One of Dylan Woods’ most popular videos features a small person selling cheese before turning into a volcano. That volcano erupts with popcorn which acts as a badminton ball to hit several jumping Kobito Zukan characters. They all fall down, before one of them spills out of (big) Woods’ mouth.
@japanesewithdylansenpai #learnjapanese #studyjapanese #kobito #learnontiktok ♬ original sound – Dylan Senpai
In his own words, Woods makes “absurd, comedic skits” while teaching Japanese to online students. Even though he’d been making videos since childhood, he only joined TikTok last year. He spotted its potential after his “ironic TikTok dance video” attracted hundreds of views within a few hours.
Originally focusing his creative juices on music, he changed course when the pandemic hit. “I made a skit called ‘Uncle Tony’ featuring me as an Italian chef, like a TV show. It was well-received among my friends,” Woods says. He subsequently realised his talents lay elsewhere in the video domain.
And he’s not looked back since, with his skits attracting tens and even hundreds of thousands of views. People are drawn to the bizarre characters and surreal storylines. Then there’s the added language learning ingredient, with each video introducing a new Japanese word or phrase at the start.
“[They have] the educational aspect, the comedic aspect and the absurdity. I’m able to express my personality through it too, so I think people are drawn to that as well,” he says.
@japanesewithdylansenpai #learnjapnese #studyjapanese #japaneselanguage #kobito ♬ original sound – Dylan Senpai
In person, Woods is exactly like his videos – geeky and polite, with an unchanging demeanor and inquisitive tone. His unfazed reactions to the absurdities around him could be a reason why his bizarre worlds are so fascinating.
One of the most popular videos on his channel features him ‘swimming,’ before poking a shiny ball which flashes like a camera. He then lands on the floor of an awards ceremony, as paparazzi with fish bodies for heads frantically snap pictures. He dazedly gazes up from the floor before a kobito (small person) appears, telling him prophetically “sakana,” which he repeats back, before a koi carp appears floating above his head. He swallows the fish whole and the video descends into darkness, leaving the kobito behind.
So, how does he get the ideas for the videos? “They come like dreams,” he explains, adding that the process is very intuitive. Contrary to popular belief, the characters, he says, have no particular reference. “I decide on what characters I’d like and find appropriate ones online just by googling.”
@japanesewithdylansenpai #learnjapnese #studyjapanese #guyfieri #japaneselearning ♬ original sound – Dylan Senpai
In addition to googled characters, he occasionally features pop culture figures, with one of his most recent being a distorted version of Guy Fieri, the cult American chef.
“I don’t [actually] know him so well, I’ve only seen two minutes of him eating a hotdog here and there,” says Woods. “But a lot of these absurdities that show up in my videos come from the feeling that the world is an absurd place and everything can be seen that way once you question it. Maybe what Guy’s doing is the opposite in some sense — accepting things as they are, going around and eating hotdogs. That contrast is interesting.”
Other TikTok content creators often become famous for their content purely because it is relatable. On the surface, Woods’ videos are anything but. “Art is often like counter-culture,” he says. “I think it’s part of my personality to go against what’s normal and to challenge those ideas.”
@japanesewithdylansenpai #learnjapanese #japanesetutor #japanesetutoring #japanese ♬ original sound – Dylan Senpai
Woods only started teaching Japanese last year, but he grew up watching both his parents teach. While admitting that he wouldn’t rely on TikTok to learn a language from scratch, he feels it can be a “great entry point” as a useful learning aid. He then proceeds to talk about a Discord community for his students.
“We try to speak in Japanese and watch Japanese TV shows together and learn and grow together in that format,” he says. “I see a lot of potential in that sort of community-based learning.”