As the team was considering its options, disaster struck: the worst earthquake ever recorded in Japan, the magnitude-9 Tōhoku quake, which hit off the country’s coast on March 11, 2011.
Landline and wireless phone infrastructure were overwhelmed, preventing people from reaching loved ones and confirming that they were okay.“Even in Tokyo, we were not able to use mobile phones,” Idezawa remembers.
This new store, called Line Friends, is different, to put it mildly.
For one thing, it’s not owned by a retailer but by a social media company called Line, which in less than four years has become Japan’s hottest phenomenon by offering an app that provides free messaging and video and phone calls.
Line is headquartered in Shibuya Hikarie, a gleaming high-rise in the heart of Shibuya, the Times Square–like hub of commerce centered around one of Japan’s busiest train stations.
I am here to meet Takeshi Idezawa, who was promoted from COO to CEO of Line Corp. Expecting Japanese formality, I’ve donned a suit and tie for the occasion, but Idezawa is dressed like a Silicon Valley exec, in a collarless gray shirt under a gray jacket.
Idezawa tells me Line’s humble origin story, how it was born from a three-person team in the Tokyo office of the Korean Internet powerhouse Naver (which, among other things, runs Korea’s largest search engine). The brief: “It had to be for smartphones,” he says.
“Number two, it had to be useful for communication.” Tumblr was catching on in Japan at the time, and at first, the team noodled around with a photo-sharing idea inspired by its success.
.49: Cost for a sheet of physical stickers featuring Line’s Brown the bear.The song’s sales pitch is infectious, but wholly unnecessary: Everyone in Japan is familiar with Line, not just the busy shoppers buying into the mania this winter morning.Less than four years after Line’s launch, the company says that more than 560 million people worldwide have registered as members, the majority of them in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand.“It was really a devastating situation.” The Internet, however, held up reasonably well.People turned to social networks such as Twitter to stay in touch.
Those characters are two of the cartoon personalities who live in the app as giant emoji called stickers that Line offers for use when texting.