The study, which also included interviews with experts and citizens in Japan, was conducted by brand strategy company Bassett & Partners of San Francisco and interTrend Communications, a Long Beach agency that specializes in marketing to Asian countries. Twitter rolled out its Japanese version in 2008, the first time the San Francisco firm translated its service into a language other than English. Before the magnitude 9.0 quake, Twitter use in Japan was relatively low - more popular with "young, technical IT-types" who saw it as "a game for daily communication as opposed to a useful network tool," the report said.
One independent estimate last year found less than 2 percent of all Twitter members in Japan.Even still, Japan set a new overall Twitter record for tweets per second - 3,283 - when the country's men's soccer team upset Denmark in a 2010 World Cup match, a mark that was shattered with 6,939 just four seconds after the new year 2011 rolled around in Japan.
The current record, 7,196 tweets per second, was set last month when Japan defeated the United States for the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship. But when the March disasters disrupted regular lines of communications, the Japanese turned to social media, especially Twitter. The number of tweets spiked to more than 5,000 per second five separate times after the quake and tsunami, a 500 percent increase. At one point right after the quake, there were 11,000 tweets per minute. And within a week, Twitter membership in Japan rose by one-third, the report said.
The Twitter stream formed a virtual support group even for people in different regions of the country, said Tom Bassett, Bassett & Partners' chief executive officer. "In Japan, it was almost like this was therapy, a healing kind of tool," Bassett said.
The content of those tweets was also revealing. The number of tweets containing emotionally charged words such as fear, loneliness, sympathy, shock, joy, surprise, sadness and hate increased nearly 30 percent as the disaster unfolded. At the same time, the number of tweets with the word "hope" increased nearly 60 percent. That kind of public outpouring of emotion is unusual for the Japanese, said Dasher, director of Stanford's U.S.-Asia Technology Management Center, which researches emerging trends in technology and business in Asia. Dasher has also taught classical Japanese.
The researchers noted similarities between the set architecture of haiku - 17 syllables total formed by three lines of five, then seven, then five syllables - and Twitter, which allows no more than 140 characters, including hashtags and usernames. Both are interactive expressions created by one author and read by many followers or listeners. And retweets of Twitter messages can be like haiku strung together "to form linked poems as part of running haiku contests," the report said.
"So that brought new life into the art and led to what I would say is a disruptive innovation in the form of Japanese poetry," Dasher said. "Things were never the same after that. Twitter to me does require a certain amount of artistry to keep things under 140 characters and I think that has brought new life into social circles with short bursts of communication. It's not unlike haiku."
That "communal communication" could give Western nations more insight into Japanese culture, said Charla Griffy-Brown, professor of information systems at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management.
Then again, "We don't use poetry so much in the West the way we used to 100 years ago," she said. "Our ability to understand that channel has been limited and perhaps it is us that has changed. It used to be a form of entertainment and diversion and a way to keep your mind active. Now there are other things we do."
In other countries, such as in the Middle East, Twitter has become a communications tool used by those looking to unite people to force government change. In Japan, after triple disasters, Twitter has helped disseminate vital information, but the researchers said it also played a role in unifying people across different regions. "Twitter was used to start this social movement for good," said Cara Silver, a Bassett & Partners ethnographer who worked on the study. "It's really empowered a lot of younger folk who are using it to unite the country."