Many friends in the west ask me about YouTube in Japan. Well, YouTube is popular in Japan, but when it comes to junior and high school students and the youth market in this country, YouTube has stiff competition and may even be lagging. Arguably the biggest and most popular video sharing platform in this country is Niconico. So this short article is a primer on Niconico, which used to be called  Nico Nico Douga. But, even today, just about everyone still calls it “Nico Nico Douga” – even people I know who work there!

“Niko Niko” in Japanese means “Smile.” So, I guess the creators of Niconico wanted to make a play off that word and hence, “Nico Nico”…. Smile!

Alexa lists Niconico as the 8th most visited site in Japan. And here is a list of The Top 10 Most Visited Sites in Japan:

#1 (Japanese version of portal site) Yes, Yahoo is huge in Japan!

#2  (Japanese version of portal site) 

#3 (Japanese version of portal site) 

#4 (a free blog service)



#7 (Online retail shopping)




Did I just hear your jaw drop to the table? Yeah, that’s right; Niconico is more popular here than Facebook or Twitter!

Niconico started out as Nico Nico Douga; a sort of hi-bred mix of YouTube and Japan’s Denpa 2 Channel. Denpa 2 Channel is a bulletin board system (BBS) that is hugely popular in Japan; especially amongst young people.

While YouTube allows viewers to add comments below the videos, Niconico allows viewers to chat and comment on the video they are watching while they are watching it! It’s pretty neat and definitely a “Japanese Thing.” The comments appear on the screen as viewers watch and they can chat back and forth while watching.

For me, I find the comments on the screen as an interference, but the Japanese kids like to watch and chat at the same time…. It’s somewhat similar to today’s games like Minecraft where one can play while chatting with friends at the same time.

The curious thing, I reckon, about Niconico is that you must sign up to view it, yet it is still hugely popular. I hate signing up for anything! At Niconico , there are two types of registered accounts at Niconico ; Free membership (that’s me!) and Premium-membership. The Premium-membership fee is ¥540 yen a month.

You’d think, though, that few would actually pay to watch videos. Think about it; would you pay about $5 (USD) a month to watch YouTube or use Facebook? Nope? Neither would I. But, in Japan it is different! As of January 2012, Niconico had surpassed 1,500,000 premium members! As of October 31, 2011, Niconico had over 23,690,000 registered users, 6,870,000 mobile users!

Another interesting thing about Niconico is that almost everything on it is User Generated Content whereas YouTube has tons of content that are old TV shows, etc. In fact, due to very strict copyright laws in Japan, it is forbidden to upload TV shows on Niconico.

Niconico users are often making music or remixing existing items with their friends and uploading the finished songs to the website.

Have you ever heard of Hatsune Miku, the Vocaloid? Well, she, uh, her, uh…it? Hatsune Miku became big in Japan through Nico Nico Douga. She is still huge on the site.

Niconico has a huge fan base of “Nico Chuus” (Nico Nico Douga junkies). Kids who watch a huge volume of content on Niconico everyday.

The service is now available in Japanese, English and Chinese so it might seem the company has its expansion plans set up for Asia where BBS is much more popular than in the west. Anyway, next year will be Niconico’s 10th year and she is still going strong. When it comes to a user generated video sharing platform, then I doubt that Niconico is going to be crushed by the competition anytime soon; especially since Niconico has a tight grip on the Japanese youth market.


Here is a Hatsune Miku video that I captured from Nico Nico Douga for you a while back (it is on YouTube because I figure if you are reading this (in English) then you don’t have access to Niconico!)

ビデオ制作、格安ビデオ制作、ROBOT55, ロボット・ゴー・ゴー,