Young Reporters at the Shinto Shrine

Making YouTube videos has become one of my passions. No, it hasn’t quite reached the level of obsession and madness as my writing; I don’t find myself waking up in a panic if I haven’t made a video in a day, hardly something I can say when I haven’t written anything for a while. Still, though, the behemoth content and social media service fills a need for community and a visual creative outlet in a way that still surprises me.

For one of my most recent videos, I walked the mile or so to my local Shinto shrine to film a travelogue of sorts. Shinmei shrine is thick with the look and feel of history. A thatched roof cottage-like home sits in one corner of the property. The yellowed exterior and disheveled hay top of this Uryu family home, the oldest of all family homes in Fukui prefecture, tells a story of a much older Japan. 315 years older.

uryu home sabae

The centuries old Uryu family home.

Little Camera-folk on the Grounds

Expecting to be alone at the shrine, I was surprised when I began the ascent up an old stone pathway, cracked from years of ice and encroaching roots, and found myself face to face with a pair of young, windblown faces.

“Hallo!” the young girl shouted.

Her companion, a boy who looked around 10 or so, kept his eyes on a track; they shot back and forth from my face. In his hands, the folded legs of a makeshift tripod crafted of bamboo stakes of the type used to support plants in the garden were held firmly. A camera made of a composite of old electronic scraps — a lens, an iPod as the control panel, a jury-rigged outlet for a microphone — sat firmly atop the technological monstrosity.

A brief discussion of the action camera strapped to my head, Christmas presents, and why I — a foreigner — was walking around with a camera, speaking broken Japanese, to random people ensued. Finding the conversation enjoyable enough, I was pretty sure I’d never see Yuki or her friend Shun again. Happy for the experience but ready to get on with the YouTube-ing, goodbyes were exchanged, and I returned to my climb up that slippery old road.

YouTubers: They Get Younger Every Year

The stakes of my own tripod (this one, sadly, not made of bamboo) having just broken through the layer of snow on Shinmei shrine’s land, I had to stop myself from shouting, as a chipper “Hallo!” ripped through my ear drums. There, coming up the hill I’d just finished climbing, were Yuki and Shun.

As a universal rule, children — whether Japanese, American, or Martian– are a curious sort. Yuki, her arms tucked behind her back as she walked with a bounce that followed the lilt in her voice, and Shun, his eyes as uncertain as ever, were no exceptions to the rule. Apparently acquiring some courage in the few minutes since our last conversation, they made with the questions faster than my foreign brain could keep up. Have you been to Tokyo Disney? Where are you from? What are you going to eat for dinner tonight? There was a point where I wondered if the two of them had some sort of interrogation training from federal police. I felt like I needed to sit down by the time they were done.

This turned out to be only the first phase of questions.

At some point, the fact that I was a YouTuber was coerced out of me. Shun, having left most of the talking to Yuki, steadied the bamboo shafts of his tripod and, to my indescribable surprise, turned on what was apparently a fully functioning camera.

The pond used for rainmaking at Shinmei shrine.

The pond used for rainmaking at Shinmei shrine.

“We want to be YouTubers, too,” Yuki explained, a smile that was neither wicked nor innocent sitting on her face. “Is it okay if we interview you?”

At my approval, Yuki plugged a homemade microphone into the side of the camera, counted herself in as Shun pressed “record,” and became the youngest reporter I’d ever seen.

“Yuki here! We’re at Shinmei shrine, where we’ve just run into another visitor. He’s a big YouTuber from America!”

I didn’t want to ruin her excitement, nor my elation at the use of the word “big” in this sense, by correcting the descriptor.

The interview lasted only a minute, but it was long enough for me to go from slightly confused by what was happening to completely blown away by the unlikely connection I’d found. It was like something out of some old mushy movie about the human spirit or some such thing. You know the ones: we may not be able to speak the same language, but through mutual experiences and love of the craft, we’re the best of friends.

Check out my video from Shinmei shrine over on my YouTube Channel, Charlie no Seikatsu.

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