Erina Kamiya is used to being in the media spotlight, whether as one of the most popular members of masked idol group Kamen Joshi, in the pages of countless magazines and websites as a gravure model, or on screen as a rising YouTube celebrity.

The 26 year-old native of Iwata City, Shizuoka Prefecture, has not only made a name for herself on stage as an idol (former leader of Steam Girls, and most recently, member of Alice Juban), she has made numerous appearances in everything from TV and Internet commercials, radio and television shows, TV dramas and feature films. Her DVDs are second most popular in Japan in the idol gravure category. In her YouTube channel's first week, she scored over 47,000 subscribers and over 3.7 million views.

We had the good fortune of interviewing Erina Kamiya earlier this month at Kamen Joshi's P.A.R.M.S Theater in Akihabara, to learn more about her story and gain some insight into her YouTube success.

Photo by © Nathan Gey

Growing Up

Grape Japan (gJ): Thank you for taking time out to talk to us today. First, could you tell us a bit about your upbringing?

Erina Kamiya (EK): Within the family, I was very upbeat and outgoing but as soon as I went outside, I was introverted and quiet. I was very shy with strangers.

gJ: What did you enjoy doing?

EK: In elementary and middle school, I was quite into BL (Boys’ Love) novels.

gJ: Already? (laughs)

EK: In elementary and middle school, they had “reading time.” I began looking for interesting stories or books that seemed fun to read and the first one that caught my attention was a book with a cute illustration on the cover, a cool cover, but the content was BL. That was my first time reading BL but it was just so interesting that I got hooked!

gJ: Did you watch anime as well?

EK: Yes, I loved Inuyasha and Detective Conan. And I watched One Piece too. Since there was anime on TV every day, I’d always watch, every evening!

Photo by © Nathan Gey

A Shizuoka Girl

gJ: You’re born in Iwata City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Does that mean you speak Japanese in the Enshu-ben regional dialect?

EK: People say my intonation is a bit different. But I’m not aware of it. Also, in Enshu-ben, people add baka to words. For example, if something is sugoi (amazing), we say baka sugoi. That sometimes comes out when I speak Japanese. Or dara.

gJ: Anything else?

EK: We also say da mon-de.

gJ: mon-de?

EK: (laughs) No, DA mon-de

gJ: So, why don’t you say something in your dialect?

EK: Da mon-de, watashi wa Shizuoka Iwata shusshin de, Enshu-ben shaberu dani (So, I’m from Iwata in Shizuoka Prefecture and I speak Enshu dialect.)

gJ: Wait a second, there’s another one, dani.

EK: Yes, I say that too. I think it comes out unconsciously.

gJ: But when you’re at home with family, it's just normal, right?

EK: Definitely, yes, when I’m back home.

Photo by © Nathan Gey

Entering the idol World

gJ: When did you start getting interested in singing and dancing?

EK: In my second year of high school, I transferred from the ping pong club to the dance club, and that’s when I started dancing. But I couldn’t dance at all. I was really at the bottom of the club and I thought I never wanted to dance again in my life. I had no idea I would be an idol like I am now, dancing, let alone singing!

gJ: Well, then, what happened for that to change?

EK: When I got into Alice Project, my manager asked me: “How would you like to start out as an idol?” That opened the door to dancing and singing for me. Since I was going to be an idol, I told myself: “Well, I guess I’ll try it.” That’s all.

gJ: And here you are today.

EK: But I don’t think I’m particularly good at singing and dancing. I really enjoy being able to perform live for my fans!

Photo by © Nathan Gey

gJ: So, how did you come to work at Alice Project?

EK: When I was looking into opportunities, I saw that this agency, Alice Project, offered free lessons. Many agencies out there ask you to pay for various things -- promotional materials, photography fee, even dance lessons -- but this place was different. Since I had no money, it caught my attention. Then, I checked YouTube and saw Alice Project idols, and I found out about this world for the first time. That’s how I ended up here.

gJ: OK, but what motivated you to begin looking in that direction in the first place?

EK: After high school, I entered an aesthetician school in Osaka because I was attracted by the idea of doing work where I could interact with people and help people be beautiful. But by the time I was job hunting, I didn’t want to become an aesthetician. That’s when I saw the Alice Project idols performing on YouTube, really shining on stage and it looked so appealing to me. It was almost an impulse. I sent in my resume, then they asked me to come to Tokyo for an interview, and I passed!

Photo by © Nathan Gey

YouTube Fame

gJ: So, let me ask you about your activities on YouTube. You have earned many page views with videos like “A woman tried doing Akira 100%” or “Can you break tiles with your breasts? I tried it with my G Cup.” [as previously reported in grape Japan]. Did the idea for these videos come from you?

EK: Both?

gJ: To begin with, yes, those two.

EK: As for the Akira 100% imitation, I talked to staff about the idea since we thought it might go viral, and there happened to be a watermelon slice and a salmon steak plush toy lying around, so I suggested we use them. That’s how it started.

gJ: And the other one?

EK: At first, another member of my group made a video of breaking tiles (with her hands). I saw that, and a staff member suggested we could use that idea. But I pointed out that if I did that, it wouldn’t be interesting. I’m not a professional fighter and I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway. So, I suggested I could do it with my breasts. The idea came about after listening to the opinion of several staff members and my own suggestions.

Photo by © Nathan Gey

gJ: Is this the way most of your videos get made?

EK: Yes...

gJ: You made the Akira 100% video soon after you started your YouTube channel, and then it suddenly went viral. What was your reaction?

EK: I was surprised! I had no idea that it would get so many page views. I kept checking it over and over to see the numbers. I figured it was the racy aspect. There were so many comments, and by reading them, I could confirm that this is what viewers found appealing. Analyzing the comments gave me hints on what videos would get more page views in the future.

gJ: So, you do your own analysis and research.

EK: Yes, I read the comments a lot. Some of them say nice things about me but there are a lot of dirty comments too.

gJ: How do you feel about that?

EK: It means that they are watching my videos, so I’m happy that they’re commenting as viewers of my videos. But I don’t just take everything quietly. For example, after I got many comments saying: “You should get into adult videos,” I made a video response addressing that. When there’s something I don’t like, I’m not afraid to reject it openly.

Photo by © Nathan Gey

gJ: And do you watch other YouTubers for inspiration? If so, mostly Japanese or also from English-speaking countries?

EK: I watch famous Japanese YouTubers like Hikakin. As for foreign YouTubers, sometimes when there’s a link, I watch them too. For example, that’s how I got the idea for the video showing how fast I could take off a T-shirt.

gJ: You got quite a lot of page views for that one too.

EK: Yes.

gJ: That was recent, wasn’t it?

EK: Well, the first one I did was more than a year ago [as reported in grape Japan], and then recently, I did another version wearing 10 T-shirts.

Continue reading: Part 2

Erina Kamiya links

By - Ben K.