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Friday, July 11, 2014

Five-Year Anniversary Of Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife

I really have to hand it to LinkedIn. I really do.

I also especially have to thank four people: Atalanta Harmsworth, Jean Claude De La Ronde, John Drew and Jennifer Lawrence… who all took the time to pen a congratulations to me for my anniversary. I don't know you, but I wish I did.

No… not something as solemn as my wedding anniversary... I think that's next month sometime, but since LinkedIn is a work-related social media outlet, it must of course be for my work.

… Hmmm… but my nine-year anniversary at work was this past March… so what the heck?

Atalanta - she offered congrats on five years, saying I must really enjoy what I am doing… and then it hit me!

This blog! Five years! I looked… and lo and behold - it's true!

Five years ago today, I started It's A Wonderful Rife, changing it Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife about a year later in an effort to better represent what the hell was so wonderful… an on-going story about all things Japanese.

Here's a link to that very first blog - an original preamble to the original concept I had planned... a preamble that every good story needs to set the stage, the mood, and excite or confuse the audience for the things that come: HERE.

It is, of course entitled House Of The Rising Son... a nod to the Rising Sun of Japan, and me, the rising son (me) getting up to board the plane to Japan. I also chose the title because of the old Blues song (made famous by The Animals) because, well... I thought that like the lyrics, Japan had been the ruin of many a poor young boy, but thank god, I know I've won. I'm one, all right.

Whatever that means. 

Damn… I can still recall me finally getting off my butt to start writing this thing.

I actually began by looking for a blog host back on July 10 at 9PM… found one… spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out just what the hell I had to do to create a blog - it's actually quite easy on Blogger! - and then began the arduous task of writing.

I published my first blog 1t around 1:30AM on July 11, and got my first LOC (letter of comment) from my dad who chastised me for a few grammar mistakes. At least I think it was from my dad. The grammar mistakes continue, to be sure, but I try to keep my errors to a minimum, and currently have a good coach helping me fix any errors that might still sneak through - thanks Vinnie!  

Previous to writing on this blog, I had spent a short while as a reporter for the Toronto Star newspaper before quitting to go to Japan to live and 'teach' for three years on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme.  So writing isn't a completely alien thing to me.

I kept a diary for quite a while, and kept a lot of souvenirs… heck… I even have a slip from the hotel stationary in Tokyo where JET housed us for the first three days back in 1990 prior to our placement. I took a sheet with me that first night in case I got lost, and I could always just hand it to a Japanese person to hopefully point me back in the correct direction. This was 'just-in-case'.

Of course, even though I was never a Boy Scout, I was prepared when it did happen.

I needn't have worried, as a Japanese gentleman not only pointed me (and others) back in the right direction, but actually walked us 40 minutes to our destination - thereby setting the stage for me to what became a wonderful three-year journey in Japan.

The people. That's what I recall best and most often when I think fondly back.

I know there are jerks everywhere in every country, but perhaps it's my infectious personality - by infectious, in this case I mean personable personality - my goofy smile and polite manners made my time in Japan so much enjoyable, that 15 years after leaving the country, when I was looking for some writing to do once a week, I pretty much only thought about writing about Japan.

I did absolutely zero research on the subject - I had no idea that Japan was a very popular topic in the social media medium…. none what so ever. There sure are plenty of Japan-related blogs out there.

I hadn't read a damn thing about Japan in the 15 years since I left. Too painful, I had always assumed… but also because I didn't want to be one of those people who can only talk about a single subject that would have zero interest for my friends and family.

… but maybe someone around the world might find it interesting.

So… while I was in Japan between 1990-1993, I wrote a monthly column for the AJET provincial newsletter called It's A Wonderful Rife.

I had, for the first time, just seen the Frank Capra movie It's A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart months earlier before I left Toronto for Japan, and it resonated with me.

I thought the Japanese inability to pronounce the "L" properly, changing it to an "R" sound would be funny… mostly because it was originally written for gaijin (foreigners) living in Tochigi-ken where I was also stationed, in Ohtawara-shi, a small city with a lot of rice farms and 7-11s. That "L/R"-thing is a big deal for people, but it's pretty much true and also plays in on the whole dumb foreigner thing going about life learning about the great country of Japan. At least that's how I see it. Self-deprecating  humor. This blog is full of it. And self-deprecating humor, too.

I wrote the for the 54 or so fellow JETs - or actually, I wrote it because I wanted to be a writer, so a writer's gotta write. I wrote it after my girlfriend Ashley thought it was pretty funny and suggested I get it published in our prefecture magazine. Blame Ashley or thank Ashley. I choose the latter.

Then the woman whom I should have married, or at least have slept with, Kristine South, asked if she could publish my columns in her prefecture's newsletter… and then another woman asked the same for her prefecture - and suddenly, I had an audience of about 150 people - at least on paper, because newsletters in those days were printed on that ancient medium known as 'paper' - pronounced 'pay-purr'.

They just republished the one's I created for my own AJET newsletter.

Then a Tochigi-ken newsletter for foreigners living in Japan asked if they could publish a monthly article from me. They offered to may me ¥10,000 (US/Cdn $100).

Ah… I'm a professional writer, once again… and since I was, I could hardly expect them to publish previously published work, so I created an additional new column for them (same It's A Wonderful Rife moniker, though) - now meaning I was writing a total of two columns a month!

Oh! How taxing to my system.

Still, ¥10,000 is ¥10,000… so I wrote every month for six months before I left Japan in 1993 - and continued to write for an additional year after I arrived back home, before the poor publisher became poor, or they became tired of having to post a monetary bill (or two) in the mail every month or so.

My It's A Wonderful Rife stories then were 99.9% of the time about the stupidity of the gaijin (me) examining the stupidity of Japan… it was actually my sublime way of saying that though Japan might seem strange to foreigners, it was actually just me not understanding the way Japan went about its business and that the foreigner and the Japanese were actually pretty much the same.

It was and is about internationalization - which was what JET hammered home on us all back then. I think I got it.

That's what THIS blog is all about. I may not agree with everything Japan does or says, but I can at least look at it analytically to try and understand why it says and does what it does.

I think that is often missing from most blogs about Japan.

I'm not saying I have all the answers - I sure as hell don't! - but I can at least formulate an opinion or actually gather all the facts from various sources to provide YOU, the reader, with enough data to make your own informed decisions on things.

Anyhow… despite that, I began the blog as a means to publish (re-publish in many cases) the original columns I had created for the various newsletters - some 76 of them.

I had 76 comedic columns that I wanted the world to read, and I wanted to make them into a book, and I wanted to become rich - because that's what every blogger/writer wants.

This is my 2,370th blog posting, and I still haven't published all of those original 76 columns, as I began revealing intimate details of myself via a diary, a keen memory that only works on things from 10 years past of greater, and souvenirs, magazines and books that I have kept that inspire me.

Those diary entries, by the way, always had a rock and roll music song title, and had a video of said song in the blog entry - though I stopped doing that after a couple of years, because even though it would suck in many a music fan, it wasn't fair to them, or simply because I got bored and needed to change things up. Probably both reasons.

I don't have ads on my blog. I did for a while, but really, to me presenting this stories, the news and facts about Japan was more important than trying to make a few pennies from ads. I learned that from my friend and fellow blogger Mike Rogers, who, until very recently, was writing a daily blog called Marketing Japan (see my favorite blogs to the right).

It was him that got me interested in writing far, far more often, which I started doing heavily in year 2, and then again more heavily in year 3 - also not so coincidentally being 2011.

I had taken most of February off to take care of some personal business, but decided I missed Japan enough to restart the blog in March or so of that year.

And then came the Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011… and I was soon writing nearly twice a day on everything I could get my hands on. It helped fill a time in my life when I was at my lowest ebb (no, not suicidal - that ain't my bag), but I really did discover that I needed to write about Japan every single day.

Since returning in early 2011, I haven't missed posting a blog about Japan. Not one single day - something I am quite proud of.

This blog has gone from initially drawing in over 400 hits that first month, down to 100 hits a few months later, to drawing over 20,000 hits in one night (I posted a complete wrap-up on a Miss Universe pageant that for some reason went nuts - actually, that was when I learned that having a good title and a good tags was something that could make Google and other search engines like me).

I also realized that writing every single day also pumps up a blog - and providing good facts with varied topics - can also make Google go "hmmm" and move one up its ethereal page listings…

So… when I first began this blog, my goal was to break 1,000 hits a month. I am proud to say that I am now getting over 60,000 hits a month, implying that Japan—It's A Wonderful Rife is being hit on more than a pretty girl in a sausage factory, garnering over 2,000 hits a day.

Granted most of the hits are for people looking for information on a bunch of 'sex'-related topics - see the "Popular Posts" section to the right - but sometimes its simply because I have written a factual piece that seems to be the de facto information library on a given topic.

I think I can say that about topics like Tomino's Poem and about How Japanese Students Were Smarter Than The Wright Brothers, for example.

I have written essays - as long a good magazine article - on such topics as the history of Japanese cars, history, calendars, clocks, animatronics, robots, geisha, money, samurai, architecture (no… that's coming up open of these days), sex, porn, the sex industry, comic books, animation, women, men, gaijin, politics, salesmen, history (it bears repeating), food, drinks, animals, earthquakes, tsunami, energy, life, the universe and everything.

Well, not everything… but that's the goal. A whole lotto something about everything.

I have always been a Jack-of-all-trades kind of guy… knowing a bit about a lot of things so that I can effectively communicate with anyone about anything.

It was brought me a lot of friendship from a lot of people—even though few pre-blog friend and zero family actually care to read about a topic that is or has become dear to my heart.

So… five years down… and till death do us part. That's how you'll know I'm dead, by the way… I've missed a blog.

I also don't write this blog to make money. I write this blog to write and hopefully to better inform, or at the very least help the reader make their own informed decision on a whole variety of subjects. 

In the mean time, mortality aside, thanks for supporting my ego. Trust me… writers are a fragile lot, and your support - I had always said that even if one person read an article I would be happy - it means a lot to me… because the 1.5 million of you who have found something to amuse yourself with on this blog - well… it's been five years well spent.

As for LinkedIn - thanks… I really had no idea…

Somewhere in Wonderland,
Andrew Joseph
PS: I accidentally hit something and published the damn blog before I was ready. LOL! That's kind of par for the course! Cheers!

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