It’s 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and I’m sitting down with some Japanese executives, who are advisers to the Cool Japan fund. The topic of discussion? What is the most optimal way for Japan to promote its cultural exports overseas and how best to capitalize on the internet’s constantly evolving fascination with Japanese culture.
The best part of the chat? This conversation didn’t take place in a boardroom — it took place in my living room, via the social media platform Clubhouse.
Initially released in April for iPhone users, Clubhouse has grown from a few thousand members to more than 2 million in under a year. I joined the app in early December, when it was mostly popular with Black creatives. Back then, Japanese users hadn’t yet received their invitations to this invite-only app. That led to an interesting phenomenon of different nationalities coming on board in waves — in late January I noticed a large influx of German users, and there was a wave of Chinese users before that country banned the app.
Then, earlier this month, Japan got its invitation. Venture capitalists, CEOS, celebrities, influencers and politicians began posting screenshots of their Clubhouse accounts on other social media platforms and, finally, the kaiwa (conversation) started.
While many articles have focused on the idea of Clubhouse allowing users to feel like they’re mingling with the who’s who of the internet, one of the reasons I like it is for what it seems to be doing for the international community here. My Saturday night meeting, for example, would’ve likely never been possible in real life … but there I was, giving my input and feeling like I was being heard.
Clubhouse, at least for now, is providing opportunities for non-Japanese and Japanese to have conversations with each other in a way that hasn’t been possible on other social media platforms — mainly because, at this point, both sides want to have a conversation. The app’s audio format, as opposed to a written one, lets you hear a person stumbling over their words, which adds nuance, and allows you to ask for clarification if something sounds off. Unlike Twitter, you will also know you’re speaking to a person instead of arguing with a bot account.
Twitter has responded to Clubhouse with its own audio format, Spaces. As of now, though, it’s still in its beta mode and therefore hasn’t seen the same wave of Japanese users taking to it.
Regardless of the platform, I’ve found that the best way to enter any community is to be yourself. Have an open mind and understand that you’ll encounter a range of opinions so be respectful. Anyone can start a room to discuss life in Japan or Japanese culture, and I’ve found that Japanese members aren’t shy about joining such conversations.
One of the big draws for Japanese users is the chance to engage in bilingual discussions with native speakers (with the reverse being true as well). Such chats can be conducted in a variety of ways depending on the fluency level of those involved. If there’s a language barrier, rooms will tend to have dedicated translators who assist in ensuring both parties messages are properly conveyed. If you’re fluent in multiple languages, expect to be in high demand.
Outside of starting your own room, the conversations you have access to are only as good as the people you follow. Think of every person as a key that unlocks another wing of the app — you won’t be alerted to chats about science if you don’t follow scientists, for example.
My first recommendation on who to follow would be Abraxas Higgins (@Abraxas), he runs daily welcome rooms for folks new to Clubhouse in multiple languages. Next up are Clubhouse’s beloved musicians Axel Mansoor (@Axelmansoor) and Bomani X (@iambomanix). Axel is the face of the current app icon and runs the Lullaby Club where musicians sing lullabies to hundreds of sleepy fans every night. Bomani, the previous app icon, hosts the Cotton Club on Wednesdays where listeners are transported to a monochromatic jam session. Heavy hitters such as Kiko Mizuhara, Naomi Watanabe and Yu Shirota can also be found on the app.
Good Clubhouse etiquette is paramount to finding success on the platform. Be wary of how much you’re talking and make room for others, don’t speak over people and be sure to mute your mic when you’re brought up on stage but aren’t speaking so that background noise doesn’t interrupt the current speaker. Finally, always remember to read the room.
Of course, if you don’t feel like speaking, you can always sit back and listen to the conversations that are taking place. There’s very little pressure to take part. In a country where it is sometimes hard to strike up conversation with the locals, though, it seems like this may be a moment in which you can make those links. At the very least, it’s always good for a chat.
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