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Japan's Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 6, 2007

TOKYO -- Compared to the English-speaking world, the Japanese have gone blog wild. They write Web logs at per capita rates that are off the global charts.

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Although English speakers outnumber Japanese speakers by more than 5-1, slightly more blog postings are written in Japanese than in English, according to Technorati, the Internet search engine that monitors the blogosphere.

By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of Japanese blogging is done on mobile phones, often by commuters staring cross-eyed at tiny screens for hours as they ride the world's most extensive network of subways and commuter trains.

Blogging in Japan, though, is a far tamer beast than in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. Japan's conformist culture has embraced a technology that Americans often use for abrasive self-promotion and refashioned it as a soothingly nonconfrontational medium for getting along.

Bloggers here shy away from politics and barbed language. They rarely trumpet their expertise. While Americans blog to stand out, the Japanese do it to fit in, blogging about small stuff: cats and flowers, bicycles and breakfast, gadgets and TV stars. Compared with Americans, they write at less length, they write anonymously, and they write a whole lot more often.

"Behavior is more important than technology," said Joichi Ito, a board member at Technorati and an expert on how people around the world use the Internet. "In Japan, it is not socially acceptable to pursue fame."

Technorati found that of all recorded blog postings in the fourth quarter of last year, 37 percent were written in Japanese, 36 percent in English and 8 percent in Chinese.

This was not an aberration. In the past three years, Japanese has been running ahead of or about even with English as the dominant language of blogging, according to Technorati. About 130 million people understand Japanese, while about 1.1 billion understand English.

Those numbers startle no one more than the Japanese. For even as they use personal computers, Web-enabled mobile telephones and a ubiquitous high-speed Internet network to blog anytime and anywhere, they keep awfully quiet about it.

Consider, for example, the remarkably harmonious blog that Junko Kenetsuna has been writing five times a week for the past three years about her midday meal.

With understated precision, she calls her blog "I had my lunch."

In a recent dispatch from a Vietnamese restaurant in Tokyo, Kenetsuna wrote: "The soup has a distinctive chicken flavor and the bitterness of pear, which gives you much sensation in your mouth."


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