Language

Looking at what the world likes about Japan

by Dan Grunebaum

Contributing Writer

Google Trends has released its search data on Japan for 2017 and topping several lists was the name Mao Kobayashi (小林麻央).

She was a newscaster whose battle with cancer gripped the nation, and her blog became one of Japan’s most-read. She led the 急上昇 (kyūjōshō, greatest rise) list (in Japanese-language searches) as well as the overall 話題の人 (wadai no hito, topical people) and topical people (women only) lists.


Despite news outlet BBC adding Kobayashi to its “100 Women” list, she didn’t appear on Google Trends’ 2017 top 10 list of worldwide searches that included the term “Japan” and another word.

Instead, when 世界が検索した “Japan” (sekai ga kensaku shita “Japan,” when the world searched for the term “Japan”), it was more for hard news.


Atop the list of top searches abroad was “North Korea Japan,” with “Trump in Japan” and “Japan election” taking up the second and third spots. Typhoon Lan, an avalanche and the Sagamihara murders occupied spots four to six, with soft news including Vissel Kobe soccer player Lukas Podolski and zero-waste town Kamikatsu in the bottom.

When Japanese did search political terms, though, it seemed to be out of a sense of befuddlement. In their …とは (…towa, what is…) searches, the rarely used word 忖度 (sontaku, surmise about someone’s feelings) topped the list, thanks to its connection with the Moritomo Gakuen school funding scandal, while “政党 比較” (seitō hikaku, compare political parties) led the “比較” (vs.) category.

Despite his steady stream of newsmaking tweets, U.S. President Donald Trump (known on Google mainly by his last name only: トランプ) came in at a mere No. 5 in Japanese-language searches for people.

When people overseas looked for topics related to the government’s Cool Japan initiative, “Tokyo” was actually the operative term that led them there.

Topping the world’s list of 2017 searches that included the word “Tokyo” was “Tokyo Girl,” a song by J-pop group Perfume.

Akiko Higashimura’s serialized TV drama “Tokyo Tarareba Musume” also resonated widely overseas, coming in at No. 3, followed by that icon of Cool Japan gaming culture, “Mario Kart Tokyo.” Though this was likely a reference to the activity tourists love to take part in on the city’s streets.

“Weird Japan” also naturally figured into the overseas results, with the terms “Katsu ika odori-don Tokyo” (dancing squid atop rice) creating a stir among those getting a kick out of seeing a dead squid squirm as its muscles reacted to the sodium in soy sauce.

Possibly thanks to Japan’s tourism boom, the lower ranks of the “Tokyo” searches included several seemingly travel-related topics, such as the No. 6 “Narisawa Tokyo,” in reference to a posh restaurant in the neighborhood of Minami-Aoyama.

One thing that may have been drawing in the tourists, according to searches, was Japanese music.

Bands such as the guitar-heavy One OK Rock, teen headbangers Babymetal and techno-pop trio Perfume continued to do well in searches. The love for One OK Rock cooled by the end of the year, however, with Perfume gunning for the top spot instead.


Search results also allow for a look at different geographical preferences for tunes. Boys with guitars seemed to attract interest worldwide, but female metalheads Babymetal got folks’ attention in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Perfume topped its rivals only in China.


Differences in regional taste that appear in web analytics are now being taken into account by Cool Japan content producers.

“Anime titles are being tailored to specific markets, (because) Chinese investors want anime that targets their own consumer base,” notes “Japanamerica” author and Japan Times columnist Roland Kelts. “Forthcoming adaptations of ‘Your Name.,’ the highest-grossing Japanese film ever, are a prime example. The Hollywood remake will be released roughly a year before a Chinese remake debuts in the Chinese market.”

In the world of anime, the enormous interest generated in Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 hit “Your Name.” began to dissipate over 2017, while Studio Ghibli’s rich catalog ensured that Hayao Miyazaki, director of such films as “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke” bested Shinkai all year long in Google’s worldwide search rankings.

Turning to gaming, Nintendo experienced a welcome reversal in fortune as its new Switch device leapt into the top 10 of Google’s Global Consumer Tech search rankings. Switch ended the year in third spot, beaten only by Apple’s iPhone X and 8 models. Showing the viral nature of search trends, 2016’s top search, “Pokemon Go,” didn’t even make the top 10 in 2017.

Mao Kobayashi made another appearance in Google’s Global Rankings, this time sadly in its Loss category. Kobayashi was the only Japanese topic to appear in the Global Rankings except for a dumpling recipe that came in at 10th place in Google’s Recipe column.

And speaking of losses, 2017 ended with a huge spike in searches for the notorious Aokigara “suicide forest” at the base of Mount Fuji as YouTuber Logan Paul‘s misguided adventure, which saw him happen upon a person’s dead body, brought unwelcome attention to the area.