In terms of Japan’s social media scene, 2012 was without a doubt the year of Line. The free application launched by NHN Japan in mid-2011 was initially created to allow free VoIP calls between Line users. This year it quickly snowballed into something much bigger: It now has an Instagram analogue in Pick, a social dashboard like Facebook, and is starting to pick up where the faltering Facebook Check-in Coupon fell off with its own location-based Coupon app. But one of Line’s most popular features is the ever-changing selection of cute stickers that you can add to text messages.

Line’s growth has been astounding: It reached the 50 million user mark at 399 days – more than twice as fast as both Twitter and Facebook. The most recent numbers, for November 2012, claim 80 million users, 36.5 million of whom live in Japan. The number of users shot past Facebook, which has only a little more than half as many users in Japan, with the number apparently plateauing in the last quarter of the year.

This year did, however, see Facebook edge out domestic rival Mixi, which has been faltering. Last June, Nikkei reported that Mixi’s active users for the month of March were 15 million (out of 27 million registered users). Not too bad, except that page views had dropped by 10 million in the past year – a loss of one-third. Mixi recently partnered with social gaming powerhouse DeNA to create a shared social gaming platform that will be live next year. We’ll see if that is enough to save Mixi – it certainly needs something.

And Twitter? While Japan is a distant third behind the U.S. and Brazil in number of accounts, Tokyo is the No. 2 city in the world for sheer number of tweets, according to a report by Semiocast. However, the same report also showed that Japan had the second slowest rate of new user registration after a flurry of growth last year.

Line was initially deployed as a response to the March 2011 disaster. The origin story has it that the name was a response to the way overwhelmed mobile networks forced people to wait in long lines at pay phones.

Last year proved to be a huge turning point for smart phones and social media in Japan. Social media is increasingly being viewed as a valuable tool during emergenciesFacebook has been testing its Disaster Message Board in Japan. In September, Yahoo! Japan, Twitter Japan, and J-WAVE radio station teamed up to hold a “Social Emergency Drill” where participants learned how to use social media effectively during a disaster. The Japanese government is considering allowing Twitter to join the emergency call system – meaning you could tweet 911 instead of calling.

According to New Media Trend Watch, as of June 2012, Japan had over 24 million smart phone owners. That’s nearly a quarter of all mobile phone owners in the country and a 43% increase from the end of 2011. So it was a big year for smart phones, too. A survey from ad agency Hakuhodo showed that all these smart phones have effectively worked their way into the brick-and-mortar retail experience. Two-thirds of the survey respondents said they had used a smart phone while shopping to check user reviews, compare prices, and search for discount coupons.

What else? Among confusion about how the Internet fits in with Japan’s politicking laws, Google Japan recently announced a campaign to put politicians in face-to-face contact with voters ahead of Japan’s general election on Dec. 16. It’s basically one big promotion for Google+, but with face time with a politician as the carrot.

Last year, a similar promotion saw massive follower numbers for the featured Google+ accounts, although then it was the young women of AKB48 in the spotlight. Who do you think will prove the bigger social media draw?

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