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Tokyo’s ‘video people’ come together

by Chris Salzberg

On Jan. 27, a new keyword climbed to the top of the rankings in Japan to steal first place on the blog search engine Technorati. Dougajin — literally “Video People” — was the name coined by organizers of Japan’s first video-blogging event, held one day earlier, to describe the country’s latest category of online media-maker.

Known for their culture of diary writing, one that has skyrocketed the local blogosphere to the top of the world rankings in terms of its sheer size, a growing number of Japanese are making their first steps communicating through a very different medium.

The medium is moving images, and the format — the latest in social media — is the “vlog”.

Motohiko Tokuriki, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event and cofounder of Japan’s annual Alpha Blogger Awards, expressed his surprise at the latest change sweeping new media.

“I’ve often read in articles from the U.S. about how, with the appearance of blogs, social-network services and other social media, everything is shifting from traditional mass ‘packaged media’ to new forms of social media,” he wrote in his blog, Tokuriki.com. “I thought I had come to understand this. But to hear the same kind of statement coming from people who deal with moving images, this really caught me by surprise.”

Judging from the turnout at that Saturday’s event, he was not the only one. Over 100 bloggers, vloggers, journalists and Web developers, armed with the latest in digital media technology, packed Club Super Deluxe in Roppongi to hear from the front-runners in Japan’s video-blogging scene.

It was more than the event’s main organizer, video-blogger Yukako “Tajee” Tajima, had ever expected.

“I organized this event because I wanted to have the kind of real interaction that is not possible on the Net,” she wrote in her blog at amino-tajee.com. “But until the actual day of the event, I honestly didn’t know how things would turn out.”

At the event, she expressed her surprise. “It’s great to see so many people,” she said. “Many of them are really core (media) people, so hopefully more of them will start vlogging this year.”

Quite a few, in fact, already are. Flashing across the walls of the club that night, the many faces of Japan’s new vlogging movement were diverse and refreshingly original.

On the online entertainment show “Entertainment Minor Channel” (“Em Chan”) at www.emtv.from.tv, hand puppet Minor Cowarai and cohost Akiyo chat about the summer heat against the cartoon background of a tofu shop. Splicing with his trademark “jet cut” (a high-impact clipping technique) vlogger Jet Daisuke at Shobizuba.com meanwhile gives his personal take on every product under the sun, from electronic drumsticks in a McDonald’s Happy Meal to green tea that promises success in university entrance exams.

Appearing last in the lineup, it was vlogger Megwin of Megwintv.com who stole the show. Spoofing and remixing everything from “Power Rangers” to “Billy’s Boot Camp,” on that Saturday night Megwin TV featured its host, among other things, inflating a giant bubble in his bathtub and riding a stuffed tiger in stop-motion animation. Reportedly “disowned” by his parents for the regular use of near-frontal nudity in his gags, Megwin’s style of modern slapstick — uploaded to his vlog 365 days a year — is so completely off the wall that it had the crowd falling off their seats with laughter.

It also had many thinking differently about the possibilities of video, attracted by an array of easy-to-use editing tools on display alongside the vloggers themselves.

Sponsor Flip-Clip’s free online video-editing service offered one of the most interesting of these new tools, bringing the world of video-blogging to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Stickam Japan, also a sponsor, bridged the technology gap with its popular giveaway of free Web cams, turning every audience member into a potential new vlogger.

To those who attended the event, there was a palpable sense that this was a movement in which anyone with a camera and a computer could participate.

San Francisco resident Shlomo Rabinowitz, organizer in 2006 of the video-blogging conference Vloggercon and vlogger at the video-blog Echoplex Park, was invited to speak at the event in Tokyo. When asked why he thought people from “old” media such as television and print were getting involved in this new online movement, Rabinowitz gave a simple answer.

“They have no choice,” he said. “They (traditional mass media) have spent my whole life talking at me and not talking with me. So now they have to actually come into the Internet and hear what I have to say.

“If they do not allow me to communicate with them, I’m not going to pay any attention to them.”

The message resonated with many in the audience. Blogger Kazuyasu Sakata, who attended the event, was left with a strong impression.

“It really brought home again the realization that videos are about communication,” Sakata wrote in his blog at delphie.jugem.jp. “They’re not the one-sided transmission of old media, but a whole new world.”

Rabinowitz had additional advice for Japanese vloggers in the audience. “Video-blogging in Japan is very new,” he said, “and there’s not many of you, so you guys should all be talking to each other. Just like three years ago in America there were not many of us, so we all knew each other.”

Working together, he explained, video-bloggers would ultimately become more powerful.

“It’s you guys who will define video-blogging in Japan. Nobody else will except the people in this room.”