Japan’s family social network

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

For families, moving to Japan can be an overwhelm­ing proposition. A new language, culture, school and medical system, among others, and often, no place to turn for advice and support can be daunting to the point of threatening for even the most travel-savvy parent’s mental health. Luckily, FUSION GOL, a web solutions provider here in Japan, has come to the rescue, as of October 2006, with their new service, Piqniq.jp, billed as Japan’s Family Social Network.

The idea came about last spring, as FUSION GOL looked to move from being an Internet Service Provid­er (ISP) to a Web Solutions Provider (WSP). As Robert Rork, Foreign Sales and Marketing for Fusion Network Services explains, an ISP deals with internet lines, web hosting, and email, whereas a WSP looks at how us­ers can enhance their internet experiences. Along with Piqniq.jp, FUSION GOL’s WSP services include StartForce.co.jp, an ‘online desktop’. The Web 2.0 application requires no installation and runs entirely within your browser. Perfect for anyone who works between multi­ple computers or travels a lot, StartForce.co.jp allows you to upload files into a Windows-like (in look) yet en­tirely self-contained operating system, which can then be accessed remotely and edited using built-in applica­tions such as Writer.

Piqniq.jp aims to help fight the feelings of isola­tion that can come from moving to Japan by inviting families to help other families on the first Social Net­work Service (SNS) tailored specifically towards Eng­lish-speaking families in Japan.

Rork comments, “We felt that for English-speaking families, there was no ‘one place’ that they could eas­ily find the type of information that was relevant to them. There are a lot of Japan-specific resources spread throughout the internet and in print but nothing re­ally focused on the family lifestyle. English-speaking families, no matter what country they may be from, have certain needs and questions that can be difficult to answer. We’ve designed Piqniq to help users discuss [them] all in English!” Robert is quick to add that this is in no way a service designed only for foreigners, although this is a common misconception. The key thing, he says, is that the network is in English, but English-speaking Japanese members are more than wel­come to join! As the network is geared towards families, those with kids will get the most use out of it, although anyone can get information about living in Japan.

Some of the issues that members can discuss, in fo­rums, through personal blogs, and via private messages, include raising kids in Japan, babysitters or daycare centers, schools and activities for kids, doctors and den­tists, and that ultimate family getaway.

While interacting with the online community us­ing features such as profiles, blogging, and messaging is nothing new to the online SNS community, what sets Piqniq apart from sites such as myspace, and its Japanese equivalent, mixi—and this is a very impor­tant feature—is, as FUSION GOL puts it, “the ability to add or comment on the growing list of companies, organizations, schools, etc., that provide services in English. In this way, Piqniq is more than just an SNS, it is a user-reviewed Information Resource that will be available to both registered users and non-users alike.”

While the other members of Piqniq might not be likely to pop over for a cup of sugar, they may well be­come your new neighbors, at least in a virtual sense. Not only does the idea of having good neighbors sounds ap­pealing, it’s good for us as well—having neighbors, both of the virtual and terrestrial kind, increases social inter­actions and leads to shared-resources, a concept of com­bining knowledge through a community, benefiting everyone greatly without too much work on the part of any one person. This is certainly evident in piqniq’s vibrant online forums, as members discuss everything from where to find the best Mexican food in Tokyo to where to find an English-speaking plumber. The friend­ly banter helps newcomers feel at home and gives the old timers both a chance to renew their enthusiasm for this often-wonderful, sometimes-overwhelming coun­try and pass on hard-earned knowledge.

Friendships too, develop as users post regularly and share the seemingly inconsequential details of day-to­day life that lasting relationships are based on. Here again, there is a true benefit to your mental health— according to about.com, having a strong, supportive social network has been associated with lower levels of stress, increased longevity, and greater levels of hap­piness. For any English-speaking families in Japan, but especially for those living outside of Tokyo, where feel­ings of isolation tend to be higher, FUSION GOL and Piqniq.jp have gone a long way to helping ease the stresses of finding our way around town.