Updated: Jan 18
Gaijillionaire (a play on “Gaijin,” Japanese for foreigner) is a star fast on the rise. He's the creator of YouTube channel GTV Japan, which hosts in-depth retrospectives of all things Japanese, with an emphasis on classic video games. Gaijillionaire has lived in Japan since 2005, and shares his inside look at the country's pop culture with a grateful world.
Your videos cover a lot of ground, and include staggering research which sometimes spans years! What inspires you to cover any given topic?
First, it would have to be a topic that interests me and that I understand well. I try to plan out videos around some occasion, usually an anniversary or something that connects to the topic to make things more relevant as well as clickable and shareable. But what really drives me to do a topic is when everyone else has the story wrong, which is common, or when there is no information available at all on it. It really does come down to what I personally like, though I do try to keep it tied to Japan and games most of the time.
If you could have only one video game system, what would it be and why?
PlayStation 3! The ultimate hardware! The PS3 had some of the greatest games and since it plays all PS2 and PS1 games, you can cover nearly everything that isn’t owned by Nintendo. Plus now it's easy to hack it and fill it up with anything you like.
It's your opinion that perceptions of video games can vary, depending on a person's age. Would you elaborate on that?
I really do think the generational divide between Generation X and Y is really strong. I’m X and my brothers were Y and we really have very little in common even though we grew up together. If you think back to the glory days of the NES, Atari was seen as old hat. Kids who were born into NES really turned their noses up at anything that came before it, whereas to me, Nintendo was always just another company. Nowadays I look at people on the internet from like, 1997, (they could be my kids!) and to see them talk about games is pretty fascinating. When someone discovers that there was an NES model 2 or the Turbo Grafx 16 and they talk about it, I just think, “What’s wrong with you? How do you not know that?!” But, they don’t, they weren’t around for it. On the flipside of that, if I tried to play a modern game, I doubt I would know what I’m doing.
A lot of gamers dream about relocating to Japan. How did you go about moving there from Pennsylvania? What do you do for a living in Japan? What was the biggest adjustment you had to make?
I grew up in Pennsylvania but moved out as soon as I could. It was this kind of burned out place, no jobs available. Yet if you were 50 and in a union, you were set for life and didn’t have to do more than show up and collect a check. That kind of system kept me from ever really finding a career there. I worked in radio and later TV, bouncing around from station to station. I moved to Florida, and I was hired over the phone! After just 20 minutes they asked me to move, and after living in PA for so long, that's kind of a shock. I was a TV director there and the station got sold one day. The new owners really mismanaged the place and everyone was abandoning ship. A friend who worked there had family from Japan and told me about the English-speaking jobs that people can have there, so I looked it up and eventually came over. Of course the language is probably the biggest challenge for everyone but the biggest adjustment for me has to be the taxation system. Instead of everything being deducted from your pay, you get bills in the mail and have to pay them yourself, and I’m talking MASSIVE bills. I will have to pay about 900,000 yen ($8800) in taxes this year, or go to jail!
You discovered the release date for the Atari 2600 PAC-MAN cartridge. Tell us about that journey.
That was actually very easy!! It all started when I was submitting stories to some website, that kind of doesn’t operate anymore. They rejected one idea and I couldn’t understand why. When I searched through their page to get some ideas on what might be more acceptable, I noticed a lot of entries were about tracking down certain dates of games, trying to confirm which month something was released and all. I said out loud “What about Pac-man?! Doesn’t anyone know that?!” Now how do I know that? When I was a kid our local cable company was one of the first to have Comedy Central. This was 1990 or so when they signed on, long before South Park. The channel then ran only 3 things, stand up, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and SNL reruns. The played SNL about 5 times a day and only from what people call “bad years.” The key piece of evidence to pinpointing Pac-Man’s release was in an episode of SNL! It was a story on SNL Newsbreak. So with the date already known, I just had to do a search back to that week and found a bunch of stories about it which helped back everything up. Since then, the date has become “official” by Wikipedia which was kind of the goal anyway. I never even sent the story to that site in the end as it was. What’s the date? Watch the video!
What video game franchise do you feel has contributed most to global popular culture?
Probably Mario. I mean, you could argue for others, but when the Prime Minster of Japan appears at the London Olympics dressed like Mario, I think the discussion is over.
Which of your videos did you find the most rewarding to produce?
The video called “What Was Yume Kojo?” tops all others when it comes to creative satisfaction. That video really got me into the whole world of YouTube as it is. I was always a huge Mario 2 fan, and yes I knew about the Japanese Mario 2 and Doki Doki Panic around the time it was new. Many magazines actually covered the difference, but you had to be alive then to know it! So, I always thought that was pretty fascinating. But then as time went on and the story amplified itself, something that got added in was that Doki Doki Panic came from an event called Yume Kojo. For years though that same line got repeated, with almost no new info. No one could explain what the event was, other than there was a game based on it. I always thought that if this event could produce a game, it had to be something interesting, but no one knew! It seemed like people were only interested in the game and Nintendo side, but I really wanted to know. Then I moved to Japan. I thought for sure if I asked around, someone would know about it, but to my surprise, no one did! It did happen in 1987 but I was shocked to find no trace of it at all. So I put that dream away, just figuring it wasn’t really anything important if it wasn’t remembered in Japan.
But I knew something was up because certain big shots in game media would say Yume Kojo promoted Fuji TV’s fall lineup. I knew that was a flat out lie because Japan doesn’t have a fall TV schedule like the US, so I knew something was up, just never had any leads. Then 4 years ago I came across a super rare book that was literally “the” Yume Kojo book. It was printed in 1987 and only sold to those who preordered at Yume Kojo, never sold in stores. When I took one look, I immediately bought it. It cost a fortune but it was worth it.
I showed it to people I knew and someone suggested I contact some game sites or YouTube channels. I sent an email out to some really big names, you’d know them if I told you, but they either never replied or told me to go pound sand. One was particularly hostile saying what's on his channel is the full story and doesn’t need any fan submissions. Can you believe it?! So I figured I would just have to make my own video. The plan was to make just that one, but I hadn’t produced anything in so long, and I studied into how YouTube works, that it favors channels that output regularly, so I made a few videos first and then finished Yume Kojo. That was supposed to be the end, but I was enjoying It and that video really took off, so here we are.
Tell us about your favorite arcades in Japan.
There is an arcade at the mall nearby that only costs 10-30 yen, so its really very cheap, less than 25 cents US! It's filled with mid-'90s games and is just really a lot of fun. There aren’t many arcades with Pac-Man and Galaga, like in the US. Most arcades are just prize machines, photo booths and Mario Kart GP.
In what ways do gamers in Japan differ from American players?
Well, it's an interesting question because we all play the same games but they all come from Japan. Games old and new are filled with Japanese culture, some things are obvious but many are small and you wouldn’t even notice it until it was pointed out. Japanese game players, as a whole, do not like American games. Some do, I'm sure, but they have a word for it "yo-ge” and it really has a negative connotation. It seems that Japanese like to play things that are somewhat familiar to them, while Americans will fully embrace something exotic with no problem. This is the genius of Japanese games, I think. The same game can be different things in different regions even though the game is same.
What do you hope to accomplish with GTV?
I don’t know! Haven’t I accomplished enough? Probably no. I always had the plan of going to 100 episodes and seeing how successful it could get. I'm up to 80 so by this time next year the fate of GTV will be sealed. I guess the best way to say it if GTV can be an alternative to other channels who aren’t really bringing anything new to the discussion, then I have done what I set out to do. I don’t think of things in terms of subscriber numbers, but I don't think it will ever get too high, these topics are pretty layered and you need a long attention span to handle it. That’s the opposite of YouTube.
What ignited your love for arcades?
I had an arcade game as a kid! I was the only 9 year old, other than Ricky on Silver Spoons, to have an arcade cabinet in the house in the glory days of arcades! My mom and uncle ran a restaurant and it had a corner for cigarette machines, they also brought in poker machines later. The guy who ran all of that also got into arcade games when they were hot. The arcade business hit a slump, I won’t say “crash” I don't believe there was one, but he was left with a few games that were no longer wanted and just gave them to us! So I wound up having a Super Pac Man cabinet in the house. It was really crazy when I first got it, but eventually just became part of the furniture. That’s why I’m not impressed when I see guys now buying up cabinets. To me it's like been there done that, that was 35 years ago!
Thanks go out to Gaijillionaire for sharing his expertise with us. If you've got a craving for gaming, read our array of arcade articles!