My Life as a Gaijin and Kimono Reincarnate are two different blogs written by Melanie Gray Augustin. The former centers around the experiences of an Australian native living and teaching English in a foreign land, while the latter offers a taste of her artistic interests and entrepreneurial efforts selling creations made from kimono fabric. Having first moved to Japan in 1999, Melanie returned to Australia after living in Japan for three years. “The whole four years living back in Australia, I pined for Japan, and wanted to come back again,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. Returning in 2006 with her husband, she began blogging My Life as a Gaijin and Kimono Reincarnate. Recently, Melanie took some time to share with us her appreciation for Japanese design, how to incorporate a blog into e-commerce, and her love of shoes.
What was your inspiration to start blogging?
I started two blogs at the same time, both for different reasons.
My Life as a Gaijin began as an extension of a manuscript I’ve been working on for longer than I’d like to admit. I wanted it to be a reminder to myself to write as well as in the hope that someone other than myself and my husband would read what I’m writing.
Kimono Reincarnate started out life as a place to feature ways that kimono fabric was being used in different creative ways. At that time, I had a huge collection of fabrics but was still trying to pluck up the courage to cut into them. The Kimono Reincarnate blog is now more a vehicle for showing my creative pursuits and inspirations.
What is it about Japanese themed crafts that you enjoy so much?
There’s such a sophistication and elegance in Japanese design, but I think that for me, my fascination has a lot to do with the colour. It may sound strange, but it was during my first trip to Japan when I fell in love with colour. Before then I had been a photographer who mostly worked in black and white. In Japan, there is such a celebration of the seasons and in life in general with all the festivals and I think a lot of that is reflected into their sense of design.
You sell Japanese fabrics and your own crafts on three different sites. How does the Kimono Reincarnate blog fit in?
For the eBay store, I think it has helped my existing customers know more about me, life in Japan and how obsessed I truly am about the fabrics I sell. The Etsy store is still a baby and the blog was a fabulous place to get the word out that I am now in that huge marketplace.
How have you fared in the world of e-commerce?
Quite well. I haven’t made my fortune yet, but while doing it part-time, it brings in some nice pocket money. Sales each week really reflect how much time and energy I’ve had to put into the store the week before. It’s nice to know that I’m working at building something that will allow me to work from home when I have children in the future.
Any tips for the e-seller looking to expand into blogging?
Don’t hesitate, do it, but be sincere about it! It’s not only a great marketing tool, but also expands your community. A decent percentage of my customers are either blog readers or fellow bloggers, especially my Etsy customers to date. As a shopper, I find that a lot of my online shopping is heavily influenced by things I’ve seen on other people’s blogs.
Do your blog topics arise out of inspiration or do you have a method?
It’s mostly whatever is in my head at the time. I have to confess to blogging a lot more in my head than actually on the Web. I’m trying to now write myself little notes and record those ideas to go back and write when I have the time. I also play a weekly meme game called “This is . . . “. Each Sunday there is a new theme to post about. It’s a fun deadline to work to and is often something that I may not normally think to write about.
What are some ways that you’ve tried to increase your readership?
My readership growth has mostly been organic. I think the most important thing, especially in the early days of a new blog, is to comment on other people’s blogs. Usually, if you have something interesting to contribute, people will want to see who you are.
And then, there’s links. I have links on some of my images on Flickr if the photo relates to something I’ve written about. Both of my blogs are linked to each other and much of my traffic flows from one to the other. There are links in my email signature and on my eBay and Etsy stores.
I do feel like I should do more. Someday I will go onto sites like StumbleUpon, Digg and Twitter. I also should post more regularly. But at the same time, I don’t want my blogs to feel forced or fake, or for them to feel like they are “work”. They are something that I do for fun and to communicate with and contribute to the gaijin and crafting communities. The marketing side of them is a bonus.
Is there a particular type of post that gets a big response from your readers?
The posts I’ve had the largest amount of traffic and comments on are definitely when I have a giveaway going. After that, it’s the personal posts, whether it be something that I’ve made or something about my life.
Managing two blogs and all the shops must make your life quite hectic. How do you stay on top of everything?
Some days, not as well as I’d like. But for the most part, all of them are an extension of myself and my passions so they have just become a normal part of my life. I’m lucky to be in a day job that I leave at five, have weekends off and lots of holidays. I don’t think I could do it all with a more demanding job.
Often it’s balancing the other parts of my life that falls by the wayside. Luckily I have a wonderful, supportive husband that helps with that side of things. When I’m super focused and lost in my own little world, he makes sure that I’m fed and reminds me to take care of myself.
What’s with the shoe obsession?
You mean other than the fact that I’m a girl? Living in Japan and being a curvy western woman, I can’t buy many clothes. I compensate by buying shoes, hair accessories and bags. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, there will be some very exciting shoe related news on my blog.
The Japan blog community seems a close knit one. Any particular favorites or maybe just a shout out?
La Fuji Mama is a favorite and the only one that really crosses over to the categories of both blogs. She’s a creative woman who until very recently was living in Tokyo. She’s also the first blogger I met face-to-face. There are so many other great blogs on both of my blogrolls.
Where do you see the future of blogging headed (for you and in general)?
I think that in our busy lives, it is, and is going to continue to be, a new way of connecting with like-minded people, and not just online. I recently met with Fuji Mama and have plans to meet with more in the future, both in Japan and Australia. I’ve noticed that that is happening a lot more recently.
So you are allowed only enough bandwidth to have one blog, which blog would consume the other?
It would be Kimono Reincarnate because that is the direction my future is heading. I’m not actually sure what I’ll do with the My Life as a Gaijin blog when I move back to Australia next year. I dream that one day the My Life as a Gaijin manuscript will be finished and published, so that would tie up that blog very nicely indeed.