My guest today is Jay Allen and Noah Oskow from Unseen Japan (@UnseenJapanSite).
Unseen Japan is a collective of writers who report on news, history, culture, and social movements in Japan based on Japanese sources. We aim to cover viewpoints from Japan that you may not often hear in the English-speaking world.
Jay is the owner of UJ’s parent company, UJ Media Services. And Noah is the current Editor-in-Chief at Unseen Japan.
In this conversation, we cover the story behind Unseen Japan, what it’s like running a collective publication, and the business behind it all.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Jay and Noah from Unseen Japan.
[00:00:31] – [First question] – Careers prior to Unseen Japan
[00:02:17] – First experiences with Japan
[00:05:13] – Unseen Japan origin story
[00:08:22] – How Noah got involved with Unseen Japan
[00:12:13] – What Jay’s role as Editor-in-Chief at Unseen Japan looks like
[00:17:15] – Why Unseen Japan is successful with Twitter
[00:24:18] – The approach to monetizing Unseen Japan
[00:28:19] – Unseen Japan’s Patreon offering
[00:33:15] – The challenges of trying Video content
[00:41:22] – What should more people know about Unseen Japan’s work?
[00:50:01] – Most undervalued life experience?
Connect with Unseen Japan:
- Unseen Japan’s Website
- Unseen Japan’s Patreon
- Unseen Japan’s YouTube
- Follow Unseen Japan on Twitter
- Unseen Japan’s Newsletter
- Follow Noah on Twitter
- Follow Jay on Twitter
- Connect with Jay on LinkedIn
- UJ Media Services
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Kalani Scarrott (00:31): How are we doing? My guests today, Yes, it’s plural, are Jay Allen and Noah Oskow from Unseen Japan. Unseen Japan is a collective of writers who report on news, history, culture, and social movements in Japan, based on Japanese sources. Unseen Japan aims to cover viewpoints from Japan that you may not hear often in the English-speaking world. Jay is the owner of Unseen Japan’s parent company, Unseen Japan Media Services, and Noah is the current editor-in-chief at Unseen Japan. In today’s conversation, we covered the story behind Unseen Japan, what it’s like running a collective publication and the business behind it all. This one was very fun to do for me and I loved it. So please enjoy my conversation with Jay and Noah from Unseen Japan.
Cool. Noah. Jay, thank you so much for being on today. my first three person podcast as well, but maybe starting with Jay first. Could you guys just both introduce yourselves and give a bit of background to your careers prior to Unseen Japan?
Jay Allen (01:30): Sure. I’m Jay Allen. I’ve been working in the tech industry for various Fortune 100 companies for about the past 20 some years. mainly as, as a lot of things as a software engineer. currently engineering manager as well as a technical writer. And Japan has always kind of been my hobby, which kind of led me to unseen Japan.
Kalani Scarrott (01:52): Yeah. And Noah?
Noah Oskow (01:53): Yeah, I’m a Noah Oskow. I’m currently the editor in chief at Unseen Japan and a previous unseen Japan. I was doing my masters and I had about at that point probably about like six, seven years of translation and interpretation experience in the Japanese language, as well as having had recently finished a four year stint on the JET program teaching English in a rural Fukushima prefecture.
Kalani Scarrott (02:17): Yeah. So what was your first experience with Japan and what, what got you interested? Like, how’d you get down that rabbit hole?
Jay Allen (02:23): so well for me, it dates back to middle school, honestly. And I’m an old guy, push in 50, so middle school was a long time ago and kind of a typical Japan We story, it all started with Anime, though I, I’d like to take some pride in the fact that back then, you know, it was very early days for Anime in the western world. It wasn’t nearly the phenomenon that it is now. You know, we didn’t have Crunchyroll, we didn’t have FUNimation. It was a kid. No. Literally though it was literally trading people, trading VHS tapes in the back of the comics buyers guide and maybe a couple of couple of other things. I did try start learning like a little bit of Japanese back then, which was kind of a great experience because the one person who was in my small town of about 5,000 people who could teach me was a World War II veteran who had been a interpreter and the army in World War ii. Unreal. So he had quite some interesting stories to tell
Kalani Scarrott (03:21): I bet Yeah. Wow, and Noah, for you?
Noah Oskow (03:24): I also you know, from the time I was pretty young actually my first introduction to Japan, and I’ve told this story a few times, but came when I was very young because my dad was really into martial arts. he was he did karate and aikido, especially when I was, when I was younger. and so my dad is the sort of person he, I definitely this trait from him, but when he gets interested in something, he just goes completely full out. So we had all this stuff around the house, like all these books about Japanese culture and about, you know, like martial arts. And at one point he actually transformed our basement into a dojo. So there was like, you know, we had a, we had like, you know, kanji sayings like up on the wall and he had a little shrine to Chiba, who I believe is the founder of Aikido.
And I mean, so I had like this idea of Japan existing since like, basically before kindergarten, before most people really have, you know, a sense of, of countries really existing. I knew about this place called Japan, so I was always kind of interested in it because of that. kind of similarly to Jay, although on a different timeframe, you know, I also really got into Anime, Manga and Japanese film, and I know my dad introduced me to like, you know, (Akira) Kurosawa’s films when I was pretty young too. so I got really into it, you know, via all that sort of stuff. And it was the same thing as Jay, you know, like in my case it was like the late nineties that I was getting into this stuff. and so it was it wasn’t like fan sub VHS anymore, but it was like blockbuster video you know, rental section. every single anime VHS from Pokémon to Ninja Scroll, like, you know, a warning adults only sticker around it at the time. and then, you know, through that, you know, I, I was lucky enough to be able to go to, to high school where they taught Japanese and had a fantastic teacher. And you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a long story beyond that, but that’s really the, the kind of beginning and introduction of becoming interested and aware of the country.
Kalani Scarrott (05:13): No, that’s perfect. And for Jay, with Unseen Japan, how did that start? Like, did you always write and share stuff or how did that all begin with, I guess?
Jay Allen (05:22): yeah, it’s an interesting beginning. So about like 2012, I finally decided to hunker down and actually learn Japanese. Like I had tried as a kid back in middle school there, and I stopped cause I was a kid. And I tried again, like maybe in my twenties and then dropped it again. And then like in my late thirties, I think I was like, Okay, this is ridiculous. This is something I’ve always wanted to learn. I’m just going to hunker down and do it. And if I’d only stuck that time, and I spent like the next year, four to six years, like daily intensely learning the language, I kind of like Noah’s dad when I get into something there’s no halfway, I’m like full-throated into it. so I did have a time I like dated somebody briefly, and she was always like, Yeah, but what are you gonna do with learning Japanese?
And I’m like, What do you mean I can watch Anime without subtitles? I mean, it’s that, that’s the dream, right? But I also, at that time, like I was reading like a lot of like Japanese news and Japanese Twitter, like keeping up on news has always been like a big hobby of mine as well. And around that time, so about like maybe 2017, I think 2017, I had found out about this woman named Fuku. and it was just this really interesting story. she had killed somebody and at the time, Japan had a 15 year statute of limitations on murder. they no longer have that but if, if you could bounce around the islands for 15 years and not get caught, you were home free. And she got arrested, I think it was two or three days before her statute of limitations expired.
And I was like, that is a really interesting story. So I wrote it up on medium and promptly forgot about it for a year. And then I came back to it and I realized like thousands of people had read it. And I was like, Wow. People were actually kind of interested in that story. And I think it was around about that time that the Logan Paul incident happened. So this was where Paul went to Japan and he went to Aokigahara the so-called suicide forest. And he had filmed somebody who had taken their own life there, just like a really, really gross incident all around. He received a lot of criticism for that. And I wrote a story about how there are like so many of these kind of weird Japan stories in the English speaking press and how they j present a really like, distorted view of the country. And it just kind of snowballed from there. I got this idea of that there were so many stories and so much movement and change occurring in Japan that was happening that a lot of people didn’t understand because they couldn’t speak Japanese. And so that kind of became the impetus for writing more stories like those two and it kind of just grew and grew into unseen Japan
Kalani Scarrott (08:22): Yeah. And then building up, building up know, how’d you first hear of Unseen Japan and where did you come into the picture?
Noah Oskow (08:27): So I think, what was it like halfway through 2019 or something? Jay? I’m not a hundred percent sure. Something like that. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I first became aware of it via a posting on upwork.com actually. So I’m, I usually work as a, as a freelance translator and interpreter, and I do a lot of my work through freelance websites and especially Upwork. And I just happen to encounter this post that was looking for, you know, writers on, on Japanese topics, but not the usual kind of blog spam, but something that really specifically said, you know, we’re looking for people with high level Japanese abilities, people who can actually like, actively translate Japanese and read news in Japanese so that we get sources firsthand and not kind of just, you know, regurgitating the same, you know, English news that, you know, using the English news that someone else has written based on Japanese, perhaps incorrectly.
And then, you know, kind of playing this game of English language, Japanese news, telephone, like, you know, a real basis in the actual language. And then not only that, but like, you know, really kind of this message about representing under underrepresented groups and bringing their voices to a larger audience via English. so I encountered, you know, this, this posting and I was doing my masters at the time in Europe, and so I was kind of back into the swing of, of writing in an academic sense. It’d been many years since I really wrote a lot, You know, I, I used to do, of course, you know, like everyone in in their university time, you know, I used to write a lot of essays and you know, I pretty good marks on that stuff and I was kind of missing that writing and doing my ma was allowing me to write again.
But this was an opportunity not only to write in a professional sense and actually get some stuff put out and maybe read by some people but also within the context that I felt was very very appealing and seemed to have a lot of purpose. So I kind of jumped onto that job application you know, Jay almost, you know, immediately like, you know, said, Hey, you know, you can pick this topic and you can the first thing I wrote about was about how Kurosawa had this, like this period where he was very involved with the, the Soviet Union and basically this Soviet Union ended up bringing him on to create this film Dersu Uzala and this kind of time period where Kurosawa like basically his career was, was momentarily saved by the Soviet Union, and he has this one Russian language film. It’s very, very interesting. And I got it right about it. it was really cool seeing the response and then I just kind of got brought on and I’ve been writing and working with Unseen Japan ever since.
Kalani Scarrott (10:57): Yeah No, that’s unreal. It’s so cool. And for Jay, was the plan always to make it a collective of writers, or how did that develop?
Jay Allen (11:03): I think I just, I can’t remember exactly when I decided that, but I think it was early on. I’ve been doing, I did a lot of online writing in the past. I, I had a couple of blogs for a while that I eventually sold off. I had worked for some major publications that did like, you know, large, large volume publications, you know, doing anywhere from 20 to 50 new publications a day working in a large team of writers. And I knew enough about the web at that point to know that you had to have a really good and constant stream of body of work coming out, and particularly you needed to have like, really good and robust content backlog so that, you know, people could find out what you were doing, discover you through organic means, like through search engines, through social media. And I realized I really couldn’t do that alone, especially not while making this a side project while also doing a full-time job. so fortunately the tech industry has given me a little bit of money, and so I’ve been able to kind of direct some of that into starting to spearhead this effort to turn on seeing Japan to do something larger than just an individual.
Kalani Scarrott (12:13): Cool, cool, cool. And for Noah, now as editor, you started off writing, How does that work now? Like what is, maybe walk me through a week of what your work looks like in managing and posting, scheduling everything. Yeah,
Noah Oskow (12:24): So in terms of like our, our roles within on in Japan, it, it is relatively fluid. We’re, we’re pretty relaxed bunch over it on scene Japan, I would say. And so it kind of depends,
Jay Allen (12:37): That’s a very charitable way to put it.
Noah Oskow (12:39): that’s, that’s my viewpoint. That’s how I see it. so really exactly how much I do any given week kind of depends on how involved Jay is in that week as well. So like there are times where Jay is really spearheading the entire thing, and then there’s times where I’m really in control of the entire thing, depending on what’s going on in each of our lives. And, you know, also there’s just so many things going on in the lives of all of our authors. you know, we’ve always made it pretty, we’ve always stressed the importance of every one in our team being able to live their own lives and not having to put on scene Japan first. So, you know, there’s a lot of variability, but I would say that the average thing for that I’m, that I do is, you know, I, I’d say the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is, is check our Twitter feed and check if Jay’s been posting anything, if, if the Twitter feed is looking active at the moment.
So like, the first thing I do is I wake up and if it looks like we should probably be posting something to make sure that there’s something that’s out there that’s getting some interaction in the morning, then the first thing I do is I, I go through Japanese language, Twitter, I look for interesting posts, I look for interesting news. I look for interesting photos that I can retweet add commentary to add, you know, extra information so that not only are we, you know, retweeting Japanese users and maybe translating what some people are writing, but that we can also give some context whether, you know, societal context or linguistic context or historical context to what is being shown so that we’re kind of giving some interesting value to whatever we’re posting beyond just kind of using, you know, kind of, kind of pushing somebody else’s content forward, making sure that there’s some additional meaning to it as well.
So I put in the work to make sure that the Twitter is looking active. then of course we know we have our, our group Slack, and so there’s checking what people are writing and trying to, you know, if something looks really interesting, trying to see if anyone wants to pick up a certain topic to write depending on the day, then I may be writing something at some point during the day. my main, my main occupation is still the translation and the interpretation. so once I’ve gotten that work done, then usually I, hopefully I have some time to write something myself. depending on the situation, if I’m like really dealing with mostly editing at this period of time, then if somebody has something that’s ready to go, then they send it over to me. I do the full editing and, you know, add in the like, you know, fine photography and may probably use like, put a thumbnail together or something like that and get that out there. and I mean that’s, that’s the general gist, you know, of, of what I do. And it just kind of depends on whether Jay and I or myself are kind of in charge at the moment.
Kalani Scarrott (15:20): And just curious as a follow up either Jay or Noah, how do you view, like postmortem your work? Do you ever go back and review what’s worked, what hasn’t? How do you view analytics
Jay Allen (15:28): All the time? So I’m very big on backlog, curation and keeping the backlog up to date. You know, from a simple search engine optimization standpoint, that is a big thing that search engines like Google look for, you know, is your, your content fresh, you know, when was the last time you touched it in terms of the analytics? Definitely we do a lot of reposting, you know, so we use some tools in the backend that help us to manage, basically put posting stuff out from our archives and we keep a look at the analytics of that to see what people are actually like interested in and what’s getting their interest for sure. that works really well to, because we have such like a constant influx of new people on social media, particularly Twitter which has always been our fastest growing social media platform.
So we could have posted something. There’s two phenomenon I see. One is we could have posted something three years ago that got a lot of interest, but, you know, somebody who just heard about us two weeks ago is never read it. So they’re like, Oh, you know, great, you new piece of content. I get to discover, get to learn about some new facet about Japan. the other is we might have a post that maybe even didn’t do so well in the first go around, but then it gets retweeted and it just sort of hits the social media algorithms just the right way at the right time. And all of a sudden it garners a lot of interest. I think Noah’s posts the, he talked about, you know, he wrote this fabulous set of essays about Kurosawa and his Russian period, for lack of a better word. And when it first went out, it was, it got some modest traffic, but I think it was like the second or third time that we pushed about it actually got picked up by like a, a big kind of a film interest site on Twitter. And it did a, like a lot more traction in that second time around. Oh,
Kalani Scarrott (17:15): Cool. And again, a follow up, why do you think Twitter works so well for what you guys write about? Cause I know Japan has a very large Twitter audience, but for you guys, why do you think it works so well?
Jay Allen (17:24): You wanna start with that one Noah? Yeah,
Noah Oskow (17:26): I’ll I, I, yeah, I can, I can just have my, my little assumptions. And I think Jay, honestly, you probably have a, a more in depth view of this especially having been the one who started the Twitter account and who has really brought it to the extent that it’s gone to. I, I think Twitter, Twitter is, you know, is, is an application and as you know, a place for people to, to be able to discuss things. I mean, it is, it is so geared towards discussion and so geared towards, you know, the retweeting and, and this engagement that, that it kind of can be a particularly passionate form of engagement. And the nature of a lot of our, our topics and a lot of things that we cover are things that people, you know, it’s not just we, we do politics and we do all sorts of stuff that is somewhat, you know, I guess maybe a little bit dry, but a lot of what we do is stuff that people are very passionate about.
People have, you know, very strong opinions about perhaps in a good way and perhaps in a bad way. but as a result, you know, there often is a lot of discussion that takes place. And there’s a lot of and the nature of Twitter is kind of like a emotionally charged and engaged platform. I think kind of really works for Unseen Japan because we cover a lot of topics that people think are important. And as a result, you know, people really get into those subjects. I think that’s probably part of why Twitter has been in, in some ways so good to us.
Jay Allen (18:48): Yeah. And I, I would build on that, and I, I think that’s correct. And I would also say that, you know, to your point, Kalani, because so many people in Japan are using Twitter, it’s a really fertile ground for exactly the kind of thing that we set out to cover in the first place, which is, what are people in Japan doing? What are they talking about? How has the culture changing? What, what are the current debates? You can get a lot of that, like Noah said, you know, first thing in the morning, one of the first things we do is we look at what’s trending, what are the trending topics in Japan. And that gives you like, really good insight. That’s kind of like setting the tone of the news coverage in the conversation in the country for a week. and that, that makes it really easy for us to do.
I think another part of it is that for what we do, Twitter is a great microcontent platform. And I think one of the reasons for Twitter has grown the way it has. I look at other sites, like there’s major publications like, you know, Huffington Post or in, in Japanese things like Asahi Shimbun and they have more followers than we do, but you look at their engagement and their engagement is like on a lot of posts, almost nowhere to be seen unless like one or two things they post tend to go. And I think that’s because most of those sites are using their Twitter accounts, basically just to post links. And we do more than that. We post, you know, translations of tweets that have taken off or trended in Japan. We post a lot of the content that we do on the website, started off as a tweet we do as a quick translation of the headline of a news article. And we decided to give it more in-depth coverage on the website. We’re not afraid to be opinionated and let our opinions be known. And people really vibe with that cause it makes us feel more like a group of people and less like a brand. So I think all those things combined have helped to really make Twitter a successful platform for us.
Kalani Scarrott (20:47): Yeah, nah, I’m so glad you mentioned that. Cause I was scrolling through the Unseen Japan Twitter feed and it’s, yeah, you guys get really good engagement. There’s like analysis, there’s translation, there’s also humor, there’s a lot of humorous posts that I love as well, but it’s like, yeah, people would kill for that kind of engagement that you guys get.
Jay Allen (21:00): Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s really nice to see, and it really also helps put wind under our sails. I’ll speak personally for me, and maybe you Noah can put his opinion in, but for me it’s also very heartening as a content creator, because I know we’re gonna get talking to the monetization side more in a minute, but the monetization side definitely grows like a lot more slowly. And there can be times when we’re like, Oh God, you know, this is a real slog and it can feel like really difficult to go forward, but then you have something like the Twitter engagement and you’re like, hey, people like this, people find value in this. This is a good, this is a good thing that we’re doing that we should continue to be doing. So it’s a real morale booster, at least for me.
Kalani Scarrott (21:42): And you Noah?
Noah Oskow (21:42): Yeah, that that positive feedback is really quite wonderful. And of course, you know, we, we have had our, our fair share of not so positive feedback. usually I would say, usually coming from sources where it, you know, we do get, I think rightfully like, you know, people will help, you know, if they think that something needs a little bit of correcting or a little bit of finessing, you know, people will come in, they will very politely, you know steer us in the right direction, and we’re very open to engaging with with that sort of criticism or correction. But of course we also get a lot of very absurd criticism as well which can be entertaining or depressing to deal with depending on the situation. But we also get so much positive feedback and people who, who really do seem to feel like what unseen Japan is doing is, is meaningful and that really does make it worthwhile.
I mean, it’s so wonderful to be able to create the content that we do, I think for all of our authors. you know, everyone kind of gets to express their own passion and their own specialty. and being able to put that out there is, is great. And then also really getting some, some really positive feedback about that and seeing people be engaged and seeing people, you know, really touting unseen Japan is, is one of the places that, that people should, should follow if they’re really interested in more in-depth coverage of Japan. And especially on topics that are maybe not as touched on by other outlets. I mean, it’s, it’s it is very, very nice. It really makes it all worthwhile.
Kalani Scarrott (23:10): And if I’m allowed to ask this, like for audience-wise, demographically, where are they coming from? like who are the types of people that read your content and are they the types of people you target? Like, just for me personally, I thought the podcast would be very much university students, people like myself, but it tends to be a bit older, I think. But how do you guys’ sort of find that?
Jay Allen (23:28): We’re starting to collect more demographic information from our newsletter for sure. And I think it’s, it’s about evenly split right now, at least from that data that I’ve seen in terms of age groups that either splits out to like the, the 20 to 39 group, or it also splits out to like the, you know, the 59 and older, the 55 to older group. it all just kind of depends in terms of location. United States is, you know, our biggest market for sure. That might be part and parcel of the fact that I’m an American. I don’t know Japan is actually the next bigger market, though, you know, sizable English speaking immigrant population in Japan. And a lot of them are, are followers. Some of them are actually our close friends. And, you know, they looked at some of the content that comes from un unseen Japan that to keep up on the trends in the country that they live in, pay taxes in.
Kalani Scarrott (24:18): And then, yeah. So maybe if we’re go into monetization, how do you guys view and approach monetization of unseen Japan? So maybe Jay, you can talk about the big idea maybe and the Noah in the nitty gritty details of day to day.
Jay Allen (24:28): Yeah, I definitely think that we’re still very much in like an investment phase, but I think we’re in the big push right now. I, I know I’m definitely in the big push in the next year to get us to profit profitability and get us to that point where, you know, we can really start to produce, you know, 10 to 15 pieces of like, great content and like at least one great video a month, and be able to just kind of keep everything going steady state and be able to pair our writers fairly for the work that they’re doing as well. I think Patriot has definitely been our most successful source for monetization. It will continue to be, and that as where I see us putting a lot of our focus going forward, we’re looking at some other things regarding productization and maybe things like eBooks and other potentials as well.
I would say the next second thing that’s really important for me right now though, from a monetization standpoint is the newsletter. You know, we have a small newsletter, but it’s, it’s growing pretty nicely right now and I was pretty surprised when I started researching it because I had not, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with newsletters and I was surprised to see that it was something that a lot of people were still pushing and saying, Yeah, this is a great resource for you to have because you can speak directly to your audience. There is a consistent engagement rate with newsletters. you do not run the risk that you do with like, you know, Twitter or Facebook of suddenly being suspended or nerfed or having the promotion algorithm changed and completely undermined your business. You know, so the, the other, the other nice thing I see from the newsletter, I read this metaphor early on, I was trying to figure out like how to market our patron and how to market a membership system in general.
And I can’t remember who said it, but I remember this great content from a marketer who said Patreon, or a membership is marriage and you don’t propose marriage on the first date. And that metaphor kind of really stuck with me. And so I definitely view like the newsletter’s kind of her gateway drug, you know, get people in, have them reading the newsletter every week, you know, put that out there, there as a free service. but then also turn around when the time is appropriate and at a reasonable volume and use it to also say, hey, you’ve been a subscriber for four to eight weeks. You seem to love what we do, which you consider helping us do more of that. That’s something that I’ve found is very successful growing our membership system.
Kalani Scarrott (27:04): Yeah. And Noah how are you finding it?
Noah Oskow (27:06): In terms of monetization? what I’m involved with is, is the most, is absolutely the Patreon. that is the backbone of everything we do. that is how we’re able to, to pay all of our authors. that’s how I’m able to pay myself to a certain extent as well. you know, the really that is the direct source of the support that we get from our members and from our readers who really care about what we’re doing. and you know, the Patreon has fluctuated as well, so there’s been times where, you know, that in of itself can supply a lot of, lot of writing and also you know, some videos and there’s times where it’s ebbed and, you know, we have to be a bit more judicious in terms of what topics we go with and how many articles we’re able to put out per week or per month.
but ever since it’s been started, it really has been the way that, that we’ve been able to have an income for the site and then basically distribute a hundred percent of that back to the authors. we have, you know with like, you know, with the YouTube and stuff, there is a certain degree of monetization as well, but it’s still not enough to really be able to support anything in of itself. So the Patreon is really just that the Patreon is really where everything comes from, as far as I’m concerned.
Kalani Scarrott (28:19): Yeah, no, the Patreon is like, honestly one of the best ones I’ve seen cause a lot of people put no effort into the Patreon. It’s just more just, I don’t know, a fan club that’s very minimal effort, but maybe Noah again, what do you think works when offering a Patreon and maybe Jay can chime in after, but yeah, what do you think works when offering that?
Noah Oskow (28:34): Of course, you know, we have our own you know, we have member only articles that’s like a really big thing is that we have these, a lot of content, both essays and articles, news articles and, and very, I mean, I’ve written some, you know, like what like 6,000 word historical essays that go directly to that Patreon. And so like we offer a lot of content that I think is quite interesting and when people start to read it you know, they wanna be able to keep on reading it. And I think providing that sort of really high-quality content specifically for the members, I think that’s a, a very big bonus that we have there. And in terms of collecting, you know, getting more people involved you know, really we, we we’re offering a bunch of interesting new things as well from the Patreon.
and I think that the nature of our site is a site that kind of has if not a mission, at least, like a specific kind of purpose to it. people really do seem to react to that quite positively. And I think that that more than perhaps on other sites, it really inspires people to, to, you know, lend a hand and help us to continue and help us to continue creating the content that we’re able to create. and I, I think having that sort of meaning to our content really does help in creating a fan base that can support us. Yeah.
Kalani Scarrott (29:58): Anything Jay?
Jay Allen (29:59): I definitely agree about the exclusive content. I, I think that is our number one thing that really pulls people into the Patreon. I think we have a couple of other perks as well, like social media promotion like our $25 level, if you hang around for a beat, you get to actually request an essay on, on a topic that’s near or dear to your heart, you know, and people seem to really like those kind of perks and the exclusive content. And it’s also, we, we’ve been able to set it up pretty nicely technically. so we use WordPress to drive the entire website and there’s some pretty good Patreon integrations that basically allow us to have like the content on the website, but have it locked in WordPress until somebody unlocks it with Patreon. That also has to keep like this really nice body of member exclusive content that is residing on the site.
So if you come to Unseen Japan for any other, you know, pathway to look at any other article and you start clicking around, you’ll eventually are going to find, you know, the the members only portion. It’s the one of the three things that are up in our navigation menu when you come to the site on desktop or mobile. And so I think that really kind of pulls a lot of people in. I think the one thing I wanna work on with the Patreon is making it feel more like a community, and we’re talking about ways that we can spearhead that as well. So we’re talking about, for example, doing things like a Discord get together when we hit 50,000 followers on Twitter, which I think Noah we’re like 490 something from right now, so we’re getting tantalizingly close, so, yeah.
Kalani Scarrott (31:39): Yeah. And we, you mentioned exclusive content. How do you decide what gets booked behind the pay wall? Is it broader stuff? Yeah, I dunno. million-dollar question.
Jay Allen (31:48): Yeah, it, I mean we, we have like debates about this on Slack, or I don’t know if it’s fine or call if it’s appropriate or call than debates. It might be more like me going one way and then the other just on a recurring basis. And Noah just saying, Yeah, whatever you wanna do? from one thing that I consider is, I do consider we do a lot of like keyword optimization and going for like, the long tail keywords as part of our content strategy. So what key question is, if I’m writing about a topic, you know, is this like, or is this like a really getable keyword and we have SEO tools we use for that, that’ll let us see, you know, this is like the search volume to the keyword. This is the likelihood that, you know, your site could potentially rank for it in the, the search engines.
And if it’s going to be something that we feel is going to, you know, draw people in a lot, it will likely become just a publicly available essay, more niche topics. I think we definitely will say, like Noah said, if we think something’s like, just really, it’s really something we wanna write about because we’re Japan geeks and we think is really cool and interesting, that kind of stuff, I think we will tend to push more into ther because the people I think who are subscribed to ther are a lot like us in that regard, and they’ll appreciate that content even if a wider mass audience doesn’t.
Kalani Scarrott (33:15): So we’ve talked a bit about, you’ve briefly touched on going into video, so maybe Noah for the logistics of that, why go into video and what was some of the like Yeah, what was that like going into the video space from text only?
Noah Oskow (33:27): So I like so many people of my generation and beyond I love YouTube. I watch a lot of YouTube and I love video essays. I, I mean just, I mean, probably the past decade I spend so much time every day, even when I’m working just with a video essay on the background. I just love kind of, I love the the way that you can learn from YouTube and I love when impassioned and also you know, highly knowledgeable people go on and create these, these videos combining, you know, both the information and also the, the skills of video editor to create something that’s both visually appealing and has a lot of really good information in it. And based upon, you know, the sort of thing that, the sort of content that we create I, I just, for quite some time I kind of had this desire to bring it into the video space and to kind of negotiate that space between our in-depth essays and creating something like that in a visual format.
And we had even from when I think I first entered on the scene, Japan, we had a, we had a YouTube channel, It’s the same channel and it was being used mostly for using parts of these crowd casts that, that Jay would put on these really interesting round table discussions with other, you know, with with Japanese people and also with people within the community, the foreign community in Japan talking usually about kind of the sort of interesting news that was going on, or things that really mattered a lot to people. And these are quite good discussions, and they did get some viewership. but I really I really wanted to take the channel in a, if possible, in a, in a direction that was more focused on, on the video essay. And I brought the idea up to Jay and kind of pushed him to finally kind of like, let me start making some of these video essays and then, you know, kind of just went directly from there and took one of my favorite essays of my, my own at the time, which was about the the really glamorous explosion of, of Mount Bandai in 1888 which was not a pretty niche topic in of itself.
And you know, one that has not necessarily gotten a huge amount of views in of itself, but something that I knew was not on YouTube, a topic that I knew was not on YouTube at all, that is not being covered in any way, shape or form. And especially someone who had lived in Fukushima, a story that I wanted some people to be able to kind of access in a way that they maybe not, might not from a, from an article, and especially something like a, this gigantic disaster, this volcanic explosion. You know, that’s something that once you add in visuals and once you add in sound, you know, that really takes that sort of that sort of story to a, a different level. And you can kind of have a bit more of an appreciation for the scale of something like that once you include audio when you include visuals.
So I started with that and thankfully, you know, like the reactions were quite positive kept on going. And I mean especially once I put out the video about the Jewish folk song that’s, you know, everyone in Japan knows that’s been by far our, our biggest video. And I think between that article and the video, I think is, is all to get all told probably our, our single most successful piece from unseen Japan at this point. There’s, there’s some contenders that are very close, but I think that in total, it is now actually our, our single most popular thing that we’ve ever put out. and thankfully, I mean, the channel is still not huge. It’s still not that big, but, you know, we, we’ve gone from 70 subscribers to, we’re gonna hit 7,000 this month. definitely a good start.
I know we’re heading straight to 10,000, which would be a major milestone. And it’s just so much fun. And especially now that now that, I mean, not only have I has, has it been so much fun, like improving as a, as an editor. and also also like kind of now I do a lot of professional video editing on the side as well for other creators and for different companies. And I mean, that’s a, a great other source of of, of work and income, honestly. And that’s all things to starting the YouTube or like, you know, really engaging with sort of content on the YouTube channel. it’s also, I mean, now that I’m back in Japan, that means that I can go out and, and get footage of the things that I’m talking about. I can go to the places I’m talking about and I can get like, you know, real visual content instead of having to, you know, scour the internet for his like, historical imagery, which of course I still wanna do with everything that I create, but like try, like, rather than just having to find something that is both something that we can, you know, we can actually use legally and or within the context of what YouTube allows.
But that fits within the extremely in depth and very broad context of whatever I’m talking about. Like, it’s so great being able to go out and, and just get footage of the thing that is being discussed, the history that’s being discussed, the place that’s being discussed. So, I mean, that’s, it’s very exciting and it just makes me want to keep on creating, you know, more and more stuff.
Kalani Scarrott (38:18): And especially for a niche for niche content. I’ve had a similar problem trying to cover like a fire in Singapore that it’s just like, there is no sources to use. No. Yeah.
Noah Oskow (38:26): Yeah. Especially, I mean, visually like, you know, it is so difficult to get something that that really represents you know, what you’re talking about unless it’s in like, like the most kind of like, vague way possible. Right. So it’s great having direct access to something like that.
Kalani Scarrott (38:40): Yeah. Jay, anything to add?
Jay Allen (38:42): No, I, I mean, Noah has just done this fantastic bang-up job of the YouTube channel. from my standpoint, I wish I had more time to put into it. I think the last long form video I did was turning my essay on Sakamoto Ryōma into a YouTube video. And the process nearly killed me. I don’t know how. No, it does, it honestly, it’s just, it’s a ton of, it’s a ton of work to create a single video. I now know why like major YouTubers a lot of them like are only putting out one thing a month because it’s like, it’s about all you you can accomplish in a month if you’re doing anything like 30 minutes or longer. I mean, the amount of editing that goes into that, the amount of tweaking is just absolutely insane. I think my focus, as Noah said, you know, the original impetus for that was a lot of the live streams that I, that we did.
And I think, we’ll, I’ll be reuniting with our long-term friends such, such Sachiko Ichikawa to resume doing some of those live streams. I definitely wanted to try to get the channel back to keeping, definitely have the majority of the channel, you know, three quarters to seven eigths of it being the kind of video essays that Noah is so fantastic at producing. but also get the discussions and start to kind of leverage the community a bit more and involve them in live discussions on topics as well. It’s really nice to also have that occasion to take some of the things that we’ve been writing about and go a little bit deeper into it, you know, share our personal thoughts, you know, connect it to past stories we’ve done and that sort of
Kalani Scarrott (40:19): Thing. And this is a selfish question just for me, Noah, but what do you edit with?
Jay Allen (40:23): I’m currently using Filmora. I’m using Filmora 9. Yeah. I’ve used Adobe in the past, you know, that when I my, my history of film edit editing begins with like, you know, being a high schooler and just making really stupid movies with my friends. You know, we used to use Adobe and I learned how to edit via making these, these absolutely inane videos. You know, we would compile like a, we would be create a, like an action film amongst ourselves and then have like screenings with like, you know, like 30, 40 friends or something. And that was a lot of fun. Adobe’s great and but Adobe’s also compared to be expensive and Filmora is very functional and also like a great one-time price. So I’ve just been using Filmora. I’m thinking as the kind of ideas that I have become more complex when it comes to editing. I think I might have to switch over at some point, go back to Adobe. but we’ll see for the time being it’s all more a, it’s a, it’s functional. It’s good. I I enjoy using it.
Kalani Scarrott (41:22): Yeah. If it works, it works. Broad question I’ll start with Jay cause it’s probably applies to both, but what do you wish more people knew about unseen Japan’s work?
Jay Allen (41:30): Yeah, so I think I’d respond to that with probably a story and then an example. So one of the things that was kind of the catalyst for our Twitter taking off was I was in Japan. It was actually during Typhoon 15 in 2018 I believe, or 20 I, I’m losing, or 2019 I’m losing track of time. The pandemic has killed my sense of time. but major typhoon hitting Tokyo in a rare fashion. And around that time I was just in a Tokyo train station and there was this billboard for the Japanese Red Cross there, and it featured a manga character called Uzaki-chan. And, you know, fairly amply blossomed character making like, kind of a suggestive suggestion like, Oh, you afraid of a needle, big bro, that kind of thing. And I was like, I had a little evocative for being out in public and, you know, I’m a, I’m a sex positive kind of guy, but on this other token, you know, you know, public spaces are public spaces and, you know, they, they need to be spaces that, you know, everyone feels comfortable in.
So I just kind of took a picture of that, posted an on on the Twitter, didn’t think anything about it. Woke up the next morning with a typhoon barreling down and Twitter saying, Do you wanna mute notifications cause you’re getting a lot of them. And like the entire, like right wing anime we contingent of Twitter was descending upon our social media account. Now I think that’s the kind of the start of the negative attention that no one noted. But at the same time, you know, we shared that it actually became news in Japan and a lot of feminists and women in Japan were chiming in basically saying, Yeah, we have a problem with this. We always have. And there’s one prominent feminist who contacted me. And she’s like, This is a repeat of several incidents in the past. And she, you know, fed me the other incidents of, you know, sexual life characters being used in public promotion several cases where, you know, the promotion had to be redacted and taken down because it was so controversial in the country.
So that’s all leading up to say, we had all these people coming and saying, Well, you’re trying to change Japan. And we are like, No, Japan’s trying to change Japan. And Japan is trying to change Japan for years. And so I think one of the things I like people to know is that people come with these like misconceptions. You know, whenever you point out like something that might seem like it’s like an antiquated idea in Japan, they’re like, Oh, you’re trying to change a century’s old tradition. And in a lot of cases, the century’s old tradition that they’re talking about is something that usually dates back to about, you know, 1880 or 1890. Japan was kind of like a loosely unified country under the Tokugawa regime for like 200 and some years. But it was basically like kept together through threat of force and what we consider as modern Japan kind of a coalesced in the Meiji period.
And as a result of that, they took a lot of laws that they actually just mirrored off of European and American laws at that time. Really great example of this is the spousal surname issue. so currently in Japan under Japanese law, if you are a, you know, Japanese couple, you’re both Japanese citizens and you get married, you have to have the same last name. You know, it can be the husbands or it can be the wives, but it has to be the same. You cannot have separate surnames. doesn’t apply to, you know, mixed nationality couples, but does apply to Japanese citizens. This is based on like old German and other European laws that are since defunct. Those countries have repealed those laws and they’ve repealed them decades ago. In most cases. Japan still has it on the books, and like the last polling I saw in this, over 69% of the Japanese public wants to change it. But the liberal democratic party, the ruling party in Japan, which is in a lot of cases, neither liberal nor democratic is digging in its heels and I think partially in pressure from or under influence from, you know, the global right wing. So a lot of people, they’ll, they’ll come, they’ll say like, you know, you shouldn’t be trying to change Japan. And it’s like, you know, Japan has always been changing and a lot of the things that you think are actually ancient Japanese tradition are themselves recent changes.
Kalani Scarrott (45:59): Nah, that’s a great story and great example. Noah can you follow that up?
Noah Oskow (46:03): I, I think Jay’s example is, is a fantastic you know, it really, it really shows them what is important for us as a site. And I think that a, a big, you know, what we’re trying to do is not necessarily, is not about expressing our own opinions as much as it is, as it is reflecting the fact that there is an incredible diversity of opinion within Japan itself and diversity of you know, of, of both people groups and of political opinion, political thought or, or lack of political thought and that diversity within Japan, that’s the most important thing I think that we try to stress with unseen Japan in terms of the website in itself and in terms of people’s perception of unseen Japan. there still is this this belief that exists out on the other of Twitter that that unseen Japan is like, there is this person Unseen Japan like that.
There’s, there’s this guy, and I mean, of course the people are essentially imagining Jay. but even then the imagination of Jay is not the real one. There’s, there’s just this person named Unseen Japan that the people think exists out there. But the reality is that, you know, the word collective of authors and you know, people are involved with the site and there’s like, every, every one of our authors, like, they’re also incredibly, there’s also incredibly interesting, they all have specializations. they all are experts in, in something, and they all have topics that they really care about. and it’d be nice you know, I think that it’d be great if, if there was attention paid to the variety of authors that we have and to like, what makes each of them so special. So I hope the people have a chance, like when they’re reading our website to, you know, kind of pay attention to, to who’s maybe writing what you’re reading and maybe go into their backlog and check out, you know, like for example Nyri Bakkalian is one of our authors and you know she has a PhD in, in the history of the Boshin War and the history of, you know, like the, the war in the major era or that created the major era and especially a specialization in Northern Japan and Tohoku.
and that period. And the stuff that she writes is so interesting and from a very specialized background academically is sort of stuff that you really are gonna have a hard time finding written in English and especially not behind, you know, the paywall of some academic journal. and so there’s such amazing stuff to read there. and yeah, I hope people have a chance to really pick out your favorites amongst our authors and, and follow them individually as well. And beyond, just beyond just the the idea of the person on scene Japan,
Kalani Scarrott (48:45): It’s interesting cause it really does, it swings one way or the other. As soon as it’s a collective, people sort of get lost. But if it’s one person by themselves, people can really put ’em on a pedestal
Noah Oskow (48:54): Yeah. Put ’em on a pedestal.
Jay Allen (48:55): I know one’s putting me on a pedestal now. quite, I I think they’re trying to put me under the pedestal. Yeah.
Noah Oskow (49:02): I mean there, there’s an entire, there’s entire conspiracy theories about this person on scene. Japan conspiracy theories that combine aspects of myself and Jay. people really seem to have hard,
Jay Allen (49:14): I’m Jewish apparently.
Noah Oskow (49:16): Apparently you’re Jewish. Apparently you’re Jewish. And apparently I control the site and the entire site is my, my secret plan to distort the social fabric of Japan. So and I mean, there’s all these other theories and, and like complete misinformation regarding who this person on s Japan is both entertaining to a, to kind of encounter every once in a while. but, you know, it’s a little bit frustrating. It’s one of those things where you see somebody saying something that is just so unbelievably ridiculous and you wanna jump in. But getting involved in that sort of stuff in Twitter is just not, not the right decision to make. So, yeah, I hope, I hope people can be more aware of the reality behind our very recognizable avatar. Yeah.
Kalani Scarrott (50:01): Yeah. I’m very conscious of your time, so I’ll give one last question, but undervalued life experience, especially for young people. So what do you think is a skill or experience that you think young people should have?
Noah Oskow (50:09): Yeah. I’ll just jump in really quickly. I’ll, I’ll say something that, you know, I think is very stereotypical for me to say, but I really hope people have the chance to especially in this pandemic era where it has become much more difficult to, to travel and to meet people and to have these kind of intercultural experiences. I think for young people it’s extremely important to be able to get out there and to, to experience the world and to experience how other people live and to experience other people’s perspectives. the first time I came to Japan was as a home stay student in high school. so I actually I was able to come to Japan. I went to high school here for about three months. I lived with a, a Japanese house family. you know, I spoke English maybe three times over the course of that, the, that three month period.
And it was incredible. I mean, that was really like the beginning of my real experience with this country. You know, the real experience, not, not just kind of imagining it from afar via the lens of media, via the lens of Annie Mae. although I was, I was pretty surprised to experience just how much Japanese High school resembles certain aspects of Anime. I mean, it’s being reproduced in a, a somewhat faithful way in kind of, in a surprising sense actually. but that was I think probably a very life changing experience for me. I think that that really grounded my appreciation for people in Japan and for the country itself in a, in a real way. And I’m sure that if I had not had that experience and then also had the experience of being here in college, you know, my life would be completely different. and I think that having that opportunity, whether or not it, it leads to, you know, many decades of translation career and, and writing professionally about a country. I mean, I think it just has a very positive impact. And I hope that even in the current era that we find ourselves in, that young people are still able to go out and experience the world and see people who, who maybe lead different lives than they do and, and find that common ground. Yeah. and
Jay Allen (52:12): Jay, I guess my primary piece of advice would be learn to communicate. You know, learn to write, learn to present your ideas. I think that is something that I see a lot of people coming out of universities, and they might be very good at, you know, what they studied, you know, in terms of, you know, like if they study technology or business or whatnot. but kind of fall down in that like communication piece. And I think most of what we get done, nobody does anything particularly in this day and age, in a vacuum or solely by themselves. You know, you have to work with other people. And a cornerstone of other people is being able to communicate well with them. A cornerstone of getting your own ideas out into the world is being, to learning to communicate the value of them, and learning to think about when you, or successfully communication, you’re also thinking about how is this going to come across to other people, you know, what are other people interested in? Am I seeing something that they’re going to be interested in, that they want to hear, that they’ll hear, that they’ll understand the, and see the value of. So when you learn to communicate, you learn to think about more than just yourself and think about the people around you as well.
Kalani Scarrott (53:29): Oh, I love those two answers. So Noah, Jay, thank you so much for coming on today. Anything you wanna plug? Obviously the website, the Patreon and the YouTube, but yeah,
Noah Oskow (53:36): Yeah,
Jay Allen (53:37): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So Unseen Japan.com twitter @UnseenJapansite and youtube.com/c/unseenjapan I definitely, you, you get to one, I think you’ll just, you know, end up getting to the others as well. And if you love what we do, apps absolutely subscribe to our patron and help us do more of it.
Kalani Scarrott (53:58): Noah, anything else? Yeah,
Noah Oskow (53:59): I’ll just additionally plug you know, the, the YouTube once again you know, it’s been really exciting seeing the YouTube channel grow and have more interaction. And, you know, one of the, one of the best things as we talked about before as a content creator is getting some sort of feedback. so yeah, if people check out any of our videos please feel free to leave a comment. Let me know what you’re thinking about what we put out there or opinions about our historical topics or things that you might like us to cover. very interested in in going forward and continuing to pr provide content that people enjoy. So, yeah, and once again, yeah, thank you for, for having us done.
Jay Allen (54:38): Yeah, thank you very much.
Kalani Scarrott (54:40): Thank you. This is banger