Two Elementary School Students Who Met Through the Dreamcast’s Online Service are Reunited 20 Years Later: The Full Story of this Miracle
“Rena” and “Hina” became friends through chatting on the Internet during its dawn in the late 90s, and they’ve been reunited twenty years later. Although their lives are both very different today, they’re close once again due to various circumstances. When they shared the joy of meeting up once again over Twitter, it garnered a huge reaction of people saying that it was like something out of a movie, and truly wonderful.
Brought Together by the Dreamcast
Our two stars are now known as Akira Kusaka and miho. Akira streams on Niconico Douga and is a singer, all while working at a bar in Osaka city. Miho is the bassist for metal band LOVEBITES.
The two became friends through chatting on the Dreamcast online service nearly 20 years ago. The console was equipped with a standard telephone line-based modem for gaming, browsing the web, email, and of course group chats. Akira and miho were both very into chatting, using the handles “Rena” and “Hina” respectively.
It was rare to find other elementary school aged kids online, and they immediately hit it off with their shared love of game music. When they got home from school, they’d immediately turn on the Dreamcast and talk to one another pretty much every day. And though they lost touch with one another after they graduated from elementary school, they never forgot about each other.
Fast forward to April 2021: Miho came to know about Akira through one of her streams, and summoned the courage to go visit her at the bar she worked at during a trip to Osaka to play a concert with her band. When each of them posted their own memories and feelings of joy from reuniting on Twitter, it struck a chord with a lot of people: Those tweets ended up getting about 200,000 likes.
Akira wrote “I’m now friends with “Hina” (Miho) again after so long” and “Thank you Dreamcast. Thank you Internet era. Thank you us”. To which Miho replied “I’m so glad that I got the courage up to visit her, because now we’re friends again after 20 years. I’m looking forward to it!” and “And let’s not lose touch again!”.
“How Old Are You?” “We’re About the Same Age”
The two of them took a look back to when they met with us.
Back then there were not nearly as many people online, which goes even more so for elementary school aged kids. So how did you end up getting online?
miho: My uncle was living with us at the time, and he knew a lot about IT and had a PC himself. So I happened to find out about the Internet from him. Then later on, my family bought me a Dreamcast since there were games I wanted to play on it. I participated in events where you could learn about how the Internet worked, and I got really into email, chatting, and surfing the net.
Akira: Around my third of fourth year of elementary school, I was always playing around with my mom’s work computer. I loved game music, so I was usually searching around for MIDI versions of the songs I liked. I couldn’t use it anytime I wanted, but the Dreamcast really was my dream console. I was really attracted by being able to use to not only to play games, but also as my own computer. And so my parents bought one for me.
What are your memories of chatting?
Akira: Chatting online wasn’t an everyday thing back then, so I needed a lot of courage to start doing it. I was always very excited while I was chatting.
miho: Even the younger people chatting were usually high school students, there certainly weren’t many elementary school girls around. I’d go into the chat room and have conversations that were like “How old are you?” “We’re about the same age” “Where do you live?”. Nowadays an elementary school student using the Internet could be kind of scary, but back then there weren’t so many people spreading personal information around.
Akira: It was an era in which we really only just knew that we were interacting with other people. I chatted with people other than Hina, but I remember thinking that I got along with her particularly well right from the start.
miho: There were a few people I made friends with. I had my own homepage, and met some of them through that. Because of this story getting so much attention, I even looked some of them up and followed them on Twitter. The image I had of Rena was that she was an otaku, but still really cool. And I was becoming more and more of a core otaku myself: I loved game music, and got really into metal because I felt the two had a lot in common. And before I knew it, I was a bassist in a metal band.
Akira: I love game music too, but at the time I didn’t know anyone else who felt the same way. This was an era when copyright was pretty lenient, so when you went to miho’s homepage, MIDI versions of music from bishoujo games would start play. And I was really happy that she liked that kind of music! Our homepages were the big reason why we became friends. Pages on GeoCities were relatively easy to make using a Dreamcast, so we just input HTML using the controller. Doing something like that these days is unimaginable, right? It’s like entering the Spell of Restoration in Dragon Quest using the Famicom controller! (Laugh) But even though it was a pain, miho and I had fun doing it.
“What’ll I Do if She Hates Me?”: The Nerve-Racking First Phone Call
After you’d been chatting for awhile, you exchanged phone numbers through email, right? Do you remember talking on the phone for the first time?
miho: I lived in the Kanto region, so I was pretty nervous to be calling a 06 (an Osaka area code) number. “Wow, how cool…06!” is what I thought.
Akira: I was so nervous! We’d been chatting with each other, but I couldn’t help but think about what if we didn’t get on as well actually talking, and what’ll I do if she hates me? I was nervous about all sorts of things, but when she called I remember Hina telling me “You’ve really got a grown-up voice!” (Laughs) As I recall, we talked about what kinds of houses we each lived in, how school was, etc.
I heard that when you both graduated elementary school, you just sort of lost touch with each other. What do each of you remember about that?
Akira: I would think “I wonder how Hina’s doing” at unexpected moments. I began streaming on Niconico when I was around 20, and I talked about my memories with Hina several times on stream. Since this story got big, I’ve got messages from viewers telling me they were glad that I was able to meet up with her again. I’d tried to look her up based on the information that I could remember, but was never able to find her. So I had eventually just given up.
miho: I really admired how grown-up Rena was, so I imitated her in certain aspects of my own life. There was no one else that cool and interesting that I’d met before. Though we weren’t in touch anymore, I never forgot about her. I was on Niconico maybe ten years ago, and I saw that there was a popular video called “Girl Becomes Someone Completely Different With a Makeover”. I’d never seen Rena’s face before, but I knew it was her right away because of the interesting way that she spoke. Her voice is one of her most distinct traits, so I remembered it very clearly. I may have been able to see her again if I’d contacted her right then, but I didn’t end up pulling the trigger because I didn’t figure she’d want to meet up again so suddenly. I was only playing in bands as a hobby back then, so Akira seemed like a really famous person to me. I felt shy about reaching out to her. There are a ton of YouTubers these days, and a lot of musicians regularly use social media. But during the time when that video of Akira’s was so popular, I was very aware that I wasn’t on that same level.
Akira: We first met during the early days of the Internet, so you must have seen that video just when it got really popular. Still, you should have contacted me a lot sooner! (Laughs)
The Unfamiliar Customer, “20 Years Ago, on the Dreamcast…”
When miho came into the bar you work at, did you know it was her right away?
Akira: Just when I was thinking “Wow, we’re not very busy considering it’s the evening…”, Hina came in carrying a suitcase with her. Not knowing who she was, I greeted her and asked what brought her in. Abruptly, she said “Akira, your…”, and then I asked her if she was a Niconico viewer. But then I couldn’t believe it when she replied with “No, 20 years ago, on the Dreamcast…” At that point I knew that it was Hina right away, and I just shrieked “Seriously!?”. I never thought that I’d see her again, and I certainly wouldn’t ever have been able to imagine seeing her again in this way. We made up for lost time right away, and though it had been twenty years we started talking again like it had only been six months. I didn’t remember too many details of her personality, but I felt as though somehow she hadn’t changed.
miho: I actually thought about coming by when I would have been in Osaka about a year ago for a tour. But then Corona hit and we were all supposed to avoid going out whenever possible…So our tour this year ended in April, and the last date was in Osaka. I was a bit unsure when the next chance I’d be able to come even was…so though it may have been irresponsible given the continuing situation with Corona, I knew that this was my chance to go to the bar that Akira worked at, assuming it was even open. If I didn’t go right then, I might end up regretting it forever. So I took as many precautions as I could, and went over to visit.
What about the reactions on social media?
miho: Upon seeing my tweets, there were people who said “This made me want to see an old friend that I haven’t seen in awhile” and “I reached out just like you did, miho”. That made me really happy.
Akira: Yeah. Thinking back on how you used to call people you met over the Internet “net friends”, I’d just posted something like “I’d really like to somehow thank everyone who had helped me out in online games so long ago”. Miho also wrote this on Twitter, but this made me realize how important it is to go see the people you’ve missed while you still can, and tell them that you’ve missed them.
miho: I even had people I knew a long time ago reach out to me from all of this, so it made me realize anew just how great the Internet can be. I think being influenced by others is a great honor.
Akira: I’d introduced Hina to my friends over the phone back in elementary school, but one of them even replied to my tweets and said “I remember her!”. Everyone congratulated us on our reunion, and it’s sort of a double miracle that this happiness reached out to all of them too. Also, the Dreamcast is really amazing: There are people who I’ve gotten to be friends with more recently through chatting in-game and over the Internet who have shared interests, but it really feels like the two of us were fated to meet on the vast plains of the Internet of old! (Laughs)
miho: Everyone said that the Dreamcast was too far ahead of its time back then, but I’m so grateful that it came out when it did. We are the way we are now because of it. Also I’m really hoping that they release a Dreamcast Mini!
Akira: There were a ton of games where you could really feel the developer’s enthusiasm. Please release a sequel to Roommania, I’m begging you!
Sega PR: We’re very happy that the Dreamcast was able to act as a door to the wider world through interactions with other people. We were able to hear a wonderful story about the Dreamcast connecting two people together, through the door that miho opened for the first time in 20 years. And we were also able to have many wonderful experiences as well. Much like the Dreamcast was a game console which linked both dreams and people from around the world together, this story made us actually feel that we can be truly connected to people around the world. Thank you very much.