Let's Convenience Store! The Musical
What's it like to be a 20-something American with a video that's pretty much gone viral in Japan? I chatted with Noah Oskow, the creator of the "Konbini Ikou" ode to Japanese convenience stores, about the meaning of virality and why he thinks his video's gotten so popular. This was later picked up by Kotaku.
This was originally published on March 7, 2012 by Japan Subculture Research Center.
What’s not to like about a Japanese love song that is dedicated to konbini and the people who staff them, that consists of a handful of exchange students kanpai’ing and dancing in store aisles? If Yahoo! Japan’s video charts serve as any indication, absolutely nothing.
Having been featured twice on the site’s main page and on various blogs, “Konbini Ikou”, which translates into “Let’s Go to the Convenience Store” is the brainchild of a group of exchange students from Koganei dormitory. Though it originally started out as a school project — evident with a reference at 2:17 — it quickly evolved into a somewhat satirical but endearing music video that has become a hit amongst Japanese and gaijin alike.
I talked to Kansas University senior Noah Oskow, who compiled footage for, edited and subtitled the video, about what it feels like for a somewhat in-joke video to hit the top of Yahoo! Japan’s charts.
Amy: How did this all come about?
Noah:My friends were in a “Management in Japan” class at Sophia University and they were supposed to make a video on the subject of konbini. One of them was Alan McMaster, from Australia.
It’s pretty funny. Alan actually wrote the song for a school project and as a way to escape boredom while quarantined in his room due to our dorm manager’s unsubstantiated suspicion of his having bird flu because he coughed once. The song turned out pretty good, so we decided we’d also make a music video to go along with it. And so he and fellow Aussie Stanley Wang, one of the group members who also lived at Koganei, ended up going around and filming these scenes in a konbini. They gave all the footage to me and I edited it all together. But we only ended up having enough to make half of the actual song with that footage. The documentary and the video they made went down really well in class but we just didn’t have enough for an actual, full music video.
After they left that semester, I kind of always wanted to finish it up with some other students. It’s kind of like a tribute in some ways to our dormitory and the konbini we always went to around the dormitory we lived in.
Of course, we all really like konbini a lot, but not probably to the extent that the video would imply. But thanks to the wonderful hard work and amazing acting talents of everyone else in the dormitory, we managed to make that video come into existence. So that’s basically what happened.
Amy: So it was something that you always thought should be a little bit satirical?
Noah: Well, I don’t exactly feel the need to marry any konbini.
Amy: Is there a reason you totally exaggerated it, then?
Noah: I’m a big fan of satire to begin with and filming ridiculous things. We just thought the idea of a bunch of foreigners just running around and worshipping and loving Japanese konbini was not too far from the truth. Japanese konbini are incredible and if we hadn’t had all those konbini to go to every day to get snacks, I don’t know what we would’ve done. They’re a very important part of our experience in Japan and our experience together. So the idea of exaggerating that a bit with foreigners in Japan just seemed pretty entertaining.
Amy: It definitely seems like it was fun to film. You mentioned that it started out as a school project and then turned into something that you were just doing for the hell of it, so did you ever think it would get 100,000 views or reach a Japanese audience?
Noah: I wasn’t sure how it would get out to the Japanese audience. Once it was done and we could kind of see what it was like, I could see that it had the aspects about it that I think Japanese people would find funny and that could make it popular like that. It’s really had its moments of virality, though… it’s been the top video on Yahoo! Japan twice now on two completely separate occasions. It’s not insanely popular, but still.
We’ve been recognised around the dorm and in all sorts of other places, and I’ve found blogs about it with hundreds of comments too. We’ve also found blogs of exchange students in Osaka whom none of us know who use it as the theme song for their dormitory. And when Ciarán Harper, a fellow exchange student, went back to Ireland and tried to show it to some friends in his Japanese class, they asked him, “What, you were in this?! We’ve all seen this, everyone’s seen this!” A lot of us have had that sort of experience.
Amy: You released “Konbini Ikou” last school year, but every once in a while you post updates saying, “We’re featured on this again!” so it seems like it’s still quite popular.
Noah: It’s random. There have been five or so times where it’s happened to randomly get on some really big Japanese blog and as a result gets 20,000 views in one day, then after doesn’t get any. It’s weird. Just recently, Yahoo! Japan had some ‘Foreigners in Japan’ video highlights section and “Konbini Ikou” was up there again, so as a result a bunch more people saw it because of that too.It’s also been shown by professors as a teaching tool in Austria, and Germany, and Ireland, and I’ve had some professors contact me in America about using it as well, which I think is really weird because I’m not exactly sure what you can glean from it information-wise.
Amy: So why do you think your video is so appealing to Japanese audiences?
Noah: There’s just aspects about it that I figured Japanese people would like. A combination of gaijin in Japan, not being insanely disrespectful, and singing this song dedicated to the convenience stores… I could tell that a lot of Japanese people would find it really hilarious. It’s this image of foreigners that isn’t the image that they get to see a lot. Usually in Japanese media, when you see foreigners in Japan, they’re talking about Japan and it’s either in a, “look at these crazy foreigners being so foreign” or it’s otaku who are really into the media or whatever. But in this case it’s like, a bunch of foreigners, it’s 20-something of us in there just kind of saying really nice things about a really basic part of Japanese culture that isn’t the media and isn’t anime, and it’s not jpop. We’re just saying really nice things about something that Japanese people themselves tend to really like on a basic level. Because it’s foreigners doing this sort of thing, I think it’s just kind of a unique image for Japanese people to see. What’s been really surprising to me is that a lot of Japanese people don’t seem to be able to tell if we’re being serious or not.
Amy: At the beginning of the video, you have this whole Nobiam Films thing. Is this something within your dorm, or do you consider yourself a somewhat established filmmaker?
Noah: Nobiam films is the “film company” that me and two of my friends founded back in like freshman year of high school. We’ve made something like 30 different music videos and films and stuff. They’re all pretty dumb.
Amy: Do you have plans for future videos?
Noah: Given the popularity of this and because of how much it’s become a symbol for a lot of us in the dormitory, I think that we will definitely do something again. We’ve also just gotten a ton of demand, where so many people are asking me to film something else. Perhaps I’ll team up with Alan again to make another song or something like that.
We’ll probably make something that’s something like a sequel to “Konbini Ikou” at some point, but other than that, Nobiam Films will keep on making really dumb videos for the foreseeable future.
That sounds awesome, Noah, and the JSRC team looks forward to seeing your next production!