The Japanese version of Pinterest is now live as the site ramps up its global expansion. The launch comes 18 months after Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten became an investor in Pinterest. For the first time ever, with Japanese Pinterest, Rakuten login is available on a non-Rakuten product. Japanese users can log onto the site using Rakuten Connect, its version of Facebook Connect which gives access to Rakuten’s online store and other services. Rakuten has 80 million members, compared to Pinterest’s current base of 70 million users.
The localized site features subcategories that cover 100 different topics for hair styling, paper crafts, products, design, art and food popular in Japan. A Pinterest blog post says that the company took into account market research in Japan, as well feedback from a beta version. We’ve contacted Pinterest and Rakuten for more information.
Rakuten lead a $100 million Pinterest in May 2012 in a round of funding that was said to value the site at $1.5 billion. Then in October 2013, that valuation was bumped up to an impressive $3.8 billion after Pinterest raised a Series E of $225 million from Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Valiant Capital Management. Rakuten did not return for the Series E, but Pinterest said that the proceeds would be used for corporate purposes including international expansion to build on its 125% international growth since the beginning of the year.
Pinterest’s new Japanese site comes on the heels of its launch into the UK, France and Italy. It said it plans to launch in 10 more countries by the end of this year (now presumably 9, since it’s checked Japan off that list). The company also added that it would continue to develop its monetization model, which began testing earlier this month, into a global program. Pinterest’s Japan launch comes amid continuing questions about how the site will justify its rich valuation. Potential answers include a developing a new advertising scheme that resembles a revenue share where it gets paid dollars when its ads lead directly to people buying items, opposed to getting paid cents per impression.
Last year, Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told AllThingD that his company made its $100 million bet in Pinterest in part because he had developed a strong relationship with its founder Ben Silbermann.
Rakuten’s stake in Pinterest also fits into its ongoing investment into U.S. e-commerce startups. In 2013 alone, it has helped fund Slice, a company that organizes commerce data by tapping into your inbox; Apcera, an enterprise IT platform; retail marketplace Daily Grommet; and luxury retail site AHAlife. It also acquired Webgistik, a e-commerce fulfillment company, to help expand into the US. All these companies may help Rakuten fuel the expansion of its e-commerce business outside of Asia and make it a stronger competitor against Amazon.