Japan Travel claims to be “your official Japan travel guide”, and at first glance the website seems professional enough to back up that claim. According to SEO Review Tools, the site gets around 374,188 new visitors per month, and the site hosts a plethora of articles on every topic imaginable, related to Japan. People write about accommodation, transportation, culture, food, activities, nightlife, shopping, and spas, among other things. There are thousands of articles written by expats living all over the various regions of Japan. As a writer, this might lead you to believe that Japan Travel is a worthy investment of your time. After all, the site seems to claim that it is a legitimate online news source for all things related to Japan, and it supposedly publishes articles by legitimate experts who have real-world experience. Unfortunately, this is only true “from a certain point of view”.
Japan Travel advertises itself as a news source for all things Japan. As noted above, their slogan states that they are an “official” travel guide. In fact, they even have a travel agency (we’ll touch on this later). If this were true, we would expect to see vetted and experienced travel writers posting articles that were well-researched and supported by data and evidence. Moreover, those writers would likely be paid a decent salary, since quality writing ought to beget quality payment. When those writers decided that they wanted to write for Japan Travel, they would obviously submit a pitch and then provide examples of their previous work. Japan Travel editors would review their submission with care and decide whether or not they are fit to write about Japan. If hired, they would provide their unique and informed opinions about Japan. Since Japan Travel is an “official Japan travel guide”, these things are all happening, right? Think again.
“Japan Travel is the leading resource for Japan travel information and the primary destination for visitors planning and traveling to Japan.” NOPE.
The reality of Japan Travel is that it is not an “official” guide to anything. Rather than spending the time and effort to hire and pay professionals, Japan Travel lets anyone who is willing to accept anyone who spends five minutes signing up. You see, Japan Travel has no real vetting process, and there is no real application to be a writer. They don’t have real editors, and no one involved in the site has any reliable information about Japan, and if they did, most of them wouldn’t know how to write about it. Japan Travel is merely a farce; it’s a way to funnel people into the Japan Travel travel agency, and their other money-making schemes. Despite claiming that they are “the leading resource for Japan travel information” and that they are “the primary destination for visitors planning and traveling to Japan”, the reality is that all of the contributors can sign up within seconds, and write about nearly anything, and it will all get approved. This is because the site needs as much content as possible from as many sources as possible in order to milk the search engines and convince people that they are a legitimate travel news site.
Conversely, if someone wants to become a contributor at say, Lonely Planet, here is what happens: you go to their signup page , and, if prepared, send off your pitch to the e-mail address that they provide. In your e-mail, you would provide links to your previous work, and a summary of your ideas. It would have to be a subject that was not covered by Lonely Planet before. Then, you wait. Lonely Planet’s professional staff would then review your submission and decide if it meets the requirements for publication. It might be months before they respond, because they receive so many submissions. In all likelihood, most of the submissions they receive are trashed immediately, because they do not meet their standards. This is a normal submission process. If you see this kind of submission process, you know you are working with a professional company. This is not how Japan Travel does things.
On the Japan Travel homepage there is an advertisement banner that reads, “Are you ready to become a Japan Travel author”, which has a “Join the community” button. Right there, we have two red flags. First of all, in a normal scenario, a news outlet would not be so enthusiastic and desperate. They wouldn’t approach potential writers like the salesman from Family Guy. If Japan Travel’s call to action were a conversation, it would go something like this:
Overly-enthusiastic Japan Travel salesman: Interested in writing for Japan Travel?
Writer: But I’ll never get paid…
Overly-enthusiastic Japan Travel salesman: But what if you did get paid…with useless points that buy nothing?
Writer: Touché, salesman.
After being convinced by the homepage advertising and then subsequently clicking the signup button, you will find that there is no real submission process. Instead, you will be presented with a login screen. After entering your e-mail and password, you will be in the system as a writer. That’s it. No reviewing of materials, no explanation of past experience – nothing. Once you login, you will be presented with their writer’s interface, where you can compose and submit your articles. The articles are approved by editors (everything short of nonsensical babbling gets approved), and then they are placed on the site. After that, you just sit back and wait for your nonexistent money, I mean, “points”, to come in.
Clearly Japan Travel is desperate for writers, and that’s why they are always accepting anyone to write for them. You’ll also notice that their join button says, “Join the community”. What it does not say is “submit your pitch”. Contrary to the entire design of the site, the reality is that Japan Travel is a community of amateur writers, and not a professional news source. Anyone can become a contributor at Japan Travel; it’s as easy to join as Facebook or Twitter. Now I’m definitely not saying that a website can’t accept new or inexperienced writers; it is nice that someone who is entertaining the idea of professional writing can practice their chops at Japan Travel. There is nothing wrong with giving writers a platform to improve their skills, but the problem is that this benefit is merely a side effect of a more sinister design. Japan Travel doesn’t care if you gain experience or if you succeed as a writer. Rather, their intention is to create as much article white noise as possible, to further propagate the myth that they are a legitimate news source. They do this in order to funnel customers into their revenue sources, such as their travel agency, their tours, and their ad service. In other words, they are using the hard work of writers as free advertising to promote their services from which they make a substantial amount of money. This would all be fine, if they compensated their writers.
… if you want to be working like an orphan in chains, slaving away at your computer for nothing, join.”
The reason Japan Travel will accept anyone to write for them is because they don’t pay anyone. When I first signed up, the site was just starting and someone contacted me about writing. When I asked about payment, they responded by saying that I was incorrect in concluding that they don’t pay writers; they pay writers in “points”. When I asked for clarification, the salesman told me that these points were “just as good” as cash, because they could be used to purchase a “variety” of products through their store. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
First, with just a bit of math, a person can easily see that the amount of points one would have to accrue to purchase anything isn’t worth the amount of effort. If we were to view Japan Travel points in terms of actual dollars and cents, writing for Japan Travel would be the equivalent of child labor. So, if you want to be working like an orphan in chains, slaving away at your computer for nothing, join. Secondly, the points don’t actually purchase anything. At the time of starting the site, the store had three products in it that you could purchase. Two of those products were absolutely useless to anyone, and the third, the most useful, an Amazon gift card for fifty dollars, would require stacks of completed articles to obtain. I haven’t done the exact math on this one because I deleted my account, but suffice to say that you would have to do much more than fifty dollars worth of work in order to get that fifty dollar gift card, which, by the way, has been “out of stock” for as long as I maintained an account. In the end, I deleted my account and didn’t feel bad at all about losing all of my points; they were useless anyway. I just wish Japan Travel hadn’t lied about their usefulness in the first place.
Japan Travel is mostly a website to avoid. They don’t pay their writers at all (points are not payment), they have no quality control, their editors are terrible, and writing for them won’t help your resume because, let’s face it, anyone can write for them. They are nothing more than a facade, designed to trick people into buying their services. They aren’t a real travel news source, and anyone with even a modicum of intelligence will see this almost immediately. If you want to use them as I did, as a starting place to try out writing ideas about Japan, then it might be worth the effort. It’s nice to be able to upload a finished article and get feedback from the (mostly incompetent) editors. It’s also nice to be able to read other people’s comments on your articles. Your name will pop up in a search engine. For a new writer, the site can be a nice taste of what writing professionally might be like. Beyond that, the site is a cash grab that is specifically designed to maximize the amount of free advertising it can squeeze out of hopeful writers in order to promote Japan Travel services. So, if you are at the point in your writing where you feel you deserve better than that and you want to get paid for your work, avoid Japan Travel like the plague. There are much better and more legitimate Japan news sources.