What you need to know
YouTuber 'That Japanese Man Yuta,' with view counts numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is working to fill the void left by the international media's sweeping coverage of Japanese society.
On a bright Tokyo day, two young men offer sheepish smiles as an interviewer poses a sensitive question: “What do you think of the stereotype that Japanese are not interested in sex or dating?”
The man posing the question is Yuta Aoki, a YouTube vlogger and author, and this subtitled video interview is just one of many posted to his channel “That Japanese Man Yuta,” in which he snags a passerby and poses penetrating questions on everything from the finer points of Japanese manners and etiquette to attitudes among Japanese toward Donald Trump.
Today though, the line of questioning Yuta has prepared for the residents of Tokyo is aimed squarely at fleshing out Japan’s attitudes toward sex and the oft-reported notion that Japan’s libido is on the wane. Yuta is not trying to prove or disprove this idea. Instead, he is hoping this video and his YouTube channel can offer an English speaking audience a more nuanced view of Japan, a view that he believes can often be hard to find in the attention-grabby news reports of the mainstream international press.
As the video continues, the first man considers the question, and replies in Japanese, “I don’t think that’s true. We do have a sex drive, we are just not good at doing anything about it.”
The second adds, “Maybe they just don’t say it, even though they are getting it,” punctuating his remark with a nervous chuckle.
Later in the video, another interviewee offers that many young people do indeed struggle to find the time for love, but he blames the heavy demands of Japanese work-life. “As you start working for a company, I think people become sexless,” he says.
These answers do not tell a neat story. They contain contradictions and complexities, all of which Yuta believes is too often brushed aside by an international media that has already made up its mind about who Japanese people are and focuses exclusively on the extreme outliers of society to prove its point. “When it comes to foreign countries, they tend to be less critical, and they just go with whatever pre-conceived idea they already have.”
“Because there’s nothing interesting about them, normal people doing normal things wouldn’t make the news,” he says. “I think just talking to normal Japanese people is a way to dispel some of the stereotypes that the media portrays.”
Correcting media narratives is by no means Yuta’s sole focus. His videos, with view counts numbering in the hundreds of thousands, attempt to make sense of every aspect of modern Japan, or at least every aspect his channel’s 300,000-plus subscribers have written in to ask about.
Yuta began his journey of cross-cultural discovery at a young age, long before he started the channel. At 13 he set off from his hometown of Hiroshima to briefly live in the United States, then at the age of 17 he went on a solo backpacking trip through Southern India. He later studied philosophy and literature in Lyon France, and has since travelled to more than 30 countries.
So it comes as no surprise that when he first began his on-the-street interviews, he started off with a cross-cultural theme: “What Japanese Women Think of Dating Foreign Men.” Encouraged by the video’s success, he went on to make a whole lot more, along with a self-publish book, “There's Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan.” These days he hits the streets of Tokyo whenever the weather permits, and aims for about one video upload a week.
Together, the dozens of videos on his channel offer insight and thoughtful reflection on Japanese culture in bite-sized entertaining snippets. But even topics as prurient as dating and a nation’s sexual appetite have an educational side to them as well.
Complicating the story
Returning to the media meme of Japanese “sexlessness,” Yuta says that Japanese men in particular find themselves singled out. A recent survey demonstrating an uptick in the rate of virginity among Japan’s young singles, both men and women, sparked speculation in one CNN report that economic pressures had sapped the self-confidence of Japanese men. Meanwhile, past reporting has often accounted for the trend toward sexlessness by asserting that Japanese men are preoccupied with the escapism of manga and online gaming, and are losing the ability communicate with real people.
But Yuta, who thinks the survey results are misleading, says his interviews reveal a different story. “If I talk to random Japanese men, it should be obvious many of them are interested in dating and finding a girlfriend,” he says.
He admits that like other stereotypes, there is some truth to this one, but he says the story is overblown. “We definitely do have those men in Japan, but other countries do as well, and the media only talks about Japanese men,” he says. “They ignore average Japanese men who are interested in dating,” he adds.
Yuta also took on another story that picked up steam in the international press: two recent cases of mixed-race Japanese women winning major beauty pageants, both of which reportedly led to controversy in Japan over the question of racial purity. In 2015, Ariana Miyamoto became the first mixed-race winner of the Miss Universe Japan pageant. Then just last Fall, Priyanka Yoshikawa of mixed Japanese and Indian heritage was crowned Miss World Japan.
International media reported that many in Japan rejected the beauty queens on the grounds that a mixed-race individual could not represent Japan. Yuta, however, found these reports unconvincing as they relied heavily on anonymous online messaging boards and Twitter as a stand in for Japan’s national sentiment.
He points to a BBC mini-documentary that reported Japanese hostility to Miyamoto’s victory, but cited just a few angry tweets. “I was very unhappy about that,” Yuta says. “People on the internet can be similar to people in real life, but at the same time there’s a heavy bias. People who are active on the internet, especially active in posting anonymous messages, have certain tendencies.”
In contrast, when he went out and conducted interviews on the topic, Yuta found much more accepting attitudes. Nearly all interviewees said that what they care most about was whether or not the pageant winners had grown up in Japan and internalized Japanese culture. Race was generally not an issue. Furthermore, nearly every respondent said they supported the contestants and would like to see them win.
To be fair to the BBC, both Miyamoto and Yoshikawa went on record reporting their own experiences facing racial discrimination in Japan, indicating some lingering negative attitudes toward Japan’s growing mixed-race population. Yuta acknowledges these attitudes and addressed the issue in another series of interviews. However, the racially charged, hostile Japan these media reports seem to suggest is simply one Yuta does not recognize.
New Media enters the fray
When he started his channel in 2014, Yuta says he did not see many interview channels covering Japan. That has changed now and while “That Japanese Man Yuta” still boasts the highest number of subscribers, a handful of other channels like Asian Boss and Ask Japanese provide dozens of on-the-street video interviews on a similarly broad range of topics. This means more coverage and more depth.
If the failing of international media is a tendency toward sweeping generalizations supported by only a tweet’s worth of evidence, Yuta thinks his channel and his interview style offers at least a partial solution. “If you wanted to learn more about Japan before the internet and before YouTube, your resources would have been quite limited,” he says. “We have a lot of those people who are interested in Japan and want to discover more. They will come to my channel and they will understand there are many kinds of Japanese people.”
“I think offering alternative resources to those people is very effective.”
Editor: Edward White