Last year was all about looking back. Between the end of the Heisei Era (1989-2019) and the decade coming to a close, people appeared to go to extra lengths to reflect on the recent and not-so-recent past (this column included). Now that we’ve entered 2020, though, it’s time to leave the highlights packages and best-of lists in the past. No more nostalgia … it’s time for predictions on where everything is heading.
The previous decade saw social media and internet culture in Japan go through major mutations en route to becoming a central part of daily life rather than a bizarre alternative world. It feels safe to predict the next 10 years will see just as many changes, for better or for worse. Here are a few major predictions of what we can expect:
Social media will redefine what a celebrity is: Few corners of Japanese society have been as resistant to the internet as the entertainment industry. However, this finally appeared to change toward the end of the 2010s, with once web-phobic artists such as Arashi and L’Arc-en-Ciel launching YouTube channels. Celebrities have started to use the video-sharing platform and other social media sites to connect directly with fans, offering new perspectives on who they are in the process. Entertainment personalities used to be expected to sing, dance, host TV shows and do a variety of other activities. In the 2020s, however, a celebrity will resemble something akin to what YouTubers Hikakin and Seikin have become — they’re best known as online figures, but now appear on TV and produce music, among other things. Online experience will just be another skill to check off on one’s resume, which will also result in the novelty of YouTubers and influencers losing their shine as they become expected to master myriad old-school skills.
Internet crime will grow: I’m not talking about stolen identities or even some Tom Clancy-esque hacking plot. As the web becomes more central to people’s lives, actions that start in Google Chrome will spill over into the real world. It’s already happening, with violent crime increasingly originating from social media, and stories such as one from October, in which a man managed to stalk a young woman by studying photos she posted online and looking at the surroundings that were reflected in her eyes. Such stories are no longer outliers, they’re a real sign of things to come.
A politician will try to jump-start a dance trend on TikTok to court young voters: I’m 90 percent sure it’s going to be Shinjiro Koizumi.
Japanese teens will abandon TikTok for whatever short-form video platform comes next: Same as above.
The Olympics will be the ultimate social media happening: The 2019 Rugby World Cup served as a test drive for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in many ways, but one unexpected preview of what’s to come could be seen online. The tournament offered netizens the chance to grumble about rowdy tourists and operational challenges such as venues running out of food and drink. Expect all of that griping to reach a whole new level when the torch in the National Stadium officially gets lit, but also expect a lot of digital jubilation when a Japanese athlete or team triumphs on the global stage. For all the negativity last year, the Brave Blossoms’ historic run in the competition kicked off a lot of positive vibes online that look more than likely to reappear later this year.
English-language YouTubers will give way to Southeast Asian counterparts: While the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will be sure to put a lot of attention on Japan, the jury’s still out on what will happen once it’s all over. Some are predicting that tourism figures will drop and economic growth will slow, with interest in Japan dissipating after a productive decade or so. Whether that happens or not, immigration from Southeast Asia is likely to remain strong on the back of the government’s moves to attract foreign workers to cover gaps in the workforce. And like their English-language counterparts before them, a significant number of them are likely to become YouTubers broadcasting their perspective on Japan alongside more typical day-in-the-life content. Just looking at creators from Vietnam alone reveals a number of channels that are seeing impressive growth on this platform. And that’s just one country — soon, fresh faces will take over the mantle of J-vlogging and present new angles to the world.
Japanese people will become really nostalgic for Mixi: More and more people in Japan are starting to get turned off by social media. Don’t expect netizens to chill out any time soon and, if anything else, increased online scrutiny of Japan by those outside of the country alongside goofy domestic blow-ups on platforms such as Twitter will push people away from the sites that people are gravitating to at present. As a result, a lot of people will pine for something akin to Mixi, a primitive 2000s-era site that enabled users to form a simple kind of connection with other users (one in which they could reveal nothing about their actual self) and also allowed them to avoid having to interact with the world outside Japan. You may even see an attempt to re-create this type of online community as social media continues to stress us all out.