by Devon Sponheimer
We’re starting a new series called “Japlanning your life”, where you can bring some Japanese creations into your day-to-day. Today, Devon is teaching us all about one of the newer social media applications taking the world by storm! Today, we explore the world of LINE, the free call and messaging program developed in Japan.
Line was launched in 2011, built in fact out of the Tohoku earthquake, with the realisation of most traditional communication methods being down, and the need for online methods. Within 18 months after public release, Line quickly reached 100 million users. It is now Japan’s largest social network, with 300 million users worldwide.
Line is available on Android, iOS, Blackberry, Nokia Asha, Windows phones and Firefox OS. Line also has standalone apps for Mac and PC, so if you don’t have cell service, or your phone handy, you can still be connected.
Line offers free messaging to Line users worldwide, so you can message your friends with Japanese flair. Yes, there are many messaging apps out there, but none have the cuteness and unique Japanese touches of Line.
One of the most fun features of Line’s messaging program is the stickers. Featuring both well-known and original characters, these stickers can be used to enhance your chat sessions. You can purchase them (for between $0.50 to $1.00), or send them as gifts. The best part is many of them are FREE.
Some of our (free) favorites star Cony and Brown (who are Line’s ‘mascots’), 2NE1 and HaeJin Park. Some free sticker sets are always available for download, but some are only for a limited time. Other free stickers require adding a friend to download, such as Crunchyroll-Hime, or America’s Next Top Model.
I’ve paid for a few sticker sets (Hello Kitty and Stitch, because seriously I NEED them), but thanks to Line’s “free coin” program, I haven’t paid any out of pocket costs to download them.
Within Line chats, there is a feature that automatically displays stickers. For instance, if I type in “Japanese”, a lucky cat, a bento box and sake stickers (among others) will appear. Thanks to this new feature, it makes messaging much easier. Depending on how many sticker sets you had, it was hard searching for the perfect sticker for any given conversation. Now if I type in “Hmm”, one of the boys from HaeJin Park will appear, and BAM! Exactly what I was looking for.
Celebrities, sports organisations and TV shows are just some of the things you can connect with on Line. Many music groups, especially on the JPOP and KPOP scene I follow (EXO, AKB48, KPP, KARA) send exclusive content through their line accounts. I can watch music videos and catch up on what they’re up to. The Hello Kitty Official Line account will send stickers and Hello Kitty information. If it feels like you’re getting too many messages from one account, you can easily switch off notifications, which is especially helpful at 2am when Hello Kitty is sending you a picture of her ‘boyfriend’ Daniel because it’s his birthday. Cute, but not so amusing at 2am, HK.
Games are a completely optional part of Line, but are fun time wasters for smartphone users. They've got many games now, such as Line Pop or Disney’s Tsum Tsum. This has taken the world by storm and infiltrated Disney stores and theme parks with their super cute merchandise.
Line has an application called “Free Coins”. By downloading their games and applications from the Free Coins section under settings, you can earn coins to spend on stickers and backgrounds. So if you really NEED that new Hatsune Miku sticker set, you can get it without coming out of pocket. (Note: this is region dependent, sadly this isn’t available in Australia for Line users yet. U.S. and Japan, enjoy!)
What sort of Japanese product would this be if it didn’t have mascots? Line has eight main mascots: Cony & Brown, Moon & James, Sally & Leonard and Jessica & Edward. Can’t get enough of their Line hijinx?
They’ve also released both a traditional and web series anime staring these characters.
Line also allows you to make calls user-to-user, over VoIP for free. We’ve tested it from the US to Australia and it does work, but there is a huge, noticeable delay - making conversation challenging. We suspect this is a issue with Australian internet speeds, as when we tried talking from Japan to Washington D.C. there was zero delay.
Line lets you do so much that it’s hard to cover it all in one post. However, some additional features include:
Sharing photos and videos
Shake phones to add friends or use QR codes
Creating group chats
Creating private chats (think Snapchat style)
Beyond the app
Line has exploded as a brand, well beyond their messaging app. With countless Line-branded games and lifestyle apps, you can “re-line” your life (You can even deck out your life in Line by visiting the Line Friends store in Harajuku, Tokyo, pictured in the top of this article.)
More recently, Line has launched “Line Pay”, an easy and secure online payment system to compete with PayPal, and launched “Line Taxi”, a ridesharing/car service, much like Uber. In fact it has become Uber’s biggest competitor in Japan. Line has partnered with Japan’s largest Taxi company, Nihon Kotsu to start the service in Tokyo only.
Line Taxi, works through the Line app and uses your Line Pay account to pay your driver, so no physical money exchanges hands. You can book a driver, watch their progress to you via GPS, and send your location to friends (sound familiar?) And it also has one thing Uber doesn’t: its cute mascot Brown dressed as a cab driver (and I think we all know Japan’s fondness for kawaii mascots...your move Uber!) The Japlanning team recently got to see the implementation of this new service, and it seems to be working well in Tokyo thanks in part to a slick media presence and super cute marketing.
It’s one of the newer online social networks, and is reaching beyond just the traditional messaging service. It’s looking more and more like Line is wants to be a part of your daily life in more ways than one.
If you’re looking for a great chat program that’s fun with some Japanese flair, we highly suggest using Line.
Got some questions about Japan? or are already a Line user?
Feel free to hit us up on Line.