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Shared experiences in the capital fuel interest in @BeingTokyo account

by

Special To The Japan Times

In July 2016, I handled @BeingTokyo, an account on Twitter that allows residents of the capital a week to give followers a taste of what their life in the city is like. My seven days were a little different from the norm as I was part of a group of people posting from Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba, Niigata Prefecture — a fun, but seemingly uncontroversial, topic.

The first reply I received running it? “So, why does FR suck so much in recent years, unable to attract any artists really worth seeing?”

Nice to meet you, too.

In effect, that’s BeingTokyo, which celebrated its two-year anniversary on Aug. 29. Featuring a little more than 4,300 followers at the time of writing, the account has become a visible fixture in the city’s online English-language community, while also drawing in those residing outside of the country. It attracts curiosity and enthusiasm — along with a healthy dose of cynicism and occasional hostility. Which is to say, it’s a lot like real life.

Yet the appeal of BeingTokyo lies in the perspectives that are presented. From everyday experiences to more unique vocations, the account tries to offer different viewpoints in an upbeat way at a time when Twitter feels particularly hellish.

“When I moved to Tokyo I was expecting Twitter would help me get a feel for my new home and introduce me to people I could meet, like I’d experienced while living in Hong Kong and Singapore,” says Fernando Gros, a co-founder of BeingTokyo. “But, it didn’t work out that way. A lot of Tokyo-based users were very negative and snarky about life here. It didn’t feel like an inclusive or welcoming community.”

He was also struck by the lack of a rotation curation (commonly shortened as “RoCur”) account in Tokyo, referring to a platform on which a user would change on a regular basis. He reached out to fellow resident Richard Smart, and the two founded BeingTokyo.

“The travel books are all about Skytree, temples and the Robot Restaurant,” Smart says. “BeingTokyo is about local bakeries and Tokyo’s burger scene.”

From there, they received a steady stream of volunteers wanting to take the account out for a spin, the bulk of them non-Japanese although Smart and Gros both emphasize that it’s open to anyone.

Both stepped away from managing BeingTokyo (Smart in November of 2016, Gros this past June), passing the responsibility on to current administrators Craig Atkinson, Scout Hatfield and Nina Shimizu.

“There have definitely been some colorful curators over time but, to be honest, I was mostly drawn in by the people who just talked about their day-to-day lives and their personal experiences in Tokyo,” Hatfield says.

“It was eye-opening and wonderful to discover other people with much of the same but also such different experiences living here,” Shimizu says.

BeingTokyo curators tend to offer dioramas of daily life in the capital — commutes to work, after-hours watering holes, domestic life and so on. It often results in a classic social media problem, the “why would I want to look at someone’s lunch” dilemma. The account has been dinged by critics as “vapid,” but focusing on everyday issues also counts for most of its charm.

“It’s amazing how many people offer to curate the account, saying ‘I don’t know how interesting my life is,’ but our own ‘mundanities’ tend to be more fascinating than we know,” Hatfield says.

While plenty spend their stint talking work and food, others offer a peek into the lives of a medieval combat teacher or work-space manager. A recent thread explored labor unions in Tokyo, showing the politics of everyday life to followers. It can also connect people.

“Through BeingTokyo, I have met some of my closest Tokyo friends to date,” Atkinson says.

Of course, any venture eventually faces problems. BeingTokyo curators commonly have to deal with other non-Japanese residents “well, actually”-ing their replies. On occasion, though, the situation escalates.

“The most amusing incident was when a curator, in jest, sent out a tweet that could be perceived as a threat to token non-Japanese TV personality Atsugiri Jason,” Smart recalls. Twitter shut down BeingTokyo for violating its code of conduct and Gros, who was forced to deal with the matter directly, found it slightly less enjoyable. Other notable incidents tend to involve curators melting down over seemingly banal comments.

This past spring, though, BeingTokyo faced down a much more serious issue. The curator from May 31 posted innocuous photos of flowers on the account — but other users noticed that their personal Twitter feed featured a steady stream of racist and xenophobic posts. After much outcry, the curator was removed. “I learned that I need to be more careful about who curates the account,” Atkinson says.

Every person associated with BeingTokyo shared a desire to feature a more diverse range of contributors.

“The majority of people that like talking to an audience about themselves are white, heterosexual and male,” Smart says.

Still, the account has helped foster more connectivity online.

“I want to offer other newcomers and old-timers in this country the same opportunity BeingTokyo offered me — mainly of not feeling isolated,” Shimizu says.