The American Who Periscopes Every Night

I met Brian Hooper in a very unconventional way. I’d just started using Periscope a couple of months back, and I chanced upon his Scopes. Who was this crazy, zany guy who Scoped every night? His Scope was surprisingly addictive, and my boyfriend and I would tune in and watch most nights.

If you’re curious, here’s his Periscope account!

I decided to write to him and ask him if he was up for an interview for Little Slices. I was really intrigued to know what motivated him to get online every night!

We met in the English school he and his wife run in Kanagawa. He was really friendly, and completely what I’d expected! (I did watch a lot of his Scopes, after all). The first thing I did was ask him how long he had been Scoping for and why.

“It was probably last February when I started. I found Periscope, and immediately I saw the potential of what I thought I could do with it. I think it’s because of my nature, the type of person that I am. I’m a natural goofball, and I’m silly. Why do I scope? Why do I do it for free? One reason I like it is because, living here in Japan, with all my students, they see my personality but it’s very tempered. I can’t be that crazy American guy that my friends and family see. And what you see on Periscope, that’s really me. I’m sure sometimes you’re just laughing and like, man, this guy’s goofy. It’s really me. I think one of the reasons people like me on Periscope is that they see I’m genuine, even though I do all this acting and I’m kind of crazy. I get to be me, in a way that I’m not usually able to be in Japan. Even my wife, who is a really high level English speaker, she really understands my crazy, goofy humor most of the time, but she’s Japanese, and sometimes she looks at me and says, “Hmmm. Your mind works in strange ways!”

So it’s my outlet. I have an outlet that I don’t have here in Japan. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that I can’t go out on the street and be the way I am on Periscope, people would scatter and run!”

One of the things that I find fantastic about Brian is his ability to remember the names of his audience. For example, even before I met Brian, he would remember that my name was Ann Jie and I was Malaysian. How did he build such a personal connection with everyone?

“I’ve always been a people person, and I learned a long time ago that by remembering something simple as somebody’s name and calling them by name, the next time you see them it really means a lot to people. Now, I don’t do that to make them think I’m a great guy or something, but I do it because I know what it means to them, and I know what it means to me when someone remembers my name. Generally I have a good memory, but I’m a believer of association. I can usually remember things fairly well if I try to associate certain things.”

Brian’s Scope channel has surprisingly few trolls, but I’ve noticed on the rare occasion where someone’s getting a little saucy with him, he always deals with it with a lot of grace.

“What I try to do is always keep in mind that it’s best to be gracious. Don’t bring yourself down to their level.”

“The first question is, why are they trolls? Number one, they want attention. Number two, they probably don’t have much of a life. So the other question is, what are they trying to accomplish? In my opinion, what they’re trying to accomplish, aside from getting attention, is to rattle you, shake you up, and get you off your game. That’s how they think they win. So I realized early on that you shouldn’t argue with them. You shouldn’t get in a battle with them because you can only lose. I’ve seen a few people on Periscope or other venues where they start going back and forth, and you can tell the troll is just laughing about it, and then poof, they’re gone, mission accomplished.

So I thought about it, and I realized that it’s not that I want to win, I don’t see a winning situation in it, but how you deal with it. And to me, it’s pretty simple. What I try to do is always keep in mind that it’s best to be gracious. Don’t bring yourself down to their level. I don’t want to get into a battle of wits either, because it’s the same type of thing. So what I try to do is be nice. If they are very profane right of the bat, I’ll just block them. Sometimes people say something and it looks like they’re a troll but they’re not really a troll. It’s just their normal way of talking or communicating. You think someone’s saying something bad, but that’s just the way they talk, with their friends or whatever. I always say it’s a family show, and I try to keep the profanity out, because as you know, there’s a lot of young people, and I try to keep it clean. First of all, I want to make sure that it’s a true troll to begin with. I don’t want to just block people for the sake of blocking them, because I may make a mistake, and perhaps block somebody who didn’t deserve it. So I try to give them a chance and explain to them that hey, this is a family show, whoah, let’s be careful with that. And usually they say oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. After that, everything’s great, and now they know the rules. Or sometimes, you’ve heard me say, “Your mother must be so proud.” Now think about that. You and I, that’s kind of an interesting fun thing to say. But saying something like that to someone who’s being a jerk can make them think about it. Like maybe my mom’s watching. Or yeah, what would my mom say. She probably doesn’t think I’m like this. So I think it really gets them to think. It stuns them for a second. It often stuns them into stopping. Like, oh. If I say something mean to them, then okay, now, let’s fight. That’s the attitude. But I kind of knock away their guard, and then they don’t know what to do. So usually they just go away. Or when they use profanity or say something very nasty, I don’t have much patience with them, but at the same time I’m not going to let them think they’ve gotten to me. So I like to say, “Whoa, you have to work on your social skills. See ya, bye!” Then I do the whole ninja block thing. I kind of developed that and I try to make it fun, and when these trolls come on and say and do some nasty things, it really doesn’t bother me. I’m a big boy. But it bothers me that when there are some younger students watching, who quite honestly probably know or understand the foul language, that they are subjected to it. I think it’s just not right. So that’s where I try to put an end to it.”

Brian shows us his working space in his English school
Brian shows us his working space in the English school he runs with his wife.

Brian’s gone through quite a few life lessons, and I ask him about the hardest thing he’s ever been through.

“How do you tell your father he’s going to die?”

“Aside from the fact that both my parents have passed away, and anybody that has lost a parent, or especially if they have lost a child, will tell you it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever had to deal with. But before my father passed away, we found out he had brain cancer that had spread through his body. The doctor called the whole family in and said, “OK, someone needs to tell your father that basically, he’s going to die. Some other options included chemotherapy or radiation, but nothing is going to work. There’s no hope.” I was about 30, not young, but not that old. The doctor asked if there were any of us in the family who would like to tell our father, or would we prefer the doctor tell him? I immediately said to my family that unless someone wants to do this, I’d tell dad. I’m a really big believer that when something that seems like the worst possible thing that can happen, sometimes it turns out OK. It turned out to be interesting, and in a way, beautiful. Before I told my dad, I really thought about it. How do you tell your father he’s going to die? I have no experience with this. I couldn’t look it up the Internet because it didn’t exist back then. After thinking more about it, and then I decided to be just be honest. My biggest concern was not what or how I tell him, but how he would react to it. Was he going to cry? Was he going to be in disbelief and denial? Was I going to see a side of my dad that I didn’t know, and maybe didn’t really want to see? I’ll never forget when I finally told my dad. He just sat there, kind of nodding his head, and he looked at me, and then he looked away, like he was thinking deeply. I’ll never forget what my dad said to me. He had a sister who had cancer and went through radiation treatment, and he remembered that, as he put it, they fried her to death. It was just not a very pleasant thought. So he said, “I’m just going to go naturally. I don’t want to be fried like your aunt.”

My point is, I didn’t realize that my dad was so strong. There are a lot of things I can tell you about growing up, my parents split up and my dad left, but I didn’t realize he was that strong. And the good thing I learned about myself was that I could do that, I was strong enough to do that.”

Brian moved to Japan over 10 years ago, but had visited Japan for quite a number of times prior to that. I wondered if he had met his wife in Japan, but he had actually met her in Los Angeles, where she was getting her PhD in UCLA. She was a very bright lady, having already had 2 Masters degrees and was a Fulbright scholar.

“As I like to say, everyone is entitled to one stupid mistake in life, and in her case that’s me! When we met, she was also working as a researcher on a US government grant. One of the requirements of a Fulbright scholarship is that you must go back to your country for 2 years, but you could apply for that to be waived. So she applied for it, and had letters from professors, even a congressman, stating that she should stay in the US to continue working on a study to help the US government. It was supposed to be what we call a slam-dunk, and we just had to go through official channels. But then 9/11 happened. She got a letter that from the US government which stated ‘We are no longer reviewing your request, and you must go back to Japan.’ I was very angry, as you can imagine! Long story short, I decided to quit my job, sell my house, move to Japan and marry her! And you have to understand, I was almost 50 years old when I did that!”

What was fitting in Japan like?

“Life is too short to learn to read a Japanese newspaper!”

“I had been to Japan 9 times before moving here, so I was comfortable. I knew what I was getting into. Two of the biggest reasons were, number one, my wife, and number two, I love the food here. Haha! If I don’t love the food it’s going to be difficult. Once you acquire a taste for the Japanese food, you realize, wow, Japanese people here really know how to eat! It was easy for me, so easy to move here. The only difficult part is the communication. I can speak some basic Japanese, and read Hiragana and Katakana without any problems, and some Kanji. But I’ll never be able to read a Japanese newspaper. Life is too short to learn to read a Japanese newspaper!”

What did he think Americans could learn from Japanese?

“Here, in Japan, you’re under pressure if you’re not good at math.”

“One thing I really like about Japanese people is their humble nature. And even though I’m obviously a pretty outgoing guy, kind of boisterous and loud, I’m actually very Japanese in that respect. I have a very humble nature. To me, being humble about something is a way of showing your appreciation to people. Also, their communal spirit. I was here during the big earthquake in 2011. I like the way Japanese people work together, this kind of spirit. And, even though there’s probably less nowadays, looking up to their elders and respecting elders. I think it’s something most Asian societies have in general, but in America, while most good people respect their elders, there are a lot of bad people who would just punch you in the face and take your wallet. Also, another thing that I really like, is this commitment to education by families and kids. In America, peer pressure is, oh, you think you’re so smart? You’re not cool like the rest of us. In America, it’s not cool to be smart. It’s the complete opposite. Here, in Japan, you’re under pressure if you’re not good at math. My grandson, he wasn’t doing so well in math so he goes to a juku (private school) and he likes it. First, he likes the teacher, but he wants to bring himself back up to speed, back to average with his friends. I like that. That’s something you don’t really see in American families. Good families, yes. But in America, we have so many struggling, poor families and the only way to get out of that terrible cycle is to get yourself educated, go out there, work hard, make something of yourself and raise some good kids.”

And what could the Japanese emulate from the Americans?

“Japanese people think before they speak; Americans speak and then they think.”

“Haha! A few things! Americans are very open, almost to a fault. I had this discussion today with a couple of my students. Here’s the most basic way I can put it so you understand the difference in our cultures. Japanese people think before they speak; Americans speak and then they think. Or maybe I should say Western people, native English speakers. We speak and then we think, oh geez, what was I thinking, why did I say that? I need to say something else now to smooth that over! Japanese stop and think. They figure out how and what they’re going to say and then they say it. It’s a huge difference in our cultures. Western people, we don’t like a pause in the sentence. One second is okay, 2 seconds, you start getting uncomfortable. We call it a pregnant pause. For the Japanese, a pause of 3 or more seconds is not long!

I think another thing that Japanese men can learn from Western men is about helping others. When Japanese men see someone in need of help, they kind of ignore the situation. I think it’s because they feel if you are struggling and you need help and I stop, I’m acknowledging you have a problem and you’re weak, and I’m making you look bad. In America, I was brought up to help people. To this day I open the car door for my wife and I never let her carry heavy stuff. I don’t want her to hurt her back, because she’s a great cook and then I will have to suffer with my own cooking! But to me, that’s normal. In Japan, it’s not that way. I don’t think Japanese guys are bad guys, I think they really don’t know, because they’re raised to think that everything should be done for them. They don’t think, oh, maybe I should do something for my mom or sister.

And quite frankly, the mothers, girlfriends and wives, they put up with this behavior and they facilitate it. I tell my wife, unless they do something different about it, nothing’s going to change. And, I see a side of Japanese society that you probably don’t because I teach. I teach many children. I have a 5 or 6-year-old students who go for rugby lessons, after their swimming and piano and English lessons. These kids are so busy! It’s unbelievable! I understand that their parents want to give them every advantage, but to me, it’s out of control here in Japan! Junior high school kids are up at 6am, they’re out at 7am, come home at 9 or 10pm after their clubs. I have a Jr. high student on summer vacation. 7 days a week, she goes for brass band practice. Not for two or three hours, but from 8am to 6pm. It’s like she has a full time job! And by the way, how can you play the clarinet for 8 hours? You must be exhausted!

Now, who am I to say this is a bad thing? Japanese in general are high achievers. But I think they should ease off the gas pedal a bit and let the kids be kids and have fun, at least one day a week. Give them Sunday off, let them go crazy!”

Brian shows me his Periscope station!
Brian shows me his Periscope station!

Brian seems like a really jolly, positive person. Why is he always so happy and what does he do to keep himself so happy?

“I choose to make myself happy.”

“Happiness is a state of mind. Most people think of happiness as something that happens to you. Like, I met this hot girl, or I met this hot guy, or I won the lottery. A lot of these things do give you happiness but it’s not what happiness is. Happiness is right here (he taps his temples), between your ears. It’s a state of mind, how you care for yourself and how you view the world. Throughout my life, many of my friends have asked me why are you always so damn happy? You must have had a charmed life. I don’t have this blessed magical life. I have problems just like everyone else. To me, it’s how you deal with it. It’s not what happens to you, but how you deal with it. Things are going to happen. You could get really upset and panicked and worked up, whatever emotions you’re throwing out there, but that’s not going to solve the problem. A lot of people also think about the what ifs. Wait a minute, it didn’t happen yet. So it’s okay to think about what ifs, but don’t let it overtake you. In other words, only you can make yourself happy. My wife makes me happy, my grandkids, wow, they make me happy! But I don’t live my life waiting for them to give me happiness. I make my own happiness. I look at the bright side. I’m a very positive person. Being negative is the easiest thing in the world, while being positive is one of the hardest. But you can control that. Look at the good things, the bright side. I choose to make myself happy. It doesn’t mean I’m happy every moment, but I’m a happy guy. Happiness is a conscious process.”

Follow Brian on Twitter or Youtube, and of course, don’t forget to tune into his Scopes!

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Ann Jie

Loves good conversations and hates small talk. Finds people fascinating and wonders why meanies exist. Loves writing violent, graphic short stories but finds horror movies too scary to watch. Follow me on Instagram @annjieslices or tweet me a slice of YOUR life at @annjieslices!

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