Why You Should Expand Your Mobile App Business to Japan

Posted in December 2016 by Issei Watanabe

App Marketing

When we talk about business expansions, Japan might not be the first country to discuss due to the great economic stagnation; the lost decades of the last twenty years. However, this concern may be increasingly irrelevant. Japan’s economy is being stimulated by the implementation of the ‘Abenomics’ economic policy, aiming to accelerate the recovery of the economy. Furthermore, Japan is still one of the biggest economies of the world with a GDP of more than USD 4 trillion.

Japan tops world in mobile apps revenue

The willingness to pay for mobile apps is exceptionally high in Japan. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Japan has become the biggest mobile app market in the world in terms of revenue.

According to our research (first two-quarters of Japan MAU rankings in 24 categories with editorial commentaries) all the highest grossing mobile apps in Japan are games. Furthermore, you won’t find many games from international developers. In fact, 86 of 100 top-paid apps are provided by Japanese developers.

market-share Data Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

Why did many international app developers fail to succeed in Japan?

The few successful international developers established subsidiaries in Japan. In other words, they adopted the FDI strategy. In contrast, most of the unsuccessful developers in Japan tend to rely strongly on Japanese publishers or marketing agencies. The problem here is that Japanese publishers are not providing services aimed at international competitors. The degree of control developers have is also significantly lower than FDIs.

The cons of FDI is its costs and risks. Many international developers are afraid of investing capital in a foreign country that has a different culture from their home country. To reduce such uncertainties, market analytics plays a pivotal role.

What is the best way to expand your mobile app business into the Japanese market?

Besides language adaption, all you need to do is to develop a sophisticated marketing strategy, take care of relevant localisation and keep a high degree of control. The common failures of international app companies in Japan result from miscommunications between the headquarter and its subsidiaries. The executives need to understand what is happening in the Japanese market and how competitors are acting in Japan. Furthermore, when a company puts an advertisement on social media, the company needs to understand each SNS’s usage in Japan. For instance, the charts below show the usage of new popular SNSs in Japan.

new-sns Data Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

App Ape is a tool that can provide you relevant and detailed information about the Japanese and South Korean market. App Ape Analytics not only tells you how many people are using apps in an hourly, daily or monthly period, but also which other apps are owned by different users. In addition, it provides app rankings for different genders, age groups, and genres using five different methods. You can, for example, investigate the most popular action gaming apps in terms of MAU (Monthly Active Users) for 20 to 29-year-old male smartphone users.

Another unique characteristic of App Ape is its custom report. You can request the data you are interested in and App Ape will provide you with a customized report containing and a 360-degree analysis. Imagine you perceive a difference between the app’s possession and its MAU. App Ape’s analysts will then provide you with a user acquisition/release(loss) analysis. This analysis can reveal the characteristics of your users and reveal which apps are taking your users away.

acquisition_loss-analysisData Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

How many gaming apps does a gamer play per month in Japan?

Mobile app gamers in Japan play 3.4 games each month on average. Now let’s take a look at the data for each demographic segment.

Teenagers top the charts for both genders

age_gender-ratioData Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

Teenagers apparently have a tendency to play several games. More precisely, teenage boys use 5.2 gaming apps on average and are therefore the most important demographic for this market. We suppose that teenagers play games more often since they simply have more free time.

Less generation gaps for women

Although there is a huge gap between generations for men, women across all generations in Japan use between 3 to 4 apps on average per month. That might be the case because popular apps designed for a female audience (e.g.: LINE: Disney Tsumutsumu or Nekoatsume) do not specifically target a certain age groups.

Top 10 gaming apps for men and women

One of the most frequently requested data sets is the MAU (Monthly Active User) ranking for gaming apps of each gender (should you be interested to know the MAU ranking for each generation, please contact App Ape).

top-10-gaming-appsData Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

Monster Strike, Puzzle and Dragons, and LINE: Disney Tsumutsumu are popular over all generations. Especially Monster Strike and Puzzle and Dragons are popular with men, whereas LINE: Disney Tsumutsumu is popular with women. Those apps have continuously been in the top of the MAU ranking for the last three years. Recently, gaming apps aiming to provide relaxation (e.g.: Necoatsume) have also became popular.

Example of localisation

example-of-localisationData Source: App Ape Analytics (based on 30,000 android devices/Active numbers were estimated by App Ape).

Although Tinder has a strong presence in the global market, the DAU seems to be considerably less than its Japanese competitors. This might be the case as concepts of dating and relationships differ between nations. Therefore, localisation can be identified as crucial if one wants to accrue more users. On the other hand, Japanese dating app providers usually work through extremely aggressive advertisements on numerous Japanese websites. This marketing approach might be another reason for the Japanese dating apps’ success.


To sum up, by using App Ape’s services, you can understand market mechanisms in detail. The insight obtained will make it possible to expand your mobile business into Japan with the lowest amount of investment and the highest degree of control over your app. The App Ape team hopes that international apps become more competitive in Japan and South Korea and that it can contribute to making mobile apps more attractive to end users.

Addition: What is App Ape?

App Ape analyses mobile app usage using a database of over 100,000 samples and provides comprehensive market surveys.

Over 2,000 enterprises are now using the free version of App Ape Analytics and more than 60 enterprises are using advanced versions for their competitive market analysis, investigation of app market trends, fine-tuning of apps and optimization of their advertisements and promotions.

Guest Author
Issei Watanabe
Issei works as a Manager at Global Business Division at Fuller, Inc that provides ‘App Ape’. He is also very active in backpacking, dancing, and cycling & only drinks Cappuccino.

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