One Japanese Word Changed the Course of Her Career

In January, the travel and fashion influencer Devin Halbal decided to take a trip to Kurashiki, a city in the Okayama Prefecture of Japan. Ms. Halbal, a Queens-born 26-year-old who goes by the username “Hal Baddie” on TikTok, had spent four years traveling around Europe with an extra-long selfie stick and a dream, sharing videos with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Ms. Halbal had become known for coining inspirational phrases, like “doll check-in” as a proud calling card to her fellow trans girls, and “Met Gala behavior,” for when you’re feeling and acting confident about what you’re wearing. Her fame seemed to peak in 2022 when she was profiled by W magazine and Rolling Stone, and invited on a brand trip to Ibiza by Loewe. But after globe-trotting and a few months off with friends in New York, she wanted to do more than “fashion and affirmations,” she said in a recent interview.

It was with this mind-set that she set off for Asia. Ms. Halbal said she loves finding places that are off the beaten path and close to nature — and Kurashiki, a small city of less than half a million people known as the birthplace of jeans in Japan, fit the bill.

She was experimenting, posting different types of travel videos. At the same time, she was learning Japanese, and there was one word she kept hearing everywhere: kudasai, which translates to “may I please have.”

“It kept on ringing in my head,” she said. “I would just be sitting down on a random Tuesday and I would just be thinking to myself: kudasai, kudasai.” She decided to make a video of herself using the word while walking down the street: “Sushi, kudasai,” (sushi, please) she says in a sing-songy voice while strutting with her selfie stick. “Ocha, kudasai.” (Tea, please.)

To date, the video has gotten more than 13.5 million views.

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