might question whether such a move would actually play out, it’s important to note that there is a precedent for banning TikTok as India totally banned the social media app in 2020.
While we try to only discuss marketing on this blog and in our articles, TikTok is not just a social media app that simply exists in the public sphere, it is also an issue that is inextricably linked with geopolitics and trade—perhaps more than any other social media app—and this point can not and should not be overlooked.
LINE currently boasts over 89 active million users in Japan, which is over 70% of the entire Japanese population. In terms of MAUs (monthly active users) LINE is far and away the most popular messaging app in Japan by a very large margin.
While not as widely known in the West, the LINE app does have a significant user base in Asia.
As seen in the graph below, besides Japan LINE also has a strong presence in Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia with a combined 97 million users in those 3 countries.
LINE got its start as a messaging app that allowed users to send texts or make voice calls using their mobile data plans. However, LINE’s offerings today go well beyond its humble beginnings, and has evolved into an ecosystem offering games, manga, and a host of other services—such as a cashless payment system called LINE Pay—that are all integrated within the app itself.
The LINE app saw a surge of popularity following the March 2011 East Japan Earthquake, and has only increased in popularity with the proliferation of smartphones and other smart devices in Japan.
While LINE is the go-to messaging app for social media in Japan, it should be noted that it is not exactly the same as social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.
For one thing, most user’s time on the app is spent using the original messaging feature, which means ads feature much less prominently in the app and are not nearly as integrated into the experience as other social media apps.
Secondly, advertising on the LINE Ads platform is nowhere near as foreigner-friendly, requiring Japanese language skills both to set up and properly manage.
As a result, not as many small to medium size brands based overseas look to LINE Ads for their digital marketing and advertising in Japan, instead choosing to spend on other channels.
However, given the number of active users and its importance within the Japanese digital marketing landscape, brands that can utilize the LINE Ads platform’s advertising options to their full potential might consider the app for their marketing needs.
Note that we have deliberately categorized LINE as a messaging app rather than a social media app throughout this article.
This is because the LINE app is, and continues to be, used primarily for its messaging feature despite attempts to add social aspects to its features over the years.
For those looking for a comparison to another app, the closest well-known app in western countries would probably be Whatsapp, because users primarily use the app to communicate with people they know—like friends and family—who are on a contact list, with no real intrusion from unknown individuals.
In this way, the LINE app experience is not really the same as social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok, where you may encounter unknown users, accounts, or brands every time that you login or use the app.
Minor Players in the Japanese Social Media Landscape
Snapchat never caught on in Japan as it did in the West. The reason for this mostly stems from the delayed adoption of new social media platforms, which we usually experience here in Japan, as well as significant overlap with existing social media apps.
What really sealed Snapchat’s fate in Japan was in 2016 when Instagram rolled out their “stories” feature, which instantly made into a direct competitor to Snapchat in the ephemeral content space.
Since Instagram was just gaining in popularity here in Japan at the time, the “new” Instagram stories feature felt more like a feature present from the beginning to a large percentage of Japanese users, and so very few felt a need or a desire to use Snapchat.
With younger Japanese, especially women, flocking to Instagram in recent years and Snapchat failing to establish itself in the country prior to Instagram stories being released, Japanese users had no real reason to adopt Snapchat for its defining feature, videos which disappear after 24 hours, as Instagram stories did the same thing on a platform they were already actively using.
Additionally, since LINE already dominates the messaging and chat space, and in more demographics than the heavily youth-oriented Snapchat to boot, Snapchat as a messaging app never really had a strong value proposition in the Japanese market to begin with.
These two factors have halted Snapchat’s adoption among Japanese users, and now with the popularity of TikTok also thrown into the mix, Snapchat will likely never be relevant in Japan, unless some major development totally changes the current social media ecosystem.
LinkedIn caters to a very specific (read: small) audience in Japan. Currently, LinkedIn has an estimated 2 million monthly users in Japan.
Many Japanese who actively use LinkedIn tend to be higher up the corporate ladder, in international roles where they regularly conduct business with people from other countries, as opposed to your average domestic, Japanese company employee, or expats living in Japan. This functions as a major limitation to marketing on LinkedIn in Japan.
The lack of use by native, Japanese may have something to do with the tendency to stay at a single company for one’s entire career in Japan (although among younger Japanese this is changing), as well as Facebook functioning as a more professional-type social media platform in the Japanese market.
Globally, LinkedIn is a much bigger player with over 330 million users signing in to the site monthly, but its limited reach in Japan makes LinkedIn less of an impact player than other social networks and social media apps in the Japanese market.
Streaming and Video-Centric Social Media in Japan
There is no question about it, video is becoming the most prominent kind of content around the world.
Video is also becoming a much bigger part of social media in Japan. Almost all platforms have incorporated some sort of feature to share and watch videos, most likely due to the fact that videos have a higher rate of engagement than both text and images.
Platforms and social media apps that focus on videos to see even greater growth and relevance, especially as mobile internet and smartphone usage continue to increase, and the visual internet continues to dominate.
Streaming video site, YouTube, is a slightly different kind of animal when compared to other social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
Some sources claim YouTube is Japan’s most widely used social media platform (if you consider that LINE is more of a messaging app than a social media platform) with 65 million monthly active users in Japan. However, the manner in which people use YouTube is different than some other types of social media (i.e. you don’t have to sign-in or follow other users or accounts to enjoy ALL the user-generated content and videos available on the site) which makes advertising on YouTube more akin to traditional television in some ways.
Nonetheless, this should not take away from the fact that YouTube is an extremely viable channel to reach Japanese consumers, with nearly 75% of the population aged 16-64 using the platform in some capacity—primarily on smartphones—each month.
YouTube Trends in Japan 2023
In recent years, the number of Japanese YouTube influencers has ballooned in size, with the number of channels exceeding the tens of thousands and 100,000-subscriber count.
Of particular interest has been the influx of Japanese celebrities, television personalities and comedians who flocked to the platform during the pandemic, and have remained even after film and tv production returned to normal.
But the growth of YouTube in Japan has not been just in the number of influencers on the platform, numerous Japanese companies, even major holdouts like television networks, movie studios, and idol talent agencies, seem to have finally recognized, if not embraced, YouTube as a legitimate means of promotion. This serves as a perfect example of how change is slow, even in today’s global world, when it comes to the Japanese market.
NicoNicoDouga is Japan’s indigenous video sharing platform. Compared to YouTube, in which any person can watch videos without an account, NicoNicoDouga requires users to register in order to use the service.
Notable for the ability to write comments which appear on the video itself, and scrolls while it plays, NicoNicoDouga has cultivated a unique culture among its users.
A favorite among members of the anime and gaming communities especially, the strength of this platform in Japan, as well as YouTube, is seen as a major hurdle for Amazon-owned, Twitch’s attempt to penetrate the Japanese social streaming market.
Owned by CyberAgent, Inc., AbemaTV, a self-styled internet television station, is an interesting app for a number of reasons.
First, despite showing programs people actually might want to watch, the app is split into a freemium part—with a number of channels—and a subscription part, that had a wider selection of content.
Second, is the format it uses for its “broadcasts” or streams; instead of weekly episodes it usually plays an episode, or 2 back-to-back, every day until the series has finished.
Third, the variety of non-traditional channels that resembles cable TV.
For example, AbemaTV has a channel that just airs professional mahjong, one that just shows commercials, while another plays reality TV shows, such as Jersey Shore and Ex On The Beach.
A real-time commenting system in the sidebar, as opposed to comments constantly scrolling across the screen like NicoNico Douga, for users to interact with one another turns every viewing a “social” activity, which has become more popular on other streaming platforms as well. Since AbemaTV also lets you see how many people are watching a given program, and the numbers are not insignificant by any means.
The biggest story when it comes to AbemaTV, was it gaining the rights to broadcast the 2022 World Cup via its live streaming service.
This was seen as a huge success here in Japan, thanks to the ability to watch the games via streaming on smartphones and other mobile devices as well as a unique choice of commentator: Honda Keisuke, a former Japanese international footballer known for his unique personality and style of communication.
The highest viewership for AbemaTV’s coverage of the 2022 World Cup was the final, which saw over 20 million Japanese tuned in to see Argentina take on France.
These numbers were a huge achievement for AbemaTV and it will be interesting to see if they continue to build on this success in 2023 and beyond.
Difficulties Foreign Brands Face with Social Media in Japan
While social media has become an important tool for foreign brands trying to sell their products or promote their services to Japanese customers, there are a large number of challenges they face.
The language barrier is the challenge that most brands anticipate, but what many often are not prepared for is the significant cultural barrier.
When it comes right down to it, the Japanese market and the Japanese consumer is just different from Western markets and consumers, and this causes problems when strategies are not adapted properly to deal with that fact.
While it’s understandable that businesses would want to simply replicate what’s done in their home market, this is almost never a winning approach for the Japanese market. Preparing your business to build your strategy from scratch in Japan is always a good idea in our experience.
Finally, Apple’s iOS 14.5 significantly changed the digital advertising landscape and in particular social media marketing.
Businesses, especially ecommerce brands hoping to sell to Japanese customers, will require a much greater commitment to the market if they hope to succeed.
This means preparing budgets that recognize the high level of competition in Japan, and understanding that their media spend must be in line with ad costs dictated by the market.
In other words, while Japan is a large market with plenty of opportunity, it is not a market that can realistically be entered without an appropriate investment.
Every situation is different, and the way your business should proceed with not just social media marketing but digital marketing in Japan will depend on things like available resources, your industry, and overall position within the market.
Social Media in Japan: Summary and Takeaways
Social media in Japan provides businesses with a number of opportunities for both selling and brand building. Like the rest of the world, however, an understanding of the different social media platforms and how they are used by your target audience is imperative to achieving success.
In terms of total users LINE is the most widely-used app in Japan, but in terms of more conventional social media apps, Twitter and Instagram are the two biggest players. Among younger, Japanese social media users TikTok is the most popular video app, but among the entire Japanese population, streaming video platform YouTube has the most monthly active users.
While Facebook is no longer growing, its ad platform is still the biggest name in social media advertising in Japan thanks to its parent company, Meta, owning both Facebook and Instagram.
Moving forward, we expect to see a continued emphasis on video content being produced for many of the biggest social media apps in Japan, whether this be in the form of stories posts or for use in paid social and digital advertising.
Streaming video services and apps are also poised to gain even more to offer brands looking to promote and advertise their products and services on their platforms.
At the end of the day, depending on brand or company-specific marketing objectives, certain social media apps and platforms in Japan may still provide better ROI than others, which is why a careful analysis of your available options is always our recommendation.
Get in touch with us
At Plus Alpha Digital our team continues to keep a close eye on how consumers are using social media in Japan given social media’s importance to many of our clients’ digital strategy.
Contact us to find out how we can help you find the right solution for your next social media campaign in Japan.