National / Media | 2010s: Decade in Review

Social media became part of the mainstream conversation in Japan during the 2010s

Decade in review

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Internet culture has changed significantly over the past decade. In the 2000s, sites such as 2chan and Nico Nico Douga sat comfortably on the edges of the world wide web, offering a form of alternate reality from traditional media. The 2010s, however, saw social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube attract a wider audience and, consequently, become a significant part of mainstream conversation.

Naturally, the most memorable online moments of the 2010s also tended to be a big deal in real life. As such, they typically offered a succinct snapshot of where Japanese culture — both online and offline — stood.

Twitter attracts a following

The Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Tohoku in 2011 had an impact on every aspect of modern Japanese culture, including the nation’s online behavior. The disaster played out in real time on Twitter, starting with shocked users posting tweets about the violent shaking on the country’s east coast and followed by aghast reactions to tsunami footage being aired on TV screens.

However, the platform really proved its worth in the days and weeks that followed. With regular communication channels in disarray, the site allowed people to connect with one another online, keep in touch with those outside of the country and share valuable information.

Ever since, Twitter has proved itself to be a valuable tool during earthquakes and typhoons. Even the smallest tremor has users on alert, just in case. The platform has had plenty of ups and a whole lot of downs since launching in 2006, but its usefulness during an emergency arguably justifies its existence.

Record ‘balse’ tweet

Every year, the beloved Studio Ghibli production of “Castle In The Sky” airs on TV and, at a pivotal moment in the film, the masses log on to Twitter to scream “balse” into the digital ether.

This tradition predates Twitter, as netizens used to gather on video site Nico Nico Douga at the same time each year in the 2000s and individually post the word, which in the film is a magic spell. Yet “balse” blew up in 2011 on the social media site, setting a record for most tweeted subject (which it would break again in years to come). “Balse” brought everyone together for some low-stakes internet fun, while also highlighting just how central Twitter had become to the country’s pop-culture happenings.

Crying lawmaker enthralls nation

Ryutaro Nonomura’s meltdown during a news conference remains one of the funniest videos to emerge in the 2010s and, subsequently, the source of some stellar memes. It’s tempting to use his tear-stained performance as a jumping off point about how the internet allows common users to poke fun at those in power, but that would be taking the event a little too seriously — we honestly have little hesitation in saying that Nonomura inspired the best viral creations to grace the country this decade. Let’s celebrate creativity wherever we can find it, even if it comes from a guy trying to swindle his constituents out of money.

Hajime Syacho’s gummy worm feat

It’s the type of video that wouldn’t make anyone bat an eye these days, but when YouTuber Hajime Syacho filmed himself eating what might have been the world’s largest gummy worm in 2015, he set the template for all aspiring Japanese YouTubers to follow. Popular uploads usually involve some kind of stunt that seems bad for one’s health (check), a person eating an excessive amount of junk food (check), nonsensical cuts backed by annoying stock music (check) and a lot of regret (assuming Hajime spitting up a large chunk of the sweet counts, check). There have been other big name Japanese YouTubers and videos, but none capture the direction the script would go in better than this one while also attracting more than 120 million views. This also signals the start of YouTube going from oddball cousin of Japanese media to one of the most popular destinations for younger viewers, turning creators such as Hikkakin into stars who can grace potato chip bags. It all started with this gut-churning clip.

Tomioka Dance Club’s viral hit

High school dance troupe Tomioka Dance Club scored a viral hit with their bubble era-referencing performance set over Yoko Oginome’s 1985 hit “Dancing Hero (Eat You Up),” a number that enjoyed newfound chart success after the spread of the dance. Plenty of people have found success online with their creative endeavors, but their footwork came at a time when the power of music and trends shifted from mainstream companies and outlets to creators themselves. Sites such as MixChannel and TikTok redefined who curated cool in Japan and Tomioka Dance Club offered an early example of what was to follow.

Logan Paul ruins it for everyone

YouTuber Logan Paul came to Japan in late 2017 and managed to make everyone angry thanks to videos of himself causing a scene in Shibuya, throwing stuffed Pokeballs at cars in Akihabara and filming what appeared to be a corpse in Aokigahara forest. Everyone went ballistic over this, from Japanese people and foreign residents of the country to other YouTubers with no stake in Japan. Despite an apology, the episode still lingers as an example of a YouTube stunt gone wrong as well as a reflection of Japan’s growing tension with tourists, who flocked to the nation in record numbers during the 2010s. The issue has cropped up from time to time since — think back to incidents such as GoPro cameras in sushi restaurants and tourists in public transport at the recent Rugby World Cup — and you can bet it will be in full force next year as we count down to the Olympics. However, it’s hard to think of anything that made people more angry in the 2010s than Logan Paul.