People | 20 QUESTIONS

Kurdish YouTuber Shinya: 'Spontaneous, creative and real'

by Farrah Hasnain

Contributing writer

Shinya is a 27-year-old Kurdish-born, German-raised YouTuber based in Osaka. She currently has close to 10,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, SHIN doe. She was picked up for a piece on Kurdsat Broadcasting Corporation where she spoke about her art and spreading awareness of Japanese culture to members of the Kurdish community.

1. First, describe the content you make for YouTube in three words. Spontaneous, creative and real.

2. What goes into making a “spontaneous, creative and real” YouTube video? A lot of time! You need a good setup, an idea and the ability to plan ahead. My art videos take forever to edit. I use a tripod and pay attention to the angles and lighting to make sure that they look good. For my Japan videos, I think about what my audience is curious about. A lot of Kurdish people are not too familiar with East Asian culture.

3. You only share your first name, Shinya, online. Why not share your full name? Privacy reasons, since the Kurdish community is quite small. Most people think that I named myself after an anime character, but Shinya is my actual name. I noticed that once I hid my last name, which is very Middle Eastern, I would get more positive reactions and less prejudice directed at me. Sad, I know, but these kinds of safety precautions are now the norm for YouTubers.

4. Have you ever been directly threatened on social media? No, one guy called me “fat” and I told him that “God will punish you for being an a–hole,” and one person told me I should be using my platform to spread the word about Islam. I think people get mean when they don’t get the attention they ask me for. I get comments asking me to translate things or answer something that’s easy to find online. I used to ignore the mean comments and only respond to positive ones, but some people might think that’s unfair. Most of my comments are positive: Usually it’s my Kurdish followers complimenting me on my Kurdi.

Kurdish access: YouTuber Shinya began doing travel vlogs for her family in Kurdi and then discovered a whole new base of Kurdi-speaking fans. | COURTESY OF SHINYA
Kurdish access: YouTuber Shinya began doing travel vlogs for her family in Kurdi and then discovered a whole new base of Kurdi-speaking fans. | COURTESY OF SHINYA

5. What do you usually talk about in your J-vlogs? Life and things that I find funny or interesting from a foreign point of view. Actually, I started J-vlogging in Kurdi because of my mom and aunt, who couldn’t understand my English vlogs. Once I spoke in Kurdi I got thousands more followers, more than half of them are women and 80.5 percent of them are from Iraq. I think my videos satisfy a certain curiosity my followers have because I’m different from the typical Kurdish woman, I think. I haven’t married and settled down to have kids, and I’m overseas living on my own. There’s a freedom in that.

6. Where were you born and raised? I was born in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, but around 1994 my family moved to Hesse, Germany. We settled in Germany because the Kurds were being persecuted in Iraq. My aunt and her husband had already moved there, and my sister was born and raised in Germany. I didn’t interact with many Kurdish people until I started my J-vlogs, so my English, German and Japanese are better than my Kurdi.

7. What dialect of Kurdi do you speak? My family speaks in the Sorani dialect. I want to learn more Kurdish, but it’s hard because there is a lack of resources, even online. I can’t use online dictionaries because they will only show one dialect or omit English translations. When I lived in Germany, Jehovah’s Witnesses would come to my apartment block to try to convert the Kurdish people living there. But they spoke in a different dialect, so I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I remember thinking, “My German is fine, I’ve lived here most of my life. Why speak to me in Kurdish like I don’t know German?”

8. What brought you to Osaka? My taste for adventure! I came to Japan as an exchange student 11 years ago when I was in high school and lived in rural Kyushu. After graduating from university in Germany, I wanted to return to Japan and explore the Kansai area more. I teach English here now, and Osaka has a lot to see. It’s also near Nara and Kyoto.

9. How has it been living in Japan? It’s really lonely since everyone is always busy and I miss my dog, but I love being here. I can’t really describe what it is. It’s completely different from living in Germany. People in Germany are constantly angry. In Japan, I’m always going out on my own and just taking pictures or filming.

Not a dog, though: Shinya pets one of Nara's famous deer, but she admits to missing her dog in Germany, Mr. Fluffy.  | COURTESY OF SHINYA
Not a dog, though: Shinya pets one of Nara’s famous deer, but she admits to missing her dog in Germany, Mr. Fluffy. | COURTESY OF SHINYA

10. What is something about Germany that you miss in Japan? My dog! And big dogs, in general. In my neighborhood back in Germany you can see big dogs everywhere.

11. What kind of dog do you have? My dog is the most handsome gentleman on the planet. His name is Mr. Fluffy and he’s a Samoyed. I got him when he was 3 months old and he has a big heart. I wish I could have brought him with me, but it would be too hot for him in Japan. He has a very fluffy white coat. Now all I can do is just video chat with him and make kissy faces.

12. Have you experienced culture shock here or in any of the other places you’ve lived? I think about this question a lot and I don’t think I have. I kind of accept that different cultures are, well, different. So I don’t expect anything from them and never feel a “shock.”

13. Who are some of your favorite YouTubers? My friend Amourinette/Adoras Light because she’s always so positive, works hard and inspires me to keep going with my own channel. Sauceoholic is hilarious, Bella Fiori is great because I love the true crime genre, Abroad in Japan, Simon and Martina … and Tanya Shatseva provides me with art goals.

14. Speaking of which, what is the inspiration behind your own art? A lot of people assume it’s anime, but I’m more inspired by mythology, folklore and fantasy. I grew up in Hesse, which is the home of the Brothers Grimm, so I was always surrounded by fairy tales and their illustrations. Since I’m a huge true crime fan, the “doe” in my YouTube channel’s name is a nod to the unknown “Jane Doe” in many criminal cases.

15. What drew you to visual art? When I was little I just picked up a brush and haven’t put it down since. I was always quiet so my hobbies revolved around visual media. I also had a childhood friend who was deaf and we used media, like video, to communicate.

16. What’s your favorite medium of visual art? It used to be watercolor but recently I have developed a love for acryl gouache. I love that it’s matte and I love how colorful it looks. I’m open to sponsorships if anyone wants me to try out different kinds!

17. If you could own any work of art in the world, what would it be? “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais, because I’m a hopeless romantic who loves tragic stories more than happy endings. It’s also the only real painting that I cared to have on (the video game) Animal Crossing.

18. Is there a word in Kurdi that you’d like people to know? I have asked my Kurdish YouTube followers about this and most of them chose the same word: “azadi.” It means, “freedom.”

19. What are your favorite words in German, Japanese and English? In German it’s “schadenfreude” (taking joy in other people’s misfortune), in Japanese it’s “natsukashii” (something that has a nostalgic feel) and in English it is “metanoia” (a transformative change of heart).

20. When the pandemic is over, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to doing? Exploring Japan more. Now that I have so many unexpected subscribers on YouTube, I want to show them more of the interesting things Japan has to offer.

Check out more of Shinya’s content on YouTube and Instagram.

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