Having made quite a name for himself with both his acting and singing skills in Taiwan, Yang Yu Teng is now back in Japan, the country where he was brought up. With his recent role in the medical drama Inori no Karute: Kenshui no Nazotoki Shinsatsu Kiroku and the release of his new single “Footprints,” the man who goes by his stage name of Yu (stylized as YU) is hoping to make as big an impression in the entertainment industry here as he did across the water. 

The 28-year-old native of Aichi Prefecture only burst onto the scene in 2021 yet has already garnered a huge following in Taiwan in addition to a significantly growing fan base around the globe. His biggest hit to date is “Blue Lover” from his debut EP. At the time of writing, it has garnered more than 6 million views on YouTube. However, it’s the Taiwan boys’ love drama series We Best Love for which Yu is currently most well known. 

An Unexpected Opportunity Knocks

In his first ever acting role, he co-starred as Zhou Shu Yi, the ambitious son of a prosperous Japanese businessman who falls for his classmate Gao Shide, a fellow student who always seems to do slightly better than him at everything. The story of their star-crossed relationship set across two seasons (No. 1 For You and Fighting Mr. 2nd) proved hugely popular throughout Asia. 

“I was very surprised by how big it became,” Yu tells Tokyo Weekender. “I think people were moved by the story and felt it was unique compared to other productions with a similar theme. That said, I didn’t expect it to reach the numbers it did, particularly across the continent. It was great to be a part of it. I actually landed that role because of my music. A producer from We Best Love heard ‘Blue Lover’ and wanted to use it as one of the soundtracks for the drama. He then saw me and asked if I could act. When I started at the talent agency in Taiwan, I wanted to focus on music more than anything else, but having taken acting lessons, I thought I would give it a go.” 

An Alien Environment

Heading into the audition, Yu says he wasn’t really sure what was happening as it was all so frantic. He didn’t have time to get nervous and felt it didn’t go well. The casting director, though, was clearly impressed, as Yu landed the part. He then had just a short time before filming began. On this occasion there were nerves. After all, his only previous acting experience came in the classroom. Entering into a completely alien environment, he didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure whether he would truly belong. Fortunately, the cast and crew did everything they could to make him feel at home. 

“There was always someone to help me if there was something I couldn’t do,” says Yu. “At the time, my Chinese wasn’t perfect, but everyone was patient. In terms of preparation, I felt the most important thing was connecting with and understanding the other characters in the program. I learned a lot from being able to sit down and discuss things with the other actors. I could also speak freely to the director (Ray Jiang) and the producers. It was all very natural. In Japan, when you communicate with someone in a more senior position, there is often a distance between you. I didn’t feel that at all while filming. It’s the way things are done in Taiwan.”


Finding His Footing

Yu moved to Taiwan, the birthplace of his mother, around a decade ago. He already knew the place reasonably well having visited there during summer and winter vacations as a child to spend time with his grandmother. He began studying Chinese at a young age and, during his junior high school days, spent a year and a half in Shanghai. Prior to living in Taiwan, he says he had a pretty good understanding of the language in terms of listening and reading but wasn’t able to speak as much as he would have liked. 

“I could hold a basic conversation before going, but it was hard at first,” recalls Yu. “The most difficult thing was probably finding the right things to eat. I don’t eat vegetables, so I wanted to check if there was pak choi in the soup and things like that, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to ask the waiters properly. It meant that I spent much of the first few weeks eating onigiri at convenience stores. It wasn’t a big issue, though, because people went out of their way to support me. Also, as I was serious about my studies, I improved quickly. I needed to, as all my lessons at university were in Chinese.” 

Growing Confidence

Yu majored in restaurant management at Shih Hsin University, a highly reputed private educational institution in Taipei. In his third year, he signed with a talent agency after being discovered at a campus fashion show. Pursuing a career in the entertainment industry wasn’t something he ever envisioned as a child. A shy boy, he didn’t think he would ever be able to perform in front of live audiences despite learning how to play the guitar and practicing singing at home. Though he has remained humble, Yu is now clearly more confident in his own ability than he was in his younger days.  

His first EP, released in the summer of 2020, included the upbeat track “Follow” along with the soothing melody “Blue Lover.” The latter proved popular with fans of We Best Love — even if, judging by some of the comments on YouTube, several viewers didn’t realize it was a Yu song when they watched the show. His second EP, Dark Wings, which he wrote the lyrics for, had a rockier and darker feel to it. According to the singer, “painful images” from his younger years came out in the songs “Doubt About Love” and “Fallen Angel.”

Onwards and Upwards From a New Home Base

Signing with entertainment company Amuse, Yu began his Japanese career with the single “Mirror in the Heart” in August 2022. It was his first ever love song and the first time for the singer to pen lyrics in his native tongue. His acting debut in Japan came two months later with his role as Masato Tanigawa in the NTV medical drama Inori no Karute: Kenshui no Nazotoki Shinsatsu Kiroku. He describes his character as “an elite doctor who is strict on himself and those around him.” Performing in Japanese made it easier in terms of learning and memorizing the lines, however, he says it felt “strange and for some reason a bit awkward” acting in his own language. 

Yu’s now been living in Tokyo for around half a year and is slowly getting used to the megalopolis, yet he informs us that he prefers staying in his apartment to heading out. A dog and coffee lover, he’s also an enthusiastic amateur cook, specifying karaage fried chicken as his specialty. Having worked part time in a bar in Taiwan, mixing cocktails, particularly anything gin-based, is another of his pastimes. His biggest passion, though, remains his music. Starting 2023 off with a bang, he released his latest single, “Footprints,” on January 3. 

“I hope those who listen to this track gain some strength from it,” says Yu. “I think people are often trapped in the past and live in fear when it comes to the future. For me personally, the anxiety never goes away. It remains inside me, and I use that to motivate myself. In the end, there is no choice but to accept everything and walk on, but I want to do that while living a strong life. That’s ultimately the theme of this song.”

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