Clubhouse Tops Japan Chart as CEOs, Celebrities Embrace App


Clubhouse, the invite-only drop-in conversation app attracting Silicon Valley leaders in the U.S., has jumped the pond to become a hit in Japan where company chiefs, popular musicians and politicians have embraced the latest social-media phenomenon. Even SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son has an account.

The iPhone-only app topped the country’s download charts with more than 440,000 new installs last week, according to Sensor Tower. The first week of February has also seen it sweep across the wider Asia region, with China enjoying a short-lived romance with the audio-only service before it was swiftly blocked after users started discussing politically sensitive topics.

In Japan, as elsewhere, the appeal of Clubhouse has largely been local. Chart-topping hip-hop producer and DJ Taku Takahashi has moderated experimental jam sessions for audiences topping 1,500 listeners. Comedian Naomi Watanabe has more than 383,000 followers. Takumi Kawahara, the husband and collaborator of tidiness guru Marie Kondo, is a regular. Public health expert Dr. Takahiro Kinoshita hosts a morning show with virologists and answers audience questions. And regulatory reform and vaccine minister Taro Kono recently participated in a chat with more than 1,800 listeners.

“The real thrill of using this platform is that anyone can participate in the dialogue,” said artist and musician Emi Kusano. “I think it’s very exciting for influencers to be able to connect with people.”

Mercurial investor Son has also been drawn in, though he hasn’t yet taken part in any fireside chats. When his SoftBank Group Corp. reported record earnings on Monday — illustrated by an extended metaphor about golden eggs — several Clubhouse chatrooms popped up to discuss the results, with a combined audience of more than 500.

Base Inc. founder and Chief Executive Officer Yuta Tsuruoka described his Clubhouse experience as akin to a company general meeting, helping him gather feedback and requests from users. He wants to do it again in a month’s time and is among an expanding group of business leaders adopting the platform.

“There are a lot of people feeling alone right now, so they want to talk and listen with others,” Hironao Kunimitsu, founder and CEO of games maker Gumi Inc., told Bloomberg News. Clubhouse is more casual and has fewer hurdles to sharing than a platform such as YouTube, “where you have to worry about things like your hairstyle,” he added. “You can have something similar to a dinner conversation.”

Others have found the new app unintuitive. One programmer who said they didn’t understand how to use Clubhouse instead created a rudimentary game called Crabhouse — the pronunciation is essentially identical in Japanese — which briefly became a trending topic in Japan, reflecting the country’s sudden infatuation with the novel app.

While celebrities enjoy a direct channel to their fans on Twitter and Facebook, Clubhouse offers a more intimate experience. It allows the audience to listen in real time and offers the slim, tantalizing chance of asking a question or even having a conversation.

When Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined a chat recently, overwhelming demand for that room caused technical issues. Before him, Tesla Inc. chief Elon Musk conducted an impromptu interview with Robinhood Markets Inc.’s Vlad Tenev, grilling the CEO about the circumstances and reasons for the retail-trading app blocking some transactions of GameStop Corp. shares.

In the first week of February, Clubhouse downloads were up 2,233% in South Korea and 1,764% in Taiwan relative to the entire month of January, Sensor Tower data showed. This expansion signals the app has found an appealing new mode of online interaction, but questions remain about its lasting power. The platform still has to develop robust moderation and viable monetization strategies to ensure it’s more than a fleeting fascination.