A few days ago, I arrived back in the US from Tokyo. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nick, weren’t you just in Japan?” You’d be right! I took a short trip two months ago, and then came back again last month for another 18-day stay. Once you’ve been there, it’s a hard place to stay away from! I’ve been to Japan five times now. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on the country by any means, but I’ve been there often enough to have a general idea of what’s right and wrong, and I can speak the language well enough at this point to avoid most major snafus. On top of that, I have the somewhat specialized distinction of having livestreamed regularly from Japan on three different trips. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my thoughts and experiences as an American in Japan, both as a Twitch streamer and as a traveler in general. If you’re planning a trip of your own, hopefully this will help you to avoid some of the larger sticking points for foreigners.
➢ FILM RESPONSIBLY
Japan is one of the tech capitals of the world. When you’re there, you’ll see things that westerners could only dream about. But just because the country in general is responsible for much of the modern world of electronics and video games doesn’t mean that everyone there is comfortable with technology being in their face. As a Twitch streamer creating IRL content in a foreign country, it’s always important to be extra-sensitive to what may or may not be appropriate. Of the kinds of places I’d frequent, there are three locations that are off-limits for filming: bars, arcades and trains. The idea of not filming in bars you can probably understand without me explaining it to you. Arcades however, are probably a bit more of a surprise. Or at least they were to me. I’m not entirely sure about the cultural paradigm here, but it’s generally considered very bad form to film (or even take photos sometimes) in a Japanese arcade. Trains are a pretty obvious one as well. Someone else doesn’t want to be face-to-face with a random livestreamer while trapped in close-quarters on a train. It’s also useful to keep in mind that you’re not really supposed to talk at all on a Japanese train. So depending on what kind of stream you do, you probably wouldn’t want to stream on a train anyway. Having said all this, I’ve filmed in all three locations at different times, keeping in mind basic manners. It helps to know the language in this regard. I’ve gotten permission on entering an empty bar to film myself, I’ve asked arcade employees about shooting video of the game I was playing, and I’ve gotten onto mostly empty trains to point my camera out the window the whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll probably be fine.
Try to stick out as little as possible.
Like with any IRL streaming setup, the quality of your final video isn’t the only important thing to consider. Your crazy camera rig with numerous massive accessories may create a brilliant looking broadcast, but it’s also likely cumbersome to carry around, and hard to blend in with. People are going to stay away from you, shops will turn you away, and you’ll get exhausted faster lugging everything around. Put simply, the larger your streaming rig, the fewer authentic experiences you’ll be able to have. If you’re planning to build a streaming backpack from scratch, or if you’re thinking of paring down an existing setup, I’d recommend sacrificing small amounts of quality for large amounts of convenience. The less intrusive you can be, the better. In the entry Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack, I spoke about the various options you have in that department.
Finally, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll even be able to stream from the room you’re staying in. The walls in an average Japanese residence are very thin. I’ve stayed in Japanese AirBnBs where you could hear the person sneeze in the room next to you. This meant I had to adjust the way I did my daily morning Duolingo shows, so I wouldn’t disturb everyone around me. If some part of your content requires streaming from your room, keep in mind that you may need to adjust your shows as well.
➢ NUTS AND BOLTS
On the tech side, there are a few things to be aware of. You thankfully don’t need an adapter to plug your electronics into the wall sockets in Japan like you would in Europe, but they don’t use grounded (three-pronged) power cables over there. Make sure you’re using a two-pronged cable for whatever you use. I personally recommend getting a two-prong power strip with several ports in it. Then you can plug in whatever electronics you have without having to worry.
One very specific technical thing I’ve noticed is that you might get a strange flickering effect while filming IRL video content in Japan. It took me a while to realize what this was, but I eventually found out it was because the fluorescent bulbs in Japan operate at a different frequency than in the USA. For anyone old enough to have been filming video in the era of CRT tube televisions, this is similar to the effect you’d get when trying to shoot video of a TV screen. Unless your shutter speed was at an exact setting, you’d get a very undesirable-looking static effect. The solution for Japan, as I found out, was to set the shutter speed in my camera to 50, rather than 60. This may already be the default depending on where you live, but it’s useful to keep in mind either way.
➢ TRAVEL WELL
I have a few general travel tips for Japan as well, which have helped me to have progressively more interesting experiences during my time there. First, give yourself chances to explore. Instead of booking a whirlwind trip where you only see the most popular checklist items every day, build a few days into your vacation when you can simply get lost. I grew to like those parts of my stays so much that I’ve recently ended up doing entire trips that way. For my two Japan visits this year, I spent over three combined weeks just in Tokyo, by myself, without a single plan for where to go, what to do, or having looked up anything at all. I’d just pick a direction to walk every day and find places, people and food along the way. Like when playing an open-world game, sometimes the most interesting experiences on a foreign vacation are what you do between your big plans.
Every street and alley has amazing
places just waiting to be found.
Second, for food I recommend trying to go to small shops rather than restaurants. Get a feel for what’s popular in whichever part of the country you’re in, and try not to lean too hard into your own preconceived notions of what Japanese food looks like. For example, many friends and relatives are surprised that I almost never eat sushi in Japan, but in the parts of Tokyo I frequent that’s not such a common food. Many dishes that westerners think of as Japanese are not as popular over there as you might expect. Ask waiters what they’d recommend, try going outside your comfort zone, and experiment. You’ll find plenty of amazing foods you’ve probably never heard of that are hugely popular among Japanese locals. Not many Americans would think of barbecue skewers or fried chicken as Japanese specialties, but in my experience these are more prevalent than any other type of food I’ve seen in the major parts of Tokyo.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t impose your own values on the country you’re traveling to. This applies to Twitch streaming as well as general traveling. Americans tend to do a lot of complaining, and we’ve built a reputation in Japan especially for causing scenes. The cultural difference plus the language barrier essentially makes Americans into ticking time bombs of cultural faux-pas, and many Japanese businesses aren’t equipped to deal with it. Unless you speak the language, you might even get an instant refusal upon stepping through the door. I can’t say I blame them either. As an American myself, I can attest that we’re pretty annoying. I’ve watched with embarrassment as other Americans drunkenly stumbled into a peaceful little Japanese bar, or argued with a small shop’s owner-operator about something wrong with their order. If you’re going to Japan, try to let the culture sink into you, without forcing your own culture onto them. My personal trick before I could understand the language was to simply assume I was wrong in every scenario, and never complain. Even asking questions often makes Japanese people flustered, because they’ll typically assume you’re complaining in a way they can’t understand. Just try to internalize whatever happened and not do it next time. Travel like that and you’ll have a much smoother experience.
Japan is an incredible country, and if you’re planning a trip there you’re going to have an amazing time. There’s so much to see and do, I’m sure you’ll feel the same itch I always do upon getting home, that you need to go back. As an American however, I’ve done my best to respect the cultural differences and avoid becoming a nuisance. And that goes double as a Twitch streamer. Despite making some embarrassing blunders at first, I’ve since carved out a pretty solid set of guiding principles while streaming in Japan. If you’re hoping to stream during your time as well, or even just to enhance your travel experience, I hope these tips can help your trip go that much smoother.