English LingQ 2.0 Podcast #25: ニックちゃんねる (Nyk) Talks About His Music Career and Japanese Culture (1)
Elle: Hi everyone and welcome to the link podcast with me, Elle. Remember all you English learners you can study this episode and all past episodes as a lesson on LingQ. I will always pop the lesson link in the description. If you've never used LingQ before, it's a great way to study a language. You can use content you're interested in, just like this episode, you work through the transcript, saving words and phrases translating and saving to your database, and you can also work through vocabulary activities there also.
This week's guest is someone a little different. He is a YouTuber but he is also a musician. This week I am joined by Nyk from the channel Niku Chan Neru. Nyk, how are you?
Nyk: Good. How are you? Thank you for having me.
Elle: Oh, thank you so much for joining us. I am good. I am doing well thank you. Um, you are joining us from Japan correct?
Nyk: Yes, I am joining from Tokyo, Japan today.
Elle: Tokyo. I miss Tokyo. I didn't live there...
Nyk: Not the best at the moment.
Elle: I was, I was going to ask, so is it rainy season? Well, for many, a few reasons I'm sure. Is it rainy season right now in Japan, too?
Nyk: Rainy season is on its way. It's currently just starting to get humid, which as someone from the Northwest of the mainland United States, that is not my favorite kind of weather.
Elle: No. Yeah, I remember that humidity well. You step outside your door and you're just like drenched in sweat.
I don't miss that. No. Um...
Nyk: Otherwise it's going well.
Elle: Oh, good. Good. Okay. That's good. Um, so Nyk, you are, as I mentioned, you're a musician, also anyone who were to check out your channel and from the name could guess, and you're living in Japan. Uh, you speak amazing Japanese. I am blown away by your Japanese, honestly.
Um, and so the first thing I want to ask you is how did you get the Japanese bug, so to speak? Uh, what sparked your passion for all things Japanese? And how did you go about learning Japanese?
Nyk: Um, well originally... I get asked this question a lot, but I, I, and I always feel bad because I don't have a very, um, exciting origin story.
I actually didn't have any specific interest in learning Japanese, per se, until I was faced with having to choose a second language elective when I entered high school and at my high school, they had French, German, Spanish, and Japanese as options for us. And as someone who at the time was not particularly interested in language, um, I figured out of those four why not Japanese? Because it's the most different from English. It's a different writing system. It's a completely, well, it's the only one that's not a European language of what was offered. So I just thought that it would be an interesting challenge. And at the time in, in middle school, as I'm choosing my electives for the coming year in high school, I was not a very good student.
And, um, I asked my home room teacher, I was like, I think I want to learn Japanese, doesn't that sound fun? My homeroom teacher is like, you're going to be a straight C student at best, and you're going to choose the most difficult language. So I was like, well now I'm definitely going to choose the most difficult language since you've insulted my intelligence.
And that was the, uh, the origin story more or less. Um, and my, my passion for Japanese really kind of developed after I had been studying for a few months.
Elle: Okay. That's interesting you say that. I just, uh, I just interviewed last week, a guy called Robin McPherson and he is a polyglot YouTuber and he basically has the same story, but with French, he started studying... sorry Spanish? Spanish, and the teacher was like, nope, you're never going to be able to learn this language.
And yeah, it's amazing the power of, you know, rejection or...
Nyk: negative reinforcement.
Nyk: So my, whenever I go back home, I meet that teacher and she's always like, you're welcome for changing your life. So we're on very good terms.
Elle: So that's great that you. Are glad you got to tell her. Robin told, uh, he emailed that teacher and she never responded.
Nyk: No, I definitely. I got, um, I got my, my "told you so!" In a good way, I guess kind of moment. So that was good.
That's good. That's positive. So how long have you been living in Japan now?
Nyk: I moved to Japan in 2010, so I was 17 at the time. Um, and it is now 2021. So it's about to be 11 years coming up this summer. Um...
Nyk: I started studying Japanese when I was 14. I'm currently 28. So it's been exactly half of my life since I studied Japanese, um, over a third of my life since I've lived here. And since I was here since I was 17, it was all of my adult life. So, um, I'm pretty, pretty in it. I'm pretty committed to this life.
Elle: For sure. Wow 17 is so young to move to a completely different country. That must've been exciting and kind of terrifying, no?
Nyk: Um, interestingly where I grew up, sorry, my Roomba keeps making a sound and I'm not sure if I'm too close to it. Um, interestingly, I, uh, I... what was I talking about?
Elle: I would make the excuse for you that it's early but it's not that early for you is it?.
Nyk: It's not early! It's almost 11.30 at this point. And I've already been awake for quite a while now. Um, and so when I, when I, when I first moved to Japan, there was of course, a lot of culture shock in, in, I guess the traditional sense as well, but because I grew up, I grew up in, I guess you could say the suburbs to the more like country area of, um, the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
So I came from a state called Oregon, um, and kind of near a city called Portland, but I didn't grow up in the city. I grew up more, um, at the very ends of the suburbs, more towards the country area. So, um, I always look back on coming to Japan at 17 and feeling like it was a really, really good, it was good timing in the sense that my life was going to change anyways, from going from a high school student to even if I had decided to go to a university somewhere, in a city or whatever. My life was going to be changing either way. So I kind of escaped having to be like really, really accosted by the cultural differences, because I was already so surprised by just the difference of living somewhere, where you had to like get in the car and drive like for many, many miles to find a convenience store to there's literally a convenience store
across the street from my house right now. And now that I've lived in Tokyo for so long, even getting up out of my bed and walking to that convenience store is like the least... the most inconvenient thing in the world to me now. I would have walked like miles for a 7-Eleven when I lived in Oregon, but now I'm definitely, uh, have become, uh, a city man.
Elle: Nice. And so you, you were always in Tokyo from, from age 17 until now you've been in Tokyo?
Nyk: Yeah. I've always lived somewhere in the inner city of Tokyo for the last 11 years.
Elle: Okay. And how are, how earthquakes these days in that part of Japan or just Japan in general. I don't miss those I tell you what.
Nyk: They are still... I've gotten so used to them. Earthquakes are a common occurrence. Obviously I was here for the big one in 2011, and there's obviously been nothing like that since that time. But every once in a while, you'll get jostled awake by like a decent, like five pointer. I forget how to count magnitude because they use a different system here. But um...
Nyk: ...I don't even have like earthquake level, uh, I guess like a three sometimes and Tokyo, which is enough to wake you up out of sleep or at least give you a really shaky dream. Um, so those are still present, but fortunately nothing in the last 10 years that comes close to, uh, that, the 2011 one.
Elle: Good. Good. Good. Um, so talk to us about your career in the music industry in Japan. Um, how, how was it getting into the industry? Do you find it also I wonder to, it's different, of course you're non non-Japanese. Um, I wonder if it's maybe in some ways that makes it more difficult or in some ways. Do you, can you kind of use that because you are a little different?
Nyk: Yeah. Um, so I, my, I originally came to Japan completely with the intention of being a singer in Japan. So that was always my goal since high school. And, um, I came to Japan just passport in hand. I didn't have a visa at the time and I just went with no scheduled appointment to a bunch of record labels and agencies and said, I want to sing.
I just put myself out there. And, um, eventually I was blessed with the opportunity to, uh, compete on a new television show that was on Nihon Terebi, which is the Japan TV... one of the main what do you, what do we call them in English? Basic cable networks. One of the ones that you can, everybody can, everybody can watch.
So on one of the basic TV networks, uh, and it was a, it was on everywhere in Japan. And I was very lucky to have, I won that show. Um, and that eventually, uh, led to the opportunity to release music on a major record label, which was... ended up being... so I was on the show for the first time in 2011, um, which was a year after I had came to Japan originally.
Um, and that year, the, towards the fall of that year was the year that I won. And then the following year, I did a lot of different things before I ended up releasing music, I did, um, movies. And I did, uh, like stage plays. Um, I of course did a lot of live performances. Um, I did like, like runway shows.
I was all over the place. And then in 2013, I, yeah, in 2013. So the year after that, I took a year, yeah, to kind of, um, test out all the things that I was interested in, in entertainment. And then in 2013, with Warner Music Japan, I released my first I guess it was kind of like an EP, uh, through, with them.
And, uh, I've been releasing music ever since I've put out, I don't even know how many albums, I think, five or six. Um, and, uh, you know, as far as the music industry being what it's like specifically as someone who's not Japanese. Just to be completely transparent, I think that it's a hundred percent in my case, at least definitely a, I was able to use that as a plus in almost every way that you can.
Um, one of the main reasons being that because I spoke Japanese, um, I guess, well, uh, I always wrote my own songs since my debut EP, so, um, I at least spoke Japanese.
Elle: Wow, in Japanese?
So I at least wrote and spoke Japanese enough that Japanese people could appreciate that without it having to be about, you know, since it's music, if you just hear it on the radio, you can't tell, well, I mean, you can tell, cause I do, especially the way that I sing is just, I, I kept, I stuck with my roots a little bit, so I don't sing exactly like in the way that people expect a Japanese person to, but, um, You know, the, the lyrics and the content, or at least to a level that a major record label was willing to release them in Japanese to Japanese people.
So, because my Japanese was at that level, I was able to kind of use the... japanese people don't expect a person who's not Japanese to be able to speak Japanese at that level. So I was able to use the kind of, um, I just can't think of any of these words in English. I spend so much time speaking Japanese.
Uh, you guys say, I guess it's kind of like, um, like the, the surprise quality, because people don't expect it. It's kind of, um, it's comes off as interesting, I guess. Um, so I was able to use that definitely as, um, a plus for me. Uh, as far as maybe things that were more difficult for me as someone who's not Japanese.
It would definitely Just be the, um, the assumption that I, I don't know, I mean, basically when you're in Japan, speaking Japanese and working with Japanese people, um, because Japanese people are so used to people who aren't Japanese, not knowing about the culture, not knowing the language, you always kind of have to work with the assumption that people that you don't know well, are going to assume that you don't know what they're saying or know, or even if you do know what they're saying, you're not going to understand what they really mean kind of thing. So, um, kind of being able to have, yeah, your opinion listened to is something that you would, one would probably struggle with as a non-Japanese person working in Japan.
But generally I would say that I wouldn't be in the position I was, if I was not, uh, non Japanese. So I do like to make sure that I'm recognizing that I have been afforded a lot of privilege in that sense.
Elle: And you mentioned that people don't expect, Japanese people don't expect, as you said, non Japanese people to speak Japanese as well. Have you had any other, any standout moments, um, where, you know, people are speaking in Japanese and not expecting you to understand that have been kind of comical or satisfying for you in some way to turn around and be like, "Hey, I know what you're saying."
Nyk: It's usually compliments, so I don't think I've ever had anybody, um, I don't think I've ever had, and most Japanese people wouldn't, uh, even if they don't think you're gonna understand them, I don't think they would... I mean, I dunno, I guess it would depend on what the situation was, but I don't think they would generally like diss you right to your face, even if they don't think you're gonna understand them.
Um, but usually it would be something like, um, kind of comments on my appearance, or I guess my, my, uh, like singing or whatever it might be that they would normally, you wouldn't compliment someone in Japan that aggressively to their face if they, if it was two Japanese people, but because they thought I wouldn't understand, they just were very blatantly kind, which I go ahead and count as a win in my book. Nothing that really made me uncomfortable. I don't think. Um, but uh, definitely sometimes people thinking that I wasn't gonna pick up what they were putting down.
Elle: And how about, uh, stand up moments, stand out sorry, moments in your music career so far. Are There are any that are especially memorable. Wonderful?
Nyk: Oh my goodness. I've been really blessed to have, I mean, a really great experience overall. I mean, there's been plenty of. Sorry. I'm I don't speak English very often.
So just to be completely transparent, I have a really terrible potty mouth because I only speak English when I'm talking to like friends from home or my family who I, well, I probably wouldn't go Willy nilly on my mom swearing. My dad, for sure.
Elle: You can swear. You can swear This is for people learning English. Swear words are English.
Nyk: Perfect. I mean, I've, there've been, you know, really shitty moments, um, and situations that I would have of course loved to have not had to endure, but that's really, I don't think any of that has been specific to Japan. So I say that overall, my experience, um, working in music and entertainment in Japan has been great, especially because I've been able to kind of exercise a good amount of control over my career, which isn't necessarily a luxury that's afforded to, um, all especially people who aren't Japanese and especially people who are, um, what in Japan they'd call idols.
Um, You know, like you gotta be skinny and can't date anybody or whatever, it may be.
Elle: So strange.
Nyk: Yeah. Very, very unique culture there. And definitely as like a Western person, you know, I think that Western people, Western people being, you know, um, cultures that are, that are, or, uh, stem from anglo-Saxon cultures, um, like English speaking cultures, I think we tend to have a very strong sense of right and wrong and in a black and white kind of way.
And for me, a lot of those rules and those expectations at first really felt like I was like, well, I'm not gonna do that because that's wrong. Like, why would I pretend that that's okay. But you know, living in Japan for a long time, you realize that it's not, you know, there's a lot of gray areas and things like that.
And, um, even Japanese people, themselves, sometimes with rules like that, it's not so much that they actually care if you're, um, if you're abiding by those rules or not so much as you're supposed to do a really good job of pretending that you're abiding by the rules, it's like kind of the.
Elle: Saving face.
Nyk: Yeah, it's the truth of that culture is that, you know, you have like idols who aren't allowed to date, but what they're really not allowed to do is have the public find out that they're dating.
Elle: Be seen to not be dating.
Nyk: So, yeah, exactly. So, um, I mean, out moments in my career have been, of course in order would be, you know, winning the show was huge for me. Um, starring in a movie was very huge for me. Uh, I just recently, uh, to, I think it was two years ago now because of, um, coronavirus, it's been a little longer than I would have hoped, but, um, uh, the year before last I released my first album where I have all the writing credits and all of the production credits.
Um, so I did...
Nyk: ... everything from the, the artwork to the booklet, to the lyrics, to the music. Um, that was a really great one for me. Um, and of course, very recently, um, for whatever reason I, I started, I started my YouTube channel last year at the big getting of last year. Um, obviously at the very beginning of last year.
So not with the intent, like, well, if we're all going to be at home, then I might as well YouTube. It just happened to be that timing when I started a YouTube channel, because I had produced my own album the year before. And I was really enjoying getting to kind of like, I guess, like flex my creative muscles and yeah as you may have already noticed. I like talking. So YouTube seemed like a good, good outlet for that. Um, and for whatever reason, Yeah, for whatever reason, there's I put out, I put out a video that I'm in like a wrinkly shirt with like the worst roots, the worst roots in the world and my fake blonde hair.
And I was just like, I was just having fun. And for whatever reason, that video now has like 140 or I mean a million, 1 million 4,000 views or something.
Nyk: And I don't know, I clearly wasn't expecting it to do that well because I look disheveled as all, but, um, but people have been very kind, uh, to, you know, now find out about those who didn't know about me on TV or through music, especially probably younger people because, um, I'm, I'll, I'm gonna include myself, but we're not big TV generation.
So, um, Uh, a new audience was, has been watching my content. So I'm very grateful for that. Those have been some, some really happy moments for me in my career.
Elle: Excellent. Well, I know you mentioned earlier, you said "I'm not sure how many even albums that I've done", I read on your website, six mini albums and five full albums. Wow.
And that's over, that's over the span of....The 11, 11 years?
Nyk: 10 years, actually, it was because of my, I debuted in 2013. So that's like basically almost an album a year, but I didn't really say I was going to release an album last year, but you know, there was, I, I don't, I didn't want to, I mean, I don't really, I guess it's all in the past now, but, um, I made the whole album and then I ended up deciding that it just wasn't the time to release it. And it wasn't really the message that I wanted to be... not that it was about anything that is like rude, like in regards to this situation with the pandemic. Um, I just, it just wasn't, my heart wasn't in it anymore after, you know, experiencing, especially the first half of last year with all the really heavy lockdowns in Japan and whatnot.
And, um, unfortunately my heart just didn't return to it. So I... whole new album. I, it might've been six, but it is going to remain five until I finish the new album that I'm working on.
Elle: Okay. And is that, and you're working on the new album now? Cause I know you're also in a play, which I went to ask you about.
Elle: What, what's the play?
Nyk: The play is, uh, called Lazy Midnight. It's about basically, um, Japanese people are real sticklers for not, uh, saying the actual name of the inspiration. So I'm just going to say there's a, there's a, there's a, uh, a national television station that's run by the government in Japan.
Uh, let everybody just remember what it's called by themselves. And, uh, we kind of play on that and call our TV station and the play NKH. So it's a story about like a group of people working on making a new television program for this completely fictional NKH station. And, um...
Elle: NKH. I love it.
Nyk: And, uh, it's basically about like the directors and the producers and the assistant directors and the people kind of working to make that show a reality and kind of just the ups and downs of that. And then a bunch of different like surprise, uh, there's like fantasy elements to it as well. Um, it's the first stage play that I've done in almost exactly 10 years.
Cause I did my first stage play when I was nine 19. Um, and oh my God was that, not a bad experience, but it was a very difficult experience because that play and this current play I'm, um, the only foreign foreign person, the only non-Japanese person, non native Japanese person in the cast. Um, so I have to be extra careful to make sure that I'm not, I'm not, my Japanese is not giving away my, my foreignness because I'm just, my character's name is Iwabuchi Kotaro so it's just a Japanese name. So, um, I guess that's the fantasy element.
Elle: So working on the play, working on your album. And how about your channel? What can everyone who's going to rush and subscribe to your channel after listening, what can they expect moving forward from your channel?
Nyk: Um, interestingly, I originally wanted my YouTube channel to be a travel channel because I, my, one of my biggest passions after music and language is travel, which I mean, actually my biggest, my big passion is that I just love culture and in all forms, specifically art, um, and the way that, that influences kind of culture as a whole.
So a big part of that is traveling to see all these different places and the way that each place has kind of left its mark on society at large. And so I travel a lot within Japan because as a musician I tour, um, and so my original plan with YouTube was that I was going to take YouTube along with me on these tours.
And I usually, um, okay I was going to say forced to like I'm at gunpoint. My management forces me to go back to Tokyo, but my, I ended up being scheduled to do like, um, because of the way that Japan is shaped and the proximity of everything. I ended up going to a city doing a show, that night going to the next city, sleeping in a hotel, doing a show the next day, going to the next city.
So I don't really get to like sit and, not sit, but, you know, stay and enjoy each particular place.
Elle: Appreciate where you are.
Nyk: Yeah. And with YouTube, I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to do the show, take a day in between to kind of experience the place, film and do stuff like that. Um, and then of course our now dear friend coronavirus has not made that possible. So, um, my YouTube channel kind of ended up being a, I guess, commentary sort of channel. And I mostly kind of sit and talk about, which is fine with me because those that's interesting to me as well, but I talk about kind of the ways living in Japan has changed me as an American person or a Western person or a man or whatever.
Um, and then I kind of compare and contrast American and Japanese culture or Western and Japanese culture and, um, But, you know, I'm ready to get out on the road hopefully soon. Um, so that is definitely something that I think, I think everybody can look forward to on my YouTube channel is a lot more, um, hopefully taking people around Japan because I, I love to also, I guess this ties in with culture as well.
I love to eat and drink. I mean I'm alive. So I guess everybody who's alive likes to eat and drink, but I mean, I like to try things that I haven't tried before. I'm a very big, um, I'll eat anything. Uh, so, and that is that it means something completely different when you're in Japan than it does.
Elle: I was going to say you're in the perfect country. I ate some really weird things when I was in Japan, I still can't quite believe. It's pretty out there. Some of the stuff . For sure.
Nyk: You just got to, I mean, what... in Japan once you, there's a few specific ones that if you check off, it like doesn't get much worse than that. So, I mean, um, I definitely like to, uh, experience food and, you know, Japan has a lot of its own different, um, alcoholic beverages as well, that I would never, that you would never run into in the states.
And those are, you know, each made individually in each place based off like what kind of, um, what kind of, uh, What's the word I'm looking for? Uh, harvest. What kind of crops? Crops.
Elle: What's grown locally.
Nyk: What kind of crops they have. Yes.
What's grown locally.
So, um, I want to take more or hopefully have more opportunities to kind of introduce those, uh, differences between even just Japanese major cities and obviously not just major cities.
I have one video where I went to Niigata in, uh, on the, the, uh, the, well, in Japan, it's called the Japan Sea that Japan seaside of, um, Japan. Uh, and so I have only one, which was the, during the time when they did the, uh, Go To campaign here in Japan, where it was like everybody travel and then... yeah, it, it backfired.
So we're back where we started, but, uh, I did get, I did sneak one video in there. So a little taste of what I hope that I can, uh, bring more of in the coming year or, or as, you know, the situation gets.
Elle: Excellent. Well, it sounds so fun. What's the weirdest thing you've eaten so far in Japan, just out of interest? Can you choose one?
Nyk: Well, I mean, I think definitely the most shocking one and I don't want to like offend anybody, I don't want to have everybody clutching their pearls, but, um, the most, the one that's just like the most shocking to say out loud in English is definitely the it's called in Japanese.
It's called shirako, which, it means "white child". So it's Cod um, I don't know what this it's it's...
Elle: Is it testicles?
Nyk: No, it's Cod sperm.
Elle: Oh, okay. I think, I think I've had that. Yeah.
Nyk: And that is a very not, I mean, Japanese people eat... that that's not rare to find on a menu, so that's not even one of like the, you have to go to like, Some like dark cove in Southern Japan to find it like, it's definitely, it you'll find it on like menus, especially in the winter.
Um, things like that. Probably uh little tiny full squids or stuff like that, I guess. So probably those are, and not only do I have, I tried those, but I like, like all of those. That's where it gets dark.
Elle: And I liked it. Have you tried to cow tongue?
Elle: It's my favorite.
Nyk: That's very good. Yes.
And you know that it didn't even cross my mind to say that because it's so that's like definitely you can find that anywhere that they sell meat in Japan.
I mean, usually they're not feeding it to you as is. So there it's, it just looks like a piece of meat by the time it arrives at your plate. But definitely when I had my dad come over, um, well my dad and my brother come over and as soon as I was like, well, we'll get, we'll get this, like this, uh, like fine meat and this like red meat and then the tongue and my dad's like, the what?
Elle: Excuse me?
Nyk: You know, the tongue, like what? And, uh, probably older Western people aren't as shocked by this, but, um, my generation is shocked even by like liver. So like, uh, just like a thick piece of liver. Um, apparently my grandma's like, "we used to eat..." my grandma doesn't have an accent I don't know why I just...
Elle: In my day...
Nyk: Yeah. So...
Elle: It's good for you apparently.
Nyk: They use to eat liver apparently, but my parents' generation finds that to be just as offensive. Um, but those, the tongue and the liver are, are staples for sure.
Elle: It's high in iron, I know, liver. I think it's disgustngi. I just, I can't eat it. I just don't like the taste, but yeah...
Nyk: It has a, a unique texture as well. So I understand why people would not be, you know, huge fans of the liver. Um, especially because Japanese people are all secretly eating it raw. If you weren't aware.
Elle: Uh, I was not aware.
Nyk: Yeah, you're not supposed to eat it raw because obviously, I mean, it's not a super, um, common thing, but obviously it can be contaminated and it can make you sick.
But, um, Japanese people, Japanese servers will come up to you and be like with a plate of liver and they'll be like, "make sure you cook it." And everybody's like, "oh, okay, we're going to cook it." And then just like, without even touching the, without even touching the grill, just kind of like pass it over and then straight raw. It's called nebasashi. And that's definitely quite the delicacy. Yeah.
I mean, those ones are,,I have become so second nature to me. I forgot that they were even gross.
Elle: So you, I mean, you know, it's gross to me cause it's gross to me. I like to try different foods, but I can't do liver, but um, so you, you eat that then? Do you eat it? You've eaten it raw? You will raw when you're out?
Nyk: I prefer, I prefer it raw.
Nyk: Cause when it's, when it's cooked for a long time, it's cooked is when it gets that really kind of like sandy texture. Um, and when it's raw, I mean, there's, there's no way that I'm going to explain it, that it's going to like, oh, that sounds better.
I mean, it's awful if you don't like that stuff, but, but, you know, I mean, I've, I've never been a picky eater and, but I had no idea. I was not, I was this not picky of an eater until I came to Japan.
Elle: Well, uh, we can certainly, I'll look forward to watching you eat your way through Japan on your channel. That sounds like so much fun. And, um, yeah, I'll pop the link to your channel and the description, of course. It's such a fun channel. Great. For anyone listening, who is studying Japanese, just interested in Japanese culture also. Nyk, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate it. It was a great chat.
Nyk: Thank you so much for having me.