Every rule has an exception, and the Japanese writing system is riddled with so many exceptions, it's almost as complex as English grammar. Japan adopted China's kanji writing system back in the 6th century; before this time the Japanese had no writing at all. As a general rule, each kanji is supposed to have two pronunciations: the original Chinese one (suitably shoehorned into the Japanese phonetic system), and a native Japanese one. Thus, the character the Japanese use for car, which originally meant wheel, is read kuruma (Japanese reading) when used by itself, or sha (Chinese reading) when combined with other characters to form a more complex word, such as jidosha, automobile, or jinrikisha, a "rick-shaw"). The two-ways-to-read-a-kanji rule is more of a guideline, though -- many characters have only one reading, while a few have a dozen or more. Underlying the kanji system are the two kana syllabaries, hiragana for writing Japanese words and grammatical particles, and katakana for writing foreign-loan words and the names of foreign people and places. But katakana is sometimes used in place of hiragana for emphasis (kind of like writing in italics in English), and a few English words like tobacco, coffee and club have had kanji assigned to them, since they've been in use for so long. Incidentally, if you've ever wondered why the Japanese don't do away with kanji and write using the two kana syllabaries, the reason is that without kanji, the brain can't easily take in the chunks of meaning on the page -- for me, there's nothing harder than reading a children's book because there are no kanji to break up the sea of hiragana. Here's an example of some of these writing systems in case you're curious what they look like: http://www.jlist.com/writing
Christmas in Japan is very different from in the U.S.. First of all, it's a normal day like any other -- people fight traffic jams to get to work, and if they're Christian, they attend mass in the evening. Gifts are given, but mostly between couples, or from parents to children -- Toys R Us Japan has made sure that no child will go without toys each year. More important than Christmas Day is Christmas Eve, when most families have a special dinner, and eat the Christmas Cake that they reserved a month in advance. It's easily Kentucky Fried Chicken's busiest night, but sushi shops also do very brisk business. Christmas Eve is also a night for lovers: if you want to reserve a room in a popular love hotel on Christmas Eve, you have to do it at least a year in advance.
Today is Friday, and that means I'll be taking the kids to our favorite public bath. Bathing in hot springs ("onsen") and public baths ("sento") is a popular pasttime in Japan, and despite the hard economic times of the past few years, Japan's public bathing sector has been going strong. Our favorite bath is called Yura no Sato, and offers over a dozen different baths to enjoy, from traditional Japanese "kama" baths which are basically giant metal pots to baths with rocks on the bottom which massage your feet.
For fans of the incredible 2005 Japanese calendars, we've gotten in some cool new items, including the deluxe calendars of Naruto, Prince of Tennis, Magi Magister Negima, and more. These are really nice large-sized calendars that are shipped flat, and every year we're amazed at the quality of the printing and art. We also have a treat for fans of the lovely Russian Goddess Yulia Nova: extremely limited stock of her 2005 calendar, which is very hard to obtain even in Japan, let alone around the world. Get your copy before we run out.
J-List has tons of great items for the special people on your Christmas list. In order to help you pick something good, we've gone through the site and selected some items that we know we'd like to receive, if it were us. To see the items we've selected, click this link: http://www.jlist.com/SEARCH/gift_idea
Remember that J-List makes dozens of magazines available through our "reserve subscription" system. Basically, we'll reserve the current issue of each month's magazine for you and have it in the mail to you by the time it's in bookstores here in Japan -- a few days earlier, actually, since we get our stock earlier than most bookstores. We've got many different anime, toy, JPOP/JROCK, street fashion, idol and other magazines available, we just know there's something you'd love to get each month. See the magazine subscription pages on our site for more information.
Baffled by Bishoujo? Troubled over Tekoki? Confused about Kogals? Because the products J-List sells are very unique and special, many of the terms that go with them can be confusing and alien to people not familiar with the concepts. J-List maintains a complete glossary of terms where you can get answers to all your questions about Japanese words. The link is on the left side of the J-List main page.