Ten years is a long time to be doing anything — let alone stay relevant on the internet, an arena of notorious trends that explode and then diffuse within a matter of days. But that’s exactly what the Abroad in Japan YouTube channel has done and continues to do. Helmed by filmmaker and host Chris Broad, his content has introduced a global audience to Japan through his natural affinity for videography and his own brand of British wit. Broad now adds author to his list of accolades, with an eponymous memoir, a culmination of over a decade spent living life in Japan.
The Early Years
There are 29 chapters in this book and each one is written in the style of a personal essay. Many of the chapters document brod’s time in Yamagata Prefecture as an assistant language teacher (ALT), a gig he received via the Japanese government-sponsored JET program. From his early observations of the Shinjuku nightlife in Kabukicho, Broad doesn’t shy away from showing his youthful naivete in those early days.
“About 75% of the book is about my first few years living in Japan,” Broad explains. “I wanted the book to be about Tohoku and the rural parts of Japan. Every other bloody book is already about Tokyo,” he jokes.
Indeed, Broad’s micro-level descriptions are rich in anecdotes of Broad’s lived experiences that you rarely hear of anywhere else. He documents his early interactions with his colleagues and students at Sakata Senior High as an alien and is humorous, but is always quick to frame it as him being the one committing the faux pas.
In the chapter “Sake Onegaishimasu!” he recounts his first time drinking Japanese liquor alongside several other 20-year-old guys celebrating their legal drinking status. It ends the way you’d expect, but it’s wholesome to read about a man trying to find himself and his place in rural Japan.
Natsuki and Ryotarō
While the Abroad in Japan YouTube channel is about, well, Japan, oftentimes the camera does point inwards towards Broad and his life. Long-time fans of the channel will remember the pivotal periods of his life when reading the book, the moments before the penny drops. I found myself internally fist-pumping, reading the chapter “Japan’s Most Eccentric Man,” knowing that he was just about to have his first encounter with Natsuki. He features often in the book, speaking of his love for England (“I like Queen Elizabeth”) and his brutal honesty about any of Broad’s life decisions (“No, no. Sendai is very shit”).
Another regular on the YouTube Channel, Ryotaro, also makes frequent appearances. The backstory as to how they met, fills in the gaps in my knowledge of Ryotaro’s role in the growth of Broad’s online community. The banter and bickering among the three is an Abroad in Japan channel staple. You can expect a similar vibe in the book, although Broad tones the sarcasm down just a little bit. He swaps some showmanship for sentimentality, and it really comes through just how much these relationships mean to him.
YouTube and Documentaries
The book isn’t all fun and games. Broad also includes sobering narratives. From Chapter 21, his life takes a sharp turn as he quits his teaching career and moves to Sendai to take a chance on his then-up-and-coming YouTube channel. The challenges of making ends meet, simply finding a place to live as a foreigner and the loneliness of starting over in a city without any friends is keenly felt in his process. Still, it’s Chris Broad. His rinse-and-repeat method of ending his piece with a sarcastic punchline prevents you from feeling sorry for him for too long. It’s more of a strong reminder that much of his success today came from humble origins.
In Broad’s time as a filmmaker, he is most proud of his work documenting Tohoku and, in particular, the aftereffects of the tsunami in Fukushima. This gets its own dedicated chapter, “Ground Zero.” On his channel there are a number of documentaries that capture this, such as “Inside Fukushima” and “What Happened in Japan After The Tsunami.” This section of the book feels like an accompaniment to those works, where he shares his inner thoughts on how he felt producing the videos, and what it was like to interview residents whose resilience has helped rebuild the area. It’s a wonderful chapter and a testament to how Broad’s mastery of on-screen storytelling translates well into the printed word.
The Future of Abroad in Japan
Having just read a lifetime of adventures condensed into 10 short years, I felt rather sheepish when asking Broad about the future of Abroad in Japan. From conquering 47 prefectures, amassing millions of subscribers and even meeting his idol, Ken Watanabe, he has already done so much.
“I’d like to do more documentaries, serious ones that allow me to dig deeper into Japan. I also have some ideas about producing an anthology series for television or producing an actual film. Exploring a fictional story in Japan would be exciting and I’d be able to leverage my experience in the country, the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met” says Broad.
YouTube is still Broad’s bread and butter and he continues to push himself to change and adapt to appeal to the platform’s ever-changing algorithm. And there’s work to be done to rebuild his studio in a bigger and better way.
At the time of this interview, Broad very seriously informed me that he plans to have his first book signing at the summit of Mount Fuji.
Read our first interview with Chris Broad.