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Technology

Japan lawmakers join Clubhouse app to reach voters

Audio-only social media platform offers a way to connect without in-person events

A Clubhouse chat involving Japanese lawmakers from various parties: The app has won fans in Japan's parliament. (Photo by Susumu Kuronuma)

TOKYO -- Look who's talking: Less than a year after its launch, and the month after it hit Japan, the voice-based chat app Clubhouse is finding fans among legislators for communicating with the public at a time when large gatherings are out of the question.

Digital Transformation Minister Takuya Hirai participated in a study group on the platform Tuesday evening, discussing policies promoting the adoption of technology in society with such other guests as Jun Murai, a Keio University professor known as the "father of the internet in Japan." The roughly 50-minute talk attracted 2,000-plus people.

The event followed a chat with the public Monday hosted by four young lawmakers, including Takuma Miyaji of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Kazuma Nakatani of the Constitutional Democratic Party. Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, had also connected with constituents the same way that morning.

Launched in early 2020 by U.S. startup Alpha Exploration, Clubhouse is a by-invitation-only app that is part party line, part talk radio, part live podcast and part video-free Zoom call. Hosts and their guests talk, and users can drop in. The platform, which boasts more than 2 million users worldwide, offers opportunities to plan events featuring influencers.

Interest in the app spiked in Asia last week after American technology entrepreneur Elon Musk spoke on it. Clubhouse even picked up users in China, who gained access by changing country settings in Apple's app store. Chinese users engaged in unusually open discussions before the authorities blocked access.

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