Social media has always been built around a reaction or response. After all, it’s the online equivalent of having a conversation, albeit one with sometimes millions of followers.

In recent years, though, the act of someone watching or listening to something and filming their first reaction to it has become popular worldwide. As is often the case when it comes to digital developments, such content is starting to attract attention in Japan.

Let’s take an upload from the reaction-heavy YouTube channel Fannix in May that has logged more than 2 million views to lay out just what this type of content is all about. The person behind it greets viewers, white Airpods sticking out from their ears, before playing the music video for one of the most popular songs in Japan this year, Yoasobi’s “Yoru ni Kakeru.” For the next 4½ minutes, the host bobs along to the beat, their face revealing what they think. The host also includes text overlays on the clip to make it clear they’re pretty positive about the tune.

“Yo … that was so, so amazing,” the host says as the song ends.

Reaction videos used to play out anonymously as part of a larger collective online experience in Japan, and bulletin boards such as 2chan and video services like Nico Nico Douga — where comments left by viewers about what was happening zoomed across the screen — are clearly early examples. Mainstream Japanese TV has also long fed on such interactions, which might explain why the country has embraced this content in the first place.

By comparison, reaction videos in the West tend to focus on major pop culture moments. These range from dramatic twists in award-winning TV shows such as “Game Of Thrones” to new music videos from Lady Gaga and viral TikTok trends. The best clips — often coming from channels devoted entirely to posting reactions — easily amass millions of views.

Japanese pop culture has enjoyed attention from this corner of social media over the past decade. There’s no shortage of anime reaction videos, yet Japan has also been the subject of wackier reaction fare, from early attempts at the genre aimed at commercials, film clips and J-pop groups such as Babymetal (resulting in the subsequent “Babymetal Reacts To YouTubers React To Babymetal”). These, though, were just cases of old tropes migrating to new platforms, all of them reveling in the typical exoticization of Japan.

Japan-based creators, meanwhile, were initially doing such things as attempting to complete a challenge, exploring a place or just talking to the camera. A few early examples exist, though, courtesy of channels such as Asian Boss and That Japanese Man Yuta, which has shown random footage to people on the street and asked them what they thought about it. Credit should also go to the random reaction video of someone watching Ken Shimura comedy routines for the first time.

However, this has all changed in 2020, as an increasing number of individuals are watching Japan-related videos and filming their first reaction to them. Music has certainly been part of the success, thanks largely to companies letting potential copyright violations go unchallenged and channels such as The First Take providing performances that YouTubers can’t resist reacting to. The J-pop industry has seemingly allowed the likes of Fannix, Shira-sta and more to grow healthy followings (while others attract attention by producing something along the same lines as non-Japanese YouTubers reacting to Japanese music — a surefire way to attract curiosity from an actual Japanese audience).

The most interesting development, however, is watching YouTubers react to other YouTube videos about Japan. Users such as Shunchan and George Japan are among dozens of creators who react to videos about Japan, offering their takes on existing content exploring Japanese diets, providing comical takes on the nation’s history and lists of things not to do in Japan. At times, it offers a way to assess outdated “wacky” thinking of Japan, such as pushing back against the ridiculous “29 things that exist only in Japan” clip that went viral earlier in the year.

For the most part, though, the rise in more Japan-centric reaction videos appears to be driven by what viewers ultimately want to see, as well as a chance to build shared experiences through content focused on the country.

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