Japanese ‘vlogger’ with a yen for all things Hong Kong
Soko Izumi made the city his home in 2005 hoping to make his name in the fashion business but he took a detour and created travel videos which became an online hit
For decades, Japan has conquered the hearts of many Hongkongers, from food to consumer goods, television shows to its rich heritage.
Although Hong Kong’s long-standing love affair with all things Japanese has seldom been returned, at least one Japanese native has extolled his fascination for Hong Kong for well over a decade.
Nagasaki born and raised Soko Izumi developed a passion for Hong Kong during his college years, which is why when he was studying commerce at the University of Hyogo, he chose to do a foreign exchange programme in Guangzhou in 2001 and visited Hong Kong whenever he could.
“I fell in love with the spirit of the people here, the skyscrapers, staggering billboards, colourful neon lights. It was easy to understand why locals take pride in Hong Kong’s identity and I wanted to become a part of it.”
In 2005, the 38-year-old made the city his home, hoping to make his name in the fashion sector, but at the suggestion of a friend, took a detour and created travel videos which soon became an online hit.
Having lived in Hong Kong for more than 12 years, Izumi now expresses his love affair with the city through his camera lens.
The video blogger, or “vlogger”, uses his own content to introduce the city’s distinct history, culture and unique way of life.
“Hong Kong has nurtured me into the person I am today. I moved into the city thinking I would immediately succeed as a fashion model but the city taught me otherwise – to seize every opportunity,” he says.
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“The city is all I know, I don’t think I will move anywhere else through my own will. It has given me opportunities, a place to live, a place to grow up and that is why I wanted to give back to the community by spreading the word of my good experience to the rest of the world. So I did something other Japanese wouldn’t be able to do as well as I could, and that is to promote Hong Kong from a local point of view.”
Izumi first debuted on YouTube in 2016 and from humble beginnings has now amassed more than 3,000 subscribers; among whom 60 per cent are Hongkongers and the rest Japanese. He has also garnered nearly 42,000 followers on his Facebook page, named Why Did I Come To Hong Kong?
With the rising popularity of vlogs, his freestyle videos have racked up as many as 220,000 views. About 60 per cent of his films are done in Japanese while the rest are narrated in Cantonese.
The flamboyant vlogger delights his audience each week with videos featuring local food, traditional festivals and quirky local customs from across Hong Kong.
“I enjoy discovering the many different things that make this global city tick and now I am sharing its stories so people can find out what’s behind this international city.”
Izumi has shot his videos in many different districts, including at the wet market in Hung Hom, old neighbourhoods in Sham Shui Po, the famous Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree in Tai Po and Sha Tin Racecourse.
But his journey to fame was not all sunshine and butterflies; he had a number of odd jobs to supplement his income when he first settled in Hong Kong.
“During my early days in Hong Kong, I was making only a few thousand dollars a month waiting on tables at sushi restaurants, and working as a Japanese tutor.”
Even so Izumi says he would not change a single thing.
“Sure I had failed on many occasions but I eventually landed on my feet and that taught me to never give up. Even though I am far from where I would prefer to be, the city has shaped me into the person I am today.”
His budding YouTube career has since landed him many emcee jobs and small roles in television and films.
Izumi has filmed at more than 30 locations in Hong Kong, including Hung Hom, Kowloon Bay, Tai O, Sai Kung and Tai Hang. With each video, he offers his followers in-depth views of what everyday life in Hong Kong is all about. Here are two of his favourite locations.
He started his online career in 2009 with a guide to the city’s food scene in which he paid a visit to a congee shop in Quarry Bay called Kam Fung. The video begins with a brief introduction by Izumi in both Cantonese and Japanese while standing at the entrance of the Quarry Bay MTR Station. The lens then follows him as he makes his way to the restaurant but along the way, Izumi chats to a local with a pet bird inside a cage.
“Are you ‘walking’ your bird now?” Izumi asks in Cantonese. The owner responds “Yes”. About one and a half minutes into the video, Izumi is shown waiting for a table at the congee shop, during which he decides to explore neighbouring restaurants.
“My favourite part about the first episode is when I walked to a nearby hotpot shop, the workers were having lunch and they invited me in to dine with them. The experience was very heart-warming.”
Moments later, viewers get a peek inside the crowded congee shop with a few customers giving an explanation of the dishes cooked in broth.
The vlogger’s debut video ends with him giving a review of the restaurant.
Another of his favourite places is Tai Po’s Fu Shin Street Market which was featured in episode 18. The street, packed with food stalls, includes the historic 100-year-old Man Mo Yi Tai Temple, which is revealed as the host walks towards a corner of the road. He also approaches an old woman selling Chinese herbs on the famous Kwong Fuk Bridge in Tai Wo.
“When the old lady was explaining to me the different medicinal properties of various herbs, I only understood half of what she was saying. But to my surprise a passer-by came over to translate for me in Japanese. It was such a lovely gesture.”
He highlights the most alluring parts of his visit to Tai Po with a short six-minute video including a tour of the Hong Kong Railway Museum. The video is guaranteed to stimulate viewers’ appetites as he tries a variety of traditional Chinese confectioneries and snacks at street stalls.
Izumi decided to film his adventure in the New Territories because he thought Tai Po’s slower pace of life would be a change of scenery from the usual tourist hotspots in Mong Kok and Central.