A Japanese woman peers at you through a YouTube clip, whispering words in Japanese and English that are barely audible. In some videos she taps different materials gently; in others, she makes sounds with traditional Japanese instruments.
Welcome to the quirky world of Japanese Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)—the phenomenon of inducing pleasurable chills and shivers in responsive listeners via sounds. Since 2014, YouTuber Yukino Yumijuku, who was recently featured in a Japan Times article on the rise of ASMR in Japan, has created 78 YouTube videos associated with the phenomenon for her channel "Japanese ASMR."
Yumijuku's YouTube channel currently has more than 23,000 subscribers. She first got interested in the phenomenon when she found popular Russian ASMR channel "Gentle Whispers." At first, Yumijuku just enjoyed experiencing the phenomenon, then she moved onto making her own ASMR content that draws on elements of Japanese culture.
As Yumijuku plays two traditional Japanese instruments—the shamisen, a guitar-like instrument and the tsuzumi, a Japanese drum—she was keen to feature them in her ASMR YouTube clips in order to give her videos more cultural specificity. Yumijuku also teaches aspects of the Japanese language through her ASMR clips. So far, they have featured "lessons" such as how to say different colours in Japanese or how to greet people properly.
"I initially did what other ASMR creators did, starting off with whispers then tapping different materials such as wood, plastic, and paper, but as my channel is called "Japanese ASMR," I wanted to make visuals that reflected the culture a bit more," said Yumijuku. She also features her face, whereas many Japanese ASMR YouTube clips only feature their creator's hands.
Yumijuku is also eager to distinguish her form of ASMR from the more erotically charged oto-fechi ("sound fetish") clips—a similar genre that sometimes gets confused with ASMR in Japan.
"ASMR isn't that well-known in Japan yet, and I wondered why I came across erotic images when I typed 'ASMR' and 'Japan' into YouTube," Yumijuku, told me over the phone. "I tried combining 'ASMR' with other countries, and it was only Japan that seemed to have crossovers with erotic anime content."
Yumijuku said she couldn't give a definitive answer as to why Japan featured this overlap between ASMR and erotica but she was keen to differentiate between the two, suggesting that while ASMR induced relaxation in listeners, oto-fechi was associated with sounds that caused arousal. She said that oto-fechi clips could be found on "wilder" YouTube-like sites like Nico Nico Douga(Smiley Smiley Visuals).
"I don't think that ASMR has much to do with erotica, so it would be great if it could lose these references to erotic anime in Japan," said Yumijuku.
Though scientific studies of ASMR are still rare, Yumijuku said she looked forward to learning more about the soothing effects of the phenomenon from a medical perspective. In the meantime, she hoped that the phenomenon might gradually its shed erotic associations in Japan and to increase in popularity across the world.
Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.