Chika Yoshida, aka Bilingirl, wears many hats. She teaches English, sings, dances and makes costumes. She could be dressed up as Malificent with horns sticking out of her head, have her face painted white and talk in a squeaky voice like comedian duo Nippon Elekitel Rengo or be singing songs from the animation “Frozen” — all the while teaching English phrases and conversation on YouTube.
Yoshida is a Japanese-English bilingual YouTube celebrity whose videos have been constructed entirely by herself — everything from coming up with content ideas to choosing, sometimes even making, costumes, to editing the videos.
“People think that YouTube is easy money and some may be considering it as a simple side-job. But it isn’t that easy,” Yoshida tells The Japan Times. “The YouTubers you see today have been doing it almost every day for years — you have to be that dedicated. For many of us, it started out as a hobby, something that was for fun, which then eventually took shape.”
For Yoshida, Bilingirl started in 2011 when her friend asked her to look over her English resume. Yoshida, who lived in the U.S. for 16 years, noticed that her friend had trouble distinguishing between the use of “a” and “the” — so she thought it might be interesting to create a video to teach the difference.
What started out as a sort of video version of a selfie, with Yoshida filming herself speaking into the camera, turned into a major creative project for the 29-year-old.
Her YouTube channel began with zero views, she recalls with a laugh. But after about six months, she realized that there was clearly demand for the videos she was creating, since she had attracted a large number of followers who were not members of her family or her friends.
At that time, Yoshida was a company employee for an American firm in Japan, working as a business consultant on system-related projects for financial institutions. She worked on the videos before or after work, and on weekends.
But a year ago, she decided that the creativity behind making videos was far more appealing than her company job.
“I decided to quit when I realized that I felt I was wasting time at work. I wanted to do something creative and I had found a job that suited me better,” Yoshida says. “I wanted to devote myself 100 percent to Bilingirl.”
Her dedication has paid off — various companies noticed the potential of her videos to reach a wide audience and she has since taken part in collaborations with Turkish Airlines and Kao Corp., Japan’s largest bath- and shower-products manufacturer.
Yoshida’s videos take viewers on journeys, be it to her apartment, the local MacDonald’s or literally across the world to Seattle, Australia or Turkey.
One of her most recent videos documents a trip to Shimoda Aquarium in Shizuoka, where she shares her childhood dream by teaching viewers the phrase, “Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins.”
Yoshida says she gets her ideas from daily life — through conversations with her friends, her followers on twitter or just seasonal topics that she happens across.
“I’ve never had any trouble coming up with ideas — they just come to me naturally,” she explains.
Although born in Japan, Yoshida moved to the U.S. with her family when she was in the first year of elementary school. She lived there for 16 years and attended a U.S. college. Like many so-called returnees, she says she was told that she was “Japanese-like” while living in the states, and “American-like” when she moved back to Japan.
“I ended up thinking it didn’t matter (whether people thought I was more Japanese or American),” she says. “I am who I am.”
In January, she launched a new YouTube channel called Japanagos, where she introduces Japanese language and culture to foreigners. Short clips include those on how to make New Year’s ozoni (soup with mochi rice cakes and vegetables), how to pray at a Shinto shrine and a visit to the Yokohama fireworks while wearing yukata (summer kimono).
“There is so much that I still don’t know about Japan and I want to share what I learn — its culture and history,” Yoshida says. “I hope that eventually, people outside of Japan will see my channel as an ‘entrance’ to Japan.”
As Bilingirl, Yoshida has posted 240 lessons and her channel has well over 320,000 subscribers. She says she has no concrete plans for the future except that she wants to keep on doing what she has been doing, focusing in particular on Japanagos next year.
She does also say, however, that she is interested in trying other media. Already familiar with this newspaper as a columnist in the weekly The Japan Times ST, Yoshida is open to the idea of writing a book. But, despite her YouTube status, she has no intention of becoming a TV personality.
“I actually don’t like the filming part that much. What I love to do is to create things from scratch, and I really enjoy the editing process — watching it take shape,” she says. “Deep down, the message that I want to get out there goes beyond teaching English. It is about having the motivation to do what you want to do.”
To see Chika Yoshida’s Bilingirl YouTube channel, visit www.youtube.com/user/cyoshida1231.