Talking about the weather isn’t just a way to make chitchat — these days, it can turn you into an internet darling.

Take, for example, Saya Hiyama, a weather forecaster for YouTube livestreaming channel Weathernews. During her Feb. 26 shift, the 27-year-old announcer was engaged in a bit of banter on the game of shogi when news of an earthquake came through. Naturally, Hiyama professionally shifted from playful to serious in a heartbeat.

A snippet of this pivot — lasting 16 seconds in total — quickly went viral, spread via random Twitter accounts and web-aggregation sites such as Boing Boing. The clip got the most attention on YouTube (it’s currently at more than 16.8 million views), where viewers gleefully riffed on what they were seeing — “Me when I’m playing video games then suddenly remember that I have an assignment due at midnight,” read one comment.

In an older online ecosystem, the scene may have made it into the banter of broadcasts overseas as a light-hearted way to close a show. This is 2021, though, and these are the moments that companies thirsty for viral moments dream of.

Weathernews can thank the YouTube algorithm in part for Hiyama’s new idol status. Responsible for other viral hits from Japan, the algorithm will ensure that the roster of recommended videos you see after watching the earthquake clip introduces you to a whole new world via channels such as Sayarchive 38ch and WeatherNewFans, the latter being the original uploader of the breakthrough earthquake video. There are clips of Hiyama attempting anime poses, getting embarrassed over misreads and talking about Monster Energy drink — you’ll come thanks to the algorithm, but you’ll stay thanks to her charisma.

And people have definitely come back. Hiyama now has a small army of dedicated fans from around the world logging onto the Weathernews livestream daily to send messages of encouragement. They’ve also sought out her Instagram and, in the surest sign of having achieved an online fandom, they’re drawing fan art of her.

Hiyama’s micro-celebrity comes from the intersection of multiple social media trends, the main one being what some refer to as the YouTube clip channel. It’s a sort of social media-age update on the TV clip show, where the best bits of seasons past are put together for a low-effort episode.

As livestreaming has become more common on the internet, the folks operating these clip channels sift through hours of footage to isolate the funniest moments, from video game streamers to virtual YouTubers (a Japan-powered speciality).

Plenty of news goofs can be found on YouTube, but with most blooper reels, the viewer laughs at the anchorperson and often from a place of superiority. When you watch a Hiyama clip, you’re laughing with her. And judging by the number of times “waifu” (wife) appears in the comment sections, some viewers are smitten.

This type of obsession with niche personalities used to be associated with otaku (Japan’s nerdish obsessives), but it turns out the phenomenon isn’t all that uncommon. Fragmentation brought about by the internet has revealed that people everywhere seek connection, and they often find it via unlikely personalities who’ve sparked their own community

Hiyama has taken this newfound attention, however it manifests itself, in stride. She gave an interview about her viral success to Weathernews, telling the outlet, “I just did my usual job.”

She’s an example of how unlikely elements of Japanese pop culture can connect abroad, but can also show us about how fame functions online in this country. Maybe instead of everyone having their 15 minutes of fame, we’ll all one day have our own sub-Reddit.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.