G-7 summit in Hiroshima draws unlikely audience: Japanese livestreamers

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HIROSHIMA, Japan — The gathering of world leaders here has attracted an unlikely audience online: Japanese youths glued to more than 72 hours of summitry and offering real-time commentary on a livestreaming site popular among anime fans.

And they had a lot to say.

President Biden is “grandpa.” Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, looks like “a big Tom Cruise” who “would smell good.” French President Emmanuel Macron has “such a cute name” — and “I love macarons!”

The war in Ukraine and China’s growing economic influence have been top of mind for world leaders this weekend, alongside other serious global challenges like climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

But on the video-sharing site Niconico, it’s been a lively event that has attracted jokes, anime slang and chatter about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s surprise visit to discuss aid and weapons support for his country.

The G-7 also drew heavy interest on Twitter in Japan, the country with the most users on the platform outside the United States. 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 Friday with a symbolic visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to those who died in the bombing, and a wreath-laying ceremony.

It stole the show on Japanese Twitter.

“This scene is really incredible … absolutely incredible. I can’t believe we’re seeing this,” one user said, a sentiment shared widely on the platform that day.

Niconico was created in 2006 and became one of the first streaming websites in Japan to show real-time comments scrolling across the screen. Unlike YouTube, which allows text comments to appear adjacent to live video, Niconico overlays comments on the footage itself.

The text scrolls from right to left, and the result is an immersive viewing experience in which others’ reactions are just as important as what’s going on in the footage.

Niconico went wild during Zelensky’s arrival, with comments flashing on screen as the French aircraft carrying Ukraine’s leader landed at Hiroshima Airport and as his motorcade drove past a crowd of Ukrainian evacuees and Hiroshima residents gathered to greet his arrival.

“Wow, he’s really here.”

“He’s not in a suit.”

“Thank you for coming.”

“Will be in the textbooks.”

“8888,” many applauded — a term coined on the platform for clapping because a Japanese pronunciation of the number “pachi” is an onomatopoeia for the sound of applause.

The platform began as a niche gathering place for fans of anime, online games and various subcultures. It was co-founded by Hiroyuki Nishimura, the controversial creator behind 2channel, the predecessor for 4chan, a platform that became a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and hate speech and gave way for similar sites that spread in the United States.

Niconico has grown into a beloved community for its roughly 94 million registered users, who can upload videos or watch live streams. It is so influential among Japanese youths that slang terms born there often become mainstream online lingo.

Videos featured on the site are much more diverse than in its early days and now span sports, politics and, this weekend, even the G-7 summit.

Niconico users welcomed Biden enthusiastically when the feed showed Air Force One arriving here, with messages reading: “USA, USA.”

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They were particularly animated about seeing Biden’s arrival at the Peace Memorial — but not because of the significance of only the second American president to visit the site of the U.S. atomic bombing.

Instead, Niconico viewers were obsessed with the octogenarian’s age and demeanor. A flurry of comments flooded across the screen as Biden walked the red carpet to the museum: “He’s older than my grandpa.” “Someone get him a cane.” “Is he OK?”

For all the jokes and insults, Niconico users also noticed how Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — who represents Hiroshima as his home district and whose family is from here — seemed in his element this weekend.

Kishida has made nuclear disarmament central to his foreign policy agenda and has repeatedly expressed the significance of hosting the summit in Hiroshima during a time when many nuclear powers are expanding their programs.

Hosting the world leaders here at last, Kishida’s usual stoic demeanor was gone. And Niconico noticed.

“Kishida looks the most confident when he’s in Hiroshima,” one commented as the prime minister held his concluding news conference Sunday. “Kishida looks so happy.”

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