Arriving in Japan: What we can learn from the Logan Paul controversy
IN THE WAKE of the ongoing Logan Paul controversy, more conversations are being had about suicide and depression. But are they substantial and do they address the core issue behind the content of his Japan video logs (vlogs)?
For the uninitiated, 22-year-old Paul is a popular American YouTuber who first gained fame through his Vine videos. In 2016, he started a daily vlog series, Logan Paul Vlogs, after Vine discontinued.
To date, his YouTube channel has amassed a huge following, up to 16 million subscribers – that’s two times the population of Hong Kong and three times of Singapore’s. He also has over four million followers on Twitter and 16 million followers on Instagram.
It’s safe to say that the numbers are staggering and to label him an average influencer would be an understatement. What’s even more surprising is that the demographic of his legion of fans is comprised of teens and tweens.
Context: Paul was nominated for five Teen Choice Awards in 2017, out of which he bagged two.
Paul made international headlines in the first week of 2018 after posting a vlog, the fourth of his Japan trip series. He had visited the Aokigahara forest (colloquially known as the “suicide forest”) near Mount Fuji.
In the now-removed video, the entertainer and his friends can be seen stumbling upon the body of a man who appeared to have recently committed suicide. It was uploaded – no holds barred – on the video-sharing website, and poorly censored, at that.
Paul’s video went viral, racking up 6.3 million views in 24 hours. As expected, it didn’t sit well with netizens. Since then, he has been criticized over and over for undermining the gravity of suicide and more importantly, for disrespecting the suicide victim.
As far as apologies go, Paul’s seemed arrogant and half-hearted. After going on a hiatus for three weeks (during which YouTube cut their business ties with Paul), he attempted to bounce back with a suicide awareness video. While this garnered support from his Gen Z fan base, the older netizens were unimpressed.
Granted, the worst thing to come out of his trip was the Aokigahara footage. But the bigger picture is that Paul demonstrated everything not to do as a tourist in Japan.
Turns out, Logan Paul's trip to Japan was problematic for many reasons 😡 pic.twitter.com/yhj2BYgk4G
— We The Unicorns (@wetheunicorns) January 5, 2018
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization’s statistics for 2017 Foreign Visitors & Japanese Departures, the US ranked fifth in tourist arrivals last year, amounting to a whopping total of 1,375,000 visitors – the highest among the native English speaking countries.
Coupled with Paul’s following, if the virality of his vlogs were anything to go by, it is possible that it may have a lasting negative impact on how tourists behave in Japan or the imposing of stricter rules for foreigners at popular tourist spots.
We’ll break down what was really wrong with his entire trip and how many cultural rules he effectively broke:
Ran screaming through Sensō-ji
Founded in the sixth century, Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa. It is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of its most significant.
Dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Sensō-ji is the most widely visited spiritual site in the world with over 30 million visitors annually. Many people believe that the Asakusa Kannon deity enshrined at the temple has the ability to bestow benefits on Earth.
Suffice to say, people go there to pray and therefore, it is expected for visitors to not be too noisy or disruptive.
Filming in temples and around shrines is not a problem, but Paul ran screaming through the temple grounds and aggressively threw coins in front of praying bystanders.
“I just gotta be careful to not, like, disrespect the culture. Japan is all about the respect,” Paul mocked in his vlog.
Deliberately wasted food
Japanese people embrace the mottainai concept, which stresses the need to curb food waste. Mottainai means “What a waste!”, an expression of the displeasure of having food and other resources thrown out. It’s something that is taught from elementary school to university.
Much of the Japanese’s respect for food comes from the country’s post-war past. This is why they would quietly say itadakimasu before a meal, which loosely translates to “I receive” and reflects one’s reverence for having food to eat.
So imagine their shock when an American boy, armed with a dead fish and an octopus tentacle, ran amok harassing people in and around Shibuya before promptly leaving them on the back of a cab after he got bored of it.
Invading and obstructing
By now, the Japanese people are pretty accustomed to tourists taking videos and pictures of streets, landmarks, food, buildings, etc.
However, it’s a different ball game if they’re the ones being recorded. In Japan, legal issues can crop up if it conflicts with the public’s right to privacy or their portrait rights.
“The basic idea is that individuals have the right to be left alone, and for their own affairs or seclusion to be respected, not violated,” The Japan Times writes. It’s also advisable to avoid getting in someone’s way when shooting on the street, in a restaurant, or at the train station.
Also on the Sensō-ji temple ground, Paul attached his GoPro to an extendable monopod and submerged the camera into a koi pond.
In the next vlog, he climbed onto Tsukiji fish market work vehicles and filmed himself harassing the unassuming worker, and stuck his camera in people’s faces inside their cars while jaywalking down a busy street.
Made a mockery of Japan’s pride
Japan is home to consumer electronics and video game juggernaut Nintendo. A proud parent, too – and it’s obvious why. Nintendo has created some of the best-known and top-selling video game franchises, such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon. The worldwide success made the country synonymous with video games.
It’s one thing to pay tribute to one of Japan’s greatest brands and its products, but it’s another to make a mockery of it.
Enter Paul, who took the liberty to smash a Game Boy Color pocket in public because it malfunctioned, before taking it back to the shop owner and tries to return it while stating, “Much-o broken-o” (stereotypical racist language). After that, he and his crew dressed up in Pokemon character onesies, charged in and out of places, and threw a Pokeball at passing vehicles and unsuspecting people.
Stripped down in public
In the same vlog, Paul stood in the middle of a crosswalk and pulled down his pants to reveal tight, skin-colored trunks – and it was not the first time.
Although Japan is often linked to commercialized sex and sensationalist imagery (kinks, hentai, AV porn, love hotels), and therefore is assumed to have a more open attitude towards sex, it is not without some limitations. Japanese people are not “extremely conservative”, but there are still pretty rigid parts.
For example, sex remains a subject that parents and teachers often tiptoe around and are embarrassed to discuss. Also, despite the popularity of AV porn, footage is blurred to an extent because obscenity and showing of genitals in porn films are strictly prohibited under law. Hence, stripping down in public is a definite no-no.
YouTube may have removed Paul as a preferred ad partner, therefore disabling him from making money off his videos, but at time of writing, the other offensive Japan vlogs remain on his channel.
** Travel Wire Asia has reached out to Paul via social media for comment and is currently awaiting response