Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date. This week, we speak to the multitalented, mercurial Yuri Tomiyama.
Originally from Toronto, Yuri Tomiyama and his parents moved to Hong Kong when he was only 12 years old. “I was a depressed little child. I needed an outlet to express myself so I just started writing everywhere. It started with random notes, and then I tried to make them rhyme, but there was no real structure there until a friend told me I should arrange it like rap. That’s how this originated.”
For cross-cultured Tomiyama, he is expressive in his lyrics about his struggles growing up and trying to find where he belonged – an echo that is repeated in the comment section of his first video on YouTube, aptly titled Outsiders.
“I was only uploading stuff on SoundCloud back in the day, but it was only when I got the balls to get a video produced in 2017 that the music started to get heard.”
For Tomiyama, art imitates life and he has several bones to pick, one being the cost of living in our city. The iconic line ‘7k for a house like a cell, and you really think we’re out here scared of jail’ from his song 5AM Minibus resonated across generations and caused a stir on social media.
“I hated it when my friends overseas complain about how expensive their rent is,” he says. “They show me pictures of their house and they live in a fucking palace. I used to pay that amount for 120 square feet with no windows. I feel like tattooing a teardrop every first of the month for all the money that died at the hands of rent.”
Along with the music, Tomiyama identifies as being a bartender at heart – “I’m useless on the floor,” he says with a laugh – and currently works at our city’s favourite izakaya, Yardbird.
Name: Yuri Tomiyama
Neighbourhood: Kowloon to Sheung Wan
Occupation: Bartender & Rapper
1. What is your life motto?
As cliche as it sounds: live life to the fullest. Life is so short and tomorrow is not promised, so call your loved ones often and remember that at the end of the day, the only thing of substance we leave behind in this world are our kids and memories. All that extra shit like money and jewellery don’t really matter. The Egyptians thought they could take wealth with them in the afterlife, but King Tut still dead and they pimping his ass out with tours, so I’m pretty sure he’s getting taxed in heaven, too.
2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
My mom’s cooking, every day. You tend to take that shit for granted living in the same house as your parents, but as soon as you move out, it’s a different story. No gourmet meal is going to compare to my mom’s nikujaga or cold noodles. Or even that quick meal she put together in a hurry, there’s love in it that no restaurant and no chef can compare to.
3. Who is your role model?
I have quite a few but in my family it’s probably my grandpa for raising my mom the way she is, and simply for being such a respectable figure. Been to war and back, survived cancer twice. Was quiet, stern, and scary as fuck but he was also gentle with rock solid principles, morals and code. He was the definition of bushido in Japanese. I have him and my grandma’s names tattooed on my wrist, so I miss them every day.
4. What was your first job?
Yogurtime! Hah – shoutout to all my Froyo goons. We used to pull up to Lan Kwai Fong in our pink uniforms and wreak havoc. I was 14 or 15 at the time. That was around the time I learned a bit of Tagalog with my colleagues and I think it’s safe to say I have been fully adopted by them at this point. Shoutout to my Filipino family – they got me to where I’m at now.
5. What is your drink of choice?
Hennessy in any way, shape or form. If they vaporized Hennessy, I would inhale it and if they put it in a needle, I’d inject it.
6. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl and it’s not even close by any margin. I usually start doing music-related things at like two in the morning so I usually can’t sleep until the sun is already up. I think it’s the same for most people who are into music, the creative side just comes alive when the sun is down.
7. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
Home. I have my cat and that’s all I really need. His name is Mittens in English, Micchan in Japanese, and Money Makin’ Mittens on the streets. I can probably go like, a month being totally alone. I actually took my initial bartending job at Ozu to force myself to put myself out there more.
8. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
HKTVMall. I spent all my consumption vouchers in about 20 minutes there. They have sick deals. If anyone is reading this, please send me Japanese canned cat food because my babies gotta eat, thanks.
9. What is your biggest regret in life?
Doing drugs… cough syrup and pills to be exact. It was the start of all this anxiety and depression, but end of the day it’s a blessing and a curse because if I wasn’t so depressed, I wouldn’t have started taking rap so seriously.
10. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
My grandpa, before he passed, took my grandma on a road trip around the entirety of Japan, every prefecture, twice. I want to do this too, hence why I need a license. Before I die, I really want to do exactly what my grandpa did and see my motherland.
11. How often do you prepare your own meals?
During quarantine, every day for at least two meals. I made a thing out of it on Instagram at the time and was seriously considering doing a drunk Japanese cooking show for a side gig. I still want to do that once my life is more stable. Can you imagine me just making some sick food while being absolutely faded?
12. What is one movie everyone should see?
I don’t really watch movies so I won’t bother with this question but I really like Animal Planet. Did you know cockroaches have 18 knees? 18 fucking knees. Did you also know that koalas rape? The female koala literally has to climb up to a higher, thinner branch that can’t sustain both of their weights to escape from the male, like what the fuck? And a lot of them have chlamydia.
13. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Okinawa for sure because it’s filled with a bunch of people like me – outsider Japanese people who don’t really belong with actual Japanese people. I’ve only been once but it was enough for me to fall in love with that island, it’s absolutely beautiful.
14. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
I would just invite two; 50 Cent and Ja Rule so I can watch their shenanigans live. Oh wait, three people because I would need some big guy to make sure they don’t kill each other.
15. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
“Hate It or Love It” by 50 Cent feat. The Game. Fucking classic. Everyone has their golden era of hip-hop depending on when you were born and this was it for me.
16. If you had to describe Hong Kong in one word, what would it be?
17. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Watching Studio Ghibli movies with my mom back in Canada. It would be snowing outside but we’d be warm inside the house and we would eat ice cream out of this wooden bowl with a crack in it. This was obviously before I became lactose intolerant, and ice cream became a decision I have to make using a Pros and Cons table.
18. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
My mom still doesn’t know that I have my hands tattooed and I am terrified of her reaction. Also, I’m praying she never Googles me either, because she knows that I do something entertainment related, just not exactly what.
19. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
New pair of Nike Air Force 1s or Timberlands. They need to make a deodorant out of that smell.
20. Do you have any favourite tattoos? What is it?
My favourite tattoo changes every time I get a new one. I definitely like the Ozu tattoo on my hand because it sums up 5 years of my 20s, the golden years as they call it. For a good period of time, we were definitely running the dive bar scene.
20. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? which do you wear the most often?
I have 10 or so give or take. My favourite pair of shoes ever are the classic Timberlands and the Jordan 13s but recently all I’ve been wearing are my Nike slides and a destroyed pair of all white Lane Eights. It says on their website the colourway is called “Cloud White” but I managed to turn them into “Traphouse Grey”.
21. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?
I would literally kill myself if I could never be alone for a single moment. Probably on day two-and-a-half, too. I’m a loner; as long as I have something to write on and something to record on and some speedy WiFi, I’m good. Need my cat though, that’s the only condition.
22. What is the last dream you remember waking up to?
I woke up damn near in tears the other day. For some reason the bosses at Yardbird (shoutout Kenneth and Matt) had me and some of the other staff in captivity in some weird concrete mansion with passageways and shit. They were trying to get to the bottom of something, like stolen merchandise or some shit like that. Kenny said, “You, come with me,” in that gentle, terrifying voice he has and walked me into a dungeon. A fucking dungeon. I think I saw a skeleton. I have anxiety and unfortunately, it’s apparently a transferrable skill that works even when I’m sleeping, so I’m freaking out even in my sleep. In the end, he gave me a hug and said “HAAAA SIKE! JUST PLAYIN’ YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN YOUR FACE.” And then I broke down in my dream and I woke up. I’m a bitch. Shoutout Kenny though, in this industry, him and Matt are definitely my biggest role models.
23. What would you do if you won the lottery?
Buy 18 chicken nuggets and throw away 17 because we got money like that now, don’t play with me.
24. When did you feel that you ‘made it’?
My set at Sound Dept alongside JB and the homies XABITAT. It was after opening for A$AP Ferg and Manila Grey so I was sort of confident but damn, that vibe was electrifying. There was a 400-person capacity but they stuffed 600 people in there and most of the crowd knew all my lyrics. I was like… holy fuck. I went from writing trash raps in my notebook to a whole venue knowing the words to my songs. Shit is surreal. Some HK rap legends were in the building that night too and I poured Hennessy into their mouths, so I guess they approved my set.
25. When was the last time you felt starstruck?
Manila Grey. I was so fucking nervous and I kept saying dumb shit and the words just wouldn’t come out right. I’m such a huge fan of their music and the fact I got to open for them was insane. I’ve stood next to Pusha T and Pharrell, saw Dre and Kendrick at one point in my life too but this one hit different. If Neeko and Sol are reading this by some fucked up chance, I’m sorry for acting like a real fanboy that night but I’m not one of those people who put on that too cool front. I was squealing inside. No shame.
26. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
Clinginess. I can be alone forever. Hikikomori gang. Oh, and a girl who’s rude to public workers and hospitality staff. You treat the street sweeper lady or waiter like shit and I’m walking out on you, wherever the fuck we are. I don’t care if we’re on them Ngong Ping cable cars, I’m walking out on you somehow.
27. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, and why?
Codeine. Almost OD’d. It’s terrifying how much I liked it and how it made my anxiety go away for a few hours. But now it’s worse than ever but that’s just the consequences that I have to deal with. We risk permanent damage for temporary relief. I’m pretty sure if I didn’t crawl out of bed and force myself to puke that night, I wouldn’t be here talking about how cockroaches have 18 knees. Three on each leg, to be precise.