Ibaraki's virtual YouTuber first in Japan used to promote a prefecture

JIJI, Staff Report

A virtual YouTuber, or VTuber, debuted this month to promote Ibaraki on a video website run by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government.

Named Hiyori Ibara, the computer-designed female character is designed to tout the prefecture’s attractions on Ibakira TV, as the site is known, and is the first VTuber to be used by a municipal or prefectural government.

The decision to go with a computer-generated character was made in light of the growing popularity of VTubers with youth, prefectural officials said.

The character’s name, chosen from suggestions sent in by the public, is a pun derived from the prefecture’s name and biyori meaning “a perfect day for Ibaraki.”

Hiyori, portrayed as an Ibaraki native and prefectural employee, wears a hair ornament shaped like monkfish — a local specialty. Her business card states that she is an announcer on the Vtuber team of Ibaraki’s virtual public relations division.

A VTuber is a YouTube user who posts video clips through a virtual avatar. Unlike a typical animated character, a VTuber’s avatar can mimic the real-life movements and voice of the creator of the content via motion capture and filming devices and interact with viewers in real time.

In Japan, the virtual talents have proliferated rapidly over the past several months. The prefectural government has not disclosed the actor behind the role of Hiyori.

“It would be fun to imagine various things” about Hiyori’s background, said Kazuhiko Watanabe, head of Ibaraki’s prefectural promotion strategy team.

“I hope Hiyori will become a symbol of Ibaraki, like Kumamon,” he said, referring to the popular black bear mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture.

Ibakira TV, launched in 2012, has become popular with young people in part thanks to programs with popular comedians. The prefecture plans to introduce fireworks and other local events on the website, as well as a live quiz show on which Hiyori is scheduled to appear.