It’s a Friday night and I’m sitting at home watching Naomi Watanabe perform an impromptu dance routine on her couch. Tens of thousands of viewers tuned into her April 3 YouTube livestream, during which the Japanese celebrity ate dinner, chatted with her audience and indulged in a few sudden flights of fancy for a little over 90 minutes.
Watanabe has held these livestreams on each weekend night ever since Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged residents of the capital in late March to stay at home on Saturdays and Sundays. These YouTube sessions are Watanabe’s way of encouraging folks to refrain from leaving their homes — they can digitally hang out with her instead. To underline the point, she’s deployed hashtags in English and Japanese urging everyone to #stayhome.
In recent weeks, Japanese celebrities and influencers such as Watanabe have started using their platforms to urge people to refrain from going out in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. This isn’t limited to the rich and famous — social media users all around the world have been promoting (and in some cases shaming those who don’t practice) social distancing and home isolation. It began to resemble as righteous a trend or meme could be, and it was only a matter of time before celebrities embraced it as well.
A handful of Japanese stars have been out in front of the pandemic on social media, most notably rocker Yoshiki, who has been expressing concern about it and talking with Nobel prize winners about global health concerns. Generally, though, it took longer to happen in Japan — Koike’s stay-at-home recommendation seemed to be the turning point — but soon enough notable folks (and brands, which are basically people on sites such as Twitter) started acknowledging the coronavirus world everyone now finds themselves in.
Few have attempted to play the role of an infectious disease expert — possibly only Aska of J-pop duo Chage & Aska, who tried to peddle snake oil in the form of a machine that he claimed killed the coronavirus — opting instead to use their reach online to remind people what they should be doing during this pandemic. Nippon Professional Baseball players used their downtime to share videos on how to wash your hands. Others attempted to educate viewers on proper hygiene via song, highlighted by YouTuber Seikin and pop outfit Arashi.
The main thrust of the conversation, however, was stars of all sized screens urging viewers to stay at home. This mostly played out in a way now familiar around the whole world, and a lot of pressure has since emerged to join the indoor movement. Multiple hashtags in Japanese sprung up, and were soon powered into the trend column on Twitter by soccer players, comedians and many more. YouTubers took up the charge as well, with creators working under talent agency Uuum banding together to promote the idea of everyone spending time at home. Leading YouTuber Hikakin even voiced it in more urgent terms.
This use of social media resembled a good old-fashioned campaign that attempts to raise awareness over an important issue. Celebrities simply used their vast reach to promote an idea — though Ryuchell also got the chance to show off a really nice homemade face mask. It’s all about social pressure, something plenty of folks without hundred-thousand-strong followings are breaking out to save lives and stop the COVID-19 spread. For some, it’s just more effective coming from Rola.
The real innovation, however, came from those who didn’t just implore fans to stay in, but gave them alternative programming online. It’s something the country’s music industry has already come around to as live shows and club events have come to a screeching halt, and a growing number of notable names throughout the entertainment industry which, its important to remember has long been suspicious of the digital world, have turned to livestreams to keep people in front of the computer. Watanabe has done this most successfully so far with fun dinnertime chats sometimes including guests beamed in via laptop, although others have followed. Idol group Momoiro Clover Z has streamed members playing video games such as Crash Bandicoot and Parappa The Rapper, while comedian Yuta Kajiwara kept viewers company for a little over an hour.
Given the uncertain future ahead of Japan in regards to the coronavirus, it feels safe to say these types of celebrity livestreams are going to become even more common, especially on the weekends when the temptation to head out really flares up. And yet, that’s why this kind of coronavirus-inspired connection is so important. People will need something to keep them entertained … why not a virtual dinner session?