In a light-hearted yet informative way, YouTuber Chris Okano (known online as OkanoTV) gives viewers insight into many aspects of Japanese society and culture — from the usual guide videos to humorous takes on the more more left-field aspects of this country.
Chris is a Japanese-American born in London, raised in Los Angeles and who now lives in Tokyo. He is currently working as a Digital Media Marketing Manager at Odigo Travel. His YouTube videos range from practical points — dealing with culture shock, what not to do in Japan, and where the best ramen shops are — to fun and important topics such as Halloween in Tokyo, how to meet a Japanese girl or guy, and where to party.
Some of his crazier videos include poo-flavored Japanese curry, where he and his crew try out some questionable curry from toilet-shaped bowls, and asking Japanese people in the streets if they know who Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian is.
Whether people want to understand the adjustments involved with moving to a new country, or just want a laugh, these video’s are a must-watch.
What sparked the start of your Japanese YouTube channel and has your goal changed over time?
When I decided to move to Tokyo three years ago, I knew I was undertaking a significant change in my life. However, I was excited about experiencing something completely different, and it was comforting to know that my parents and siblings would only be a Skype or FaceTime call away.
When I arrived in Japan, I was eager to tell everyone about everything I was experiencing. But I found that when I connected with my family — whether at the end of a day or week — to share stories with them I would sometimes forget important details. I realized then that documenting my journey through videos would be the perfect way to share my experiences with my family and have as a keepsake for myself of all the memories of my time in Japan.
From that point on, I started making YouTube videos weekly and quickly fell in love with it. To this day, the goal of my videos hasn’t changed, and if anything, I am even more invested in exploring all of Japan so I can document for my family, and now my fans, everything that this amazing country has to offer.
Out of all your videos, which one got a reaction that you didn’t expect?
A big surprise came from one of my first videos called “School Rules in Japan.” The premise of the video was to explain what I had learned from teaching English at a Japanese junior high school. The video gained a lot of views immediately and is still one of my most popular videos.
Why did you decide to move to Japan? How long have you been here and are you staying long term?
I decided to move to Japan because I wanted to gain a better understanding of my Japanese heritage and also become fluent in the language so I could speak to my grandparents back home as well as my relatives in Japan. My father is Japanese-American, which means he looks Japanese, but speaks only English and did not understand Japanese customs and traditions until he married my mother. My mother was born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and Russian father, which means she doesn’t look Japanese, but speaks Japanese and English fluently and knows Tokyo like the back of her hand.
So, mostly due to my mother’s background, our home life was always influenced by Japanese culture, such as our Japanese meals, taking our shoes off while in the house, traditional New Year’s food and playing mahjong. Based on these experiences I had while growing up, I knew I wanted to move to Japan and become fully immersed in this fascinating culture.
In May, I will have been here for four years. Time flies! As for my long-term plans, all I can say is that I love it here, but I also miss home. For now, I’m enjoying my time here and will see where life takes me.
What was the hardest transition coming from the U.S. to Japan?
Fortunately, I didn’t have a difficult time transitioning because I lived in Japan during my third year as a student at Bates College. I was on an exchange program.
This exchange program was, in a sense, my one-year experiment of what it’s like to live in Japan. It turned out to be one of the best years of my life, so a year later, after graduating from Bates College, all I could really think about was returning to Japan.
I actually have a few video ideas lined up once the weather gets warmer and I have a bit more free time. I enjoyed making the Japan vs. USA comparison videos because I always learn something from them. Since I didn’t grow up in Japan, I find it so interesting to learn about what life is like growing up here.
I have also thought — maybe ‘dreamed’ is a better word — about taking my career to a larger platform. Being in front of the camera didn’t come easily for me, but over time and with an increasing fan base, I’ve really come to enjoy it. My interest in doing something bigger and better probably is due to my fascination with my mother’s Japanese television career.
In the early 1970s, my mother, Maggie Minenko, was a co-host of the top-rated primetime show called “Uwasa no Channel.” To this day, when we’re in Japan — city or countryside — people who were part of her fan base will recognize her and come up and speak with her. I guess you could say that entertainment is in my bloodline. Perhaps one day a similar opportunity may come knocking on my door.
The “Do Japanese People Know. . .” videos are very funny and remind me of a typical quirky Japanese TV show. Have you gotten any of these ideas from Japanese shows?
Thank you! Those videos are definitely the most fun to make.
The idea for those video’s was actually just out of curiosity to see if my Japanese friends knew famous American celebrities. From what I can recall, I asked them if they knew some of my favorite celebrities: Stephen Curry, Kate Beckinsale and Mark Wahlberg. From their positive reactions, I realized this could be an entertaining series.
If you had to give one single piece of advice for a newcomer in Japan, what would it be?
Be open. Try new things. Get lost.
Japan is so safe, so I encourage newcomers to be open-minded and take a stroll down alleyways and small streets that you may not be familiar with. Allow yourself to get lost, and I promise you will find some hidden gems tucked away. I know I have had some of my best experiences venturing off the main road and finding adventures in places I never knew existed.