Mutant Frog Travelogue is the blog of Adam Richards, Joe Jones and Roy Berman, three friends who met while studying in Japan. The eclectic subject matter includes posts on technology, law, culture, politics and plenty more. With the three writers living at various times in Japan, Thailand, the U.S. and Taiwan, their commentary has an international outlook. Recent posts have been as varied as the legal challenges of obtaining dual nationality; the Raelian group’s “adopt a clitoris” campaign; and the relationship between viewership figures for TV cartoon “Sazae-san” and the Japanese stock market performance.
Your topics are pretty diverse. Is there an overarching philosophy for the site?
Adam: The short answer is no. We simply write about whatever interests us. I tend to choose stuff that I am just interested in or that I think isn’t being covered well elsewhere. For me, it has played a role of trainer in that it gave me a lot of practice translating. There is no way I could have had a career as a translator without it.
Roy: There have never been any set guidelines for topics, which is one reason I’ve never changed the name to be more descriptive. Since all three of us have lived in Japan, that’s naturally a focus, but I haven’t ever been interested in running a blog specifically about Japan.
What do you think keeps readers loyal to Mutant Frog?
Joe: I think we’re straightforward. We aren’t the Nikkei or the Asahi Shimbun or even the Japan Times. We don’t pretend to be much more than a few guys blabbing about Japan and Asia and whatever else comes up in our minds. We keep our sense of humor going. There’s definitely an audience for that sort of content. I think many bloggers try to turn themselves into mainstream media outlets without really considering what makes blogs popular in the first place: character, distinctiveness and conversation.
Adam: I don’t know if “loyal readers” is a defining aspect of Mutant Frog. Like many blogs we are either viewed in passing as people search Google for “Japan Akihabara” or placed in RSS readers for idle perusal. But we do have a core set of commenters and a few hundred people who seem to read every post.
Roy: I would say that the reason loyal readers keep coming back is largely for the discussions. I think we tend to either emphasize things that are left out of the mainstream media, or at least get into interesting discussions about things that are covered elsewhere.
Which posts have proven the most popular?
Adam: Overwhelmingly, the ones about sex generate the most hits, especially the ones I have done about an underage idol named Saaya Irie.
Roy: Our series of posts on the PSE law affecting the sale of used electronics got a significant amount of attention around the Net. We get a creepy amount of Google hits from people seemingly looking for porn with unexpected combinations of keywords. Anything on controversial history topics, colonialism or racism is likely to get a fair number of comments. Possibly the most links and hits we ever got for a single post was for some scans of the fake Harry Potter sequels I picked up on a trip in China, which I put online just as the last book was being published, because despite hundreds of newspaper articles on these fake sequels over the years, I had amazingly never seen a single picture of them online. I think traffic has been fairly slow lately. It’s probably due to a period late last year when we almost completely shut down for a couple of months. The link blogs probably forgot about us then.
It’s most satisfying when I see that people are really interested in something I translated that they couldn’t have gotten elsewhere, like when I translate analysis of the Japanese animation industry. It’s hardly as attention-getting as fake Harry Potter books, but it gets us a lot of hits since the articles are usually posted on all the anime news sites and forums.
Do you see blogging as a hobby or does it relate to your other work?
Joe: I have dabbled in professional-related blogging with a Japan Law Blog, but it’s difficult to balance that sort of content with the demands of a Real Job. That is especially my concern as a lawyer, since my professional interests largely correlate with what I’m doing at work, and there is always a risk that my posts will be misconstrued as subtle leaks of client information. So I prefer to “play it safe” and focus on topics I find interesting but don’t explore during office hours.
Any advice for wannabe bloggers?
Joe: Anyone can blog. It’s a great hobby and also a great way to meet people. I knew I had arrived when a random guy pointed me out in Shibuya and said, “Hey, you’re the guy from Mutant Frog!” We’re nowhere near celebrities, of course, but we’ve found a little corner of the Internet all our own, and it really helps bring us closer to people we otherwise might not meet–which is always a great thing in Tokyo.
Adam: I feel like the “golden age” of blogging, in which it seemed like people could make a living off of the ad revenue generated by your random thoughts, is long over. Any wannabe blogger will have to realize that the effort will probably only find a very limited audience, and that audience won’t always be welcome. Also, if you feel like you have a pretty busy schedule already, then maybe it’s not a good idea to devote time that would be used at some other pursuit, such as real life friends or actual professional writing. I got the most out of blogging when I was a freelancer and had a lot of downtime between projects. But I also lost a lot of hours that could maybe have been better spent.
Finally, what’s the story behind the blog’s name?
Adam: This one is for Roy as it has been his user name. I think it is role-playing related.
Roy: No, it’s not role-playing related. It’s just an old online handle I used as a teenager. I had registered the domain a couple of years before starting the blog in case I wanted to make a personal Web site, and I just ended up using it as a default. I’m afraid there’s no significance whatsoever to the name.