Digital

YouTube channel Life Where I'm From explores Japan from a kid's perspective

by Patrick St. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

Greg Lam’s YouTube channel Life Where I’m From started one morning with a simple idea.

“Honestly, my wife started cooking breakfast and I was like, ‘Hey, hold on, is it OK if I just capture this?’ ” The Canadian videographer recorded the most important meal of the day, with his elementary-school-age daughter, Aiko, explaining the finer details of preparing a Japanese omelette and eating natto.

The finished video, titled “What Japanese Breakfast is Like,” sits at just over 3 million views on YouTube at the time of writing. No other English-language upload devoted to Japanese breakfast has more — nor does anything by American shoegaze band Japanese Breakfast. It was a fitting start to Life Where I’m From, a channel devoted to the less-celebrated moments from daily life in Japan.

What sets LWIF apart from other Japan-centric channels is perspective. The bulk of popular English-language YouTubers in the country are operated by and from the perspective of 20-somethings. Lam’s creation, though, comes from a kid’s point of view. His videos — on topics ranging from shopping at malls to using a Pasmo train pass — prominently feature Aiko and his son, Shintaro (better known as Shin), and are intended to offer younger viewers around the world a look into what life in Japan is like.

“I think when people sometimes hear about Japan, they think that people (here) are just so different from themselves. But really humans are just humans,” Lam says while at a family restaurant on Tokyo’s east side. “I want to subtly get that across by making videos showing everyday life.”

Lam previously lived in Vancouver, where he worked as a videographer. His family moved to Tokyo in 2013, partially because his wife wished to be closer to her family, but also because they wanted their two children to experience Japanese culture.

“When I came I didn’t have anything solid lined up (for work). It was very nerve-wracking,” he says. A prior side job in online education became his primary gig, but his video work fell to the side.

“The very simple answer was I missed making videos,” Lam says when asked why he felt motivated to start LWIF. Yet he also noticed how much his two kids spent watching YouTube videos aimed at children … along with clips of people playing the game “Minecraft.”

“I thought, I have nephews and nieces in Canada, and they wanted to know what life in Japan is like. So I made a little video and they loved it,” he says. “It made me think that there must be other kids out there who wanted to see a kids’ perspective of what it’s like in a different country.”

Initially, Lam says the content made by Japan-based vloggers didn’t fit his style, but then he came across the duo Rachel & Jun.

“Just the way they tackled subjects, I thought it was very objective, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh wow, Japan is so crazy,’ it was just a normal conversation you’d have with your brother or your parents back home,” he says. It further motivated him to launch his own channel in April of last year, starting with the breakfast video.

Aiko and Shin tend to dictate LWIF’s schedule, and Lam says they’ve gone several weeks without making a new video because the kids didn’t feel like it. But they tend to be enthusiastic, often asking their father to bring the camera with them on certain trips.

“It’s not scripted,” Lam says, though he will ask questions. “A lot of the cool stuff that happens is just a result of them being kids, them being spontaneous or thinking something is funny.”

A little planning can go a long way, though. The channel’s most viewed video is “12 Reasons Why Japanese Bathrooms are the Best!” (“The title was actually a joke, a play on click-bait stuff. But it actually worked!”), which came from an idea that Lam says was the most thought-out in advance. That clip served as LWIF’s breakout moment, as it appeared on Reddit and was aggregated by many other sites. That helped build a subscriber total of 263,000.

Initially, Lam wanted LWIF to be more global, and he didn’t expect his children to appear too much. Rather, he hoped kids from other countries would send in videos, pictures and stories about what life is like where they are from. And they have (he has to edit one compilation about streets after our chat). He hopes to move more in this direction in the future, and ideally would like to feature views from places rarely seen on YouTube, such as Africa and the Middle East.

He’s also branching out. Earlier this year, Lam launched Life Where I’m From X, a channel coming from his own adult perspective exploring topics “that kids might find boring.” He’s also started creating mini-documentaries, which so far have focused on traveling in Japan with a disability and a day in the life of a ramen shop owner.

“I guess, your typical YouTube video, you go into the restaurant, order the ramen and eat it,” he says. “But for me, I’m looking at what’s going on behind the scenes. And I didn’t realize how much work went into it.”

Initially worried it might be too different from LWIF, the ramen documentary now has over 1 million views.

Lam hopes to continue creating these documentaries, and he’s working on a new batch on pieces with topics such as the homeless and day care.

“With the kid videos, I’ll definitely say that it’s not about the money,” he says, but he’s exploring ways to get support for the mini-documentaries, such as launching a crowdfunding Patreon page. But he’s also just as happy for viewers to help make subtitles or contribute their own videos.

LWIF will continue as well, as long as Aiko and Shin are enthusiastic about it.

“There are just so many little different things that make people think, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this was a thing.’ People are interested in that,” Lam says.

Check out Greg Lam’s YouTube channel Life Where I’m From at bit.ly/2dBVzcW. Life Where I’m From X can be found at bit.ly/2e3fC3m.

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