The war in Ukraine and China’s growing economic influence were top of mind for world leaders this weekend, alongside other serious global challenges such as climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.
But on the video-sharing site Niconico, it was a lively event, attracting jokes, anime slang and talk of a surprise visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss aid and arms support for his country.
The G-7 also generated a lot of interest on Twitter in Japan, the country with the most users of the platform outside the US. Users there were particularly struck by the significance of Japan hosting the summit in Hiroshima, the site of the 1945 American atomic bombing.
The summit kicked off on Friday with a symbolic visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to pay tribute to those killed in the bombing and to lay a wreath.
It stole the show on Japanese Twitter.
“This scene is really incredible… absolutely incredible. I can’t believe we’re seeing this,” said one user, which went viral on the platform that day.
Niconico was founded in 2006 and became one of the first streaming sites in Japan to feature real-time commentary that scrolls across the screen. Unlike YouTube, which allows text comments to be displayed alongside live video, Niconico overlays the comments on the footage itself.
Text scrolls from right to left, resulting in an immersive viewing experience where the reactions of others are just as important as what’s happening in the footage.
Niconio was furious at Zelensky’s arrival, with comments appearing on screen as the French plane carrying the Ukrainian leader landed at Hiroshima airport and as his motorcade passed crowds of Ukrainian evacuees and Hiroshima residents who had gathered to welcome his arrival.
“Wow, he’s really here!”
“He’s not in a suit.”
“Thank you for coming.”
“It will be in the textbooks.”
“8888,” many applauded. a term coined for clapping on stage, as the Japanese pronunciation of the number “pachi” is an onomatopoeia for the sound of clapping.
The platform started as a place for fans of anime, online games and various subcultures. It was co-founded by Hiroyuki Nishimura, the controversial creator of 2channel, the predecessor to 4chan, a platform that became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and hate speech and gave way to similar sites that took off across the United States.
Niconico has become a favorite community for its nearly 94 million registered users who can upload videos or watch live streams. It’s so influential among Japanese youth that slang terms born there often become mainstream online lingo.
The videos featured on the site are much more diverse than in its early days and now include sports, politics, and this weekend, even the G-7 summit.
Niconico users cheered for Biden as the broadcast showed Air Force One arriving here with messages reading “USA, USA.”
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They were especially excited to see Biden arrive at the Peace Memorial, but not just because the second US president visited the site of a US atomic bombing.
Instead, Niconico viewers were obsessed with the octogenarian’s age and behavior. A flood of comments flooded the screen as Biden walked the red carpet to the museum. “He is older than my grandfather.” “Somebody get him a cane.” “Is he okay?”
Despite all the jokes and insults, Niconico users also noticed how Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who lists Hiroshima as his home region and whose family is from here, seemed in his element this weekend.
Kishida has made nuclear disarmament a central part of his foreign policy and has repeatedly expressed the importance of holding the summit in Hiroshima at a time when many nuclear powers are expanding their programs.
Here at last hosting world leaders, Kishida’s usual stoic demeanor disappeared. And Niconico noticed.
“Kishida seems most confident when he’s in Hiroshima,” one commented as the prime minister held his closing press conference on Sunday. “Kishida looks so happy.”