August 10, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Nakahara Yumi, a youthful Japanese expatriate residing in Phnom Penh, sits at a table clutching pen and paper – and a picture of Cambodian rapper Vann Da.
She’s intent on mastering the rapid-fire lyrics of the song Whose Fault Is It?, a feat made challenging by her heavily accented Khmer.
But this, instead of deterring her, only emphasises Yumi’s affection for the Cambodian language and the artists who use it, despite being a relative newcomer to the country.
Yumi’s passionate TikTok rendition has since captivated the virtual world, amassing an impressive 224,500 hearts and thousands of interactions from a broad audience.
Her content, made explicitly with Cambodian viewers in mind, underlines her commitment to forming a bond with the local community.
“I fell in love with Cambodia and its warm-hearted people, cherishing their friendships and help as I adapted to my new home,” Yumi confesses.
Originally from Okayama, Yumi relocated to Cambodia four years ago. Following a setback in her Japanese degree pursuit, she stumbled upon Kirirom Institute of Technology on the internet.
A year later, in 2019, Yumi was enrolled at the institute, studying hospitality and tourism management, and initiating her Khmer language learning journey. Now a graduate, Yumi is employed at a private company in Phnom Penh.
“After moving to Phnom Penh from Kirirom, where my school was located, I experienced a significant turning point. The city exposed me to numerous new things, sparking my deep interest in Khmer culture and the local people,” recounts Yumi, now 23.
To share her burgeoning love for Cambodia, Yumi started producing content and videos that strive for authenticity and accuracy.
Her initial social media foray comprised snippets of her everyday life in Cambodia, from traversing the bustling streets of Phnom Penh to soaking up Khmer culture and language.
Fast forward three years, and Yumi has become proficient in Khmer, reading, writing and conversing with relative ease. Her growing fascination with Cambodia saw her travel to rural areas, filming the country’s picturesque landscapes and traditions for her audience to enjoy.
An interest in Khmer cuisine had Yumi introducing local dishes on her channel, arousing curiosity and admiration among her followers.
As well as championing Cambodian culture, Yumi ventured into endorsing private products in sync with her and her viewer’s preferences.
Yumi’s earnest endeavour has been warmly received by Cambodian viewers who take pride in their culture.
“I base my content on first-hand experiences. For instance, during my visit to Siem Reap, I embraced Cambodian tradition by wearing traditional clothing,” reveals Yumi, currently on a 16-day trip to Japan.
Back in her homeland, Yumi continues to produce videos that build a bridge between Cambodia and Japan, sharing experiences from the country she clearly cherishes.
Her learning comes from locals, with a keen emphasis on accurately representing of Cambodian culture.
Interestingly, one motivating factor for Yumi’s endeavour to learn Khmer, despite her school using English, is her Khmer boyfriend.
As she says she wants to marry him, this “piqued my curiosity about traditional wedding attire, leading me to visit a studio and capture photos with it”.
In her four years of studying and living in Cambodia, Yumi confesses that she has encountered no cultural barriers. She attributes this to her vigilance in ensuring accuracy in her social media content, as misinformation is a common issue.
“So I try to learn and do as much prior research as possible. However, there are some small mistakes,” Yumi admits.
One such mishap occurred when she initially referred to num banh chok, or “Khmer noodles”, as mee, or instant noodles.
A later correction, prompted by the audience’s gentle guidance, allowed Yumi to not only learn but also engage with her social media followers.
Yumi appreciates the overwhelmingly positive response her content garners, with a vast majority of her feedback being supportive and encouraging.
She feels profoundly moved by the Cambodian people’s pride in their country and culture.
“In some comments, people say ‘Thank you for visiting Cambodia’ – but it’s me who extends my own heartfelt thanks to the Cambodian people for warmly accepting me and for enriching my life with new experiences and knowledge,” Yumi says.
One video that stands out in Yumi’s memory delves into the popular Cambodian practice of sending voice messages via chat apps. Her growing fondness for this form of communication mirrors her deepening connection with Cambodia.
“I try to avoid topics that are controversial, as people have different opinions about it, and it is not something I should generalise and spread to the world,” she says.
The ‘beautiful country’
Yumi acknowledges the responsibility that comes with her role as a social media content creator.
“Social media can be scary – you have to take responsibility for what you say and do. So I sometimes think about it for a week before posting,” she says.
Yumi remains active on several social media platforms including TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, creating content in Khmer for Cambodian viewers.
For her Japanese audience, she prefers using YouTube to share her experiences in the “beautiful country”.
Although Yumi hasn’t yet collaborated with local content creators she’s familiar with, she is hopeful for such partnerships in the future.
As a foreign content creator, Yumi fully recognises the need for cultural sensitivity.
“However, be your true self, and always enjoy what you’re doing and the journey it will take you on.
“There are many new things that I could never have learned if I didn’t start making content. So just take your first step and try,” she advises.
Yumi’s story stands as a powerful example of what curiosity, love and respect for another culture can achieve. Through her work, she bridges the gap between Japan and Cambodia, showcasing the beauty and charm of the Kingdom of Wonder to a global audience.
A dedicated follower of Vann Da, Yumi didn’t miss a beat when he performed in Japan at the RAISE club in Tokyo on July 16.
“I go back to Japan on July 29. And I hope more Japanese people will get to know about Vann Da because his songs are the best,” she posted on social media beforehand to express her passion for Cambodian music and culture.