Yes folks, Sunday means ‘interview’ here on Andy’s World Journeys and this time I’m ‘chatting’ with friend and fellow blogger, Lynda Hogan. Lynda hails from Ireland but lives in Saitama, Japan hence my incredibly corny title for the this post (sorry Lynda!). Lynda’s blog details all the things there are to do in Saitama, and as such is a great source of knowledge for anyone who’s planning a trip to Japan. She’s also a mum, and has that in mind in many instances when she blogs. So let’s begin!
- Hi there. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Would you mind starting by telling us who you are and where you’re from, and of course the name of your blog?
Thanks for asking me to do one of your interviews, Andy. I have enjoyed reading the series and found some other bloggers to follow. I am originally from Ireland but living in Japan long term. Its twenty years almost to the day since I first came to Japan. I live in Saitama Prefecture, just North West of Tokyo, with my Japanese husband and four children aged between five and eleven years old. When I am not blogging, I am chef, cleaner, laundromat, counsellor, taxi driver…CEO of aforementioned children and husband! When I find the time, I write for a few of the larger Japan travel / expat websites too. I am also the keeper of insaitama.com, a blog about the prefecture I live in. Although just North West of Tokyo, it is relatively unknown and largely underrated particularly with overseas travellers.
- When did you start your blog and why did you decide to start a travel blog?
I started the blog in 2006. Can you believe it!? But for the first two years it was on blogger. I moved it to WordPress in 2008 so that is the date I generally go by. Its changed a lot in the last 12 years, including various name changes and quite a swing in direction too. When I started the blog it was a general “life in Japan” type blog. I had blogged in a professional capacity between 2002 and 2005. I guess I was missing that routine of writing.
The blog didn’t become a travel blog until 2012. I was on bedrest while pregnant with my third child. I decided I wanted to make use of my time, although confined to bed for three months. It felt like the right time to put more than an occasional random post on the blog. At the same time, I was also researching all the places I wanted to bring the kids after I got off bedrest. We were always a very active, out and about family, but until that point we hadn’t ventured further than the surrounding cities. I discovered literally hundreds of really cool places in Saitama during that time. 99.9% of them had no information in English anywhere online. (Insert light bulb flashing here!) On a hunch I searched for all the places we had visited to date and found they too had no English information online. While on bedrest I wrote up as many articles about the places we had visited. And in the last eight years we have been going through that long list of “want to visit” places I found those three months on bedrest.
- What do you like to write about and why?
My objective lately is to showcase both the best of Saitama and off the tourist trail spots in the prefecture. Saitama Prefecture has a bad reputation in Japan. It is nicknamed Dasaitama. A play on “dasai” which means lame, and the prefecture name. It is a reputation it does not deserve. Saitama has so much to offer and something for all types of travellers. I write about all the places we have visited in the prefecture and occasionally about other prefectures too. We are nature lovers so you will find a lot of outdoor locations on the blog, but I also share information for museums, restaurants, sports centres, play centres, even malls. I added an event calendar in 2017 which has proved a huge traffic driver. I share information for all the larger events in the prefecture, even though many of them I have not been to myself.
- What advice would give to someone just starting out blogging?
Don’t be disheartened! A blog is hard work. I think it is even harder now than it was when I started out, because the market is practically saturated. There were fewer bloggers and a stronger community when I started out. Without the community and with the increase in the number of blogs it is harder to get readership. Competition is fierce. But if you have something original to offer, or an original spin on an age-old topic, a bit of hard work, commitment and perseverance will eventually pay off. It will just take some time and patience. Success rarely happens overnight unless you manage to go viral within a month of starting off. Blog frequently, be original, give as much practical information as possible, be flexible, stay true to yourself and most importantly get something out of it for yourself. If you are not getting something out of your blog – and I don’t necessarily mean blog traffic – I personally don’t think there is much of a point. It might be a way of chronicling a time in your life, or maybe a way to unwind…to be productive, to challenge yourself, keep up your writing skills, showcase your photography, connect with others… whatever the reason, so long as you are getting something out of your blog for you it is worth dedicating the energy and hours.
- What is the hardest thing about running a travel blog?
For me personally it is the location. Between the bad reputation of this prefecture and the fact it is not on the radar for overseas travellers, I have had my work cut out for me. If you are blogging about somewhere like Tokyo or Osaka you will get a certain amount of traffic daily regardless of how good or bad your content is. Not only because there is interest from international travellers, but also because the number of English speaking expats in the areas is high. But when you are writing about somewhere like Saitama it is that bit harder.
- How has your world changed due to Covid-19? What restrictions are in place where you are right now?
In terms of the blog, traffic went down 60% between February and June. Thankfully, it has improved since July and this month it looks like traffic will be on par with pre-Covid readership. That is largely thanks to life going back to almost normal in Japan. People started going out and about again in July. A larger than normal percentage of my readers in the past month are living in Japan. So one good that has come out of Covid-19 for the blog is that I have increased local readership. Meanwhile, international traffic has suffered. I am optimistic it will come back now that Japan is opening its borders again.
- How do you think travel will change due to the pandemic?
I don’t like to think about this too much, because it might put me off international travel indefinitely. When I travel abroad, I am solo with four young children. Unfortunately, I think that travel with children is going to be a nightmare for many years yet. I envision extra checks at immigration for the foreseeable future. Having to queue up to get temperature checked, filling out forms, providing proof of PCR tests multiplied by five (me and the four kids) is just going to add more stress to the journey.
- What place would you really like to visit and why?
We were supposed to go to Spain this summer with my whole Irish family. Thankfully I hadn’t bought the plane tickets yet and the hotel was booked on Hotels.com with a free cancellation. My siblings and parents had their trip cancelled by the travel agency. So none of us were out of pocket. I hope that we get to do that trip another time. However, as I have been to Spain almost 20 times in my life, I would also like to go to somewhere new. One of my sisters lives in Melbourne. I day-dream about her family and mine meeting for a relaxing beach holiday in Bali, where we can shake off our Covid-19 stresses with pampering galore!
- Lynda you blog mostly from and about Saitama where you live. How did you come to live there and what is so special about this part of Japan?
Smiles. Some stories are not for the public eye! To give you an answer, but not the full one – I came to live in Saitama, because of my husband. Someday I will tell you the full version over a pint in real life Andy. Saitama is special because it has all the quintessentially Japanese attractions and then some. The prefecture has flatlands and mountains, city scapes and nature scapes, national treasures and contemporary accolades, ancient buildings and modern architecture, traditional Japanese activities as well as modern ones etc etc There are things you can / do find in this prefecture that are not easily found in other prefectures. For example, Saitama has the only Bonsai village in all of Japan, the only nikuman museum in Japan, the only kabazakura (type of cherry blossom) in the whole world, the Sayama Hills that inspired My Neighbor Totoro, we are home to the only Moomin theme park outside of Finland… I could go on and on. Stop by the blog and you’ll see for yourself why Saitama is a special part of Japan!
- Please recommend three posts from your blog you’d like people to read (and why!)
To show just how unjustly underrated Saitama is and also showcase the type of off the beaten path places I share, I’d like people to read about the Senbonzakura of Higashichichibu. Senbonzakura means a thousand cherry blossoms. But at Senbonzakura in Higashichichibu there are TWO THOUSAND cherry blossoms. On a mountainside. It is insanely stunning and yet until I wrote about it on my blog, no English information about it online. And even little about it in Japanese. Check it out here.
Toryu Bridge also showcases the type of off the beaten path stunning scenes you can find in Saitama. Recently on a Facebook group the photos from this post have received the most attention of any photos I’ve ever shared, so your readers might enjoy the photos if nothing else! The post also links to event information for the naturally formed icicles that you can see in this area every winter. Take me there!
You can find plenty of information online in English about the Sayama Hills – the location well-known to be the inspiration for the Ghibli movie “My Neighbor Totoro”. However, there is still little online about the House of Kurosuke that houses a life-sized Totoro as well as paraphernalia and diorama from the movie. This is one of my all-time best performing blog posts! All the details here.
- Finally, how can people find you on the net and social media? Please include blog address, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and any other channels you use.
- Finally (again!) what are you hoping or dreaming for in 2021?
I doubt my answer is original – all I hope for 2021 is a cure / vaccine / miraculous disappearance of Covid-19.
A HUGE thankyou to Lynda this week for this amazing interview, please do follow and support her blog of course! Thanks to YOU for reading as well. Take care and…. oh yeah, May the Journey Never End!