Monday, July 19, 2004

Greetings from J-List July 19, 2004

Hello again from J-List! For the fourth time this year, I've made the jump from Japan back to the good old USA, this time with my son. I do genuinely love Japan, from its wacky snacks to its kind people, but in the end, I think everyone really loves their home country best. Part of what's great about living outside the U.S. is, I realize what parts of America are really great and can appreciate them all the more when I'm home.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and there's plenty of imitation of America going on in Japan. There's a Japanese version of the Academy Awards, where Japanese actors and directors receive awards for Japanese films. Japan's version of 401(k) system goes by the original name of Japan 401(k). Imitation rears its head in television and movies, too. Often, the Japanese will remake shows from the U.S. or Europe, such as the Japanese version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (shortened to Quiz: Millionaire? to make it easier for viewers to remember). TV dramas also steal ideas from American TV and movies, such as one drama in the early 90's (Ai to iu na no moto ni, "In the name of love") which was a near-perfect remake of St. Elmos Fire, or another, Emergency Ward, that was Japan's answer to E.R. One drama had an original story involving a woman who falls for a wealthy man, but the last scene was a "tribute" to An Officer and a Gentleman, lifting the entire last scene from that movie. A new drama that just started, Fugitive, promises to be a Japanese-style remake of the excellent Harrison Ford film.

One of the engines that drives Japanese society and makes Japanese people the way they are is called "hito no me" (HEE-toh noh meh), which translates as "the eyes of others." In all that you do in Japan, there is the sense that you're being watched by everyone around you, and that if you stray too far outside the invisible lines of what is acceptable you'll be judged harshly. This tendency to be concerned with how you appear to others is a big part of Japanese daily life, and it's part of the reason why Japan can seem a very homogenous place when viewed from the outside. In Japan, you throw your garbage out on set days, and knowing what kind of trash is okay to put out on any given day can require a Master's Degree in Trashology. But if you don't follow your community's rules and put exactly the right trash out that morning (not, by the way, the night before), you'll suffer the ire of the ever-watching people around you, which subtly causes you to conform in ways that no threat of punishment could. Since most people in Japan are considerably thinner than they are in the States (at 100 kg/220 pounds, I am gargantuan for Japan, and have been asked by Japanese if I was a professional K-1 fighter), there is always that pressure to conform to the others around me and lose weight -- which is a good thing of course. In the U.S., we try to value adversity and individuality, and if we saw someone walking under an umbrella even though it wasn't raining outside, we might chuckle and say that he dances to his own tune. But in Japan there's less chance that doing something that no one else is doing will be viewed in a favorable light.

Related to "hito no me" is the idea of "joshiki," a word which translates as "common sense" but means much more. The Japanese all seem to have a built-in idea of how things should work, and they are very much in harmony with each other as a rule. It is "joshiki" that all kids will go to school to be taught and brought up as happy citizens of the society, and so there is homeschooling in Japan. Similarly, it is common sense that babies be born in hospitals, where they can receive the best care, and so there is very little in the way of alternate birthing here. An American friend of mine who was pregnant planned on having her baby and going back to work very soon after, but unfortunately, this goes against the "joshiki" rule that mothers should spend the first few years at home with their children before coming back to work, and she found herself blocked at every pass. This "all powerful common sense" that the Japanese seem to possess is always at work in Japan, and sometimes hard for non-Japanese to pick up on.

We'll be rolling out some new features on the J-List website over the next week, improving the way our shopping cart system works and adding new checkout features. We expect things to go smoothly, but as always, if you experience a problem with the J-List website, please let us know right away. You can always make orders through the secure email form (the link is in the upper left hand corner of every page) if there are problems.

For the new update, we've got some excellent products from Japan for you, with wonderful new DVDs, great new magazines and photobooks, many new manga, new anime and toy items (including more Totoro monster towels!), great snacks, and more. To see all the great items we have for you, please check the J-List website now. Remember you can check products added or updated in the past three days via this link:

J-List carries many delicious snack items from Japan. One of our favorites are Shigekix (from shigeru "to stimulate" and the English word Kicks), which are extremely tart "hard gummi" candies that are really fun to eat. Put 1-2 in your mouth and they'll make you pucker, but they're chewy and satisfying to snack on, and a whole package has very few calories. Check out our stock of great snacks from Japan!