The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Long-established Japanese movie company Toei has partnered with YouTube to create videos—based on jidaigeki (period dramas)—made by Japan’s video creators. Japan’s sometimes-conservative corporate, it turns out, is embracing the idea that the cutting edge of the Internet may be a place to make money, promote products, and increase brand loyalty.


Starring in the new videos are a relatively new breed of Internet entrepreneur, known as YouTubers, including comedians, musicians and make up artists—they are the pioneers of YouTube Spaces: top-of-the-range studios, of which there are seven in the world so far, where sound, camera, and action is turned into content for the Internet generation.

“When we pooled the creator base, and we asked them what type of content they’d like to create, what sorts of sets they’d like to create on, a lot of people asked for Japanese-style sets: a geisha set; a soba shop etcetera,” says Head of YouTube Spaces, Asia Pacific, David Macdonald.

Therefore, “We decided that Toei were the partner for us. They have a theme park in Kyoto around the genre of jidaigeki, which, actually, connects very well with the youth.”

Rehearsals during a jidaigeki production at YouTube Spaces, Tokyo (above) and filming at the Toei period drama set and theme park in Kyoto

Rehearsals during a jidaigeki production at YouTube Spaces, Tokyo (above) and filming at the
Toei period drama set and theme park in Kyoto (below)

As a result, YouTube set up its studio in Tokyo to a Toei period drama film set; Toei, meanwhile, opened its doors to its full-to-scale jidaigeki theme park in Kyoto, called Toei Kyoto Studio Park, to YouTube creators. The result surprised Ken Takahashi, who handles Toei’s collaboration with YouTube on the project.

“What I found most surprising was the unconventional methods of productions, for instance, in the way makeup was used,” he says. “We don’t associate that with the jidaigeki genre. We didn’t expect the genre to be used in such a way.”

YouTubers involved in the program included Sayulee, a musician; Sasaki Asahi, who uses her channel to give advice on applying makeup; and Kobasolo, a musician who has a music channel.

Watching the videos the YouTubers produced, it is clear they have breathed new life into jidaigeki—the YouTubers were playful, and dancing to the sound of house music, eating dango (rice-cake), and entering a duel with a fox mask.

The result was that some creators felt like the productions were some of the best work they had ever produced. Speaking of her fans’ reaction to her jidaigeki video production, Sayulee says, “I think a lot of them were blown away by the quality. It was a step up from anything I’d produced before.”

What’s more, the YouTube and Toei partnership seems to have discovered a new formula for millennials and their forerunners to be creative in the “brave new world” of media in the Internet Age.

“I think what the Internet has done, and YouTube among other different platforms has done, is really democratize the ability to entertain people,” Macdonald says.

“And so what we are seeing with YouTube and YouTube creators is that they are a breed of individuals who like to entertain, who have a talent they want to show off, or they have a hobby they want to share with the world.”

Two hundred videos have been published from the YouTube and Toei collaboration, as of this writing, reaching 10 million views and 20 million social media impressions, Macdonald adds.

The Toei Kyoto Studio Park

The Toei Kyoto Studio Park

Style: Makeup artist
YouTube channel subscribers: 394,748

How did you become a YouTube vlogger?
I have a makeup channel and one that does YouTube beauty tutorials and the like. I’ve been doing the channel for years, but had a hard time attracting viewers. That made me wonder what audiences want to see, and so I decided to create a channel dedicated to makeup and that really took off.

What has been the reaction to your vlogging from friends, family and the public?
My family has supported me a lot. I often film in the house, and if I do, my family is happy to turn down the TV to let me film quietly. My mother has also made me a lot of clothes for the different concept videos I have on my channel, such as one where I dress as Cinderella. My friends have been kind enough to watch my videos and appear to enjoy them, which I’m grateful for.

What did you do for the jidaigeki production; how did you come up with idea?
At the beginning, when I heard that there will be a jidaigeki set, I was thinking of doing my usual makeup video by myself. However, there were a number of questions, such as “Who will create the storyline, and who will create the song?” I then thought, “Why not collaborate with a musician and others who have a diverse set of skills?”

It was rare for me to see a production that involved collaboration between women, and so, by carrying out this production, we managed to create something that was never made before. We complemented each other, and created something powerful.

What do you think about collaboration between YouTube and Toei?
An authentic jidaigeki set from Kyoto was transported to YouTube, which I found really inspiring. The props were made for jidaigeki films, and they were often not props but real antiques, which was great, but it was also difficult to know how to use them properly.

We wore beautiful costumes and our hair contained a lot of objects. At the YouTube Space, the ceiling is of a certain height, and so it was a little difficult to get wide shots. In Kyoto, we managed to get all the wide shots showing us from head to toe.

We filmed on a beautiful sunny day, and we were very lucky with the location space. [The Toei Kyoto Studio Park] is an open set, and there were others filming, but the staff was so kind . . . and provided a great environment for us to shoot.

Style: Musician, entertainment
YouTube channel subscribers: 109,893

How did you become a YouTube vlogger?
I’ve been building my career . . . and two and a half years ago, I thought why not upload videos to YouTube. Also, I play pretty much everything: guitar, piano. I also sing. Previously, during live concerts, I often played and sang. Recently, I’ve played concerts with a band.

What has been the reaction to your vlogging from friends, family and the public?
At first, the reaction was quite bad. I was mainly doing live concerts. Shifting my attention to YouTube, there were some fans . . . who were happy with my decision, but it also meant that I would not do as many live concerts, and there was some criticism [because of that]. I then uploaded more videos. As time passed, people started to appreciate and support my work.

Style: Harajuku culture/Craft/How-to/DIY
YouTube channel subscribers: 162,208

How did you become a YouTube vlogger?
I started by doing videos of DIY stuff and it wasn’t working out. So then I started studying how to make videos and talking about things around the Harajuku area [of Tokyo], the cute stuff I see, and other things I am interested in. That’s when everything started going well.

What has been reaction to your vlogging from friends, family and the public?
Everyone seems to enjoy my videos. And my father seems to be my biggest fan; he is always talking to me about the videos. After I release a video, people are quick to respond with photos of what they have made, which makes me really happy.

Style: Musician
YouTube channel subscribers: 31,263

How did you become a YouTube vlogger?
I’m a singer-songwriter based in Tokyo. I was born in Japan and raised in New Zealand. I came back to Japan about seven years ago, and that is when I started working toward being a singer-songwriter and having a career in music.

And just when I was thinking of ways to build my fan-base, I started doing gigs in Japan, and I really saw YouTube as an opportunity to reach not only a Japanese audience, but a wider audience too.

In 2008, I had the idea but it took me a while to get anything started. I think it was 2011 that I decided to do a 365-day challenge of uploading a cover song everyday, for a year. I would get requests from fans and it would be, “Oh, what song should I cover today?”

I would find the song, listen to it, get the lyrics, work out the chords, and pretty much do it on the spot. It was a lot of work, but that is sort of where it all started.

What has been the reaction to your vlogging from friends, family and the public?
I think that a lot of them are very proud of me and are happy that I have stuck to it. But in the beginning, my parents said: “You should get a real job. You need financial stability.”

They thought that going into music was going to be unstable and risky. But I just went ahead anyway. I guess it took them a while to see that it can work. By no means am I anywhere where I want to be yet, but I guess I’ve been able to carry on doing music as my thing, and people around me now say: “Good on you; it’s good that you’ve stepped it up.” They are proud of me, I think.

Ken Takahashi
Production supervisor, Toei Studios Kyoto

Briefly, what can you tell us about Toei?
We produce lots of films. At the Toei Kyoto Studio Park, we have an open set where people produce films. The set also functions as a theme park that is open to the public.

How did the partnership between YouTube and Toei work?
The characters in jidaigeki dramas are quite clearly defined. What’s more, viewers have an immediate understanding of them on platforms such as YouTube, which has content that is generally short. And although we hesitated a little at the beginning when YouTube pitched the project, I eventually thought, jidaigeki on YouTube could actually work. I think YouTube achieved their goal in this regard.

What can you tell us about the process of re-creating the sets at YouTube?
We applied the same structure of jidaigeki architecture that exists in our film set in Kyoto by building pillars and floors and adding elements that could be changed into four different spaces. Creators could, for example, change walls into sliding doors. There were some challenges, as the YouTube studio space was limited, but we managed to create multiple jidaigeki backdrops, which worked really well.