The serialized interview “Kotobuki Minako’s Another Wonderland in the UK” delivers you the life of Kotobuki Minakosan, who currently lives in the UK, through her own words.

In the last interview, we talked about the rare scenery of London with snow, Burns Night, which she said “was the most fun event of January”, and even closed in on the bittersweet Valentine’s episode from childhood.

In this 12th interview, we will again be looking back at Kotobuki-san’s life in the UK through the photos she had taken through the last month. We talked about her life in the UK which eased the lockdown in February and the reason she decided to extend her stay in the UK, which was initially going to be for a year, until this fall.
[Interviewed and written by Yoneda Kaori]

■The UK eased their lockdown! She experienced self-quarantine and a PCR test
――The UK easing their lockdown in February drew much media attention.

Kotobuki: The easing will probably reach its full-scale in April. Elementary, junior, and senior high schools have reopened since March, but the school I go to unfortunately hasn’t started yet.

Those who are currently going to school have to take a PCR test every two weeks with their parents to attend school. If you don’t want to take the test, you can choose to take online classes from home.

――You uploaded a video of yourself taking the PCR test on YouTube. All your fans must have been worried about you, so can you tell us again about how you came about to take the test?

Kotobuki: There’s an NHS (the National Health Service is the publicly funded healthcare system of the UK) app, which by registering, your location is shared and notifies you about COVID infections at places you have visited. Eventually, I got a notification…
I was told to quarantine myself for four days, so I didn’t leave my room for four days.

――It must’ve felt cramped up for those four days since you couldn’t go out shopping or anything.

Kotobuki: Not actually. My host family cared about me and asked me if there was anything they could get for me.

――Were you required to self-quarantine and take a PCR test?

Kotobuki: It wasn’t mandatory, and I had urgent work, so I had to go to the studio right after the self-quarantine. The four-day quarantine was finished, but they gave me a testing kit just to be sure.

――For those who don’t have any people infected by COVID around them, it might not strike them as something to be worried about. Your video may have brought more attention to the problem.

Kotobuki: I hope it did. I myself didn’t have anyone around me infected by COVID in the UK. My friends in Japan told me about other people getting infected or they themselves being infected, but until I got the notification, I didn’t think of it as an issue that affected me.

――Especially with the vaccine being more available in the UK than in Japan.

Kotobuki: Yes, I heard more stories about getting the vaccine than getting infected.

――I see. Anyway, let’s take a look back at February through the photos you’ve taken.

■Visiting a shady shop? And an unpleasant episode in the UK

――You went to another nice cafe this month. Both the exterior and interior are so cute!

Kotobuki: I couldn’t stop smiling at these photos too.

――You said you visit the shops that you find on Instagram. What did you like about this shop?

Kotobuki: This Ozon Coffee is from New Zealand. I knew about the main shop in New Zealand and followed them on Instagram. I found out about the cafe in the UK, and it looked so delicious that I had to visit them.

――What parts of the store do you look at to decide if you like it or not?

Kotobuki: I usually fall for the cute interior. Even the menu and cups in this cafe are cute.

――How was the coffee?

Kotobuki: Not only does it look cute but the flat white has a fruity taste to it making it smooth and tasty.

I took this photo on my second visit. The first time I visited, the shop was only open until 2 p.m., so it was already closed when I arrived. I only could enjoy the exterior that day, but this time, I was finally able to have a taste.

――Good for you! How about this photo…?

Kotobuki:I know, at first glance it looks like a shady factory, haha. It’s actually a salad shop. I was told by the people at the studio that this place uses organic vegetables and their salads are fresh and tasty, but I really needed to muster up my courage.

The store clerk had dreadlocks and looked frightening, so it took time for me to decide to go into the store, but when I talked to him, he was really nice and gave me a detailed explanation of the menu.
I couldn’t decide between the soup and the leaf salad, so when I finally chose the leaf salad, he asked me if I’ve ever tried the soup, and when I answered no, he gave me the soup for free. They were both so delicious!

――You’ve introduced us to many nice shops, but were there any unpleasant shops, like the food not tasting good or the store clerk being unfriendly?

Kotobuki: Hmm… I haven’t had anything that didn’t taste good.
But there was this incident that probably happened because I was Japanese. I was walking through the shopping center when a store clerk at a pop-up store called out to me, and I reflexively stopped in front of the shop. It was a hand care specialty shop and the clerk was super persuasive, going on about the discount, so I bought the product. That probably made me look like an easy game.

The clerk started to recommend another product to me, and I was thinking of a way to turn down the offer when the clerk asked me, “What are you hesitating over?”, and continued with, “I’m only here this moment and now is the only time you can get it at this price!” I was totally thrown off balance, haha.
I finally gave in to the push.

――I guess it’s a Japanese trait of being easily pressured. Were there any dangerous incidents in this past year?

Kotobuki: I never felt any danger while I was in the UK.

――How about in other places?

Kotobuki: When I went to Los Angeles with the members of Sphere, there was this incident where I felt scared. I really wanted to go to Toys “R” Us in the US, but we got there before they opened so Aki-chan, our manager, the driver, and I waited in the car when a stranger came by and started striking the window repeatedly, and that was quite frightening.

――That must have been really scary! Compared to that the UK seems to be a very safe country.

Kotobuki: Well, we were just talking about the safety in the UK at the studio the other day, and everyone said their homes were broken into at least once.

On the way home that day, a person in a Deliveroo (food delivery service in the UK) jacket and backpack passed by in front of me at full speed on a bicycle, and for some reason, had a bicycle tire. Another person on a bicycle with a tire in hand followed right after at the same speed. They probably stole the tires, and I was surprised to see it actually happening in front of me.

■Touched by Banksy’s art and cherry blossoms in the UK

――Next is a photo of the city in the UK. Did you actually go see this art by Banksy?

Kotobuki: No, I wasn’t actually there, but a friend of mine who lives close to it sent me the photo. It’s an impressive piece of art even in a photo.

――Have you ever seen any artwork of Banksy in London?

Kotobuki: I want to, but since we’re under lockdown I haven’t got the chance to go see them. I definitely want to go someday.

――Here’s the next photo. I never knew that cherry blossoms are so beautiful in the UK.

Kotobuki: I took this photo in February, and since in Japan, cherry blossom season is from late March to April, it seems quite early. I came to the UK last March, so I couldn’t see the cherry blossoms. I was glad to finally get a chance to see them in the UK.

――Do people go cherry blossom viewing in the UK too?

Kotobuki: I think they enjoy gardening than going out to see cherry blossoms. The photo I took is a rare spot where there are many cherry trees lined up, but usually their standing alone.
Unlike Japan, there aren’t many lined paths of cherry trees, so they probably don’t go cherry blossom viewing.

■Extending the stay in the UK. “I want to enjoy the excitement and make my stay in the UK count.”

――As you just said, it’s been a year since you went to the UK in March last year. You told us you wanted to “study language and acting” in your first interview. Do you think you’ve managed to become the person you envisioned yourself to be?

Kotobuki: No, not at all… We start to learn English from junior high school in Japan, but I now realize it wasn’t for actually using the language. I’ve studied English for the past year, and understand how long it takes to actually be able to use the language. It’s difficult to evaluate my own progression.

――How about your teacher or host mother, what do they say about your English skills?

Kotobuki: When I lost my confidence in speaking English, my host mother said, “You weren’t even able to understand English when you arrived last year, were you?”, and that made me realize how much I’ve proceeded. I think people in the UK look at the positive things rather than the negative, and praise to encourage improvement. Her words were kind and made me feel glad.

――Are there any moments you enjoy studying language?

Kotobuki: That would be when I started to understand YouTube videos and movies in English without subtitles. I can’t say I completely understand the content, but there are many times I feel I understand more than last time, and it makes me happy. I really am glad that I have learned English.

――You announced the extension of your stay on YouTube the other day. Tell us what you want to do and your goals during the next six months.

Kotobuki: I want to be satisfied with the time I spend. I’ve been in the UK for the past year and realized how difficult it is to be satisfied with the way I live.
There are probably many opinions, but I want to choose the path I myself am satisfied with and not regret my time in the UK until the fall.

I often imagine how it would be like to be back in Japan, and I’m super excited. Since the time I’m returning to Japan is close to my 30th milestone birthday, I’m glad to be able to be excited about the upcoming future. I want to enjoy the excitement and make my stay in the UK count, so I’ll do my best to make the best of the rest of my stay in the UK.

Kotobuki Minako’s Profile
Fukase Yoriko from “A Whisker Away”
A member of “Sphere” alongside Takagaki Ayahi, Tomatsu Haruka, and Toyosaki Aki from the same agency.