As an intern in Japan from overseas you bring a unique culture and no doubt have countless stories about your home country to share and contrast with the life experiences of the local people of Tokyo. These kind of exchanges exploring the differences and similarities in customs and perspectives between countries make for fun conversations because there is something innately interesting about learning how the other half lives. To help further along these engaging discussions after common topics such as recommended foods and tourist spots have been exhausted, I would like to recommend taking a dive into Japanese media in order to get a sense of what is trending and open the door to a brand new list of subjects to enthuse about. Afterall, what better way is there to learn about another country on a personal level than to study what they read, listen to, and watch for fun? While taking the initiative to research and experience Japanese entertainment culture you might even pick up a new hobby or interest along the way. In this blog post I will be introducing one of the most accessible online platforms for media content in Japan: YouTube.
What role does YouTube play in Japan?
YouTube is one of many online media options for video and music entertainment that serves as an alternative to watching live television or listening to a radio channel. Online media content is not only easier to search through but also offers the benefit of being available to interact with it at your convenience instead of according to a broadcasting schedule. YouTube most notably caters to viewers who do not have subscriptions for paid-access music libraries like LINE Music and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Although full episodes of television dramas and full movies typically cannot be viewed for free on its servers, YouTube hosts a wide variety of free-access media ranging from official music videos, promotional trailers, and documentaries to creative content contributed by users such as video blogs, video game walkthroughs, instrumental and vocal song covers, and product reviews. It is also worth mentioning that just as modern day advertisements target a particular demographic and are restricted to specific audiences, many YouTube videos produced professionally by Japanese companies are region-locked and cannot be viewed outside of the country. For this reason, I encourage that you take advantage of your temporary access to YouTube Japan during your internship in Tokyo. Luckily, the Japanese YouTube channels I will be covering later are internationally accessible and can be enjoyed after completing your internship in Tokyo and returning home as a sort of nostalgic essence of your unique experiences living in Japan.
Japanese Proficiency Not Required to Enjoy Japanese YouTube
The “Add subtitles/CC” function under the gear-shaped options button on all YouTube videos has made Japanese YouTube channels with high quality content increasingly accessible to international communities. Because this feature is available, many of the larger Japanese YouTube channels have amazingly generous viewers who volunteer their free time and knowledge of the Japanese language to create translations in English and other foreign languages. In fact, on Hajimeshachou(the top ranking YouTuber in Japan)’s two channels most videos are subbed by fans into Korean and English within two days of them being uploaded. These fan-made captions are generally accurate so they can also often be used for learning purposes. Channels oriented towards young adults and teenagers are especially good resources for studying informal speech since slang vocabulary that does not appear in traditional Japanese textbooks is bound to pop up frequently. Since Japanese YouTubers often speak at a rapid pace for the sake of building momentum, watching videos that have Japanese closed captions available would also be a fun challenge to practice your Japanese listening comprehension and check your progress.
Example of common exclamations in casual Japanese:
やばっ・やばい(yaba, yabai) = Woah! That’s really amazing/unbelievable/dangerous
[This is a very context-dependent expression]
マジっすか (majissuka) = Are you serious?
ウケる～(ukeru~) = That’s hilarious~
すげー (suge-) = That’s so cool! / That’s incredible!
うまい～♪ (umai~) ＝ It’s delicious~♪
ガチでしょ！・嘘でしょ！(gachi desho!/uso desho!) = You’re kidding me!/No way!
What kinds of YouTubers are popular in Japan?
Because my internship in Japan spanned from mid-June to mid-August, ie. the rainy season, I had my fair share of days when I just wanted to hide from the precipitation and chill at home while maybe eating a bento that I bought on my way home. Back home in New York I love to unwind and squeeze in some Japanese practice into my free time by watching anime on Netflix and Crunchyroll without subtitles so I was pretty bummed to find out that due to international copyright issues these paid subscription services were inaccessible from Japan. I was basically limited to free-access online content to satisfy my video entertainment needs for two months so I jumped back into YouTube in search of interesting content to watch in Japanese and discovered a lot of interesting people.
The top ten most popular Japanese YouTube channels as determined by number of subscribers are as follows:
Hey, it’s Mosogourmet!
As you can see many of these channels belong to the same Youtubers but host different types of videos. It is common for YouTubers to create sub channels to cater to subscribers who are only interested in certain styles of videos whether that be videos that mimic Japanese reality shows, daily life vlogs, or let’s plays of video games. Let me introduce you to some of these Japanese internet celebrities.
Hajimeshachou, or Hajime for short, is representative of the most generic type of Japanese youtubing styles: doing random entertaining things, reacting to bizarre or cliche scenari
os, and interacting with fans through Q&A and announcement videos. Hajime’s hairstyle, fashion sense, slim physique, and favored facial features also put him in the イケメン(ikemen), or handsome guy, category of Youtubers. Although in Japan Hajime has fame comparable to that of Pewdiepie, who became popular largely through his reaction videos to horror and rage-quit games, his language is not nearly as explicit and the humor is derived more from him having a spunky, high-energy and child-like curiosity that he brings to seemingly mundane things.
Hikakin has an addictive personality and entertains a large audience with his appeal as an average guy with a likable energetic character and impressive beatbox skills. Some of Hikakin’s most popular videos are those in which he co-performs with famous guests on his channel, which have included Ariana Grande, Neyo, and the Japanese boy band SMAP.
Yuka Kinoshita is a young Japanese woman in her 30s with a big appetite. Yuka impresses and confuses her viewers by consuming tremendous amounts of food in one sitting on a regular basis without experiencing impacts on her weight. Yuka’s channel appeals to food enthusiasts because she is fairly particular in her reviews of the delicious dishes she binges.The act of eating food is a very relaxing in itself but listening to Yuka’s commentary and watching her facial expressions as she has dinner makes viewers feel as if they are really sharing her joyful experience indulging in exotic foods. Take notes so you can try some of the appetizing dishes Yuka eats during your internship in Japan!
Fischers is a channel formed by a group of seven Japanese guys, each with their own pen names, who came together in their 3rd year of middle school. Their channel name derives from an old fond memory that they share jumping into a cold river in February as if they belonged among the fishes. Some of their videos are mythbusters or recreations of ideas they have seen in fictional movies and novels while others retain the same random topic style used by Hajimeshachou and Hikakin.
Seikin is Hikakin’s brother who is best known for his talent in singing. His videos have a very similar feeling to those produced by Hikakin and they often make collaboration videos. The most original content on Seikin’s channel consists of music videos for which he is the singer and song lyrics writer.
Mosogourmet is a cooking channel that shares a lot of creative presentation ideas to make common foods used in home-cooked meals and desserts more eye-catching. Videos provide recipes as well useful tips and techniques for making intricate meals such as “character bentos”, which are packed lunches in which food is positioned and carved into specific shapes such that the meal resembles a cartoon character and becomes a piece of art. One video posted on this channel four years ago about how to bake cupcakes that emulate the shape and behavior of ice cream cones has since received over 173 million views. Since the demonstration videos and informative video descriptions are clear and thorough, I can recommend this channel for expert-level cooking enthusiasts and casual experimenters alike.
A common theme you will see among popular YouTubers in Japan is that their talking styles are very bubbly and over-the-top excited. In Japanese this sort of disposition is called being ハイテンション(hai-tenshion). The expression “high tensison” is an example of 和製英語(waseeigo), Japanese slang words derived from English that sometimes distort the original meaning of the words. If you consider how a violin works with tighter strings creating sounds of higher frequencies, or pitches, the metaphorical link between high tension and cheerfulness becomes more clear. In general, in order to be a successful Youtuber in Japan, the video concept is secondary to the personality and sociability of the channel host. Subsequently, popular channels tend to feature relatively random activities.
Did any of these channels strike your interest?
By watching a few videos from each of the top YouTube channels, it is clear to see that Japanese culture breeds a creative, inquisitive attitude to all aspects of life. I think that this innovative thinking, whether it be applied to random toys or food items, is one of Japan’s most charming characteristics. This mindset is actually a great thing for interns to aspire to because exploring outside of your norms and keeping an open, optimistic mind will be a great asset in your transition to life interning in Japan as well as going forward as you make life decisions and tackle new challenges.
I hope that this blog post has helped to shed light on a less obvious method of learning about Japanese culture. Write us a comment with a hobby or interest that you would love to find featured in a Japanese YouTube channel!