In the not-so-distant future, it might be considered quaint to hail a taxi with your hand instead of using a smartphone app.
Line Corporation, after expanding its mobile business with game apps and online purchases, is expanding its smartphone messaging platform with a new service called Line Taxi for users to book cabs in Tokyo via its app.
Launched in January, users simply type their address into the app and, with GPS, the taxi’s dispatch time appears on the map. The taxi ride is automatically paid for using a pre-registered credit card, so there is no need to worry about having cash on hand. Line hopes the app will be useful for people who don’t want to fight over cabs during rush hour.
Competitor Uber, a taxi booking app that’s already available in 55 countries, already expanded its service to Tokyo last spring and has many similar features to Line Taxi.
Uber has also come under fire after testing out its services in Fukuoka. The government told the company to suspend its pilot project as the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry believes that the smartphone application service likely violates the Road Transportation Law prohibiting unlicensed taxi services.
Although Line Taxi doesn’t have the premium service of luxury cars like Uber, the face that Line’s partner is Nihon Kotsu, Japan’s largest taxi company, means there might not be a big gap between the two. More than 3,000 taxis will be connected to Line, and the company plans to include more than 23,000 taxis for its service nationwide.
Currently Line Taxi is only available in Japanese and the fare has to be paid with a Japanese credit card, but the app is expected to become more foreigner-friendly in the future and expand coverage throughout Japan. The company first said that they wanted to take their taxi service global since previewing it last October.
Kimo-kawaii, the slang that mashes up kimoi (yucky, gross; which is a shorter, slangier version of kimochiwarui, itself) and kawaii (cute, sweet) has become an apt description of more and more things over the years. While aficionados might disagree on what defines kimo-kawaii, generally if something has an eerie, sweet creepiness that makes it hard to look at but harder to look away, it’s kimo-kawaii.
Here are 13 things deemed so in Japan, in chronological order:
1999: Dancing Baby, a funky CG animation, became a meme in United States in the ‘90s (even appearing on the TV show “Ally McBeal”), but it became so popular in Japan that Toyota put it in a Cami ad (above). Young people of the time who had already begun saying kimo-kawaii applied it here in an early use case.
Mid 2000s:Ungirls, the comedy duo comprised of Takushi Tanaka and Yoshiaki Yamane became known as kimo-kawaii, somewhat cruelly, mostly due to their looks. Over the years and depending on whom you ask the assessment seems to change from “Tanaka is kimoi, but Yamane is kawaii” to just deciding that Tanaka himself is kimo-kawaii. Or maybe not even kawaii. . . Last year on the variety show “London Hearts” when Tanaka ranked high (low?) on a list of most disliked celebs, hesaid everyone should give being him a try because it’s a hellish life, but he will keep doing it as long as he lives.
By the way, 2006 is the year that the word “kimo-kawaii” is considered to have really “arrived.”
August 2007: Face Bank, the piggy bank designed by artist Eiichi Takada that actually pigs out on your savings, went on sale. When you place a coin near its mouth, it opens and swallows the currency — a perfect way to add some kimo-kawaii to your everyday life.
2008 Noi Asano’s manga “Chiisai Oyaji Nikki” (something like “Little Old Man Diary”) about a girl who one day discovers a tiny man began airing as a series of anime shorts last year and most recently got promoted with latte art at Double Tall in Shibuya.
October 2010 Nishiko-kun (right), the mascot of Nishi-Kokubunji, was born. The “fairy” is one of many regional mascots that have become widespread across Japan in recent years. Unlike its traditionally cute counterparts, however, Nishiko-kun is a lanky, armless thing with a huge head that evokes the image of a happy manhole. His proportions have made for some especially awkward dance moves, but he remains oddly alluring, don’t you think?
June 2011BeeWorks‘s “Mushroom Garden” (aka “Nameko Saibai Kit”) smartphone game series has exploded in popularity since its release two years ago. These nasty-yet-endearing fungi have gained quite the following (ask almost any elementary schooler), leading to an avalanche of merchandise, including a Nendoroid that reaches back to its “Touch Detective” roots on Nintendo DS.
June 2012Body part jewelry makes a kimo-kawaii splash from across the globe. Handmade in the U.K. and sold on crafty website Etsy, these doodads allowed people to attach ears to their ears, mouths to their fingers and noses to their necks, among other things.
Fall 2012: Later that year, the freaky-looking toy with its own language, Furby,relaunched with a smartphone app and a Momoiro Clover Z campaign (including the above commercial).
March 2013: There are plenty of kimo-kawaii videogames, but Cocosola‘s smash hit “Alpaca Evolution” is a textbook example of how strangely addicting bizarre characters can be. Your objective is to absorb other alpacas in a cannibalistic fashion as you mutate into a more and more grotesque creature. A prequel has already been released and it looks like the merch parade is marching along.
June 2013: “Attack on Titan”-branded LINE stamps feature a number of human characters from the anime, but also explore a kimo-kawaii side of the monstrous titans that will give fans a chuckle (or surprise/gross out the unsuspecting friend on the other end of your LINE chat).
This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor do we presume to be authorities on the matter. In fact while researching we noticed Tofugu had nicely summarized the trend recently. We’re sure the wave of kimo-kawaii will be good surfing for years to come, so remember this useful word when you come across a sort-of-cute character that makes you feel kind of icky at the same time.
Additional research for this story contributed by Emily Balistrieri. (Full disclosure: Emily is the Japanese-English translator of “Alpaca Evolution.”)
In terms of Japan’s social media scene, 2012 was without a doubt the year of Line. The free application launched by NHN Japan in mid-2011 was initially created to allow free VoIP calls between Line users. This year it quickly snowballed into something much bigger: It now has an Instagram analogue in Pick, a social dashboard like Facebook, and is starting to pick up where the faltering Facebook Check-in Coupon fell off with its own location-based Coupon app. But one of Line’s most popular features is the ever-changing selection of cute stickers that you can add to text messages.
Line’s growth has been astounding: It reached the 50 million user mark at 399 days – more than twice as fast as both Twitter and Facebook. The most recent numbers, for November 2012, claim 80 million users, 36.5 million of whom live in Japan. The number of users shot past Facebook, which has only a little more than half as many users in Japan, with the number apparently plateauing in the last quarter of the year.
And Twitter? While Japan is a distant third behind the U.S. and Brazil in number of accounts, Tokyo is the No. 2 city in the world for sheer number of tweets, according to a report by Semiocast. However, the same report also showed that Japan had the second slowest rate of new user registration after a flurry of growth last year.
When the fastest-growing social-networking service in the world puts out a game that looks like a mash-up of Angry Birds, Bejeweled and Tetris, you might guess the game would do pretty well. Throw in a free sticker with your download, and you’ve got an instant hit. The acquisition of Korean game Birzzle looks like the first step in Line’s strategy to expand its properties beyond internet calling and messaging. Line has been downloaded over 42 million times in the last year, mostly in Asia.
Website Tech in Asia reports that Line Birzzle has blasted to No. 1 on app store charts in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Macau. It is available for download on Android and iOS operating systems.