Facebook has grown at a tremendous rate in Japan over the past four years, jumping from just over 200,000 users in 2008 to more than 6 million by the end of 2011. In the process, Japan has generated one of the social network’s highest annual growth rates of 254 percent, second only to Brazil.

The translation of the site into Japanese gives non-native speakers a nice glimpse at how the language works; the online space requires adaptations of existing language patterns to fit the new areas of social interaction, and it is a great place to expose yourself to the language.

As you can probably imagine, the site is rife with loanwords. You can komento (コメント, comment) on friends’ photos and status updates and shea (シェア, share) both as well depending on the puraibashī settei (プライバシー設定, privacy settings) of the user. Messēji (メッセージ, message), arubamu (アルバム, album), ibento (イベント, event), and grūpu (グループ, group) are also pretty self-explanatory direct translations from the English site. While these words may seem simple, by changing your Facebook language to Japanese, you’ll increase your exposure to these katakana words and soon enough they’ll look like actual gestalt rather than sets of phonetic characters that you have to sound out every time you read them.

There are also plenty of words that use kanji compounds. One of the most notable is kinkyō (近況, status), which is sometimes appended with appudēto (アップデート, update). So go ahead, don’t be afraid to answer the question Ima nani shiteru? (今何してる? What are you doing now?) which is a casual Japanese alternative to the English “What’s on your mind?”

Shashin (写真, pictures) and dōga (動画, videos) make frequent appearances on Japanese Facebook, and of course the translation of friend is tomodachi (友達), all in kanji. Tōkō (投稿, post) might be the coolest compound in use on Japanese Facebook: Impress your friends by saying Kako no tōkō mienai-n dakedo! Mō chotto mirareru kana (過去の投稿が見えないんだけど。もうちょっと見られるかな?, I can’t see the past posts. Can I see more?).

And the most interesting translation is, of course, the rendering of “Like.” On the Japanese Facebook “Like” becomes Ii ne! (いいね! That’s good!) with the exclamation point included. Two Japanese verbs are associated with Ii ne!: For groups and celebrities, you can Ii ne! wo oshimasu (いいね!を押します, click “That’s good!”), and once you’ve clicked on a friend’s kinkyō, the text reads Anata ga “Ii ne!” to itte imasu (あなたが「いいね!」と言っています, You say “This is good!”). You might recognize the -te imasu pattern from present-progressive gerund patterns (走っています, I’m running; 食べています, I’m eating; etc.), but in this case it means, literally, “You say ‘This is good!,'” implying that you are in a state of liking the object. Once you Ii ne! something, a third verb appears: Facebook allows you to torikesu (取り消す, cancel) the Ii ne! and thereby “Unlike” the item.

The most educational parts of Facebook are the interactions with friends; as my Japanese friends continue to join the site and add me, I’ve learned fun new vocabulary and watched as Japanese etiquette gets adapted for the Internet. When a friend adds you, give them a shoutout on their taimurain (タイムライン, Timeline) by saying Shōnin dōmo desu (承認どうもです, Thanks for approving [my friend request]) or Tsuika dōmo desu (追加どうもです, Thanks for adding [me]). Even a simple Korekara mo yoroshiku! (これからもよろしく!, Looking forward to your continued friendship!) can be a nice way to acknowledge someone. And when you check the list of Kyō tanjōbi no tomodachi (今日誕生日の友達, Today’s birthdays), don’t forget to write Tanjōbi omedetō!(誕生日おめでとう!, Happy Birthday!).

When you do switch your account into Japanese, make sure you go into your ippan akaunto settei (一般アカウント設定, general account settings) and add your sei (姓, surname) and mei (名, given name) in katakana in addition to your English name. This way, people who remember your Japanese name but not the English spelling will be able to search for you; this is especially useful if you have spent a long time in Japan. While you have both names in your settings, your Japanese name will show for friends with accounts set in Japanese and your English name for those with accounts in English.

The other day a Hirano-san added me as a friend. For a year or so when I lived in Tokyo, I had a roommate named Hirano-san, and until he added me as a friend on Facebook, I never realized I didn’t know his given name. Now I know. I’ll still keep calling him “Hirano-san,” as old habits die hard, especially in Japan, but now I feel like I’ve learned a little more about him.

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