Site review: BFF Tokyo

By | July 1, 2019

Recently I was contacted by the owner of the website BFF Tokyo, and I ended up offering to do a review of his site. The site is relatively new and I will keep that in mind while writing the review.

In case you didn’t know, “BFF” stands for “Best Friends Forever”, and while this expression has been around for quite awhile it seems to have increased popularity of late, appearing in unexpected places.

BFF Tokyo’s mission statement is pretty well written so I’ll quote it here to start things off:

We are the site for getting information on how to learn Japanese, finding a job or apartment, and other things to make your life in Tokyo enjoyable.

Look and Feel

The website seems to be run on a relatively low budget as evidenced by the simple layout and design. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and low-budget sites can have really good content.

A minor annoyance of the site is that at first glance I couldn’t tell if some of the links were ads from 3rd party sites or instead associated with the site itself. The images below the “Work in Tokyo” section on the main page are one example of this. On inspection, it seems like the latter. I think part of the reason I felt this way was the usage of young women in some of the pictures, but as that is a pretty effective marketing technique there is nothing wrong with employing it (to a certain extent).

Design-wise, the top portion of the website feels like it could use some work, mainly because of all the wasted space on either side of the square-shaped logo. The banner itself is quite tall, and on my computer takes up roughly 30-40% of the entire screen space (before scrolling downwards). There are some other minor issues with the design:

  • Yellow text color against a white background is hard to read in some places
  • Image(s) are too big to fit on the screen (like on the top of the “Work” page), though this could be purposeful
  • The “Ultimate Guide for Visas to Japan” image on main page is larger than other images on the same line
  • There is an error about not finding any posts on the bottom of the page, even though I didn’t search for anything.

Another minor annoyance is how the pages tend to pretty long––I measured one as having around 40 pages worth of content (meaning it took 40 page down presses to get to the bottom). I realize that this technique helps with search engine indexing, but personally I prefer more bite-sized pages that are to the point and link to other relevant pages.

Editing Quality and Tone

Before I talk about the content itself, I wanted to say a word about the editing quality, writing style, and overall tone. I have not read every word on the site, so please keep in mind my feedback is based on the portions I did read.

The general style of the content is somewhat informal, written with what sounds like spoken language. In a few places it is pretty extreme, like when the phrase “damn…” is used in a subtitle. The advantage of this is that things are generally easy to understand, but in exchange the quality of the prose can be lacking in a few areas. One problem is that sentences and titles can sometimes be unnecessarily long and awkward-sounding. One example of a particularly awkward section subtitle is:

You do not like your job because you did not do enough research before you signed the contract

Even in this case, it gets across the point well enough, so it’s hard to consider this a major flaw of the site.

The tone of some of the content on this site is somewhat aggressive, in the sense that they are really trying to convince you their site is awesome. For example:

This is the ultimate guide to make Japanese friends and we are not kidding.

While personally I am not sure if I would ever say “my blog is the best Japanese learning blog” (even I genuinely felt that it was), there is something to be said for this type of in-your-face attitude. I definitely prefer it to the opposite extreme whereby a site is self-deprecating (ex: “This site kind of sucks, but why don’t you try reading it?”). If the site looked a little more professional I think this attitude would be more compelling, however.

In terms of overall editing quality, it’s a mixed bag. Here are a few issues I found:

  • Grammar errors: “This Guide Had 3 Main Sections” (italics mine)
  • Inconsistent capitalization in section subtitles, inconsistent spacing below various titles
  • Inconsistent use of “we” vs. “I” in the articles
  • Punctuation errors (ex: “Roundtrip ticket; 4000 yen”)
  • I found at least one page where the top banner was missing (https://www.bfftokyo.com/7924-2/), though this item probably belongs in my “Look and Feel” subsection above.

Content

Let’s face it, most (if not all) of you reading this article care more about the content than the presentation or minor editing issues, the latter which may even be fixed by the time you read this.

BFF Tokyo is broken into “Language”, “Lifestyle”, and “Work” sections. “Language” is the one I can best comment on since, after all, one of the main purposes of the blog you are reading now is learning a foreign language. The main page on language (here) has a good amount of content, around 20 pages worth. It focuses on high-level topics such as learning vocabulary, learning to read, or learning to speak better. There are a few “guide” pages that go into more detail on topics like learning vocabulary.

I read through some of these pages and agreed with a majority of the content, though it’s clear it is targeting mostly beginner level students. If you are a beginner (say, with less than one year experience in Japanese), I think there’s a good chance you’ll learn some helpful tips from BFF Tokyo’s language pages.

I do have two minor issues with the content about learning Japanese. One is that the site has a few screenshots of using Google for word lookup. Generally I’ve seen Google to be quite bad at its own word lookup (I’m not talking about sites in the results, which of course are often useful), so I wouldn’t recommend using Google this way. Any proper dictionary, either online or printed, would probably be better than Google.

The other is that the site uses at least one example in Japanese that was translated from original English text. You can see the reference here (search for the word アップル), the source here, and the original article in English here. When studying Japanese I think there is some value in using English translations of something originally written in Japanese but generally I don’t suggest the reverse unless you are trying to brush up on a domain that has very few things in Japanese.

One of the focuses of STJ, grammar, isn’t discussed much on BFF Tokyo, but I think that is an active decision due to their teaching style and target demographics. Having said that, as I have emphasized in a few posts I think grammar is one of the most important fundamentals of learning a foreign language so I would make sure you spend sufficient time on learning it.

I glanced through the “Lifestyle” and “Work” sections, and from what I see the content is pretty solid there, for example their Guide to Visas has a lot of nice detail. My main issue here is that there is just not that much content, take the “Lifestyle” section that has only three total articles. But I assume more will be added over time.

One good thing to know is that the author of the site has apparently lived in Japan for a long time, so I think it’s safe to assume his information about work and lifestyle is pretty accurate.

Summary

BFF Tokyo has some good high-level content on learning Japanese for beginners, and also some helpful information about life and work in Japan. Putting minor visual and editing concerns aside, my biggest issue with the site is there just isn’t enough content (and it doesn’t seem to be updated that frequently) to make anyone want to keep coming back for more on a frequent basis.

A final doubt is why this site was named “BFF Tokyo” instead of “BFF Japan” since only a small part of the site seems to be about Tokyo specifically (part of the work section). Perhaps it is because somebody has already taken “BFF Japan”?

To close, I’d like to thank the author of BFF Tokyo for introducing me to his site, and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!

(Have a Japanese-learning site you want me to review? Let me know in the comments.)

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