My viral video: gift wrapping in Japan

Last year around Christmas time, something very exciting happened: one of the videos on The Japans went viral. The video I am talking about is ‘gift wrapping in Japan’.

It was a big surprise when the video went viral. The article on my blog ‘Japanese gift wrapping‘ had already been published since October 2013 so I was by no means expecting anything to happen with it anymore. If anything, the video I might expect to go viral was ‘moving fish head on a sashimi plate’. But the internet is an unpredictable thing and while ‘moving fish head’ currently has a mere 6000 views, ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ went viral.

It all started when ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ was picked up by Digg around the holidays. They posted the video on their homepage and the link generated lots of traffic to my YouTube channel. In two days’ time, the video got over a million views. Currently the views have stabilized at about 3 million views.

viral video gift wrapping in japan

A link on Digg. Hurray!

viral video gift wrapping in japan

3 million views, I can hardly believe it!

It was a super exciting time. I never expected something like this to happen when I started this blog. It was really validating to reach such a wide audience and to see my content alive on the internet on such a large scale.

But we all know that the viral phenomenon is short-lived and both the excitement and the large visitor numbers have died down since late January. Today, however, I felt a new rush of excitement when I saw ‘gift wrapping in Japan’ on 9GAG. Although there is no mention of The Japans and therefore no traffic to my blog, it is still really exciting to see my content pop up unexpectedly on the internet.

I reminds me of how much I love blogging and how great it is to connect with people from all over the world through the internet. I think this is the perfect time to send out a big thank you to all my readers. No blog without an audience. Thank you!

video gift wrapping in japan on 9gag

Here it is, in the 9GAG feed

My writing process

Today is a milestone in my blogging adventure: I will deviate from the topic ‘Japan’ and dedicate a post to the topic of blogging itself. The reason? I was invited by Buri-chan from San’in Monogatari to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. The San’in Monogatari blog is a nice mix of traditional Japanese culture (e.g. folk tales, tea ceremony), anecdotes about life in Japan and information about the San’in region. What makes San’in Monogatari extra special is the addition of cute manga drawings, done by the author Buri-chan.

While I was a bit hesitant to deviate from my topic of choice, the writing process is something that I find so interesting that I decided to give the Writing Process Blog Tour a go. So here goes:

What am I working on?

Currently my only project is this blog, The Japans. I try to give people an idea of what it was like for me to live in Japan. I focus on the little differences and single out things that might seem plain at first sight but are actually quite interesting. Although it has been two years now since I left Japan, I still have plenty of inspiration for posts to come. I found life in Japan to be endlessly fascinating and I hope that I can keep sharing my fascination through this blog.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think my focus on daily life, while at the same time keeping things informative (rather than a personal journal), is something that I haven’t seen very often. I try to steer clear of stories about ‘weird Japan’ or strange subcultures. I also avoid writing travel stories or posts focusing on tourist information, since there are already so many bloggers who do that, and do it well.

Why do I write what I do?

When I was researching information about Japan during my many years as a Japan fanatic, before having lived in Japan, I really felt the need for a blog that focused more on the ‘plain’ aspects of life in Japan. So when I got the chance to spend a year in Japan, I decided to start a blog doing just that. I try to write articles that I would have enjoyed reading myself when I first got interested in Japan. I also wanted to create a platform with information about Toyota City, to help future expats that are building a new life in Toyota City (admittedly that part still needs some work). And of course I just enjoy the writing in itself, and it’s a great way to get in touch with people from all over the world.

How does my writing process work?

Usually I start thinking about a post a few days before I write it. Ideas pop in and out of my head at different times during the day. By the time I start writing, I have a pretty good idea of the point that I want to bring across. Sometimes I already have the first few lines made up in my head and go from there. If I don’t have any inspiration before hand, I flick through my photographs or notebook from the time I spent in Japan and use that as a starting point. The structure of the post usually develops while writing. I reread everything several times and change quite a bit, both in wording and structure, before publishing.

I have a few guidelines that I follow when writing:

  • Write for your audience, not for yourself. I always try to imagine if I would be interested to read my own post, had someone else written it.
  • Ask yourself what someone needs to know in order to understand the point you are making. Information should be presented in the clearest and most accessible way possible.
  • I try to limit myself to one idea or topic per post.
  • Less is more. Is everything I am saying essential to the point I am making? If it’s not essential, it has to go. I also try to limit the length of my posts.
  • Always include a picture.
  • I try to write with a sense of humour and an open mind.
  • Quality over quantity. I prefer to blog less frequently but really polish my posts and only publish things that I am 100% happy with.
  • Every once in a while, I remind myself of the original concept of my blog. As time goes by, it is easy to gradually deviate from the original idea. But I believe that sticking to a well outlined concept is beneficial both to the audience (they know what they are getting) and the blogger (helps to stay focused and inspired).

Upcoming Blog on the Writing Process Blog Tour:

Nippaku is a blog by 20-year old Belgian student Ann-Sofie, currently in her third year of Japanese Studies at the University of Leuven. She started her blog around two years ago, because she wanted to research different aspects of Japan a bit more in-depth. She also wanted to broaden her knowledge about Japan by reading other blogs. Up untill now, writing has been a lot of fun for her. Next year she is planning to study in Japan, so she hopes she can share her experiences through her blog. I really enjoy her blog because of the quality of the information and the more unusual topics. Her academic approach to blogging about Japan is a nice addition to the current Japan blogs that I know.

Why ‘The Japans’ as a blog name?

When I first decided to start this blog, I spent a lot of time thinking of a good name. One thing that kept popping up in my head was ‘The Japans’.

The term comes from the novel ‘Shogun’ by James Clavell. ‘Shogun’ is the story of an English pilot, John Blackthorne, who washes up on the coast of Japan and is confronted with feudal Japan around 1600 AD. He is forced to adapt to Japanese ways and even becomes involved in the power struggle between daimyo’s Ishido and Toranaga (based on Tokugawa Ieyasu).

Shogun by James Clavell Cover

Shogun cover design

Blackthorne and his crew consistently refer to Japan as ‘The Japans’. It is a fabled island kingdom where no Englishman or Dutchman has ever set foot before. In the beginning of the book, the crew even expresses some doubts as to the existence of these mythical Japans. But soon enough they discover that The Japans are very real indeed.

I remember watching the TV mini-series as a child. When I grew older, I read the book and have reread it multiple times since. Both the TV series and the book made a big impression of me. Although the book is perhaps not 100% historically accurate, it really helped me to get a better understanding of Japanese culture and history. I was fascinated by the culture shock that Blackthorne went through. Although the book deals with feudal Japanese culture, I found that it helped deepen my understanding of modern Japanese culture as well. ‘Shogun’ played a big part in my fascination with Japan. I would therefore like to dedicate this post to the late Mr. James Clavell. Thank you for writing such a wonderful book!

Blogging brings people together

When I first started with this blog, I warned myself not to expect too much of it. Sure, it would be great to attract readers that aren’t just friends and family. In fact, it would be downright wonderful to get a decent number of page views and some comments on my posts. But since I was completely new to blogging, I decided it would be best not to expect too much and just have fun with it.

Now, two years later, I can gladly say that my blogging adventure has exceeded my wildest dreams. People from all over the world find their way to this blog. Some people even comment on my posts! There are regular readers, who I feel I have gotten to know quite well through their comments on my posts and through reading their blogs. This blog has really become a source of joy to me. Therefore I think a thank you is in order. Thank you, dear readers, for coming to this blog and sharing a digital moment with me. I feel like blogging brings people together in a way that I could never have imagined.

This blog has even led to some real-life encounters. In March of last year, I found this darling message on the ‘About’ page of my blog:

I really enjoy reading. I was researching some information because my husband works for Toyota and we will be coming for a visit on March 24th and leaving on the 31st. He has to go into work everyday and I’m on my own at the hotel. I have to admit I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been out of the country. We live in Lexington, KY in the United States. We are staying at the same Hotel, I think it’s called Toyota Castle.

The only language I know is English. If you can help or give me some advice I would really appreciate it. If you live near by the hotel I would love to meet you during the day. Thank you so much for sharing your information. I hope to hear from you and wish you nothing but happiness for you and your husband.

Best Regards,

Not one to pass up an opportunity to infect someone with my passion for Japan, I agreed to meet Bonnie. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. Knowing that Bonnie had never been to another country before, I was very impressed with how open-minded she was towards all the new experiences and impressions coming her way. As I watched her discover Japan, I felt like I was rediscovering everything myself as well. It was a pleasure to show her around.

One of the memories that stand out most to me, is the day we were wandering around the Toyota Municipal Museum grounds and stumbled upon a little tea house. There was an elderly lady tending to the tea house and she invited us inside. The weather was beautiful. Spring was in the air and nature was bustling with new life. The tranquility of the tea house and the hospitality of the elderly lady further contributed to the atmosphere of the moment. Bonnie was moved to tears. It truly was ‘ichigo ichie’ (a once in a lifetime moment).

Thank you Bonnie, for all those wonderful memories!

The tea house near Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

The tea house near Toyota Municipal Museum of Art

view from the tea house

The view from the tea house

Two gals out for a day of fun

Two gals out for a day of fun

People watching – Sartorial Japanese man

I have recently become enamoured with the blog ‘The Sartorialist’. It is one of the most famous blogs out there and I can see why. The posts are short and simple, always revolving around a single fashion photograph. Although not every featured look is to my taste, it is interesting to see the different styles that people adopt. And the photographs are always beautifully taken.

the sartorialist screenshot

Of course I was wondering what the blog name meant and after some research I came across a video in which the author explains all about it. Apparently ‘sartorial’ means tailored, but it can also mean someone whose look is well put together or someone with great personal style.

Looking at the man in the picture below (taken on a Japanese train in April of this year) the word ‘sartorial’ comes to mind. Although people might argue about exactly how stylish his big hair and tight jeans really are, at least there can be no discussion about the fact that he has a clearly defined and deliberate look. In any case, I am a fan. It takes guts to wear a tailored jacket made out of sweat pants fabric.

Stylish Japanese guy, wearing a tailored jacket made of sweat pants fabric

Stylish Japanese guy, wearing a tailored jacket made of sweat pants fabric

This is not the end

My recent blog post about goodbyes has led to some speculation about the end of this blog. But fear not my friends! (Or alternatively, depending on how you feel about this blog, ‘Sorry to disappoint you!’) No such thing is the case. A goodbye to Japan does not mean a goodbye to blogging for me.

Japan has provided me with endless inspiration for many blog posts to come. Photographs and notes have been diligently prepared. Besides that, the return to Belgium has already sparked new ideas like a series about ‘Japan in Belgium’ and stories about culture shock and the differences between Japan and Belgium. Looking at Belgium through Japanese eyes certainly gives me a new perspective.

So, dear readers, I hope you will stick with me to see what the future holds. I for one am anxious to find out!

Image from (click on the image to go to their site)

Third time on the Tsubasaya blog! Hurray!

One of my favourite restaurants in Toyota City is a tavern (or in Japanese, an izakaya) called Tsubasaya. They have a blog where they post pictures of their guests. In the first two months of our stay in Japan, I had managed to end up on their blog twice.

The first time was at the end of July.

The second time was in the beginning of August.

This inspired me to aim at a once a month average and thus become a Tsubasaya star. Alas, my beginners luck ran out and I have not been featured on their blog since. That is, until today! Today I have the honour of being on the Tsubasaya blog for the third time. Admittedly, I did not accomplish this feat alone. I was in Tsubasaya yesterday with a big group of foreign ladies. Our banter attracted enough attention for the staff to take our picture at the end of the evening. So thank you ladies, for a fun evening and a helping hand in my attempts to achieve Tsubasaya stardom!

Toyota City expat ladies at Tsubasaya

Tsubasaya blog screenshot

Tsubasaya blog screenshot. The text above the photograph mentions all our nationalities. Click on the picture to go to the Tsubasaya blog.

I’m on the Tsubasaya blog – again!

Tsubasaya is an izakaya (bar or tavern) in Toyota City. It has great food and a great atmosphere. Being the tall and blond gaijin that we are, we always call a lot of attention to ourselves whenever we go there. This has led to an appearance on the Tsubasaya blog once before, as you could read in the July 27th post ‘Making friends at the izakaya’.

Last night we showed up at Tsubasaya’s with an entire group of gaijin to have our own little nomikai in order to welcome some colleagues of Dennis who had come on business trip. I was delighted when one of the waitresses asked to take our picture. Yes! Another appearance on the Tsubasaya blog.

On the Tsubasaya blog again! Hurray!

(can anyone translate the text underneath the photo please?)

Maybe I should make it a personal challenge to appear on their blog as much as possible. I wonder if an average of once a month is feasible. I already see how this kind of situation could easily get out of hand, with me showing up there in increasingly ridiculous costumes in order to make it to their blog. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!