Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)

Long time followers of the site may recall that I have changed our WordPress theme on two occasions. After the first week of The New Leaf Journal, I moved the site from the WordPress 2016 theme to a theme called BunnyPressLite. While I liked BunnyPress Lite, I felt that our growing online magazine could use a cleaner, more professional-looking format, and extra functionality. For that reason, I consulted with Victor, and we decided to invest in the paid version of the BunnyPress theme in June. This may sound like the set-up for announcing another theme change for The New Leaf Journal, but it is no such thing. We are satisfied with the current look and structure of the site, and hope that you are too. Instead, I will finally write about the unexpected difficulty that I encountered in purchasing the BunnyPress theme. But before that, let us start from the beginning.

A drawing of two rabbits at play, fitting for a discussion about the BunnyPress WordPress theme.
Two bunnies, in honor of the developer who seems to be quite fond of them. Retrieved from A Story Garden for Little Children by Maud Lindsey.

Starting the Provisional New Leaf Journal

The original plan for The New Leaf Journal was to build the final version of the website and then go live. However, the lockdowns resulting from the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in New York City made continued work on that project unlikely. Being mostly stuck at home, we decided to launch a provisional version of The New Leaf Journal, as set forth in our original and now-superseded About the Site article.

At that time, I was responsible for setting up the provisional site. I knew little about working in WordPress or WordPress themes. Accordingly, I looked through the WordPress directory of free themes. For the most part, I did not find any themes that fit my vision for the site. The magazine and newspaper themes were generally too busy and photo-focused for my taste. Some other themes were nice, but more aimed at single-author blogs and photo blogs. Other themes were more suited for relatively static sites or commercial sites.

After being relatively unsatisfied with what I found in the theme directory, I settled on one of the WordPress default themes that came preinstalled – the Twenty Sixteen theme. It was, and is, a clean theme that comes with just about everything one would need to make a competent site.

The Limitations of Twenty Sixteen

For all of its merits, I found after spending just over a week with WordPress 2016 that it is clearly more amenable to single-author blogs.  The structure of the theme made it difficult to feature older content. My early experience with the Twenty Sixteen theme gave me a better understanding of how WordPress works and what exactly I need to present The New Leaf Journal to readers.

New Theme: BunnyPressLite

With a little bit more WordPress knowledge under my belt, I dove back into the theme directory.  This time, after a bit of searching, I found the BunnyPressLite theme by the Japanese developer Yossy’s web service.  The theme appears to have been posted in the WordPress directory on or about February 25, 2020.  For a free theme, it had just about everything I was looking for – a clean layout, aesthetic, and very nice article thumbnails.  I installed the new theme, set it up in parallel, and when I was satisfied that our early content looked good in the new format, I formally switched the site to the BunnyPressLite theme

Upgrading to BunnyPress

From the name “BunnyPressLite,” I inferred that it was the free version of a paid theme.  My Google Translate-aided investigation of the developer’s entirely-Japanese language website confirmed my suspicions.  Although I had no particular issue with how BunnyPressLite worked, I became intrigued by the idea of upgrading to the paid version of the theme, which had an even cleaner design and additional features to improve the user experience.  Because the developer’s website uses the BunnyPress theme, I was also aware of what it looked like in practice. 

Although the price for the full theme was listed in in Japanese yen, I ascertained that it was about $27 U.S. dollars.  In order to greatly improve our website’s appearance and function, that seemed like a small investment.  After consulting Victor, we decided to go ahead with purchasing the BunnyPress theme and upgrading our site.  I prepared to make the purchase on Friday, June 12, 2020. 

Picture of what September 3, 2020, version of The New Leaf Journal would look like running the BunnyPressLite WordPress theme.
Although we switched from BunnyPresLite nearly three months ago, I retain the theme as backup in case of emergency. For that reason, you can see a screenshot of what the current September 3, 2020, site would look like if we still used BunnyPressLite instead of the paid version of the theme. As you can see, it is substantially similar, although there is no doubt that the paid theme looks better and has additional behind-the-scenes functionality. I took advantage of this opportunity to go back in time and encourage you to read my feature July 4th articles and subscribe to The Newsletter Leaf Journal. Separate from the theme, you can see evidence of my effort to find photos for this article in my browser tabs. If my start menu at the bottom of the screen catches your eyes, you can learn more about it in my article about my new computer, operating system, and desktop environment.

Obstacles to Purchasing BunnyPress

I do not speak Japanese.  In fact, I do not speak any language other than English.  My experience with foreign languages in school was not entirely positive.  My experience with Japanese in school was non-existent.  While I have watched countless Japanese-language shows with subtitles, the language has yet to sink in. 

In light of the foregoing, you might think that it would be difficult for me to navigate an entirely Japanese-language website and go through multiple forms to make a purchase.  This did turn out to be the case, but only after things started swimmingly. 

Reading the main site itself is not at all difficult.  At the time, I had a Google Translate chrome extension installed on my Vivaldi web browser.  While Google does tend to fall ever-so-slightly on the creepy side, I must concede that Google Translate has improved greatly in translating foreign-language texts into something resembling coherent English.  Can I be sure that these translations are correct?  Not at all, but as long as they get me where I need to go, who am I to question? 

I was able to navigate the site with Google Translate to get to the purchase screen.  After proceeding, I made it to the actual payment page.  Here, my problems began.  The payment form was hosted by Stripe, and it was unsurprisingly entirely in Japanese.  What was troubling for me, however, was that Google Translate could not translate the payment form.  This problem was especially severe in the case of the drop-down menus, including one wherein I had to select my country from a list of just about every country in the world.  While I know my country well in English, I do not know it well in Japanese.  Furthermore, did you know that there are multiple ways of writing the United States in Japanese? 

I called in Victor, who helped me sift through the menu.  After about 30 minutes, we finally identified the United States with some degree of confidence – the menu seems to have used the most formal writing of our great country in Japanese.  I thought I was out of the woods, but my nightmare was not over yet.  There was one field that I do not remember off the top of my head – but it wanted either letters or numbers. I assumed it was either for a zip code or something with letters, and whichever I tried resulted in no input. Eventually, I accidentally typed the other and saw it record, keying me in on what the field was that I no longer remember. (That failed recollection surely paints a crystal-clear picture of what happened.) Fortunately, the parts of the menu dealing with my name, contact, and payment information were easier to discern. 

Installing BunnyPress

I had never tried to upload a theme into WordPress before, but that was somewhat surprisingly the easiest part of the day after my struggles buying the darn thing.  Furthermore, there are no translation issues with the theme’s menus in WordPress.  By the time I first wrote about it, I had already installed the theme and was preparing to take it live.  After posting my week in review for June 13, I got to work on customizing the theme and ensuring that all of our assets would carry over correctly.  Being satisfied enough for all normal purposes, I went live with the theme sometime in the strange morning hours of June 14. 

As long time readers will know, however, a nasty problem had already, unbeknownst to me, taken hold of The New Leaf Journal before I even installed the theme.  Our server began serving most users a cached version of our homepage from the afternoon of June 12, even though I had expressly disabled server-side caching using my administrator privileges.  Those of us who are logged in as administrators are not served a cached version of the site, and since I almost always log in as admin, I did not notice the problem until the middle of the next week.  Little did I know that there may have been some users who thought I was crazy when I was discussing our new site theme, only to find a homepage frozen in time with the old theme. 

It would be a little more than a week before I finally resolved all of our caching problems, and only then could I be sure that visitors were able to enjoy the new theme that Victor and I worked so hard to purchase, inhibited by our inability to read Japanese at any level. 

A Language Barrier is no Barrier to Good Customer Support

Unlike BunnyPressLite, BunnyPress has some built in functionality for browser caching.  Understandably a bit scarred from my caching troubles, I left it off until I fully understood it.  How better to understand how it works than to go to the developer?  While the developer’s website is, of course, entirely in Japanese, I was able to use Google Translate to find my way to the customer support form.  I had some hope that my question would be answered, for the developer notes using Google Translate on English articles in several blog posts.  I sent an English-language inquiry about how the caching feature worked along with my apologies for my lack of Japanese proficiency. 

Within hours, I receive a response from the developer in English that answered all of my questions.  The answer assured me that it was safe to take advantage of the theme’s own caching functionality to help bring a better experience to you. 

Positive Review of BunnyPress and BunnyPressLite

A tired bunny, representing how I felt after purchasing the BunnyPress WordPress theme for The New Leaf Journal and resolving our caching issues.
This is an image of me after finally resolving the caching problems and completing the move to the BunnyPress theme (if I was a bunny, of course). Picture retrieved from A Book of Nimble Beasts by Douglas English.

While some of my recent tech reviews have consisted of very early impressions, I can offer an unsolicited glowing review of BunnyPressLite and BunnyPress from months of experience with both themes.  I will not write a full review here – perhaps I will do that down the line – but below are my general impressions, which you can buttress by viewing our site and seeing what you think of the theme in practice. 

The themes are aesthetic, fast, and have given me no problems at all save for some image alignment issues that seem to have mostly been resolved.  BunnyPressLite is a terrific theme for people who want to start a blog, providing solid functionality and being completely free.  For those who are a little bit more comfortable with WordPress, BunnyPress is a cleaner and more professional-looking theme with extra widgets and functionality to deliver a faster experience for users.  Transferring from BunnyPressLite to BunnyPress is also nearly seamless, especially because both themes use the same dimensions (289×203 pixels) for featured images. 

I have not yet fully taken advantage of everything BunnyPress has to offer.  For example, as I have teased for a while, I am still looking to implement BunnyPress’s carousel menu on our homepage as a pretty way to feature some of our most important content. 

Finally, although BunnyPress is a Japanese theme, the developer provided courteous and expeditious support in English in response to a technical question that I probably did not ask in the best possible way even in English.  If one can get past the initial hurdle of buying the theme, there appear to be no bars worth noting for English-speaking users.   

Unsolicited Recommendations for Yossy’s Web Service

Below are four unsolicited recommendations for Yossy’s Web Service from a satisfied English-speaking customer.

First, in the article describing and selling BunnyPress, the developer writes the following, translated by Mate:

“Did you find that the length of the excerpt was too long or too short for an overseas theme, or the display was strange even after it was translated?  BunnyPress is a theme created by Japanese people, so it is designed on the assumption that WordPress is used in Japanese.  You can use it in English, but it’s Japanese first.”

While all of that is undoubtedly true, I can confirm as the English-only speaking acting administrator of a writing-intensive English-language website that the theme is perfect for English writing sites.  The small thumbnails with limited excerpt make for a neat, clean, and classy home and archive pages for an English site.  Furthermore, our primary font, Gentium Book Basic, is very much a font for the Latin alphabet, and still looks great in the BunnyPress theme.  While the developer’s candor is admirable, the disclaimer seems to me to be thoroughly unnecessary.

Second, following the previous point, I think that it should be easier for English-language speakers to buy the relatively cheap BunnyPress theme.  I doubt that I am the only English-speaking site admin who decided to give BunnyPressLite a go from the English WordPress directory.  I can imagine others who, when looking to upgrade, decided to not translate their way through a Japanese-language website and try to figure out what 3,000 yen is in U.S. dollars, and instead chose a more inviting option for non-Japanese speakers.  In light of the fact that BunnyPressLite is already in the WordPress directory for English-speaking users, and that BunnyPressLite is, in and of itself, a sort of advertisement for BunnyPress, I think that Yossy’s Web Service should create a page for English speakers to learn about the BunnyPress theme and purchase it if they are so inclined. 

Third, notwithstanding whether Yossy’s Web Service ever takes the second suggestion, a payment page that is more amenable to translation would be more than welcome.

Fourth and finally, I will make one functionality request.  I would like to see a small author box widget that is amenable to placing before or after article content.  I do note that I do not know how to modify the author widget that comes with BunnyPress through CSS, which I believe the developer did on the developer’s website. On our current site, you will see that we have very nice widgets for Victor and me under every post.  For those, I use a terrific plugin called Starbox – the Author Box for Humans*.  Installing Starbox is one of the best decisions I made for The New Leaf Journal, and it would take something very impressive to make me consider a different solution. With that being said, I think that adding a smaller author widget designed to fit before and/or after article content would be a welcome addition to the BunnyPress theme.

(*April 8, 2022: Two years later, I decided to switch from Starbox Pro to BunnyPress’s own author widget. The reason why I made the change is because Starbox did not display properly for users who block Javascript – and it seemed to have some other occasional issues with our site configuration. I modified the color of our BunnyPress author box widget with additional CSS. It is not perfect, but after a few days – I will admit that it is beginning to grow on me.)

Parting Thoughts

That is all for my suggestions.  Speaking for myself and on behalf of The New Leaf Journal, I thank Yossy’s Web Service for offering two terrific themes, one free and one affordable, that make it possible for people with no coding knowledge and somewhat limited technical aptitude to create well-functioning online magazines.