Few apps kick off a culture change. For Japan, this culture altering app has not only become a staple on almost all Japanese phones but is also connected with disaster. This week’s international app highlight is Line, a free messaging app that also offer’s games and stickers.
Although the app is called, the company was actually started as a subsidiary of Naver Corporation, a Korean internet giant back in 2011.
At the time, Tumblr was becoming widely popular throughout all of Japan. The Japanese team of Naver saw this popularity and wanted to build a smartphone app similar to Tumblr, but the new app was focused more on communication. During this time the commonly dubbed triple disaster occurred. On March 11 2011, a 9.0 earthquake occurred in the ocean near the Tōhoku region. This in turn triggered a tsunami which resulted in the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Due to the disaster, telecommunications were down but internet infrastructure allowed for social media communications. It is here that Line was introduced as a disaster response app that used internet resources to communicate.
Fast forward to 2017 and Line has become the go to app for one-on-one communication. The app has not only shifted the way Japanese people communicate but has also become reflected in other Japanese media. Films such as Kimi no na wa (Your Name.) and animations such as Tsuki ga Kirei (as the moon, so beautiful) show characters using the app, cementing how relevant it is in Japanese culture.
The culture change that Line brought to Japan was not done through mass adoption alone. The main highlight is the easier form of communication and the features the app promotes.
The app can be described as a very “Japanese” app due to its over presentation of characters. It goes beyond the one-on-one communication and also includes mobile games and stickers. The characters embody this idea of “kawaii”, or cute. Kawaii when translated into English, means cute but within the Japanese language it is used very expressively especially among Japanese girls.
Line took the idea of kawaii characters and pumped out stickers featuring these cute characters and stories to supplement them. For instance, the mascot, a brown bear named Brown has a rabbit girlfriend named Moon.
The many expressive faces and environment of characters allows people to communicate without words, similar to the use of emojis. These stickers also have the ability to play sound, which makes some of the stickers such as the old school Pokemon popular.
For an example, the character James is meant to be handsome but one sticker shows him busily trying to handle many tasks, indicating stress or worrying about a heavy workload.
The app is not only texting and fun characters though.
Similar to WeChat, which we covered a while back, Line also has shake to meet, QR code, and payment systems within the app.
Incorporating another facet of Japanese culture, the app has services such as Line Manga. Manga is typically consumed by people of all ages, with certain genres targeted towards specific age groups. With original creations along with popular publishers, Line Manga allows readers to stay within the Line ecosystem.
Just like WeChat, Line has international users but its primary users are within its home country. This also promotes app updates and developments to that specific audience, meaning international audiences miss out.
Thanks for reading!
It’s not the super powerhouse app that WeChat is, but Line has introduced easier communication and another level of cuteness and convenience to Japan.