Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sudden dearth

Are Japan mountain blogs falling by the wayside, and does it matter?

“Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it's enemy action’.” So says Goldfinger in the eponymous novel by Ian Fleming.

The same could be said of the mountain blogging scene....

It’s been like that with Japan mountain blogs in English. First, Tom Bouquet’s Volcanoes in Japan fell dormant. Then Hanameizan and i-cjw went more or less quiet. Mountain blogs were not the only ones to fade: Through the Sapphire Sky, an inspired writer on cross-cultural topics, took all her posts down, wiping out a trove of insights into gardens, the Epic of Gilgamesh and disaster-film monsters. Harumi, we miss you.

Blogs bloom and wither all the time. That’s happenstance for you. It matters only when more wither than bloom. Then bloggers get less chance to interact. It's the interaction that's crucial. On this blog, for instance, Mountain revolutionaries would never have been posted if Bre’er Ted in Kyoto hadn't prompted me. Thanks, Ted. Without conversations like that, a blog ends up like the sound of one hand clapping.

The malaise may go beyond Japan. Over on Hiking in Finland, Hendrik Morkel has recently complained that compiling his deservedly popular Week in Review feature isn’t rewarding enough. I share your pain, Bre’er Hendrik, whether the rewards are actual revenue or just reader traffic. Though, like other fans, I hope you’ll keep that excellent review going somehow.

At this point, like Auric Goldfinger, one starts suspecting that more than coincidence is at play. Is enemy action to blame? Try a Google search on “death of blogging”, and you’ll see what I mean. Twitter and its ilk have taken over, leaving blogs stranded like beached whales. Blogs don’t deliver the traffic that Facebook does, says Mother Jones.

Or, to quote the New Republic, we’re in a post-print world, where social media move at the speed of images, not the slowness of words. This paragraph from Jeet Heer's thoughtful article particularly resonates:

The Japanese have a word for blogs that have fallen into neglect or are altogether abandoned: ishikoro, or pebbles. We live in a world of pebbles now. They litter the internet, each one a marker of writing dreams and energies that have dissipated or moved elsewhere … But the feeling of community and camaraderie in pioneering a new medium—the fellowship of the hyperlink—is no longer palpable.

Not everybody sips the defeatist Kool-Aid. We're fortunate that, among Japan-based outdoor bloggers, Bre’er Ted keeps roaming the old highways, Bre'er Tony can't stop climbing Japan, and, on Ridgeline Images, Bre’er David is working an increasingly rich vein of haikyo visits that mash up hikes with history. As for Br’er Wes, rumour has it that he’s parlayed his authoritative Hiking in Japan posts into a book contract.

That’s right, a book. You know, these read-only media are going to be the next big thing. If you’re still out there, readers, remember you read it here first.


Anonymous said...

As long as blogs like yours exist, I'm hopeful that the format will make a comeback.

Been reading for a few years and intend to continue. Thanks for fighting the good fight.


Chris ( said...

Quiet? Why, I've published at least one blog post every 730 days or so!

I can't speak for Tom or Julian, but the paucity of my output was driven by moving to Singapore, having kids and getting a ridiculously high pressure job. None of which were exactly conducive to climbing nice, cold mountains. And like Hendrik, a hacking effort took the blog down for a while, and I was too occupied on other projects to deal with it.

Are Twitter and Facebook to blame? In part. But only insofar as there were many short-form blogs for which, candidly, Twitter and Facebook are better natural outlets. It's less the death of the blog and more the death of the 2 line blog post. On the other hand, no-one is posting (and certainly no-one is reading!) multi-page missives and photo essays on Facebook.

But watch this space - I don't have a swanky new site set up for nothing...

David said...

Well said, with the same salient points attributable to most blog niches these days. Facebook and Twitter are a bit of a two edged sword, in as much as they provide a conduit to promote our blogs while at the same time directing the commentary away from the native posts. Sad to read Hendrik's TWIR has ‪has fallen by the wayside though look forward to what he has installed.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Shannon: many thanks for your kind words. It's good to see there are still readers who don't go by the name of Vampirestat or similar.

Chris: good to hear from you; your trenchant analysis of Twitter/Facebook versus blogging is somewhat reassuring. As for the new website, I applaud and salute its swank and eagerly await the next posts, whether from Japan or abroad. Sorry to hear about the hacking. On this site, so far, the main problem is that the page view stats are swamped by hits from spambots, so that I have no idea any more if there are any real readers out there, or what they're reading. If anybody has a solution for this plague, I am all ears...

David: you raise a good point about the frenemous character of Facebook and Twitter. Though they say it's ill-advised to try and catch a falling two-edged sword...

Tony Grant said...

Interesting post... I suspect that in the case of English-language blogs on the Japanese mountains, it's got more to do with life circumstances than much else (although Chris also makes a compelling point about longform/shortform media platforms). The bottom line is that people's lives change... People have kids, leave Japan, move on to other hobbies and activities, pick up responsibilities that eat into available weekend time, pick up injuries that require a lifestyle change etc... etc... It takes very specific life choices to maintain an active interest in climbing and mountain activity over a lifetime, and not many really manage it (if in fact it's something worth managing!). The fact that I'm still climbing regularly and writing it all up on Climb Japan is a consequence of my choices and my motivation levels, and I'm guessing the same goes for you too... But the reality on the ground is that I rely on a fairly wide pool of 'occasional' climbing partners, including (crucially) Japanese partners (who are the ones who really understand how to climb these mountains properly...), and I just keep plugging away in the role of common denominator... It's all good, people need to pursue diverse lives, and I've been lucky enough to meet some excellent folk along the way. Long may it continue!

I hope Onehundredmountains never ends up in the dusty blog storage room though... There are still so many historical Japanese climbing stories we all want to hear, and your voice is a great one to tell them... Not wishing to pile onto your workload, but how about a series of posts on the stories of the First Ascents of any of the great alpine routes? That would be something really special to read! :)

Project Hyakumeizan said...

As always, good to hear from you, Tony. Yes, of course you are right about the role of happenstance in the lives of bloggers. And most things in life are more important than blogging. As you ably detect, I was having a bit of a vent with this post, although I do agree with the New Republic writer quoted above that some of the fizz has gone out of blogging in recent years. On a more positive note, thanks for the suggestion of writing up some first ascents. Mmm, I had a slightly parallel idea of "alpine archaelogy" - retracing some of the oldest pioneer climbs, such as that 1492 ascent of Mt Aiguille in the Dauphine by Antoine de Ville and his crew. The advantage of going back that far is that the actual climbing is likely to be within my grade, of course .... :) Well, watch this space. Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing more about those epic winter routes you seem to be tracing on Yatsugatake and elsewhere!