Sharla of Sharla in Japan is a 29-year-old, Canadian-born, Tokyo-based “YouTuber” (“That’s what they call it here,” she says). With over 200,000 subscribers to her channel, she documents her life.
After regular trips to Japan in her teens and early 20s, Sharla finally settled in Tokyo and became a video producer by day and vlogger by night. Her channel is embraced both by overseas and local viewers seeking a look into life as a foreigner in Japan.
Having blogged for almost four years, her channel reflects a strong work ethic and dedication on Sharla’s part, occasionally marred by encounters with stalkers.
When Sharla, who won’t reveal her last name for privacy reasons, spoke to The Japan Times she talked about her move to Japan, her channel, her advice for aspiring vloggers and her experiences of being a victim of stalking.
So, you came here because of 3/11?
This time because of 3/11. I have a lot of (friends) who lost their families and I was honestly just worried that (there would) be another earthquake again and my friends would die, so I wanted to be here if that happened.
I always had plans to come live in Japan. But I was so stressed being in Canada, watching all the news on the earthquake. I tried to move (in March) but I couldn’t get a visa until September.
I started studying Japanese when I was really young, like 13 and then I came on a two-week exchange to the total countryside when I was 16 or 17. Everything was just super traditional Japanese and I found it really cool.
I went back to Canada and graduated high school and then I wanted to come back to Japan so I would just come back here every year to visit friends I had made.
Then I moved here to start teaching in English. (I did that) for two or three years up in the countryside where I first came. It was hard but it was fun. And I learned Japanese just from being here and from being immersed in it. And I like Japanese music . . .
No, metal (laughs).
There’s a really cool metal scene here, isn’t there?
Yeah, there really is! I really like Dir En Grey. They’re so talented. I really learned a lot from listening to music and watching movies.
Do you have to work really hard to stay afloat here?
Everyone works insane hours. They really don’t have time for anything else.
So how do you find the time to blog?
I don’t eat or sleep. I gotta keep it up though, right? I mean at this point I feel that if I don’t keep it up it’s such a waste because I’ve built so much and I’ve put so much energy into it.
There are other bloggers out there who do it exclusively in Japanese.
That’s how I started out because I wanted to practice my speaking, because I was pretty bad at speaking Japanese. I could understand everything, but not good at talking in long spiels.
But then I started to get foreign subscribers who were pissed off that I wasn’t speaking in English so I was like, OK, maybe I’ll speak in English and direct it at them and sub it in Japanese. But now my Japanese subscribers are pissed of that I don’t speak in Japanese, so I can’t please anyone (laughs).
For me, I like speaking in English because I can be a lot more expressive. There’s some things you just can’t say in Japanese. I feel like I’m a lot more genuine when I’m speaking in English.
Your videos are basically you showing what it’s like to live in Japan . . .
Yeah, it’s nothing formal. People complain that my videos are lame, that they don’t learn anything from them. I’m just trying to show people what it’s like here. I kind of feel that people have a different view on Japan than what it actually is.
Lots of things were totally new for me, like all the different types of foods they have. I thought it was just sushi and fish and that kind of stuff. There’s so many nice things that people don’t know about.
A lot of your videos are you going to eat something. Is it just because that’s easier for you to do?
It’s just because that’s what I’m always doing (laughs). That’s my only time to vlog is when I’m out eating. I kind of have to do the two things at once. Because I work all day, then it’s “OK, it’s time to eat. I better make a video so I can do my channel and eat at the same time.”
Other than that, if I have a day off, I usually get one day off a week from work and then I’ll plan to go shopping with my friends and then I’ll vlog about that. So it usually ends up being shopping and eating. There are so many other things I want to talk about, so many places I want to show people but I can’t.
Do you worry about getting anything wrong?
I definitely tell people that it’s my experience. I don’t like people thinking that I’m teaching them things because, of course, I’m not a professional on these things.
I’m really careful about what I say because people do take everything that I say very seriously, so I don’t wanna make mistakes. I made a video about how I learned Japanese the other day and someone was like, “I can’t believe you’re teaching people this. You’re such a ditz.”
You speak Japanese and everything, but you still find it …?
I’ll get people (that) won’t understand me. I know my Japanese is really good and they just stare at me, like, “I don’t get it.” Dude, my Japanese is fluent.
If I hang out with an Asian friend, even if they’re not Japanese and the two of us go to a restaurant the waitress will always look at them even if I’m the one talking. They’ll look at them, “What is she saying? Can you translate for us?” I get that a lot, that’s frustrating. Someone made a skit about it on YouTube, and it was so accurate.
People said, “That doesn’t happen,” and I’m like, “Trust me, it does.” People don’t recognize the fact that you speak Japanese.
It’s not that they’re trying to be rude. I don’t know what it is. Just ignorant, I guess. They don’t realize that there are a lot of people who speak Japanese and are familiar with Japanese culture. They’re not trying to be rude.
I guess they have to deal with similar things when they come to Canada probably. I’ve been walking down the streets with my (Japanese) friends and people say “Ni hao” to them even though they’re Japanese. You get it everywhere you go, you can’t really complain. That’s people for you.
People are more polite out in public (in Japan). In Canada I get people things yelling at me more often than I do in Japan, so I actually feel more comfortable here, out in public.
There’s a video from Christmas Eve where you seem to gatecrash someone’s party. What happened?
Oh yeah! That was really intense. I was contacted by a TV company and they wanted to follow me around vlogging for a day. They said, “How about we just travel around the city and you go join people’s (bonenkai – year’s end parties) and we’ll see how it goes?”
I’m so shy to just go up to random people. It’s just not my thing. But everyone was real nice. It turned out well and I think it was an interesting video so I’m kind of glad that I went out of my comfort zone to do that one because people seemed to really enjoy it.
Are there any videos that surprised you in terms of viewers’ reaction?
One video, I think it’s my top video right now, it blows my mind: I’m eating a f**king piece of bread and saying it tastes good. It has almost 2 million views. It’s one of my first videos.
Any videos you expected to do better than they did?
Many of them. It seems that the videos I actually put effort into won’t do well at all and that’s so frustrating. The ones that I put more work into, the ones that are more culturally related and more educational, those ones never seem to do well because they’re not, I guess, humorous?
The ones that do well are either sexual or funny. Have you seen my condom ice-cream one? Like anything with a sexual connotation will do well. It’s never on purpose.
And the serious ones?
I interviewed a couple who have an AirBnB. I asked about the benefits of staying at an AirBnB rather than a hotel and I thought it would be so helpful for everyone, but people accused me of getting sponsored by AirBnB.
I took a day off work and travelled to their place in the middle of nowhere to interview them and yeah, (the feedback) really pissed me off.
Do you have advice for people who are looking at starting their own vlog in Japan?
Be really careful about the information you share because you don’t expect your channel to get big so you’re not careful about showing where you live, etc.
How safe do you actually have to play it online?
There’s a website (Ni Chan) that’s trying to figure out where I live, so every time they see me they’re like “I saw her at this station, and I saw her getting on this train.”
So that’s fun. I just move constantly, that’s what I do. I move every four months, I have to because people have shown up at my house. It’s stressful.
There’s lot’s of weirdos in Japan; it’s a “stalker culture.”
Would you say the risk outweighs the reward though, if that’s the case? Like, if you’re moving every four months?
I don’t know if they’re dangerous, but it’s just weird to have people outside of my house just waiting for me.
They just sit there, they’re like, “Are you Sharla? I watch your channel all the time!” and I’m like, “Why are you here?” And they say, “Oh, I just saw you walking down the street.”
So I kinda just want to keep (making videos) and kind of ignore the bad parts. I don’t like to stop doing things just because a couple of people are bothering me.
What’s the scariest it’s ever been?
I guess just having someone waiting outside my house, that was was the weirdest because you don’t really know what to do. I just went inside and they tried to come in after me. We have a security door. You put your key and it only opens for two seconds and then closes and they tried to get in behind me and it kind of closed on them.
Then they started banging on the glass and yelling at me. I don’t know if they were drunk. It was at nighttime. I’m not sure. So after that I was really afraid. I mailed all my friends, “If anything happens to me, it was the creepy guy outside my window.”
Have you ever reported this to police?
No, they’re not very helpful toward foreigners so I don’t bother. They treat us as a nuisance. They’re like, “Go back to your home country if you’re going to be causing problems here.”
What qualities attract you to other vlogs?
I like people that are really genuine. You can really tell when someone’s doing something because they want views and when they’re actually feeling their real experience.
Say, people make videos called “Racism in Japan!” It’s like, why do that? Why don’t you just share something positive? I don’t see any point in spreading more negativity. They just want to do that because if it’s controversial, they’ll get money.
Just be genuine. The only problem with that is that you have to be really aware that you’ll be getting lots of negative comments. You need to be a strong person, that’s for sure.
Do you think it’s worse because you’re a girl?
That’s hard to say, I don’t have many male . . . actually that’s true. The guys don’t get many rude comments, eh? That’s so true. I guess I get more because I’m a girl.
Do you wish you could do this full time?
That would be fun. I enjoy doing it, so if people are enjoying it, then I would totally like to do it full time. I don’t think thats possible in Japan because I can’t get a visa for being a YouTuber.
If I want to do it full time I would have to move to Canada and do it there but then my channel’s about being in Japan, so yeah… (laughs).
Where would you want to see yourself in a few years?
Oh, God. I guess I want to be settled down somewhere, but I still haven’t decided if that’s going to be Japan or Canada yet. I want a house. I’ll have a house by then. And cats (laughs). Those are my goals in life.
What else do you want to say?
I get lots of comments on my videos, like “Oh my God, you have such a perfect life!” And people are jealous of me? I want people to know that in my videos I only show the positive parts. Of course parts of my life suck, I just don’t share those with people.
I want people to know that if you want to come to Japan you can do it, but also know that it’s not “Amazing Wonderland” here. You have to work for it.