Where do you originate from?
Hello! I'm Australian. From Melbourne, actually.
I'm the oldest of four girls. We lived in a lovely green suburb outside of Melbourne that used to be considered a bit far out of town but I'm pretty sure it isn't anymore! I'd love to say that I grew up beside the beach like most people like to think all of us Aussies do but Melbourne's famous for having weather that often decides to change its mind throughout the day.
Did you always have a love of Japan? Do you remember the moment that inspired you to move to Japan?
I kind of .. well..kind of ....fell into it all. When I started my first year of high school it was compulsory to learn a language for two years - then you could decide whether or not you would continue with it after that.
My school offered Japanese and French and, especially at that time, Japanese made a lot more sense to me as Australia had lots of trade ties with Japan. In fact, a few years later our career counselors were even hinting that even having Beginner Level Japanese on our first real resumes would make us more employable.
So ...yes... long story short... I really liked it and I had a great language teacher who said I had nice intonation for a beginner...and blah blah blah... I kind of decided that I would go with it! I did a few state language competitions through school and then I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship to live in Japan as an exchange student for one year. I was delighted and terrified when I was accepted! So off I went to Kurashiki in Okayama (properly proper Japanese countryside - I'm talking rice fields the whole lot) for a year at the age of 16!
I had a fabulous time, don't get me wrong. It was an invaluable experience. But I also think it is why I will never, ever, EVER downplay it when I meet someone in Japan who is right in the midst of culture shock. Its a really horrible feeling and makes you question a lot about yourself and just the basic, everyday things you do and the reactions you have. I'm kind of lucky that I got it all (and I feel like a smack-bang got whacked in the face kind of got it!) out of the way so early.
I revisited Kurashiki recently with my Hubby and kiddies and I actually felt really proud of myself after seeing that quaint and very traditional town. My husband was surprised too. He was like "Whoa...there really isn't ANY English here, is there!?" (So I relished in feeling like a hero for as long as I could.) I just remember one of my first nights there and my Mum called to see how I was going and it was in the middle of dinner. I said, "I'm great!" (then burst into tears), "But my dinner is a whole fish and the eye keeps looking at me…."
How did you end up back in Japan?
After that time in Kurashiki, I went back to OZ, finished high school, went to Uni - but I sort of flip-flopped around not really sure exactly what I wanted to do but Japan and Japanese was always the constant. I wanted to get back to Japan and especially as an adult this time. Home stay was sooo amazing and I really got to get my brain around real Japan but I was also fantastic to be Japanese during the day but be 100 % me once the sun went down.
So I did a working holiday in Japan and taught English to kiddies in the morning and language school at night. This was in Kobe in the Kansai area of Japan. I then got a job with an International Ballet school where I started off looking after ballet students who were training to be professionals and then quickly moved into full-time cultural & language support for the teachers - who were all from English speaking countries. I then moved onto working for the Japanese hotel chain Okura.
I met my husband in Kobe and although we moved around and have done some other overseas expat roles together I've always worked in a Japanese speaking environment so I was naturally thrilled when we found out he had been offered a role in Tokyo when I was pregnant with my second child.
What inspired you to start blogging?
Because, even though I've gone back and forth, I've been in Japan such a long time (over 11 years now) I was the person a lot of friends would ask for tips and tricks before they were coming to visit. I was almost always writing the same things out again and again and the level of detail varied depending on how busy I was that particular day.
I'm just so madly in love with Japan that I was sad when I heard that people had the money or wanted to really get into 'the thick of it' but just didn't know where to go. And then... I had my own personal instagram account where I started showing people the places that were particularly good for taking kids and talked about my frustrations when I came to adjusting to a new way of getting around with children (my youngest was just 4 months when we arrived in Tokyo.)
There are lots of Mums, like me, who want to do fun things for kids but ALSO want to mix it up with cool things for them too - that's how I pretty much always plan out our adventures. Kiddie stuff, kiddie stuff, Me stuff, Me stuff, Kiddie stuff.
I was doing all of this research in English and Japanese to plan out my own days and I thought it might help others. And I got a really big response. A big response from young women without any children who wanted to know where I'd taken that cool shot or eaten that meal ...and then also from Mums who were just like me, who didn't want to just stick to the easy completely English-friendly spots - they wanted to get out there, see cool things and have proper, exciting adventures as a family. I liked the idea of not just saying, 'Here is this cool park', but going to the next step and saying, 'And then after the park , go around the corner and there is this cool shop to get this funky coffee ... and if the kids get bored on the way home? Stop off here, here and here!' I've had such an amazing response and I've met some truly spectacular people . It's been such a pleasure.
Your blog and social media channels very much feature you and your family. How do you find the confidence to get up close and personal with your audience?
Do I seem confident? Well that's a bonus. I think the brilliant response I have had has made me want to keep posting and making quality, detailed content. My readers aren't silly. They know how to get themselves and their family from A to B once they are aware of what's out there, so I didn't feel the need to walk them through the towns but just give as many interesting options as I could.
I think I'm confident with what I'm sharing because it's real. It's my real life right now. My kids won't be this little forever but this is me ACTUALLY looking for a cool place to have lunch after the park. I'm also fine to post a picture or video of my kids having a meltdown. That's also real life (ha ha). I remember last year I took a video of my kids when we were on a Ferris wheel right next to Mt. Fuji. The view was STUNNING! BREATHTAKING! I turned the camera to the kidlets “Check that out, guys!", I said. And my youngest said, “Let’s go back to the car!!!!!!”
I was a bit cocky when we moved to Tokyo with kids at the start. I was like, "This is going to be sooo easy for me. I speak Japanese and I know the whole 'Japan drill'". But ... no I got a shock! Not because it's difficult to live here with kids (in fact the opposite) but there are different types of obstacles compared to other international cities.
So what's next for The Tokyo Chapter?
Ooohhhh .... well the most immediate plans are to write a lot more things that are geared towards people without kids (does that sound like the best excuse to go on more date nights that you've ever heard?) while keeping up my Tokyo with Kids content.
Of course, I'd love to work more with Japanese event planners and eateries to let them know that they are missing a big space in the market by not making all of their restaurants more accessible for young families. And also just letting people know that there are international people here who are adventurous and are foodies and are loving Japan and are wanting to delve deeper into the real Japan. I'm also hoping to start up a blog, or at least an Instagram, in Japanese with the same themes and vibe that I have going right now. Further down the track I'd love to have some Tokyo Chapter events but that's all just little dreams on a Pinterest board for now.
Your branding is on-point. Before we finish, can you give us three quick tips to creating a cohesive brand?
Oh thank you. I'm still learning as I go.
1 I think what has worked for me so far is REALLY KNOWING MY AUDIENCE. I'm lucky because it's quite easy for me as it's basically just... me! Well, me if I hadn't been here before and didn't speak the language.
My reader is outgoing and adventurous and wants to see all of the cool stuff and make spectacular memories. If she's a Mum? Well, she would walk on fire for her babies so wants them safe and smiling. She wants to see them really experience this country - wholeheartedly. I have lots of women responding to my posts who are writing to me and telling me what they wish they could do or sharing with me something cool they have found. They are also happy to share what didn't work for them and my mind is opened up again. I actually have 3-4 of my friends who read and follow my content who I have in mind when I'm posting on Instagram or writing an article and I think, 'Is this how I would tell them the details in real life?' and then I try to stick with my most natural ‘voice’.
2. CONSISTENT FLOW & DESIGN
If you've looked at my blog or Instagram you'll see right away that I'm a visual person. I like to make sure my photograph colours are bright and my fonts and messages are quite girlie (I've always been a really girlie girl) So my theming is broad but I'd like to think that people could see one of my posts and have a good stab in the dark guess that it was from me.
3. My final of the three (I'm not even sure if this is usually included as a part of branding but it's something that has surprised me in how effective it has been) is ... CONSISTENCY And, this time, I don't mean from a design perspective. I mean that it's about showing up and showing people that you're serious and committed to truly detailed posts with the reader in mind. People start Instagram accounts and blogs everyday but not many people have the stamina to keep it up. I found that people were so much more comfortable with really looking at what I was doing when they realized that I was serious about it and I'd be following up with something more tomorrow.
How can we find out more about you and follow your updates?
I use stories to show our adventures and share/ ask for opinions on a daily basis.
Victoria Close from Bikudesigns talks kimono, business, Japanese design, life in Tokyo and all the things she loves.