Thrown in the Deep End (With Eels) - My First Time in Japan, and On TV (Part I)
J Pop Exchange Logo Sakura Heading Photo

Thrown in the Deep End (With Eels) - My First Time in Japan, and On TV (Part I)

By Hannah Kentridge (MissHanake) for The J-Pop Exchange

When I began to upload videos to YouTube as a naive 13 year old girl, I never could have imagined where it would take me 6 years later: waist-deep in a vat of wriggling eels in Southern Japan, trying to coax a squealing 6 foot 3 Australian man into joining me, as an onlooking camera crew tried to stifle their laughter.

In 2016, when my YouTube channel had grown to 30,000 subscribers and I had completed my first year studying Japanese at Oxford University, I received an email. It was an invitation to fly to Japan to take part in a show produced by TV Tokyo called, “Gaikokujin no YouTuber ga Kita!” - “A Foreign YouTuber has Come!” I had been fascinated by Japan since childhood, and had learned a lot of my Japanese from Japanese TV shows, so I could hardly believe this wasn’t a scam. (It wasn’t, I checked.)

A few weeks later I hopped on a plane to Tokyo, and emerged from Narita arrivals gate, exhausted after a 14-hour flight, possibly slightly tipsy from British Airways mini white wines, but mostly just ecstatic to have set foot in Japan for the very first time. A cameraman, producer, and some mystery business men (whom I never saw again) were all there to greet me, and I gabbled to the camera in nervous Japanese as the cameraman asked me what felt like a million questions.

I was taken in a fancy Porsche (with a TV in the front, how futuristic!) to my hotel in the business district. That evening I ate my first ever meal in Japan, a country famed for its unique and delicious local cuisine. I had spaghetti with tomato sauce.

The following day, I explored Tokyo’s sprawling city as I’d always dreamed. I saw Shibuya’s 5-way scramble crossing (much smaller than I’d imagined!) and bought heaps of clothes, accessories and gifts on Harajuku’s Takeshitadoori. I was so excited that I didn’t even feel nervous being followed around by a cameraman and having to comment on everything I was doing. Wandering around, chatting with the crew, eating tasty food, I could hardly believe I was really there, in Tokyo. It didn’t feel like a day of work presenting a TV show, it felt like a fun day out on holiday! Maybe this TV lark isn’t so hard after all, I naively thought.

That evening, I squeezed all my shopping into my suitcase and we drove back to the airport. Was that all I had to do?! One day of filming in Shibuya and Harajuku then they just ship me back home to England? Nope, next was the real point of the show, the real fun stuff, and the next few days would show me that television work was not as easy as my first day had allowed me to imagine and that Japan wasn’t just Tokyo.

The cameraman and I took a short domestic flight to Miyazaki. Miyazaki is a prefecture in Kyushu, the southernmost of the main Japanese islands. Famous for its beautiful coastal scenery and expensive fancy beef, I later learned that there were increasing efforts to promote tourism to the area, and perhaps my TV show was part of that.

I was driven in a people-carrier through green countryside with roofs of traditional looking houses poking through the mist here and there. It was a stark contrast to the busy bright lights I’d seen in Tokyo. We reached Miyazaki City centre, and arrived at the grand, European-style hotel I was staying in, which had views of gusty palm trees and distant sky scrapers on the other side of the river. My first full day in Miyazaki turned into yet another shopping trip, this time in a big mall with the female producer I had met when I arrived in Miyazaki. Whatever had been originally planned for that day ended up being cancelled due to a typhoon! Japan has unpredictable and turbulent weather! That evening I heard staff members making plans on the phone with somebody called ‘Jamie-san’ - they wouldn’t tell me who he was when I asked.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, (Hiyajiru - a chilled miso soup with tofu and vegetables served over cooked rice, a Miyazaki specialty, and a must-try in the summer!) I was introduced to my “tour guide.” Lead through a winding path of corridors in the hotel, I came to what looked like a classroom. When I knocked on the door, a tall, blonde, ponytailed man enthusiastically greeted me in an Australian accent, “Hi, how are you?!” This was Jamie. As I realised when he switched to perfectly fluent Japanese with a thick Miyazaki dialect, he had been living in the area for 16 years. An English teacher and local TV celebrity, he was to be my guide for the next few days in Miyazaki. Once the cameras were off, he calmly re-introduced himself to me in a quieter voice, quite a different Jamie from his excitable TV persona.

I was taken aback a little by this contrast in personality. I was an absolute TV beginner - would I be able to keep up with Jamie, who seemed a hardened pro? I felt nervous for the first time since landing in Japan, worried about whether I could also find a balance between being my natural self and being extroverted and bubbly for the camera. It had been easy chatting away so far, but I’d only had one day of filming and I knew I’d find it harder to be an upbeat version of myself when I was tired. It was going to get much more difficult, but I was also going to experience some amazing things in the next few days. Oh, and, as you know, there were going to be eels…


More articles:

Thrown in the Deep End (With Eels) - My First Time in Japan, and On TV (Part II)

From Ukiyo-e to Modernism How Japan Influenced The Next Generation of European Artists