Friday, August 09, 2002

Greetings from J-List August 9, 2002

Hello again from San Diego! Unfortunately my little sojourn to the U.S. is at an end, and I must go back to Japan tomorrow. I'm leaving the kids here with their grandmother for their "month long dose of English," and my wife will come back at the end of the month to pick them up. It'll be very quiet without the kids around!

Despite the fact that Japanese are the longest-lived race (or the 2nd longest lived, depending on the study you read), the Japanese are really big on smoking. 60% of men smoke, and quite a few women, too, which is a little strange to my liberal California way of thinking. Unlike the U.S., where smokers are urged to quit smoking to preserve their health, Japan doesn't have a problem allowing smoking and generating tax revenue from it. For many years the Japanese government operated Japan's largest tobacco company, Japan Tobacco (they also make a line of canned beverages), and although the company has been privatized, it still retains a semi-official status with the government. Because of the great revenues generated from smoking in Japan, there's not much pressure for it to go away at present. Even the "warning label" on cigarettes in Japan is a joke. It reads: "Because there is concern that it will damage your health, please be careful not to smoke too much." Sadly, as tobacco companies have run into more barriers selling their products in the U.S., they've increased their advertising and overall presence in Japan. All U.S. brands are very well known in Japan, from Camels to Marlboro to Kool. As in the U.S., they don't allow cigarette advertising on TV in Japan, however when you go to some movie theatres you should be prepared to see a huge in-your-face ad for some tobacco product or another before the show starts. It's bizarre.

Companies are supposed to compete with each other for the "dollar votes" of customers, but often, Japanese companies cooperate in a cartel-like system that can boggle the mind of outsiders. Take haircuts. In Japan, you can get the most incredible haircuts imaginable -- an expert barber will give you a haircut, a massage, soften your skin with a steaming machine, shave your face, neck and (I am not kidding) ear lobes, and remove any hairs growing in your ears and nose. Sure, it costs $35, but it's really relaxing. No matter where you go, though, Japanese barbers give pretty much the same excellent service and do the exact same things for about the same amount of money. There is, it turns out, a national haircutters union that establishes guidelines for all members to follow, so that each member is on the same wavelength when it comes to what their customers expect. Barbers "compete" through convenient locations and close adherence to this code of barber conduct. I've noticed similar cooperative behavior with newspapers in Japan. Once a month or so, newspapers in Japan have a "newspaper holiday" when no newspapers are printed at all. If I were running a newspaper, I'd make sure my paper was printed on this day so I could grab market share away from the other companies, but no paper does this, and on this day there's nary a newspaper to be found anywhere. It's good to be cooperative, but too much cooperation seems to contribute to the general economic stagnation Japan is currently experiencing.

Wow, the region free DVD players we posted a few days ago have really taken off, so much that our staff in San Diego is hard pressed to get the players out each day. If you're interested in a region free DVD player, J-List now stocks three very nice units in our San Diego office: the Sampo DVE-612, a solid player with great performance and features and a fantastic price; the Sampo DVE-681P, a high-end player with full Dolby, DTS, and progressive scanning video; and the Lasonic DVB-090, which is a superb portable player that will fill all your DVD playback needs. All three players are fully region free and will play both PAL and NTSC discs as well as all region 2 DVDs from J-List, and all are very well designed machines, with "set and forget" regions codes so you never have to mess with your player once you've set it up. And the two Sampo units are now "VCR friendly," allowing you to make tape copies of your DVDs, a handy feature!

Remember that J-List carries a whole line of products that help you learn Japanese, such as hiragana and katakana notebooks, practice notebooks for learning to write Japanese, vocabulary notebooks, and more. Look on the "notebooks, study aids" sub-category under "Wacky Things from Japan." We love spreading interest in Japan in any form possible, and certainly encourage anyone trying to learn Japanese. (There's a little overview of what's involved in studying Japanese on my personal homepage, at http://www.peterpayne.net/ if you are interested.)

There's another interview at J-Mate, this time with the famous female AV director Chie Sugawara, who is one of Soft on Demand's top directors (she created the Deep Kiss series, and focuses on creating adult videos for women). It's a very interesting read, and gives insight into many of her productions as well as into the indies movement in the Japanese adult video world. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Greetings from J-List August 7, 2002

Greetings and salutations from your friends at J-List once again, once again coming from America's Finest City, San Diego.

The world of Health Care is quite different in Japan than it is in the U.S., but works very well. There are two kinds of health insurance, Social Insurance (Shakai Hoken), a system run in cooperation with private insurance companies, intended for employees of larger companies; and the nationally-run Citizens' Insurance (Kokumin Hoken), an insurance system for all families individuals not covered by Social Insurance. Formerly, the Kokumin insurance system covered only 70% of medical expenses, while the more complete Shakai system covered 90% -- but the Japanese government recently reduced the Shakai coverage to 70% as well, so there's not much difference in the systems. Medical care for children under 5 and everyone over age 70 is 100% free in Japan (there might be charges for medicines, I am not sure). It was kind of disappointing that back when America was debating the possibility of a national health insurance system, the Japanese system did not seem to be discussed or considered at all. With Japanese living the longest of anyone in the world, despite very high numbers of smokers, their health care system has to be a part of this success.

Going to the doctor can be challenging for foreigners living in Japan, especially if you don't speak Japanese. Fortunately, all doctors in Japan have studied years of English as part of their medical training, and know the complex English and Latin term of every disease in the book, whether or not you've heard of it. When the nurse hands you the little thermometer, don't do like I did and put it in your mouth -- in Japan, temperatures are always taken in the armpit, not orally (ewww!). Japanese dentists are famous for trying to get you to come back thirty times for your dental work, presumably because they're only allowed to charge a certain amount per day to your insurance, but doctors don't do that, and are happy to cure you in as few visits as possible.

One thing has changed recently, though. In the past, it's been common for doctors offices and hospitals to give you "white pills, blue pills, and pink powder" with no explanation as to what each medicine is supposed to do. I've noticed a definite change here, though -- when I went to the doctor two weeks ago, I was given a detailed print-out with explanations of each medicine. This is as a direct result of gaijin like me, living in Japan and observing things that could be improved, like the information patients are given about medications. One of the major "engines for change" in Japan is in fact its population of foreigners, whose observations have helped Japan see the need for a child carseat law (they got their first in 1999). Japan is said to be the only country that cares about what its foreign population thinks, but care they do, as there are many books on Japan written by "experts" who have lived here (and many are published and widely read in Japanese). Incidentally, every book in print on Japan seems to work in the famous Japanese proverb "the standing nail is driven" when describing Japanese society and why it discourages standing out from the crowd.

In Japan, the hardworking Japanese staff has posted another great update of products, with many dozens of new items from Japan for you to browse -- magazines, manga, DVDs, toys, and other wacky things from Japan. We've got everything from "wata choco" (cotton chocolate?) to rare indies DVDs to authentic Japanese Transformers toys to lovely swimsuit idol photobooks from Japan. So please check out the new and updated items! (Remember you can use the handy "three days" link on the main J-List page to see all items posted or updated in the past three days.)

The J-Mate site has been updated with new reviews of excellent titles by one of my favorite AV idols, Akira Watase. J-Mate (http://www.jmate.com) is a cool site where you can read reviews of DVDs and bishoujo game products from Japan, as well as read real interviews with AV idols, translated into English. Remember we're always interested in people who are willing to write up their reviews of products they love (or hate). We hope you'll contribute something to the site.

Well, that's all for this update. Thanks, and we'll see you next time!
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