National

Japan YouTubers focus on youth to raise awareness of social distancing

by Tomohiro Osaki

staff writer

More and more YouTubers in Japan are using their fame to raise awareness of social distancing and the hashtag #stayhome to help officials drive home the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic to its youth, a demographic seen as prone to complacency.

At the heart of the movement is Hikakin, one of the nation’s most popular YouTubers who on Friday released a video in which he tied up with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to emphasize the importance of social distancing.

The video, which as of Saturday evening had more than 7 million views, showed the internet star with more than 8 million subscribers interviewing Koike by video chat about the capital’s current status regarding the pandemic.

In her response, Koike warned Hikakin that the young are just as susceptible to catching the virus as the elderly, noting that out of the nearly 1,200 confirmed COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, 58 percent were between their teens and their 40s. Tokyo has seen four young people fall seriously ill so far, she added.

“What can YouTubers like myself and influencers do under the current situation?” Hikakin asks toward the end of the interview. Koike tells him to highlight the hashtag #stayhome and encourage his viewers to study, chat with friends and drink online.

After wrapping up his interview with the governor, Hikakin dutifully follows her advice by urging his fellow YouTubers to raise awareness of #stayhome and telling his audience to “stand two meters away” from those around them if they have to go out.

Apparently mindful of Hikakin’s predominantly young fan base, Koike sought to project an image strikingly different from her serious, anchorwoman-like tone in news conferences by dumbing down her language and holding a gentle smile throughout the interview.

Her efforts apparently paid off, with many of Hikakin’s viewers on YouTube lauding her for displaying her “motherly” side and an affable demeanor.

“Her message on YouTube is far more understandable than on the news,” one viewer posted in the comments section.

Hikakin is far from alone in utilizing his popularity to promote social distancing to the young.

A Saga-based group of YouTubers dubbed “Turiyoka (fishing is fun)” announced last month that they will halt their usual fishing activities for a month to set an example of how to self-isolate.

In their video, released March 30, the group expressed hope that their decision will serve as a wake-up call for Saga, a prefecture on Kyushu where “there is absolutely no ‘stay-home’ atmosphere at all,” and where fishing spots remain crowded even on weekdays.

YouTuber trio Avntis likewise said last month that they would start filming videos with each of them chatting online instead of physically gathering in one spot.

“Starting today, we will become ‘teleworking’ YouTubers,” one of them said.

But it’s not just Japan’s YouTubers who are reaching out. Their English-speaking counterparts are also actively using their platforms to give a firsthand account of their experiences with self-isolation and social distancing in Japan.

Fukuoka-based YouTuber Micaela is sharing tips on surviving self-isolation that range from stockpiling curry — “one of Japan’s easiest comfort foods to make at home” — to keeping the windows open to get a nice air flow going through her apartment.

“Don’t go to clubs, don’t go to izakaya, don’t go to nomikai (drinking parties), don’t go to hanami (cherry blossom-viewing parties), don’t gather in big groups. Even small groups, I would avoid that at this point,” she said. “You absolutely are not alone. We’re all in this, and we’re going to get through this.”

In a video shot on March 24th, Reina Scully meanwhile guided viewers through daily life on the streets of the “countryside” neighborhood where she lives. Here, the restaurants were still fully open and Japanese shoppers were dining in a packed food court without the slightest interest in social distancing.

“How is this possible? What’s going on in the world?,” she said in disbelief.

Although Japan hasn’t officially witnessed the sudden spikes in infections that have struck overseas, “I do believe that we’re about to see that unfortunate explosion of cases because we have not been taking any of the aggressive preventive measures that the U.S. and Europe have taken,” she said.

Nearly two weeks later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency.

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