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Content - “There is a Japan boom in Switzerland”

  • November 30, 2018

“There is a Japan boom in Switzerland”

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – The Swiss website asienspiegel.ch (“Asia Mirror”) features thousands of short articles about Japan with a focus on travel related news and information. Founded and run by a single, enthusiastic Japan expert, it has become the most relevant Swiss website about Japan. The SCCIJ talked to the website’s author and manager, Mr. Jan Knüsel, about his love for Japan, his personal motivation for this huge project, how he based his business model on the site and why there is such a big interest of Swiss into Japan and Japan travels.

Jan Knüsel of Asienspiegel.ch

What is the purpose of your website "asienspiegel.ch"? 

Jan Knüsel: Introducing Japan to a German speaking audience with a focus on travel, food and news in general. I write one short informative article a day. Short travel films have become another feature. Asienspiegel.ch is for everyone who is interested in Japan and for people who are about to travel to Japan.  

You are only writing about Japan. Why is the website not called "japanspiegel.ch"? 

Jan Knüsel: It’s hard to predict the future, right? In the beginning Martin Aldrovandi (now Swiss public radio correspondent in Shanghai) and other China experts were regularly writing about Taiwan and China for my website. Thus, I called it asienspiegel.ch. But for the last five years I have been writing the blog all by myself, sticking to Japan. Asienspiegel has evolved, however the name stayed. It might be a little odd, but I got used to the name and so got my readers. It’s become a brand. 

How do you choose the topics and spots that you feature on your website? 

Jan Knüsel: I basically love traveling to spots beyond Tokyo and Kyoto. Japan is a huge country with so many different aspects. So I am constantly looking for new destinations and good stories. The Japanese sense of nostalgia and a love for the magic of daily life guide me.

Jan Knüsel at one of his Japan introduction lectures in Zurich (click to enlarge)

Jan Knüsel at one of his Japan introduction lectures in Zurich (click to enlarge)

What motivated you to start a website about East Asia and then Japan?  

Jan Knüsel: My passion for Japan started in 1995. I was 15 years old and I was spending a summer in Japan all by myself with a Japanese family. I made a short film about it. This experience eventually led to my studies at the University of Zurich and Osaka University, graduating with a Master’s degree in Japanese Studies, Political Science and East Asian Art History in 2008. While I was working as a journalist at the Swiss newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger” in Zurich, I started my blog in 2009 as a side-project in order to be up to date about Japanese daily life and society. In a way it was a continuation of my Japanese studies.  

How did your blog evolve? 

Jan Knüsel: From the start, I wrote on a daily basis. It’s been like this for the last nine years. With my blog I try to make Japan more relevant and comprehensible for Swiss people. Even though I am based in Zurich (and so are all my customers), I go to Japan several times a year, traveling extensively all across the country. My wife is Japanese. It’s all about Japan in my life. 

What is the role of the website for your business? 

Jan Knüsel: My website is a free gateway and presents me as a Japan expert. For my readers it’s a source of hopefully valuable information about Japan. Fortunately, some revenue comes from advertisements on my website and regular sponsorship contributions from generous readers. After almost ten years of work I am fortunate to have a very loyal readership.

Jan Knüsel on one of his Japan exploration tours (click to enlarge)

Jan Knüsel on one of his Japan exploration tours (click to enlarge)

So what is your business model? 

Jan Knüsel: My website is also a source of inspiration and creativity. By forcing myself to write daily, I get constantly new ideas. This is how my documentary “Negative: Nothing” (screened in Switzerland, Japan and on all Swiss long haul flight for 6 months in 2013), my guidebook “In Japan” (since 2014, 4th edition), my travel speeches about Japan (more than 120 sold out shows in Zurich since 2015), my travel advice business for Japan, my regular Japan film screenings (since 2013) and my job as a filmmaker came to life. And this is exactly how I earn my living. Luckily, business is going well at the moment.  

What aspect of Japan do you mention the most in your Japan talks? 

Jan Knüsel: Japanese society, travel tips, food and great destinations are the main aspects of my speech, which is constantly evolving. I try to introduce Japan in a competent and at the same time entertaining way using various medias. This has probably been the reason for the success of my “Japan lecture”. It’s all about bringing the spirit of asienspiegel.ch directly to an audience.  

How big is the interest of Swiss people to visit Japan? 

Jan Knüsel: When I started the blog in 2009, the interest was very limited. Things have changed. For the last three years there has been a Japan boom in Switzerland. Almost 50’000 Swiss are traveling to Japan every year. In 2012 the number stood at 24’000. Just to put this in perspective: there are almost 200’000 Germans traveling to Japan every year, 4 times more than the Swiss number, but Germany has a population ten times bigger than Switzerland. Austria stands just at 21’000.  

Do you think the Japan interest in Switzerland has reached its peak yet? 

Jan Knüsel: I don’t think so. Japan has so much to offer. It’s one of the countries with an incredible soft power that appeals to Swiss people across all generations; it's very well organized, safe, clean with an inspiring culture, amazing cities, a beautiful countryside and always aiming for great quality.  

What kind of recommendations do you give to Swiss visitors of Japan? 

Jan Knüsel: Tokyo and Kyoto are amazing cities, no doubt. But try to travel beyond those two places, go explore: This is my recommendation. Some of my favorite spots are the fishing village of Ine, the Shimanamikaido route between Onomichi and Imabari, the mountain village of Nukabira (home of the phantom bridge), the Noto-Peninsula, the Shimanto-River area and the historic town of Uchiko in Shikoku.  And if you don’t know how to start planning your trip: Check out my website and services.

 

Interview: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ; Photos: Jan Knüsel

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