This is my 100th blog post. I started my blog in February 2016 with a somewhat selfish desire to share all my stories, photos, and videos from Japan. I wanted people to listen to my opinions and understand my perspective. If I am honest, I can admit that in the back of my mind, I imagined attracting lots of followers and becoming a teeny bit internet famous.
Now I am 10 months older and 100 blog posts wiser. Not much of what I imagined has happened. My blog is still extremely minor and barely registers on Google (except for my VERY first blog post – 9 Things that are Cheaper in Japan – which has had nearly 5,000 views). Sometimes I feel discouraged that my first blog post that I tossed off thinking “I have to start somewhere!” has been my most popular post by far. That first post accounts for nearly 1/3 of the traffic to my blog. The other 98 posts account for the remaining 2/3. A little discouraging? Yes. But onward I plunge! (When I started this blog, I committed to blogging for 2 years no matter the results. 1 year and 2 months to go. Who knows what is to come!)
Along the way of brainstorming, writing, and posting 100 blog posts, I realized that blogging has changed my life in all kind of wonderful ways that I never expected. Here are 9 unexpected benefits from blogging (beyond internet fame and attention).
1. You become a better writer.
When I started my blog, I read somewhere that blog posts between 1500-1700 words received the most views. I made that word count my goal for every post. It has been tough goal. Sometimes I feel like I am writing absolute garbage to reach that word count. Other times, no matter how hard I squeeze I cannot manage to write more than a few hundred words. But whatever the result, this blog has forced me to sit down in front of my computer every single day AND WRITE. That has been immensely valuable. My daily blog writing reminds me of my writing classes that I took throughout high school. One exercise my teachers always assigned was daily writing practice. We had to free write for 30 minutes everyday. We could write about whatever topic we wanted but we had to keep writing for 30 minutes. If we couldn’t think of anything else, then we could just write, “I cannot think of anything to write. I cannot think of anything to write.” Mostly I produced absolutely rubbish writing but occasionally an idea would be sparked and I would find myself writing for hours, long after my required 30 minutes ended. My daily writing practice helped me to produce essays, that I might never have written if I was not sitting down and writing.
2. You don’t just look like an expert. You start to become an expert.
I am always impressed by the thoughtful, informative posts written by other bloggers. Reading their posts, I wondered how they became so knowledgable. Then I started to write my own blog posts and found myself researching various topics. Often I have some idea of what to write but it is not quite enough, so I start digging around online or I call up Kosuke and ask him for his ideas. And slowly, I started to learn about the topics that I was writing about. I have always heard that the best way to learn something is to teach it. In a way, creating posts to share on my blog was a way of teaching about the topics that mattered most to me. And along the way, I learned so much.
3. You get to learn more about yourself.
This blog is essentially a record of my inner dialogue. It organizes a lot of the random stories and ideas bouncing around in my head. By looking at my blog, I have started to understand the ideas that interest me, the experiences that frustrate me, the things that surprised me. I also really appreciate peoples’ comments and reactions to what I write. Observations by my readers have taught me a lot about myself. About 6 months ago, I wrote a post about being “Short, with Brown Hair, & Other Ways I am a Disappointing American.” On Facebook, someone commented that they were surprised that I did not mention being half-Japanese until nearly halfway through the post. The reader wondered if I feel embarrassed about being half-Japanese. I am so grateful for their observation. I do not think that I could have seen that about myself. Their observation got me thinking about my own experiences and inspired my recent post reflecting on being half-Japanese, “My mom is Japanese-American and my dad is American. And I keep getting asked, “So are you Japanese?” Thank you to everyone who reads my blog and responds to what I write. I am so thankful for each of you.
4. You get to meet interesting people doing exciting things.
The blogger community – both writers and readers – is amazing. I am so inspired by the people I meet. I feel like many people start blogs to chronicle a major life change, or their journey towards a goal. Reading their stories and seeing their progress, I also feel motivated. Recently I was contacted by a reader, who was interested in the AirBnB where I stayed in Nagoya. This reader was planning to visit Japan for a marathon. This person was well on their way to reaching their life goal of running 100 marathons!! Running even a 5k strikes fear into me. It was so amazing to meet them and hear their story, even if it was just through email. Currently I am enjoying the unfolding story of fellow blogger at WestCoasttoFarEast, who is relocating his family from Hollywood, California to the Japanese countryside. I can only imagine that such a move requires immense planning and a healthy dose of bravery. As I contemplate my own move post graduate school (which will probably be in the U.S. and on a much smaller scale), I am encouraged by the story of WestCoastToFarEast. His story makes me feel like there is so much possibility in life.
5. You have to figure things out.
Blogging is way more than just writing. In fact, writing is just the first step – then comes styling, photographing, formatting, embedding links, promoting, responding, and on and on. The work is fun because nothing is repetitive. You get to be a bit of writer, a computer programmer, a creative director, and a photographer. The past 10 months have definitely challenged me and I have had to learn lots of new skills. Now I know some basic HTML and also how to use Photoshop. To upgrade the photographs on this blog, I received a beautiful Sony α6000 camera. It is gorgeous – light weight, super fast, and excellent quality. I am still a bit intimidated by such a top notch piece of equipment and I am still learning how to use it. It has been fun though. In my everyday graduate school life, I would not have had any reason to try and learn any of these new skills.
6. Blogging starts a conversation.
I know that some of my real world friends (in other words, those people that I see everyday at graduate school) read my blog. (Hello friends!) I really enjoy hearing their reactions to what I write. When I stop to think about it, this blog is kind of a strange way of communicating to them. I mean, I could just talk to them directly in person. I write this blog with the intent that any random person could read it and (hopefully) find it interesting. I think I might actually be more willing to share about myself on this blog, than I am to open up in real life. The thoughts and feelings that I have shared on my blog have allowed me to connect more with my friends. My blog posts have also allowed me to learn about the experiences of other people and to hear their stories. The internet is such a big place and it is fun to meet people that I would never have encountered otherwise.
7. You get a ready excuse to try all kinds of new things.
I am a pretty risk averse person. When I was a kid, I was never up for new things. I liked safe and familiar activities. Having to learn Japanese and travel to Japan has pushed me to be braver and more adventurous but my basic personality is still cautious. This blog has been a great motivator pushing me to try new and interesting experiences. Recently I applied for the Japanese reality TV show “Terrace House.” I am pretty sure that I would never have done that before I started blogging. I would have talked myself out of it – There is no chance that I will be picked. What is the point of even applying. But this time, Kosuke encouraged me. He said, “Jessy even if you don’t get picked, the experience will be great content for your blog!” I feel like my blog gives me permission to try new things, no matter the result. Even if I am terrible or if I mess up, the trying itself becomes valuable.
8. Blogging has brought my boyfriend and me closer.
My boyfriend Kosuke and I have been in a long distance relationship for almost the entirety of our relationship. Currently he lives in Los Angeles, about 100 miles away from me. So we get to see each other on the weekends. This is relatively close compared to some of our other arrangements. Like this past summer when I was living in Chicago. Or there was the time that he was in Japan for several months working and I was in graduate school in California. Or the summer that I spent in Kyoto, while he was in Los Angeles. This blog has been an amazing shared project. While I am the main author on the blog, Kosuke has also contribute two guest posts – one on our weekly grocery list and another on making fluffy Japanese bread. Also Kosuke contributes to the blog in lots of other less visible ways. He is half of the team in the kitchen, helping to cook and style all the recipes we post. He helps me brainstorm ideas. He gave me the beautiful camera that I am using to take photographs. He also helps with other chores, so that I can have extra time to work on blogging. It is really fun to work together to try to make this blog happen every week.
9. It sparked a fresh excitement for the world around me.
The first time I lived in Japan, I took hundreds of photos a day. I filled notebook after notebook with my experiences. I wrote extremely long emails to my family everyday explaining all the details of what I was doing. My next trip to Japan was a little less novel, a little less exciting. And the trip after that, even less exciting. My dwindling engagement with the world around me was clear in the number of photographs that I took. About 4 years and 3 trips after that first stay in Japan, I was taking just a few hundred photos for the entire trip. Last year when I was living and doing research in Kyoto, my older brother called me. I admitted that I had not been out of my apartment for weeks. I had just been going to lab, going to the grocery store, and going back home. He could not believe me. “Jessy! You are in Japan! Go enjoy it.” That is when I realized just how little pleasure I was having exploring and experiencing the world around me. (Incidentally that is also the day that I decided to take a break from graduate school. But that’s another story!) Now with this blog, I have been able to reignite my curiosity and excitement. It is fun to go out and take photos and gather stories because I can share them here.
10. It satisfies a deep need (at least for me)
Ever since college when I started to learn Japanese, Japan has been a major part of my life. Although I hate the term “Japanophile” – it seems to suggest an unhealthy obsession with Japan – I guess I finally have to admit that I am a bit of a Japanophile. My family has been remarkably understanding and accepting of my fixation on Japanese food, language, and culture. When I call home to say that I am traveling abroad, my parents just laugh. Let me guess! Are going to…Japan? 🙂 When I first moved back to the U.S. from Japan, I think I started nearly every story with “Well in Japan…” This blog has given me a place to write all my “Well in Japan” stories. It has satisfied my need to think about Japan and to connect with other people who are interested in Japan. I feel an immense relief organizing my thoughts and putting them down in writing. That relief is definitely worth all the times that I have spent hours and hours writing posts. Even if hardly anyone reads my post (and sometimes it is only like 10 people), I would not trade that peaceful sense of relief.
Thank you as always for reading! I am so grateful to everyone who takes a few moments from their busy life to read my posts. It is truly an honor. Thank you.