We ask six Japan-based YouTubers what they love about the country and to recommend the best places to shop in Tokyo along with their must-buy souvenirs.
YouTube channel: Fifty na Pol | Subscribers: 238,000
Where are you from? Chicago, America
Why did come to Japan? That’s an answer that changes depending on my mood [laughs], but in university I was interested in the country because of a class I took about Japanese tea-making and aesthetics. I was intrigued by the duality of Japan, which is very modern and traditional. I initially planned to be here for a year or two, but I ended up setting up a video production company here, so, while I travel a lot, Japan has been my base for seven years now.
“I like the creativity that this organized ‘mess’ inspires”
What do you love about Japan? I’m not going to go into how clean it is. [Laughs] With regards to Tokyo, I like the creativity that this organized “mess” inspires. Whatever amount of pressure seems to be applied to this city, it always figures things out. And you can get the best of anything here, from jeans to whiskey.
What sets your channel apart? My parents are Polish, and my current channel is in Polish. Poland, like Japan, is very homogenous in identity and I realized from comments online that there was enough interest in my identity, having grown up in America, to warrant creating a channel. There’s a huge Polish diaspora – 20 million living abroad – so I felt that it was worth putting myself out there to get young Polish people used to a less homogenous way of thinking.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? Any of the Japanese fashion stores in Omotesando.
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan? It’s a very basic thing, but I love Japanese stationery and pens, especially this pencil [digs around in bag for pencil] that revolves while you’re using it so it never gets blunt.
YouTube channel: Only in Japan | Subscribers: 1,22 million
Where are you from? Ohio, America
Why did you come to Japan? I arrived here in 1998, after backpacking around the world and being encouraged to visit by a roommate.
“I’ve lived in 16 different cities around Japan”
What do you love about Japan? It’s just so different to where I’m from; also, Japan’s long history and strong culture attracts me, especially in comparison to the melting pot of America.
How did you become a vlogger? In 2005, when Steve Jobs held up the iPod Video, I decided, “This is the future!” I set up a video production company and started making mobile videos. In 2011, after the earthquake, I started my YouTube channel to help fix any misunderstandings about the situation in Japan and to help show the history and uniqueness of the country.
What sets your channel apart? My age? I’m 45, whereas a lot of other YouTubers are a lot younger. My experience. I’ve lived in 16 different cities around Japan and been to every prefecture almost three times each. And my background is in television so I take time to really get the story. As the saying goes, a good storyteller will always have a job.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? I love Shimura Shoten in Ameyoko shopping street. The history of Ameyoko goes back to World War II when they sold candy and chocolate, and the man who owns this shop has been doing this job for 35 years. He is really fun and just keeps putting more chocolate in your bag; he always gives me a big hug.
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan? The best gifts from Japan are knives from Kappabashi – they make them for left-handed people, and customize the knives for you, too; that’s real omotenashi. Also, the plastic food displays!
YouTube channel: Mayo Japan | Subscribers: 343,000
Where are you from? Fukuoka, Japan
What do you love about Japan? Being Japanese, I like to live efficiently so I love that everything and everyone is punctual.
“I love going to Indian spice and sweet shops in Nishi Kasai”
How did you become a vlogger? After school, I wanted to learn a new language, but I wanted to pick one that not many other Japanese people speak. I picked Hindi because I felt India had a dynamic culture and a good relationship with Japan.
Also, my father was an alpinist and used to climb the Himalayas in India, so he also really wanted me to study Hindi! [Laughs] After living in Delhi for a year, I returned to Japan and started a YouTube channel focusing on teaching Hindi to Japanese people. Suddenly, Indian people started commenting on my videos, asking me to speak Hindi, so that’s when I started my current channel [in January 2019] to introduce Japanese culture to India. This has made me realize that Indians are really interested in Japan, especially anime.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? I love going to Indian or Nepali spice and sweet shops in Nishi Kasai [nicknamed Little India].
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan? Sensu [handheld fan] or secondhand yukata from Harajuku.
YouTube channel: LoveLyzKelly | Subscribers: 149,000
Where are you from? Michigan, America
Why did you come to Japan? I studied a degree in Japanese and secondary education, and moved here straight after graduating in 2013. I started teaching English, learned the language, fell in love, and stayed!
“I feel like every day is different in Japan”
What do you love about Japan? I feel like every day is different and I’m always learning something new. I like change, I like moving, I like traveling, and I feel like Japan gives me these opportunities.
How did you become a vlogger? I started my channel in 2015, first as a way to share the music I was creating with a friend at the time and as a vlog to connect with my family and friends back home. Gradually it turned into a proper channel for showcasing Japan and I’ve been so surprised by how quickly it’s growing!
What sets your channel apart? YouTube is so saturated now, so I’ve been doing a lot of research about why certain channels grow so quickly, and you have to put something different out there. So I decided to do a more of a diary, voiceover, story-based approach. I think people started to react to that. I also started sharing my real-life experiences in Japan, both positive and negative, to show what it’s really like to live here. People are curious about this.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? This is going to sound cliché but I love shopping in Shibuya because it has a mix of American and Japanese shops. If you want a quieter place to shop, Shimokitazawa is nice with lots of secondhand shops and cafés.
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan? The tiny figurines you put in your wallet that are supposed to bring you luck with money. You can find them in Asakusa.
YouTube channel: Internationally Me | Subscribers: 248,000
Where are you from? New Zealand
Why did you come to Japan? I came here five years ago after graduating. I had done a few exchanges before and I really liked Japan and was very fascinated by the culture and the way people interact. I’m now based in Tokyo but I just opened a Japanese language school in Akita.
“What I fell in love with was the countryside; the real raw Japan”
What do you love about Japan? What I fell in love with was the countryside; the real raw Japan. I did a homestay when I first came here and the hospitality was amazing.
How did you become a vlogger? I felt like Japan was perceived in a wacky way – the things that go viral online are usually things like game shows or strange foods. Back when I started the channel three years ago, I felt like most people introducing the country were focusing on those things.
But what I love about Japan are the everyday things, so I wanted to show more of that rather than the touristy places. I show the lesser-known areas.
What sets your channel apart? My passion for Japan’s countryside and the people who live and work there. I like to tell their stories through my videos, so for example, if I go to a ramen shop, I will share my thoughts on the food but also interview the obachan who works there.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? For me, simple is best. I usually shop and hang out in the neighborhood nearby my house. It’s very old-school Tokyo with lots of little bars and locally run shops, many of which sell freshly made traditional Japanese foods.
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan?
Foreigners seem to have this obsession with having their name written in a different language, so I think buying a hanko [Japanese seal] is a great idea. You can buy cheaper ones from Tokyu Hands or go to one of the specialized shops where they make your personalized name in katakana.
YouTube channel: That Japanese Man Yuta | Subscribers: 676,000
Where are you from? Japan
What do you love about Japan? I travel a lot, so every time I go abroad and come back there are a few things that stand out, for example, our wide variety of products. Just go to a convenience store and you can find many different types of Japanese snacks with subtle variations in flavor and limited editions. I also like how detail-oriented Japanese people are; something you can see even in the traditional architecture.
“I think we are a reading nation”
How did you become a vlogger? In 2015 I published a book about international relationships in Japan and initially I thought it would be a good way to promote my book. I was also interested in making videos. The premise of the channel was to explain Japanese culture from Japanese people’s perspectives. Many foreigners write articles or make videos about Japan but sometimes they miss subtle elements of the culture. They tend to interpret things from their own cultural values. I enjoy analyzing things and presenting my findings to an audience.
Recommended shops in Tokyo? I like Loft in Shibuya, and also any bookshops – this is another thing I like about Japan; we still have many physical bookshops. I think we are a reading nation.
Your top gift or souvenir from Japan? It really depends on the person, but I think Japanese cosmetic products are really good. For example, I like Japanese sunblock – there’s such a wide variety and the lotion is really smooth and easy to apply. [Laughs]
Photographs by David Jaskiewicz