Why I Do What I Do | Explaining My Insane Addiction to Japan

Tsutenkaku and the area of Shinsekai in Osaka at night.

Strange as this may sound, one of the most difficult challenges I contend with is figuring out how to explain that this site is actually not a real business. As I outlined in my controversial Rejecting My Ikigai piece, I’ve oddly elected to separate that which brings me meaning in purpose from that which pays the bills. In keeping relatively low stress gigs as a freelance marketer, I am better able to promote Japan’s hidden gems. Without needing to worry about finances, I am able to throw money at the problem of low awareness with a reckless abandon. As a result, my content has been able to achieve levels of awareness that local government can only dream of attaining.

Alas, up until this point, I don’t believe I’ve ever divulged why I invest every single expandable yen that I earn into marketing Japan. Put simply, my promotional budget for my own content easily dwarfs that of many of the prefectures. Odd as that may seem at first glance though, you need to understand that I derive great pleasure from visiting and introducing all of these off the beaten path destinations. Moreover, the problem of promoting Japan’s lesser known sides is uniquely suited to a person such as myself. While I’m not the best marketer or writer out there, few with those skills also possess the depth of my knowledge about Japan.

Of course, I was not always so enmeshed in the cult of Japan. In fact, it was only quite recently that I became so enamored with what my friends jokingly refer to as #DonnyThings. Back in the year 2015, I was chafing at the bit from the doldrums of working at a boring company. Feeling the itch to join a startup, I hit up a good buddy who at the time was one of the top vacation rental hosts in Osaka. Soon after, I found myself functionally working as his CMO on the side for the better part of a year while also juggling a comfy agency gig too. Needless to say, I definitely paid a toll health-wise yet the months we shared were a caffeine-fueled whirlwind of creativity.

One of the objectives that we tried to accomplish back then was establishing a brand for my friend’s company that was independent of platforms such as Airbnb. Though he was indeed the king of the market, his firm had no real identity awareness among consumers. As such, his entire business was at the whim of algorithmic changes among the vacation rental platforms. To rectify this tricky predicament, we resolved to create a virtual concierge that would help travelers better experience Japan. By bridging the chasm between known and unknown, and matching people with allures that aligned with their individual interests, we theorized that tourists would then be able to authentically experience the culture.

A boat cruises along the ever-popular Dotonbori River in central Osaka

Tragically, this endeavor, which we nicknamed the Mia Project after my friend’s dear daughter, never saw the light of day. While I won’t go into the grim details of what happened, just know that it’s not wise to go into business with your former spouse (can I get a Captain Obvious anyone?). Though the entire undertaking ended up collapsing due to the drama, it was in doing the research for the Mia Project that I was first bitten by the wanderlust bug. Even now, I still can’t put my figure on what it was but there was just something about getting more tourists off of the beaten path that deeply resonated with the very core of my being.

Sometime during hideous fallouts that ensued the Mia Project’s demise, an idea struck me that would dramatically change the course of my life. Rather than promoting a virtual concierge, I would instead take the notion of off the beaten path travel in Japan and infuse it into developing a personal brand. In doing so, I could weave the remnant visionary threads of the Mia Project into something new that would inspire foreign visitors to discover unknown parts. The result of this radical breakthrough is this site and the many other social media platforms where I regularly publish content.

Now, most people in my shoes would embark on such an undertaking with the goal of one day monetizing their content via influencer marketing. In my case though, I made the bizarre choice to never turn my content into a business. Instead, I elected to use my online persona as something of a virtual resume that I could show off when pitching clients. Though I’ve had to forfeit a good deal of potential profit along the way, I’ve retained the luxury of being able to feature what I like. When I consider some of the jobs my fellow content creators need to take just to put food on the table, I am thankful that I chose to do things my way.

All in all, looking back over the trajectory of the preceding years, I am both astonished and humbled by the arch my life has taken. When I first began producing content, I never envisioned that my following would take off to the degree that it did. Honestly, it surprises me that so many of you are interested in learning about Japan’s obscure destinations. Your priceless attention is like oxygen to me (to borrow a phrase from the ever-insightful Gary Vaynerchuk). As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week for another article on Japan’s off the beaten path destinations.

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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