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The past 12 months have certainly highlighted how integral the internet is to Japan.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in February immediately accelerated a shift in focus to the web, with homebound people nationwide spending more time on social media and sites such as YouTube as a way to stay entertained during the country’s initial state of emergency in spring last year as well as a way to remain connected to others.

In the first few weeks of 2021, it’s almost as if Japan is experiencing deja vu. The government has declared a second state of emergency for parts of the country that have been hit hard by the outbreak, all but asking its citizens to stay at home in the evenings and enjoy influencer Naomi Watanabe’s livestream sessions.

The pool of creators producing online content for what’s essentially a captive audience has grown over the past 12 months, making it easy to lose track of who’s who on the web. It doesn’t help matters much when the creators themselves are constantly in flux.

Nevertheless, their activities online are likely to define a lot of what we remember 2021 for, as has increasingly been the case in recent years.

So to give you a crash course in which producers to keep an eye on over the next 12 months — especially as we wait for the government to roll out its vaccination program — here’s a collection of some of influential Japanese creators who are poised to shape 2021.

Fuwa-chan

Haruka Fuwa had a massive year in 2020. The effervescent online personality better known as Fuwa-chan saw her YouTube channels attract a substantial increase in views, while her Instagram and Twitter presences also gained a loyal following. The creator — responsible for hyperactive videos of her going about her day — became a staple on TV variety shows, teamed up with the Tokyo government to promote COVID-19 awareness and ended up being one of Japan’s buzzwords of the year. Her achievements are certainly commendable, and make up for the time she accidentally urinated on live television.

If 2020 was her breakout year, 2021 will see Fuwa at the peak of her powers. The 27-year-old now has the attention of the mainstream, but she has a proven track record of being a web-first creator who has adopted an independent approach to showbiz that’s slowly becoming more normal in the country. (Fuwa left powerhouse agency Watanabe Entertainment several years ago, which should have closed off access to Japan’s upper entertainment echelons … but she appears to have easily navigated those barriers.) What Fuwa does over the course of the next 12 months will provide plenty of insight into the direction of pop culture and online content in Japan looking forward.

Hikaru

Although he’s not new to the world of YouTube, Hikaru enjoyed a revival of sorts in 2020 and currently sits third in marketing company Bitstar’s “Influencer Power Ranking.” His videos routinely anchor themselves in the “Trending” tab on the video site, and companies have started featuring him in ads, a sign of emerging wider reach. Hikaru seems poised to become the go-to name on YouTube in the country as the old guard, represented by such creators as Hikakin and Fischer’s, move into veteran roles. Hikaru looks set to represent a new generation of content creators taking the spotlight.

AbemaTV

Online TV network AbemaTV has connected with Japan’s Generation Z. Look over research firm MyNaviTeens Lab’s list of top 10 influencers ranked by teenagers and you see the majority of them feature on a show that is broadcast by that digital channel. While every person has established their own brand on social media — from Ryosuke Sota to Noah Sato — they’ve enjoyed extra juice from being regulars on a service that manages to connect to youth culture.

AbemaTV has become something of an incubator for young influencers over the years, and is one of the best places to turn to discover the online stars of tomorrow.

TikTok users

The beauty of short-form video platform TikTok is that no select group of creators on it tower above the rest of the community. Thanks to Chinese company ByteDance’s algorithm, anyone can be dropped in front of viewers around the world and, in this role, can help launch a new dance craze or vertical video meme.

After a year in which TikTok users propelled songs by artists such as Eito into the mainstream and launched challenges embraced by high schoolers all over the nation, 2021 should see the service become even more central to what becomes successful, especially as advertisers and other companies explore the platform’s potential. With no sign of a ban on the horizon, TikTok looks set to provide the most powerful influencers in all of Japan — teenagers — with a digital platform.

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