Japanese News Site Review: Unseen Japan

By | October 30, 2019

Earlier this year Jay Allen from the site Unseen Japan emailed me asking if I was interested in writing content for his website. After some discussion and thought I decided on declining for the time being, however as a token of thanks for taking the trouble to reach out to me I offered to write a review about Unseen Japan. He asked about compensation for the article, but I said I would do it free of charge (it’s more unbiased this way, anyway).

Unseen Japan’s tagline is “The Japan you don’t learn about in anime,” which is not only easy to remember, but accurately captures what this site is about. The posts are fairly long and generally go into pretty good depth about topics relating to Japanese people, history, and culture. A glance through some of the past articles of the last year shows themes such as food, economics, politics, the elderly, womens’ issues (rights, etc.), and ninjas (?)––though by no means is this a comprehensive list. For example, here is one good article about the different types of restaurants in Japan, especially helpful to those considering traveling there. (OK, I admit the ninja articles weren’t that common, with only two I saw in the last year or so, but they stood out…)

All the articles I read were well-written and managed to tackle complex content in an interesting way with a professional tone. While I didn’t spend time doing formal checking, I didn’t see any typos or awkward grammar. There was one Japanese word that seemed odd to me, but when I double checked it was in fact correct. (Update: when I was nearly finished writing this article I did find one potential mistake on one the recent articles, but it was a very minor punctuation thing.)

The handful of staff writers for Unseen Japan (including Jay himself) on the whole have impressive credentials, whether it is experience living in Japan, working as a translator/interpreter, or having their writing published. Because of this, I would trust the authenticity of the content more than your average news site that happens to talk about Japan.

Besides a large base of past articles, there is also a bunch of paid content available via Patreon. While I didn’t read any of the paid content, I don’t have any reason to believe it is more of the same high-quality news stories.

The visual design of the site is pretty nice––not what I would call creative but definitely functional, and better than some other Japanese- or Japan-related sites I’ve seen that were maintained by individuals. The main page is a little busy, but this is pretty typical for news sites so I can’t really count it against them.

I don’t have too much to complain about this site except to say I wish that it would have a few more articles about authors or works of Japanese literature, especially since Jay’s bio says he has been into J-Lit lately. Having said that, I can see how it makes more sense to put effort into hot political topics instead, at least in terms of perceived popularity. Having run Self Taught Japanese for several years now, I have a deep understanding of the balance between articles that I personally enjoy writing and those that others will likely appreciate. That conjures up the Japanese word 痛感 (tsuukan), which literally means “painfully feel” and would apply well to this situation.

Oh, I thought of another nitpick: while I love the site’s name and tagline, the weird logo image of the Samurai (?) just has to go (笑). Also, the “Support us on Patron!” image has some issues with framing and contrast. But these things stand out even more because the site as a whole looks pretty good.

I would recommend this site not just for those interested in Japanese culture, but for those studying Japanese because the articles (written in English) frequently throw in Japanese words in both native kana as well as romaji, and sometimes there are English translations of quotes. I saw a reference to at least one article about Japanese phrases in the paid content, and I assume there are others. The site also has a forum that seems pretty active and has some threads about Japanese learning.

I’ll admit that I don’t read any news site very frequently, but when I do have a craving for Japanese-related news Unseen Japan is top on my list. No matter how much you think you know about Japan, it’s scary how much stuff there is that you don’t know (especially if you’ve never lived there).

In closing, I’d like to wish Jay the best of luck with his site. It looks like they have gathered a pretty large following and are even planning on releasing a book. I’m honored that I was suggested as someone who can help build content for this great news site and I hope someday I can do that.

(If you are interested in being a writer for Unseen Japan you can check out this page)

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