‘Botchi’ YouTuber no longer feeling lonely

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Paka smiles in a cafe at the Muroran Institute of Technology. “I like the time I spend on my own at this campus cafe,” he said.

In Japan, people not good at making friends or socializing with others are sometimes called “botchi,” a slang word deriving from “hitoribotchi,” which means being alone and lonely. A university student who is himself a botchi has been drawing attention lately for posting videos of his solitary life online, which has made him a so-called “botchi-kei” YouTuber, or a YouTuber who vlogs about his isolation. I recently visited him in Muroran, Hokkaido.

“Hi there, I’m Paka,” said the 23-year-old whose YouTube channel is called “Paka / Daigakusei no Nichijo” (Paka / The everyday life of a university student). He is always wearing a hoodie, called a paka in Japanese, hence his YouTuber name Paka.

Paka is a junior at the Muroran Institute of Technology. He takes videos of himself on campus, at home and anywhere else he happens to go. In the videos, he speaks in a Kansai dialect and simply livestreams himself studying at the far end of a classroom or having lunch somewhere away from others. Nothing dramatic happens, but then he does not seem particularly lonely either. Rather, he looks amused as he goes about studying, cooking for himself, dining out and taking trips. Nearly 500,000 people have subscribed to his channel.

Courtesy of Paka
The thumbnail of Paka’s YouTube video “How a lonely student spends his lunch break”

While Paka is aware of his “inkya,” a slang term meaning gloomy personality, he once made the mistake of lying during an interview for a part-time job by saying he is a positive person. Such screwup stories, though, can raise chuckles from viewers once he recounts them to the camera.

“Having only a few friends and loving solitude are seen as negative qualities. I felt uncomfortable with these sorts of puzzling social values,” he said. But that does not mean he came to accept being “botchi” easily.

Thorny path to vlogging

Paka comes from Kyoto Prefecture. As he had an interest in ships and sailing, he entered Kobe University’s Faculty of Maritime Sciences. That was when he started living on his own. With poor communication skills, he was shy around strangers and was the type to treasure the few friends he had. When he began attending university, however, it became apparent that many students had already befriended classmates through social media even before the entrance ceremony, and it was difficult for him to break into their cliques. He also did not like the pushy way clubs at the university tried to recruit new members.

“And then I found myself all alone,’” he said.

He gradually found it more and more difficult to always be seen by himself, talking to no one. In the summer of his sophomore year, he sat for an exam to switch to another university, but failed.

“It was like I lost everything,” he recalled. He took a leave of absence from the university from October 2018, “to sort things out in my life.”

At a time when he saw no light at the end of the tunnel, he happened to watch a video by a university student who was active as a botchi-kei YouTuber. Paka was shocked to see the YouTuber proudly stating his opinions as a botchi and winning support. In June 2019, he created his own YouTube channel and, in front of a video camera, nervously recounted everything he had been holding in — the reason he became a loner at university, why he took a leave of absence from the university.

The words came gushing out, such as, “Having come this far, I’m going to keep going as a botchi” and “The one who’s able to move on is the winner.”

Courtesy of Paka
The thumbnail of Paka’s YouTube video “One year since taking a leave of absence from university”

The number of subscribers to his channel has increased little by little, and some people have left comments such as “I became semi-depressed in a similar situation and had to repeat a year,” “Classes are still all remote because of the pandemic, so I have no friends. Your videos give me encouragement” and “Mr. Paka, you’re not alone! I’m cheering for you.”

“Even though I can’t see their faces, there are people who support me,” Paka said. “I felt that I, too, could be of help to someone.” He became driven to make his videos still more entertaining for his viewers, and so he studied recording and editing techniques. He faced his situation without flinching when he was alone, and came to understand what was important to him. It wasn’t other people’s looks that caused him pain. “I had an inferiority complex about being a loner. I was too fixated on it.”

After returning to university, he decided to take a different path when he saw a video featuring a discussion between a professor of the Muroran institute and entrepreneur Takafumi Horie. Paka’s interest grew as he learned that the institute and a company founded by Horie were jointly studying rocket development. He took a transfer exam and was accepted by the institute, where he is now majoring in aerospace engineering in the department of engineering.

Paka is still shy around strangers and gets nervous in group assignments in class. But some things are changing. After a friendly suggestion to apply to join the public relations staff at the institute, he did so, and was accepted. Now he plays a part in the institute’s promotional events, such as those introducing the institute.

“Since I became able to accept being alone and even cherish it, I’ve come to understand the joy of being connected to other people,” he said.