Almost every weekend, Yuta Aoki heads to Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward armed with a camera, a stabilizer and a microphone. His mission is to find and speak to Japanese people, but they must look happy or, at least, not busy — “I don’t want any trouble,” he says with a laugh. He’s hunting for opinions: “Is ‘gaijin’ an offensive term?” “What do you think of tattoos?” On a good day, 1 in every 10 people will stop to chat.
Aoki then edits things down into a snappy video package and shares it on his YouTube account, That Japanese Man Yuta. The 32-year-old says his goal is to present English-speaking people with an even-keel view of Japan, compared to more traditional media outlets, which tend to highlight “exceptional” stories.
“Which isn’t necessarily wrong, but when people only see that part of Japan, they tend to have very biased views of the country,” he says. “I think my videos help to balance out what people imagine Japan to be like.”
Turns out many folks want to know what Japan thinks, on topics from the Hollywood adaptation of “Ghost In The Shell” to the best spots in Tokyo. YouTube projects such as Ask Japanese and the continental Asian Boss channel feature man-on-the-street interviews aimed to educate viewers. Aoki boasts more than 195,000 subscribers — the most of any Japan-centric interview channel — and his videos regularly reach several hundred-thousand views. The clips are rarely longer than 10 minutes, feature English subtitles and are frequently aggregated by other sites.
“I think finding out ‘Oh I thought Japanese people would be like this, but they are actually like this,’ that gap between what they expect and how they are, people are interested in that,” he says.
Aoki grew up in Hiroshima, and his first taste of life outside Japan came at 13 when he did a one-month homestay in the United States. This motivated him to learn English and a few years later he backpacked through India. Since then, he has traveled all over the world.
That Japanese Man Yuta launched in late 2014. Aoki was inspired by YouTube personalities such as Lilly Singh (aka Superwoman) and Ryan Higa, and his first videos comprised his own explanations on how Japanese people make decisions or various prefectural stereotypes. The channel also served as a way to promote his 2015 self-published book “There’s Something I Want To Tell You: True Stories About Mixed Dating in Japan,” a collection of interviews with people in international relationships. His first man-on-the-street clip, “What Japanese Women Think of Dating Foreign Men,” stands as his most viewed yet, and the topic of relationships became recurring.
“If you watch YouTube videos, you’ll see ones about dating generally do quite well, anywhere. So that’s an easy way to get views,” Aoki says. “I’m happier when I make a video that isn’t about dating that gets views, because then I feel like I found an original topic on my own.” He mentions one clip in which he tested Japanese on kanji as one he’s proud of.
Whatever the topic, Aoki is aware that his small interview sample could offer a distorted view of what Japan as a whole thinks, but that doesn’t stop him.
“People already have the wrong image of Japan. They have very twisted, distorted, biased images of Japan,” he says. “I think my videos feature normal Japanese people just talking about normal things.”
Check out That Japanese Man Yuta at www.youtube.com/user/YPlusShow.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.