The Internet as we know it began with cats: Their keyboards, their rainbows, those pearly black eyes. Cats are the Internet.
So while videos of cats on YouTube are not a new concept, cooking with them might be.
Popular YouTube channel JunsKitchen stars three house cats - Kohaku, Poki and Nagi - who watch as their owner Jun Yoshizuki prepares classic Japanese staples such as omurice, ramen and tofu.
JunsKitchen is one of four YouTube channels run by Yoshizuki, 29, and his wife, Rachel, 30. While most of their channels focus on their life and travels in Japan, JunsKitchen features basic cooking tutorials. But what makes these special, and popular with fans, is the soothing atmosphere Jun creates with meticulously edited videos. He posted just seven videos to the channel last year.
"As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety; Rachel and Jun's videos have become a form of meditation for me," one user wrote on Reddit. "If you ever are feeling overwhelmed, I highly recommend shutting down your brain for a few [minutes] and watching some of their videos."
Millions of people are doing just that. Each of the channel's 25 videos have more than 1 million views. The most popular, with more than 37 million views, is a tutorial on polishing a rusty knife. In it, Jun spins a charming tale of purchasing a banged up traditional Japanese knife from a man in a recycling store who may or may not have conned him. As his cats look on and an upbeat rock song plays, Jun polishes the knife until it gleams. The moment he holds the restored knife and demonstrates its sharpness is triumphant. A cat looks on seemingly with awe as Jun carves a radish rose.
"As soon as people got a hold of 'cat watching man cook,' people started sharing his videos everywhere," Rachel said.
Rachel and Jun already had a loyal community of followers before they started focusing on JunsKitchen. They've been on YouTube for seven years and started their first channel, Rachel and Jun, as a hobby while they were in a long-distance relationship. They both live in the Japan's Fukuoka prefecture and generally post videos of life in Japan for English-speaking viewers - like an idiot's guide to Japanese apartments or a trip to a Fox Village in Japan.
JunsKitchen surpassed that "main" channel in subscribers a little more than a year ago.
Their three cats are essentially characters in the videos, with their own personalities. You'll most likely find Kohaku in frame while Jun's cooking - on the fridge or in a chair alongside Nagi. Jun often passes ingredients to them for inspection as he makes a meal, especially if it's a piece of fish or a can of tuna. Watching Kohaku watch Jun, it's easy to graft emotions and coy facial expressions. The comments are littered with musings on the cats' moods.
To capture these magical moments, Rachel and Jun say it takes countless hours of editing before they hit publish. It may take Jun 40 minutes without filming to make sushi . . . for the cats. (And, yes, there's a video of sushi for the cats.)
YouTube is pretty much a full-time job at the moment. Jun said he has a "side-job" as a translator. They have T-shirts for fans and a Patreon with 1,200 supporters at the time this article published. There's also dedicated community on Discord, a chat app for online gaming, where their supporters talk about their own cats, the latest video from Rachel and Jun, or their hobbies: cooking, gaming, even book recommendations.
Eric Colwell, 24, a chat moderator for their community on Discord, found JunsKitchen a few years ago. For him, the cooking tutorials are relaxing, and he said he would rather Jun share a video every few months than the weekly vlogs you see from other YouTubers.
"It shows that they really love them and care about [the videos]," Colwell said.
Videos often start with getting ingredients. Japanese dishes tend to depend on seasonal ingredients, Jun said, and it's an opportunity to show the countryside of Japan. Jun is from Aichi prefecture, and his grandparents and extended family were farmers. For Jun, there's something "more interesting and attractive" filming those wider expanses than Tokyo or another urban sprawl.
"The food that's in season tastes the best," Jun said. In one video, Jun goes to a mushroom farm before making sukiyaki - a traditional Japanese dish - back at his apartment. Jun shows details that you wouldn't see shopping at a supermarket, and he said he has an appreciation for the time spent and a curiosity for how dishes are made.
Rachel said if there's a spot at a restaurant where you can see the chefs preparing the food, "Jun wants to sit there" and he'll often ask the chef how certain parts of a meal were made.
In the videos, the camera never focuses on Jun, just the food and his cats. Those are the stars.
"I don't consider myself a chef or talented or skillful or anything," Jun said.