Digital

Japanese teens take their love from ‘purikura’ to the web

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Like many teenage couples, Kazumasa and Riko love documenting important memories in their relationship — say, an anniversary or a trip to Okinawa. They also like to share short movies about their life as a couple online, and so far their clips have been viewed more than 18 million times.

“It was almost two years ago we started, and I don’t think we were shy about posting videos,” Riko says about their creations, which they share under the name Cyanrico. “We are more embarrassed about how our videos in the beginning sucked.”

The Kumamoto-based couple post videos on MixChannel, a social network that has become a popular digital destination for Japanese teens. Statistics provided by Donuts, the company behind MixChannel, show that by the end of 2015 the smartphone application had been downloaded around 5 million times. The main user base comprises teenagers, primarily in high school, with 81 percent being women. It has become the second most-used video application in Japan, behind only YouTube.

“In the 1990s, Japanese companies created purikura (“print club” sticker photos) machines, and teenagers developed a sharing culture. They’d take pictures for anniversaries or graduations with friends and share them,” Yohei Nishimura, ad sales director for MixChannel says from Donuts’ office in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. “But with the Internet, they shared pictures on Twitter and Instagram, and now with MixChannel, they can share their daily life in videos.”

Launched in December 2013 and inspired by Vine, MixChannel allows users to create short videos and post them to one of the site’s categories, ranging from Omoshiroi (funny), to Twins (where two people dance in synch to a song). Each division features rankings of the most popular videos and creations. Nishimura says this helps foster an active community, one where users put more effort into their creations in order to move up in popularity.

This competitive push prompts creators to spend time perfecting their videos. Nishimura says users utilize many other apps — from Photoshop-esque programs to selfie enhancers such as Snow (if you’ve seen someone sporting dog ears recently in photos, thank Snow) — to produce the best possible work. Music plays a huge role in most clips, and MixChannel has a special deal in place with the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) allowing for the use of many big-name artists’ sounds.

Although the dance-centric “Twins” category has resulted in MixChannel’s first “stars” — that would be the duo Macomina, primed to make a major label debut this July — Nishimura says the platform has become best known for its Love category, where young couples share clips centered on their relationship, attracting millions of views and fans. These offerings range from phone conversations to slide shows documenting special occasions or travels. It’s MixChannel’s most unique offering — there’s no social media platform anywhere else explicitly celebrating youthful relationships (and, even, amicable breakup announcements).

Kazumasa and Riko (who, due to school rules, asked their full names not be published) started dating five years ago, and discovered MixChannel through a friend near the end of their final year.

“The first video I saw was a father and his little daughter doing some popular comedian’s jokes. I remember I watched that video over and over,” Riko says. She goes on to say they were drawn to the application’s simplicity, along with how everyone using it appeared to be around the same age as them. But that wasn’t the ultimate reason they started their channel.

“To make our memories,” Riko says. “Sometimes we watch our videos and enjoy those times, we remember our memories together.”

They do this with more than 63,000 people who are fans of the Cyanrico uploads, which Riko says take an hour or two to create. They have no reservations about who sees the clips, including friends and family. “They look forward to all of our updates!”

Having attracted the sought-after demographic that Riko and Kazumasa represent, MixChannel itself is looking toward the future. Nishimura says they want to focus on developing more performers who can cross over to other platforms, and continue developing advertising opportunities with other companies (currently, ads appear between and before clips). They are also eyeing expansion into the rest of Asia.

As for Cyanrico, they aren’t thinking beyond the present, and plan to continue uploading to MixChannel.

“We got lots of comments from others like ‘Your videos make me smile’ or ‘I feel a great peace of mind when I watch your videos,’ ” Riko says.

Check out MixChannel at mixch.tv.