No, Lafcadio Hearn was not fluent in Japanese.

This is picking up on my piece from the day before yesterday.

I think one of the commenters over at James’ Japan Probe did point out, that it was well known that the famous late 19th century Japan-side writer Lafcadio Hearn, actually, did not know very much Japanese. I expected to see a bit more about that there, but the comments are currently not accessible, for some reason.

Here is the original quote, from the “Anonymous” piece:

This is what Donald Richie had to say about Hearn in his co-authored book, from 2007:

So I’m left to wonder: which would people rely on? A noted author about Japan who writes using his real name when he publishes books, or someone on a middle-range, Japan-side expat blog, who doesn’t use his/her (prob. his) real name because the writing is two-thirds about taking shots at people his in-group doesn’t like.

I pick the noted author.

You know, I thought Japan Probe was starting to get good, and had talked a bit about it last June, comparing it favorably to some of the full-blown popular Japan-side sites that claim to be “big businesses”, but aren’t. I felt Japan Probe was a more honest version of the Gaijin Pot boards, maybe a cleaner version of F-ked Gaijin, which may or may not monetize. Alexa is one of my yardsticks to check out a site—yeah, I know that’s controversial—and it looked like Japan Probe was sinking fast though, even though it had credible content.

Well, since that time, there’s been a stanching of the downtrend, based on Alexa. But I start to worry that the regular traffic is being generated by the kind of controversy that attracts writers like Anonymous. Get a comment thread going, God knows what is going to be said on it, and have the same twelve people punching it all damn day as they wile the workhours away.

Well, Quantcast to the rescue—Japan Probe is now being Quantified. What I was surprised to find out was that practically all of Japan Probe’s traffic comes from outside Japan. This would be a good 90%, according to Quantcast. On a recent day, only 810 visitors showed up from a Japan-identified source. There are less than 1% “addicts” on the monthly figures, and assuming those addicts are maybe weighted more toward Japan (10,000 total visitors about), there could be anywhere from 100 to maybe 300 “addicts”. These are the ones breathing some kind of life into the site’s Alexa scores, maybe helping SEO, and giving the monetization a boost.

Of course, if you have alternate theories, I am always open to modifying what I’m guessing. But it just looks like the site floats on what “controversies” get dreamed up by the little online social network. It boosts the “big story” up higher than it might otherwise be when it’s six people’s Twitters, or their e-mail back-and-forths.

It just all seems funny, because Japan Probe had just spent so much time dedicating itself to the errors and differences found in other’s writings (not mine), and then, blithely, “someone” is allowed to say that Lafcadio Hearn was fluent in Japanese, “and now all these people will” go around thinking this, and none of the expat “correcters” manage to spot the error and correct it.

One hundred, and especially 300, “addicts” in Japan would be pretty good for a site like Japan Probe. It makes you wonder how many a Gaijin Pot (one that is arguably monetizing) really gets. If you look, you manage to see the same handles showing up on the big expat boards.

Is it possible that many of the popular Japan-side expat boards around Kantou region are kept afloat by the same (relatively) small set of contributors? And that most of their SEO ranking comes from overseas (if they manage to attract any attention there)?

If the New York Times website published something to the effect that “Lafcadio Hearn was fluent in Japanese”, you’d see multiple corrections right away. That’s the traffic of thousands.

[Update 4/7/12: Throwing in a screenshot for good measure . . .

I know when I mention Quantcast or Alexa, I usually get an unsigned e-mail, telling me that the measurements of those companies is not full proof–as if I don’t know. Yes, I know these are not, what we would say in accounting, audited numbers. But they do provide some measurement — if even to say, “hey, you aren’t that big.” Or, ten times bigger than small is still small.

The sense I get from looking over Japan Probe is that the runners want the site to be credible. But they keep going in contortions, to make the site not credible. It can’t be both.]

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