Over the past year, major U.S. social-media services have made some serious inroads into Japan. Here are some recent developments.

Mixi vs. Facebook

A report on Japanese social-networking services usage issued by Nielsen/NetRatings on Nov. 18 made a huge impact in Japan, as the statistics indicated that the number of Mixi users (8.39 million) has fallen below that of Facebook users (11.31 million).

This news was widely picked up by the Japanese media — forcing Mixi to issue an official statement that it has 15.16 million active users. According to Mixi, the Nielsen research only includes traffic coming from personal computers, which accounts for approximately half of Mixi’s users. In the company’s financial report issued Nov. 2, it states that 80 percent of the traffic to the site is coming from mobile phones, while there is no sign that the majority of Japanese Facebook users are accessing Facebook from their mobiles.

To be fair, Nielsen always says that the report is based on PC traffic only — it is people who misinterpret the data who make the mistake of saying that Facebook has overwhelmed Mixi as a whole.

There is, however, no dependable source to gauge Web traffic from Japanese mobile phones. In the case of Gree and Mobage — two game-oriented social-networking services which are more active than Mixi — 99 percent and 100 percent respectively of their traffic comes from mobile phones rather than PCs. Because of this, there is no real attempt to compare them with Facebook on Nielsen’s or other statistics services such as Alexa and ComScore. Mixi’s problem is that 20 percent of its traffic comes from PC — so it has to compete with other PC-oriented social networks such as Facebook.

But while Facebook has been doing well in Japan, and although many tech-savvy folk are no longer using Mixi, it is too early to say Facebook has actually overtaken Mixi.

New tweets-per-second record

On Dec.14, Twitter confirmed via its @twittercomms account that Japanese users had once again recorded the highest number of tweets per second. This occurred during a Dec. 9 broadcast of “Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa” (“Castle in the Sky”) on the Nippon Television Network nationwide. Although this anime has the worst cinema sales of any Studio Ghibli film, reruns on TV consistently enjoy high viewer ratings — this was the 13th time that Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 work had been aired.

At the film’s climax the two main characters, Pazu and Sheeta, chant the magical word “Balse,” and it has become popular for the audience to join in. When that moment came during the Dec. 9 broadcast, the Twittersphere went nuts as people tweeted the word (or more correctly the Japanese rendering of it, “Barusu”) at the astounding rate of 25,088 times per second. This was almost three times higher than the former record of 8,868 tweets per second, set on Aug. 28 when Beyonce announced her pregnancy at this year’s MTV Music Awards.

But how could something such as an anime generate such a high number of tweets? True, Twitter is especially popular in Japan, but still the number seems weird.

As the film repeats almost every second year, this is not the first time people have joined in the chorus of “Balse” on the Web. Comment boards on the notorious anonymous Internet forum 2-channel are known to light up when the film screens, and had torrential strings of comments chanting “Burasu” in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The last time, in 2009, Twitter was not yet as popular in Japan as it is today, but on this occasion many people were posting the channel, date and time of the “Laputa” rerun on Twitter, 2-channel and elsewhere — which some say was a spontaneous, user-generated attempt to get enough people involved to set the tweets record.

MovaTwitter, a popular third-party Twitter client for mobile phones, even prepared a special “one-click” feature allowing people to tweet “Burasu” during the show — which resulted in the president apologizing to other users who were not interested in the anime.

Many English media covered the high tweet count, but most could not explain why a 25-year-old anime could generate hype bigger than New Year’s greetings or the victory of Nadeshiko Japan at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was of course due to the popularity of Miyazaki’s anime, but there is also sense of “belonging” that such an event can inspire, as people watching the film at the same time throughout Japan can share in the climactic moment.

Google+ and AKB48

Google’s latest attempt at social networking, Google+, is aiming for new horizons by utilising a purely Japanese phenomenon — forming an alliance with the management of the popular all-girl pop group AKB48 and its sister groups SKE48 and NMB48.

Surprisingly, the alliance was not dreamed up by Google Japan but rather by Google Inc., whose vice president of Google+ product management, Bradley Horowitz, visited Tokyo to make the announcement on Dec. 8 in the company of a selection of AKB48’s key members and their producer, Yasushi Akimoto.

Seventy-seven members now have Google+ accounts (only members over 18 can join due to Google rules), and in just a week after joining, 72 members ranked in the Top 100 of the “most followed” in Japan — including all the Top 10 spots. In global rankings, the first AKB48 member to appear is Yuko Oshima, at 260, and I wonder how long it will be before the AKB48 girls hold the top spots internationally?

For AKB48 it is a massive push into the international market, and they are making sure they can communicate with as many of their fans overseas as possible by providing translations of the content in five languages — English, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Indonesian.

Akky Akimoto writes for Asiajin.com, an English blog on the Japanese Web scene. You can follow him @akky on Twitter.