Friday, April 02, 2004

Greetings from J-List April 2, 2004

Hello again from all of us at J-List!

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." People here don't seem very sensitive about it: it's still not uncommon for restaurants to not even have a non-smoking section, yet my wife and I seem to be the only ones who think this is odd. 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 not something we're used to seeing in the U.S.

It's time for more wacky trivia from the Fountain of Trivia, our favorite Japanese TV show. The colorful wrappers on Chupa-Chups were designed by Salvador Dali. The Playboy bunny logo was chosen because rabbits are famous for their sexual appetites (makes sense, really). Pulling a nose hair will cause tears to form in the eye on the same side of your face as the hair you pulled. Tokyo Tower was constructed using the iron smelted from 90 U.S. tanks left over from the Korean War which the Japanese government bought from the U.S.. If you give coffee to a spider, it will weave a crooked web, as if drunk.

There's a wacky thing that Japanese do to money: fold a 1000 yen bill so that Souseki Natsume (the 19th century novelist who adorns the Japanese 1000 yen note) makes sad or happy faces, depending on which way you look at the bill. I'll teach you how it's done so you can amaze your friends with this great Japanese trick. First, take a bill and make an outward fold where each of his eyes are. Make an inward fold through the middle of his face, so that his eyes are higher than his nose (like little mountains). If you look at the bill from above, the face will look sad; from below, and he'll look happy. Virtually all Japanese known this silly trick, and would be surprised if any non-Japanese knew it. Here's an example of what it'll look like when you're done: http://www.jlist.com/1000.html . If you don't have any Japanese money lying around, it should work pretty much the same with other bills, too. These bills might be disappearing soon though: in April, a new bill featuring Hideo Noguchi, a famous Japanese biologist, will be issued.

We've got another great selection of all-new Japanese products for you, courtesy of the hardworking J-List staff. Enjoy various new manga, DVDs, anime and character items, cool Sanrio items sold only in Japan, and many more cool items!

J-List customers tell us that the #1 way they hear about J-List is through word-of-mouth. We're very glad to hear this, and we're always happy to accept referrals! If you've got a friend who might be interested in our unique brand of Japanese pop culture, why not tell them about J-List, or ask them to sign up to our J-List updates? Thanks!

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Greetings from J-List March 31, 2004

Hello again from J-List. It's time for another slice of life from your friends in Japan.

The Japanese name registry (koseki) is an interesting creation. Basically, every city, town or village keeps in its official records a listing of all the families that live in its borders, as an official registry of the population. When a woman gets married, she moves her name from her family's registry to her husband's, taking her husband's last name and effectively becoming a part of that family permanently. The reverse works too: often, when a man moves in with his wife's family, he takes her last name (my father-in-law did this). The registry system was first enacted in 645 AD, although the modern system dates from 1871.

There are some inflexible aspects to the registry system. For one thing, Japanese couples are still forbidden by Japanese law to take separate last names -- they much both legally take either the husband or the wife's last name. No doubt there is some sexism involved, but the bigger reason is probably because they don't want this neat system that tracks every single Japanese citizen to get messed up. The other issue is foreigners: because we're not Japanese citizens, our existence isn't listed on the family's official registry, except occasionally in a comments field. This leads to some embarrassing problems: once a child welfare employee was dispatched to our house to check up on what they thought was a poor single mother and her two children.

The concept of the family registry is closely tied to the family's grave -- there's one large gravestone for each family, and to be part of a certain family means that you are interred inside there when you die. Our own family grave is located near our home, in one of many graveyards that dot rural Japan. Near the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, there are special memorial days called Ohigan (the o- is the honorific prefix that is used with many Buddhist terms), when the spirits of the departed come home for a visit. During this time, it's customary to go visit the family grave, wash it with clean water, burn incense, and arrange special flowers for the dead, which you can buy these at 7-11. Ohigan are solemn Buddhist events in the Japanese calendar, but the most important Buddhist holiday are Obon, usually July 13-16, another time when the dead come home to spend some time for the living. During this time, many people return to their parents homes to visit (like Thanksgiving in the U.S.).

For the new update, the capable J-List staff has put together another top-notch selection of DVDs, toys, snacks, household items and other wacky items from Japan. Please browse the new items on the J-List and JBOX.com sites. We hope we can serve you in some way!

Remember that J-List carries excellent magazine by our "reserve subscription." This means that you can get great anime, JPOP, fashion and other magazines sent to you as soon as the new issue is out in Japan -- a few days earlier than newsstands receive them here, in fact. Two of the most popular items we make available are FRUiTS, the fabulous magazine of Tokyo street culture, and Megami Magazine, a gorgeous anime magazine that seems bent on giving away so many anime posters and other cool freebees that they lose money on every issue. Payment through any method is fine (credit card, check or money order, etc) and you can stop your subscription at any time.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Greetings from J-List March 29, 2004

Hello again from all of us at J-List.

Well, I'm off on another adventure in the U.S. The Japanese school year ends in March in Japan, and we're taking advantage of the break to have a little vacation in America. We'll be leaving the kids with their grandmother and taking some time for ourselves: it's our 10 year wedding anniversary, so we're going on a cruise to Mexico. While we're gone, the competent J-List staff will make sure everything goes smoothly in our absence. We hope we can serve you!

There's no doubt about it -- the Japanese really love their tea. While in a 7-11 recently, I counted no less than two dozen brands of bottled or canned tea for sale, mostly variations on Japanese green tea and Chinese oolong tea. In addition to the normal Western canned tea like Kirin's Afternoon Tea, which are the only teas with sugar added, many brands competed for shelf space, including Kirin's Nama-cha (lit. "fresh tea"), Sapporo's Kyo-ryoku-cha (Kyoto-style green tea), Asahi's Marocha ("mild tea"), the popular Soukenbi-cha blended tea by Coca-cola, and various blends of jasmine tea. The latest fashion in bottled tea are healthy teas like Healthia, which contains beneficial bacteria and flavonoids that reduce blood sugar. As the market for bottled tea products heats up, manufacturers come up with ways to get you to buy their products, offering larger or smaller packages, keychains that you get free with the bottle of tea, or TV commercials with top stars like actress Nanako Matsushima. Unlike the U.S., where adding sweetener to products is a requirement in most cases, all Asian teas are completely unsweetened, and the unaltered, slightly bitter taste is really delicious. As summer draws near, we'll offer an old favorite at J-List: cold-water tea bags to make delicious Japanese mugi-cha, barley tea, a popular drink in the hot months.

One of the entries on the "You've been in Japan too long when..." list on my personal homepage is, "You've been in Japan too long when you have a favorite bush to pee behind." For some strange reason, Japanese men have a great tendency to urinate out of doors. When taking a drive somewhere, it's not at all uncommon to see an older Japanese man peeing by the side of the road, and while walking to J-List from my house, all of 300 feet away, I often run into one of our neighbors going into a ditch. The word for peeing outside is "tachi-shon" (standing-peeing). Tokyo people say that city-dwellers don't relieve themselves in this way, only people living in the "inaka" (the boondocks) do, but I've seen it done in Tokyo and Yokohama, so I have my doubts. The problem is so bad that you can actually see signs posted here and there proclaiming "It is forbidden to urinate here" (shouben kinshi). It was so wacky that we made a J-List T-shirt of this bizarre sign for you to wear.

For the new update, we've got a great new volley of new products for you, with everything from new snacks to photobooks to magazines to anime items and toys. Please check out all the great new items!

Remember that J-List sells delicious chewing gum from Japan, with many uniquely Japanese varieties available -- Black Black spicy caffeine gum (a cult favorite all around the world, written up in Wired), Lotte's Ume (plum) flavored gum, Sweetie (grapefruit), and the delicious thirst-quenching Dakara (very similar in taste to Pocari Sweat). Remember, if you buy 10 or more packs of Japanese gum, you get a 15% discount, too.