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Postcards from Japan: Life in Tokyo, trips to Okinawa and LGBTQ Japan, with Jacob Emile

Actor and content creator Jacob Emile

Jacob Emile didn't have your everyday entry into living in Japan! A UK actor and LGBTQ+ content creator on Instagram and TikTok, he has somehow found himself living a crazy, beautiful life in Japan (his words, not ours!). Mostly known for making Tiktoks and documenting his life in travel, beauty and comedy content, he told us what the process of falling in love with Japan has been like for him.

Hey Jacob! Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?

In a world where we’re constantly being expected to conform to conservative standards, particularly in Japan, I love to make people feel confident and beautiful in their uniqueness. Much to my surprise, I’ve somehow ended up with over 400,000 followers across my platforms. Moving from London to Tokyo, is quite the cultural shift, especially in the queer space, so building an audience out here and celebrating our community is something that's important to me. I want to show people how accessible Japan is to the outside world, especially to those in the queer community.  

Jacob posing in front of a Tokyo sign

How did you come to be working in Japan and what has it been like?

In September 2017, I had just graduated from the Guildford School of Acting and was working on a show in London when my agent sent me to an audition for Tokyo Disney Resort. I hadn’t given much thought to living in Japan but nonetheless I went through what seemed a marathon of call backs. I was fortunate enough to make it to finals before having to wait over a month for the job offer to come through - I’d actually scored myself a position as a stunt/aerialist at the Disney park. The following April I found myself opening Tokyo Disney Resort’s 35th Anniversary Dreaming Up Parade in green tights and a ginger wig. I did a year long contract here before moving onto performing in Mamma Mia the musical for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and then waiting out Covid working in film and TV on the new Game of Thrones series and The Batman movie, before finally returning to Japan this April.

Jacob dressed in a 'yukata' traditional Japanese robe

Moving to Japan has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far, I’ve been through so many highs and lows but mostly highs. Culture shock was something I really had to adapt to when moving here, particularly in a work environment. I’m especially extroverted and found social norms something that took a while to grasp. When I first arrived I found myself getting death stared 4-5 times a day on the train or in an elevator (I still have trouble with that). Performers in the UK are usually quite loud and extroverted which isn’t what usually flies in a Japanese work environment. 

On the flip side though, I’m so much more patient and respectful having been here, this is one of the things I admire mostly about Japanese people. It’s something I’ve carried with me whenever I return to the UK.

Were you a Japan fan before, and how have your impressions changed since moving?

I was huge a fan of Japan before arriving as I love to travel, anime, the fashion and it seemed the best place to experience something culturally different. Food has always been a massive draw to the country for me and I still get tingles whenever I sit in a small izakaya slurping on my ramen and beer. Travelling to the different prefectures and trying out the local food is such a special and unique experience.
One of the issues with the west is we spend so little time in school learning about what's outside of our continent or even country. The idea that I could ski, party, eat, beach, hike with such a high quality experience offered within each of those aspects of Japan was so far beyond my recognition because it had never been presented to me until I arrived. 

An izakaya 'Japanese pub' experience

What is the one thing you would import into the UK from Japan, if you could? (can be an item, a custom, a phenomenon etc)

Without a doubt, Japanese toilets and Chu Hais. (Sorry I know that's two but I really can’t choose which one is better). The western world is so far behind when it comes to these two commodities and they REALLY need to catch up. Firstly, there is no better experience then a heated toilet seat on a cold day, it really makes my day that little bit brighter (and warmer)! 

Chu Hais are a right of passage for any of my friends or family that come to visit me. The first thing I hand them when they step off the flight is a Chu Hai, made using shochu (an alcohol similar to vodka) and can be bought from any konbini. They’re so affordable at about 200¥ for a large can. The alcohol taste is completely masked by the many different seasonal flavours they come in. Mango flavour is my all time daisuki (favourite) - the perfect summer's afternoon drink after a long day at the office. 

Crystal waters of the beach on Tokashiki island in Okinawa

What is your funniest Japan anecdote thus far?

My friend Fergus decided to visit me from the UK - he’s a big fan of Japan and was really looking for a unique experience. BOY did he find it. I returned home one day to ask him what he’d been up to in Tokyo that day and the response was “mate… you’re not going to believe this. Today I went to Akihabara to see the tech district and I walked past this maid cafe. It looked really cute so I thought “why not”. I went inside and was given my own personal lady dressed up as a kawaii maid to serve me. I sat down and the lady said if I wanted her attention I had to say “meow meow” for her to come serve me and gesture cat paws with my hands”. I was beside myself. “But that's not all” he said. “They asked if I wanted a souvenir and from the options presented to me I choose a keychain with picture of me and my maid doing the meow meow pose”. Fergus is hoping to return to Japan once again to revisit his favourite maid cafe this year. 

Swimming in the clear waters of Okinawa, with mountain islands in the background

And your most treasured memory?

I took a spontaneous trip to Tokashiki in Okinawa in the summer of 2018. The islands surrounding Okinawa are total untouched gems that foreign tourists don’t seem to have found yet. It’s about a 2-3 hour flight from Tokyo to Naha, the capital of mainland Okinawa, and then just a short ferry to the surrounding islands. If you want fun nightlife then the mainland is great, but if you want seclusion, the Kerama islands would be my top choice. I’ve travelled all over the Caribbean, Mexico and the Mediterranean but still nothing seems to compare to their crystal clear waters and picturesque mountains. I stayed at Tokashiku Marine Village, a very basic hotel with tatami matts and few amenities, for a modest 30,000¥ (food included). 

The hotel picked us up in a people carrier from the ferry and drove us over the swirling mountains and we were speechless to see the beauty of the island. We spotted our hotel on the beachfront, drowning in sparkling colours of turquoise with small figures paddle boarding over the calm waters and palm trees tracing the beach. When we arrived at our hotel we were met with a smile and an Asahi beer, a cute konbini to the right of the reception (if you forget swimming goggles just buy them here) and a trail of sand leading from the back of the reception into the sea. It wasn’t long before I was swimming side by side with a sea turtle. I then finished the evening with Japanese beef curry, beer and a glorious sunset. I do highly recommend you take enough cash for the entirety of the trip - on Tokashiki island the only ATM is at the port and you’ll also find that all of the vendors only accept cash.

The view over Tokashiki and down to the ocean from the surrounding mountains

Where would you recommend to LGBTQ+ visitors planning a trip to Tokyo?

Nichome is a must visit for any queer travellers visiting Tokyo. Its essentially the Soho or Weho of Tokyo. It offers everything from clubs to open bars (where you can drink in the street), karaoke and even drag shows! My ol’ faithful is Arty Farty, King Tokyo and Dragon Men. I always meet lots of people in this area, Japanese and expats looking to let their hair down.

VITA Tokyo produce a lot of queer events, most notably their ‘Dragonfly Pool Party’ held a couple times over the summer at the Hilton Tokyo Bay. It’s usually a full day affair, starting at 3pm and finishing at 9pm, offering live music, a drag queen or two and gogo dancers. Guests will often then journey out to Nichome for an after party. 

Tokyo also offers its very own Rainbow Pride each year towards the end of April. Its always such a positive, loving environment in Yoyogi Park. Even in the last three years since I was last in Japan it seems to have doubled in size. 

Although the LGBTQ+ scene in Japan is quieter than most countries, it is growing year by year. I always feel so safe being a part of the community here, even going to non-LGBTQ+ nightclub venues. Still, I encourage queer foreigners visiting Japan to speak to locals about their experiences and lifestyles outside of Japan. LGBTQ+ topics are still quite taboo and representative of the UK or US 20 years ago from my experience. Japan is definitely moving in the right direction surrounding queer topics with social media being so prevalent amongst young people, but genuine experiences and conversations would definitely help move things quicker. 

A view over lush green vegetation through traditional Japanese sliding doors

What advice would you give to anyone moving to Japan?

Practicality wise, order your pocket wifi or data sim to arrive at the airport for when you step off the flight! It’ll make your life so much easier moving forward with getting around and translating signs if you don't read Japanese. 

I tell everyone to bring their favourite snacks and commodities from back home. Deodorant and toothpaste is a must! I’m a sucker for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate from the UK. I shamelessly brought out 6 kg of chocolate with me… it lasted 2 months and now I’m in withdrawal.

Websites like iHerb are a great source of international foods and products, they deliver super quickly and it’s not outrageously expensive. Getting a Costco membership is also something I’d recommend.

Come out with some knowledge of the language! Although its easier to communicate here then it used to be, Google translate isn’t always the most reliable tool. The language really isn't as intimidatingly difficult as it may sound.

Most of all; be patient, don’t be scared, go on adventures and really immerse yourself in the culture, the food and the people. Seize it! Some of the best nights of my life have been spent out here spontaneously visiting an izakaya and spending an evening with the locals.

Jacob against the backdrop of a traditional Japanese 'yashiki' property while in traditional 'yukata' robes

Where is next on the list to visit within Japan?

I’m especially keen to visit the north of Japan and experience more adventure sports here. I’m an avid skier so Hokkaido is at the top of my list this winter, I’ve also heard the seafood and ramen up there is to die for! I’d also love to try white water rafting and kayaking out here. This summer I’m also planning to hike Mt Fuji overnight and catch the sunrise in the morning and the top of the mountain. There's a saying that if you don’t hike Fuji when you visit, you’ll always be drawn back to Japan. I believe that that is the reason myself and a lot of my friends have returned to the country this year. I’m hoping to hike it with my Dad and create that special memory together.

Thanks so much for speaking to us, Jacob!

You can find him on Instagram here and on TikTok here.

For more information on Okinawa and its cultural history, check out our interview with James Pankiewicz here.


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