Harumichi Shibasaki was almost 70 years old when he began creating YouTube art tutorials from his quiet home in the Japanese countryside. Five years later, he has 1.4 million subscribers.
Unlike the attention-grabbing antics of most top YouTubers, the grandfather has won hearts with his calm, soothing demeanor that fans say makes them feel “warm and peaceful.”
He has also built a worldwide following thanks to the English subtitles of his videos demonstrating painting and drawing techniques, which sometimes feature his grandchildren and two cats.
“Hello. Shibasaki here. How is everyone?” says the grey-haired art teacher with glasses and a mustache in Japanese, pausing to smile and wave.
The 74-year-old films everything himself for his station “Watercolor by Shibasaki” – with a tripod, light and a smartphone or DSLR camera.
He’s also active on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, and says being directly connected to the world is “like a dream.”
“When I was a kid, we didn’t even have a TV at home,” Shibasaki told AFP near his home in a rural part of Chiba outside Tokyo, where birdsong fills the air.
“As someone of my generation, I didn’t expect there would ever be a time like this.”
His videos range from painting cherry blossoms to snapshots of everyday life, like cooking bamboo shoots he dug up from his garden.
Like many successful YouTubers, his clips are peppered with banner and video ads, while big fans can send cash during live streams or pay to access members-only footage.
It was Shibasaki’s son who first encouraged him to post on the site – a chance for the instructor with decades of experience to reach a global audience.
“I like to teach, I like to chat with everyone. I can talk for five, six hours!” said Shibasaki.
– ‘Friendly’ voice –
During the darkest days of the pandemic, Shibasaki’s subscriber base skyrocketed.
In an April 2020 video, he showed viewers how to draw a dirty fluffy cat and said he hoped drawing together would help them feel better about being stuck at home.
A flood of comments in different languages called the video “calm and relaxing” and said Shibasaki’s “friendly” voice gave a “warm and peaceful” impression.
“People say I have a really good voice, but I have no idea why,” he laughed.
People tell him his slow, laid-back delivery puts them at ease, and some even see Shibasaki – who has had six heart surgeries – as an agonizing uncle.
Because of his health scares, “death has become a concrete mental image,” he said, meaning he can “really understand” the problems people are throwing at him.
Shibasaki loved to paint from a young age, but as the only son of a farming family in Chiba, he expected his parents to ask him to take over their land.
Overwhelmed by the desire to move to Tokyo at the age of 18 and study art, he rushed to ask his parents for permission while they worked hard.
“They looked at me in the rice field and told me to go. I am so thankful for that.”
Shibasaki later became an art teacher and strived to make his advice easy to understand, just like in his videos.
“Painting is fun,” he says. “It’s a struggle with myself to achieve perfection. It’s interesting and there’s a sense of accomplishment.”
Shibasaki wants to keep painting for as long as possible. As artists get older, “their eyesight gets worse, their hands shake,” he said.
“I’m going to be 75 years old, so I’ll only be able to draw properly for about five years. But in the meantime, if I can take pictures to leave behind, I want to do that.”
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