End of the road?

End of the road?

When I created Muzuhashi, my expectations were high. I thought that I would become famous within the blogosphere, that scores of people would leave comments on my blog, and that I would leave comments on their scores of blogs in return. I thought that when people discovered the inherent genius of my writing skills, they would offer me work as a contributor to their newspaper / magazine / travel guide / website / front company for pyramid scheme spam emails. I thought that Muzuhashi would acquire so many readers that should I decide to open it up to advertising, then like Psy with their two billion Gangham-style hits, I would become fabulously wealthy overnight and be able to quit my job, not to mention turn down the aforementioned offers of writing work that would already be flooding in. (At the same time, I was also such an idealist that I vowed in any case never to accept advertising, even if it meant ruining my chances of becoming fabulously wealthy overnight). Last but not least, I assumed that I would carry on writing no matter what; that so long as I was in Japan, I would surely have something interesting, original, witty, clever, insightful and downright excellent to say, and that it would never be too much trouble to sit down at a computer once a week and do so.

The time may have come, however, when it is too much trouble, and when even if I do have something to say about Japan, I worry that it may no longer be interesting, original, witty, clever, insightful or downright excellent. Having become a father of two within the space of as many years, this could simply be because I’m knackered, but while I don’t get quite as much sleep as I used to, being an ALT still affords me plenty of time to write. Somehow, though, I seem to find myself doing other things at work these days – some of which, incredibly, involve fulfilling my role as a ‘proper’ English teacher.

In addition to this, a nagging doubt has been creeping up on me recently, namely that if part of the reason I moved to Japan was to become fluent in the language and eventually get some kind of job that requires using it, then what am I doing spending several hours a week writing blog entries in English? Sure, writing those entries often involves consulting Japanese websites (take a bow, Wikipedia Japan!) and translating the relevant parts into English, but perhaps I ought to be writing a blog in Japanese instead (actually I’ve already tried this once, but gave up because it was too difficult).

As I’m sure many of you – my faithful, not-so-faithful and accidental readers – have no doubt realised, my race to complete the Wrong Way Round account of my cycle tour of Hokkaido became a way of avoiding the kind of topics a proper J-blogger is supposed to write about: eg. whale burgers, penis shrines, used underwear vending machines and so on. I did my best to make Wrong Way Round more than just a straight travelogue, and to include content that is relevant to everyday life in Japan – the kind of thing that English-reading expats and non-expats alike might want to read – but where I used see something that made me think, ‘Hey, that would make a good blog entry!’ almost every day, recently I have been doing so less and less. Or rather, I still think, ‘Hey, that would make a good blog entry!’ almost every day, but never get round to writing the entry.

You might even say that I’m jaded, but to be honest, part of the reason for my lack of motivation has been a lack of feedback, and of any sense that more than four or five people in the known universe are bothering to read what I bother to write. This of course is an insult to the ‘lurkers’ – ie. those people who probably read everything I post here, but for whatever reason have never felt the need to comment on it. Furthermore, the irony is that I too am a lurker, and hardly ever comment on the blogs I read, thus leaving little evidence that I hit on them the first place.

Speaking of hits, incidentally, my stats tell me that I am getting hundreds – on average two or three hundred, and occasionally close to a thousand – per day, and while a certain number of these are proper readers, the vast majority, I have come to suspect, are people who have done Google searches along the lines of ‘hot Japanese chicks’, ‘repairing punctures’ or ‘hot Japanese chicks repairing punctures’. Weebly, the frankly useless hosting service that I use as a vehicle for Muzuhashi (even after three and a half years, I still have to delete and re-insert my blog archives list at the beginning of every month because it has failed to update automatically), doesn’t allow me to view my search terms – ie. what people typed into Google that in turn led them to me – without paying them a monthly fee, and frankly, they don’t deserve a monthly fee. By way of illustration, though, in another one of my stabs at virtual stardom, I once produced a podcast with some friends of mine, and after some initial euphoria at the fact we were getting 10,000 hits a month, a closer look at our (free) WordPress stats told us this was almost entirely down to a picture of some cheerleaders we once copied and pasted onto the blog.

Another fault of mine is that even from behind my veil of anonymity, and even in the virtual realm, I am a fundamentally unsociable person, and therefore don’t interact with other J-bloggers (or rest-of-the-world bloggers, for that matter) half as much as I should. When I do leave the occasional flurry of comments, deep down, I have to admit that my motives are selfish, in the sense that even as I write my, ‘Nice entry! / I must try that brand of instant noodle myself! / I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the economic crisis! / Stop talking crap, you loser!’ I am not doing so out of genuine interest in the content or style of that person’s blog, but in the hope that he / she / it will read my comment, reply to it, post a link to Muzuhashi on their J-blog, and thus hasten my rush towards worldwide internet domination.

But just supposing I was sociable, and not a lurker, that I still did have the motivation to post something every week, and that Muzuhashi became a hit, how much better off would I be? Well, the probable answer is not a lot. Let’s take the example of Loco In Yokohama, which it is safe to say is the most popular expat blog in Japan, and has been for some time. First and foremost, let me just say that Loco In Yokohama is well worth checking out, particularly because Baye McNeil, the blogger himself, is African-American, and offers a fascinating insight into how members of different races treat each other depending on the cultural context. But – and here’s the catch – even though Loco is linked to on numerous other websites, even though it gets oodles of hits and oodles of comments, even though McNeil has been interviewed for various newspapers and publications – both virtual and non-virtual – around the world, even though his self-published books appear to be equally widely read, and even after the best part of a decade blogging about Japan, he is still working as an English teacher.

Not that there’s any shame in being an English teacher, but there comes a point in writing a blog when one wants something in return for all of that hard work, all of those hours spent tapping away at a computer keyboard and trying to come up with new and interesting ways of describing whale burgers, penis festivals and used underwear vending machines: that something being cold, hard cash.

Just to make me sound even more selfish, as well as worldwide internet domination, my other reason for starting a blog was to keep my friends and relatives outside Japan informed of what I was up to, and if I stop posting, this connection will be lost. Particularly now that Mrs M and I have M Jr and M Jr II, even if our friends and relatives don’t get to read baby stories, they ought to be pretty happy with the baby pictures I have been posting on Facebook and Flickr, right? Well, hopefully.
As an alternative to blogging, I have for quite a while been pondering the idea of using Muzuhashi as a vehicle for my English teaching materials (hand-drawn worksheets and flashcards, tried-and-tested classroom activities etc), my step-by-step guide to learning Japanese (based on more than a decade of first-hand sufferi…er, I mean, experience), my translations of Japanese articles, literature and so on, my ruminations on fatherhood (in particular, how exactly does one raise one’s child to be bilingual?), or as an alternative to Twitter, which I used for a while but gave up on because, frankly, no one was following me (this last idea would mean producing short, sharp, easy-to-write posts, as opposed to my usual essay-like stuff). While I may do all or some of these things, however, I may not do any of them, and while I’m not necessarily saying that I’ll never post another blog entry on Muzuhashi, I’m not necessarily saying that I will, either.

But anyway – and having said all that – three and a half years is a pretty good average for a J-blog, given the fact that most expats only live here for a short while before returning home or carrying on around the world with a rucksack on their back. My main reason for writing this particular post, therefore, is simply to avoid disappearing without warning or explanation, as certain other bloggers who really ought to know better (Pink Tentacle and Japan Probe, I’m talking to you) have done in the past (Tokidoki Tokyo, I’m also talking to you, although you’re a mate so all is forgiven).

So for the moment at least, I’d just like to say thank you for reading, thank you for lurking, thank you for commenting (yes, contrary to what I’ve just said, quite a few people have left comments over the years), and see you again – possibly in another blogging guise, possibly in the same blogging guise after a sabbatical, or possibly running past you at a shopping mall somewhere in Ibaraki, as I try to catch M Jr before she breaks something valuable or takes something without paying for it.

14 thoughts on “End of the road?

  1. Keep writing if only to keep your hand in at regular work. However, you’re right – it’s all been there and done that. Had blogging been possible about 30 years ago, it would have been interesting, regardless, as so few foreigners lived and worked in Japan or stayed for more than a couple years. Now, anyone who is really interested (much fewer now than during the Bubble) “thinks” they know all about Japan – sushi, panty vending machines, anime, capsule hotels, great autos, weird fashion.

    1. Wise words, Jeffrey, wise words. Thank you for the comment, for the encouragement and for being a reader in the first place. Mental note to self: must keep writing, must keep writing…

  2. As a lurker, reader, commenter, feed subscriber and friend I have to say I will miss Muzuhashi. Not only was it a great insight into your life, I also learned something about Japan, and I was very curious to see what might come after the Wrong Way Round ended… Maybe one day the blog will rise again, so: Muzuhasi is dead, long live Muzuhashi!

  3. I stumbled upon your blog today through a visit to Japan Blog Directory. While reading this entry, I was enjoying your writing style, even as the realisation slowly crept in: I found a fantastic blog, but it is finished! I lament not finding this earlier … experiencing the expectation of waiting for a new post, the excitement of seeing it appear, and reading it fresh. However, I certainly will go back in your archives and catch up. I wish you all the best in the future.

    1. It was a lovely surprise to get your comment, Heather, and renewed my optimism that even though (even if?!) I have killed off Muzuhashi, at least for a while it will live on in its archival form!

  4. That post was about as honest a post as the internet allows. Sadly, this was the first post I have ever read of yours. But if they are all this good, I’ll definitely be checking the archives. Thanks for if nothing else, just this post.

    1. FY, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks for dropping by and for commenting, and the best of luck with your own blog. If there’s any justice in the world you will achieve the internet superstardom that I somehow managed to avoid!

      1. How are things? I read the Wrong Way Road post set in its entirety and was hooked! I keep coming back for an update but receive none..:(

  5. Hello
    I´m one of your lurkers. I´ve been following your blog for about a year (maybe more), and I found it with a google search about Alan Booth. I always liked your photos, and the “Wrong Way Round” series was actually quite fascinating. Sorry to hear you probably won´t coming back, so I wish you all the best, as well as to your wife and kids.
    From Portugal
    Francisco Taveira

    1. Receiving a comment from a lurker is a bit like seeing a photo of the Yeti – proof that these mysterious and elusive creatures do in fact exist! Also, it’s a nice testament to the diversity and universality of the internet that a blog written about Japan by someone from the UK is being read in Portugal.
      Many thanks for reading and for commenting, Francisco, and all the best.

  6. I originally came across Muzuhashi when looking for information on Alan booth like Taveira26 above and check in regularly for updates. I identified with the content on Muzuhashi as I also grew up in the UK and moved to Japan got married, had a house outside Tokyo and love the quirks of Japan including the opportunity it affords to be unsociable at times! I’ll miss Muzuhashi but if you start posting content elsewhere then do let me know.
    Best of luck on congratulations on M Jr II – like you I have a pair of kids that I will fight to bring up as bilinguals.

    1. Hi there Shikaishi and thank you for the comment.
      It’s really nice to know that Muzuhashi has (or perhaps I should say ‘had’…) a reader who’s an expat Brit like myself. Also interesting that you found me through an Alan Booth search – that particular post seems to have been my most widely read.
      I’m right behind you on the bilingual thing, although as I’m sure you’ve already found, the first thing everyone asks when they meet your ‘half’ child is, ‘Can he / she speak English?’ and I’m bracing myself for the moment when Muzuhashi Jrs I & II catch on to the relentless weight of expectation, react against it and give up on English altogether…
      But anyway, the very best of British to you, thank you once again for reading, and do pop back once in a while in case I apply the AED to Muzuhashi and bring it back to life!

  7. I too discovered your blog through a search on Alan Booth; I visited Japan two years ago and spent a couple of months hitchhiking. I was researching for my next trip in March and shall surely read your archives with interest. I hope you revive Muzuhashi.

    1. Hi Kevin
      It’s very flattering to know there are people out there still stumbling upon Muzuhashi, and while I can’t promise it’ll ever be revived, one of the things I’ve been thinking of doing is posting an account of another cycle tour I did about ten years ago, so watch this space, as they say, and speaking of which, my absolute favourite place in Japan is Mount Aso – well worth a visit if you happen to make it to Kyushu on your next trip.
      Thanks again for dropping by and for commenting, and all the best.
      (Incidentally, and in case you didn’t read the comments on the Alan Booth entry, a new collection of his work is due to be published in the not-too-distant future – I’ll post something on here as and when this happens.)

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