You know, I don’t read a lot of websites about Japan, mostly because if I wanted to know something about the country, I’d just roll over in my futon and look out the window. Like, oh now there’s a guy pushing a cart with a fiery oven full of sweet potatoes down the street, a woman in a fox fur hat and tiny miniskirt talking on an Android phone the size of her head, and a kid by himself, pitching balls against the dark wall of an apartment block by a dim street lamp. Yep, still Japan. Probably the only site I read with any frequency is GaijinPot, mostly because I’m always looking for a job that’s better than the one I currently have. Hey, it’s a pastime of mine, loosely related to keeping the heat turned on and not starving to death. Employment really excels in that respect.
Japanese Website Design
Initially, the most striking thing about GaijinPot is, for a site about Japan, just how un-Japanese it actually looks. Like if you check out a typical Japanese website, say Rakuten or Jorudan, you’ll no doubt be impressed by the stunning 1993-esque design ethic and use of every pixel of space. Just trying to click all the links on either home page would wear down the sturdiest of trackpads, and you might as well make an appointment with the ophthalmologist now, for the permanent retina damage you’ll get from those heaping screenfuls of six-point font.
But how can a nation so prized for its aesthetics have such terrible web design? I hear you say. Thanks for asking. Some “Japanophiles” have addressed this seeming paradox by explaining how Japanese characters “convey information visually,” or commuters “access sites from their cell phones,” or such nonsense. Let me offer a much simpler explanation. Japanese aesthetics pretty much ended with the Meiji Era. All that zen garden, peaceful waterfall, and little green bonsai postcard stuff stops at the exit gate of the tea house gift shop. Outside, modern Japan is a sprawling mess of condominiums built above ramen shops next to ancient Buddhist temples that now double as kindergartens, all wired together with a sky full of licorice black power lines. People leave homes packed floor to ceiling with heaps of clothes and rice cookers and fashion magazines to sprint to the station in great hordes and ride the sardine train, then sit nuts to butts in an office buried under landslides of paper. How many Japanese people does it take to change a light bulb? Well, how many you got?—-because the moment that 60-watt fizzles out everyone’s gotta jump up on their desks, plus three guys in suits on tables and two office ladies on swivel chairs and the secretary dashing off to Family Mart for an armload of bulbs while the boss goes stumbling in search of a ladder because nobody can just chill the eff out and let one dude reach up and screw in a new light bulb. So when you’re looking at a Japanese website, that’s basically what you’re seeing—-everyone and their Shiba dog rushing to contribute the maximum information possible, all at once, all the time. If the Japanese had designed the internet it would just be one really, really big page.
But Back to GaijinPot
So if you knew the old GaijinPot site, then you’d know a lot’s changed recently. Such improve. So design. Very Fuji. Wow. There are three buttons suitable for the visually impaired that take you to Work in Japan, Study in Japan, and Travel in Japan. That pretty much covers about 90% of what you’d ever want Japan for. Work in Japan is straightforward. Click the button and Poof! Six months later you’re an English teacher. Study in Japan is actually cool, in that it gives you the option of doing either that by enrolling in a language school, or doing the exact opposite with one of the online lessons. I actually liked the little lessons a lot because they had pretty photos and taught me a bunch of obscure and marginally useful Japanese. I hope this section continues to expand, because the stories are interesting and it could be a good way to learn some language fundamentals.
Travel in Japan is your one-stop shopping for hotels in Japan: big, small, hostels, near hot springs, near airports, near Mount Fuji, all of the above. It’s even got a mini Google map of the nation, just in case you forgot where Japan was. Hint: go to Korea and turn right. Much useful.
Saving the Best for Last
Some of the best sections of GajinPot didn’t manage to get their own silver dollar-sized button, but that’s okay. They’re just swimming at the bottom of the page, with ever-popular friends like Contact Us and Sitemap. (They’re also accessible through the mysterious “UFO landing Lights” button on the top right.) There’s a ton of stuff there, including sections for Classifieds and Personals, so you can get that used toaster oven of your dreams, along with someone to butter your Pop-Tarts in the morning. Particularly worth a look are the GaijinPot Blog and Podcast sections, which provide an insider’s view of Japan on a range of subjects, from Money Transfers to Modeling to Meiji Jingu. Okay, so they really like M’s, whatever. Anyway, those sections would be particularly good if you couldn’t just look out the window, or your window faced a soy sauce factory or something.
All in all, GaijinPot is informative, funny, but most of all useful. Is it the best Japanese website? Well, of course with present company excepted, then yeah, it just might be. But you tell me. If you’re not already going there for information about Japan, you probably should, at least for a visit. Just don’t forget to come back. I’ll be right here, waiting, butter and Pop-Tarts in hand. Sure is getting melty though.