Friday, October 08, 2004

Greetings from J-List October 8, 2004

Hello and Happy Friday from all of us in Japan!

Japan is truly the home of the "boom" -- every year, it seems, something new appears out of nowhere and catches everyone's interest. One year it's bleeping electronic pets, the next it's sneakers with 8 inch heels and horn-rimmed glasses worn by young girls. The latest craze in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics and video game mecca, are maid cafes, where you can go to be served coffee and cake by a beautiful girl dressed in a maid's uniform. Having a quiet place where you can talk to a girl in a costume is supposed to be very healing, and this year, businesses that appeal to "otaku" customers are really doing well. The idea builds on the success of Anna Miller's, the restaurant chain that employs women dressed in sexy waitress uniforms, making the Anna Miller's waitress as famous an image in Japan as the Playboy Bunny in America. Mandarake, a chain of used bookstores in Tokyo and Osaka, also sells cosplay imagery to its customers, allowing those purchasing $10 or more to vote for their favorite costumed employee, who gets a cash bonus if they win the most votes.

Although Japan is a modern, safe country, and Japanese are usually kind and helpful to foreigners, there are some things you have to get used to if you're going to ever live here. Seafood pizza, crowded trains, drunk men on those same crowded trains, bank cash machines that close at 7 pm, having a picture of a naked girl sandwiched between articles in a news magazine -- they're all part of life in Japan, for better or for worse. One minor frustration I always had was getting used to the habit of Japanese shops and restaurants closing on a set day of the week, their "teikyubi" or regular weekly holiday. Whether I go to the local department store or to my favorite ramen shop, chances are I'll screw up and go there on the one day it's closed, and have to make other plans. Japanese never make this mistake -- they have some latent knowledge about which stores are closed on which days, and plan ahead.

What a year we're all having. While hurricanes in Florida and rumblings under Mt. St. Helens in Washington have been grabbing headlines in the U.S., Japan has had it rough, too. In addition to the largest number of typhoons in recorded history -- we're currently being drenched by the 22nd storm of the season -- the eruption of Mt. Asama and a big 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered near here have been giving Northern Kanto the jitters. Wherever you are in the world, please take an extra moment to think about safety for you and your loved ones.

In recent months, J-List has run some ads in magazines such as Starlog, Import Tuner (a magazine for Japanese car enthusiasts), and Newtype USA. If you've come to J-List by seeing one of our ads, please shoot us an email so we know that our ads are working for us. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Greetings from J-List October 6, 2004

The problem of how to pay for retirement for aging populations is plaguing
many nations today, and Japan is no exception. In order to make retirement
savings stretch further, some Japanese have come up with a solution: "long
stay," a new term which refers to retiring for many years outside of Japan.
More and more, Japanese couples are choosing to spend their twilight years
in countries like New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia, where the cost of
living is low yet access to good hospitals is available. The Philippines
has been encouraging Japanese to come and form expat communities there,
too, building modern hospitals with Japanese-speaking staff. My wife and I
really fell in love with Spain when we went there a few years ago, and are
planning on spending our "silver years" there when the time comes.

We've got a new part-time girl at J-List, helping out with our rush of
calendar orders. I hadn't met her yet, so I went to her today to introduce
myself -- and gave her quite a shock, as she wasn't expecting an American
to suddenly appear and start talking to her in Japanese. Although gaijin
are a tiny portion of Japan -- the official number of registered foreigners
is around 1% of Japan's population of 120 million -- the number of
foreigners who master Japanese is even lower, especially outside of cities
like Tokyo. The Japanese do like foreigners who speak Japanese, and there's
quite a long list of famous gaijin "talents" (a catch-all term meaning any
kind of television personality) who appear on news and variety shows to
give their opinions in Japanese (most gaijin hate these guys because they
speak better than us). The Japanese are fascinated with "gaijin" Japanese
accents, and radio announcers regularly read scripts in Japanese with
hammed-up "American" accents because it sounds cute to listeners. Pepsi did
a series of commercials featuring a bald American who yelled at the screen
in heavily-accented Japanese about how good Pepsi was.

One of the biggest changes to come to Japan in the past decade or so is the
birth of actual competition. In the "old Japan" of the bubble years,
Japanese businesses engaged in "cooperative competition" with each other,
basically offering exactly the same service at the same price as their
competitors. In those days, getting your hair cut was an extravagant,
two-hour long affair, which included a cut, massage, aloe facial treatment,
and a complete shave of your face, neck and (I am not kidding) ear lobes.
At around $35, it wasn't cheap, but it sure felt good. No matter where you
went, though, Japanese barbers gave pretty much the same excellent service
at the same price, with very little variation in what they would offer.
Banks were another area of cooperative competition. They always provided
pretty much the same services, and no bank did anything the others wouldn't
be willing to do -- in short, competing by trying to act as much like their
competitors as possible. Now, however, things have changed. There is a lot
more choice when it comes to getting a haircut, with discount hair stylists
and various variations in-between. I now get my hair cut for $10, and
although it's not quite as satisfying as the old $35 deluxe treatment, I
can take the money I save and go to a sento (public bath) and feel almost
as rejuvenated. Banks have also seen big changes, with the advent of
Internet-based banks, foreign banks that offer accounts in dollars or
euros, and so on.

J-List has tons of 2005 calendars available right now, both in stock as
well as preorder calendars that haven't started to come in yet. Japanese
calendars are really special, with large poster-sized pages and beautiful
glossy printing. J-List goes out of our way to make a huge selection of
these calendars available to everyone, offering anime, JPOP/JROCK, swimsuit
idol and other calendars for order -- including esoteric calendars which
might not appeal to everyone, but which might be just what you're looking
for this year. We humbly suggest that these Japanese import calendars make
great gifts this Christmas. Get your calendar order in quickly!

Remember that J-List sells our world-famous Japanese T-shirts and hoodies,
with original designs and messages like "I'm looking for a Japanese
Girlfriend" and Domo-kun's face. Our shirts are printed in the USA on 100%
cotton 6.1 lb T-shirts that are of very high quality, and the shirts are
printed with the highest possible quality printing for extra-long life,
even when run regularly through clothes dryers. Also, we make sure to offer
a wide selection of sizes, from small (and even XS) all the way up to XXL
and XXXL, depending on items and colors. Buy 3 of our T-shirts or hoodies
and get 15% off!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Greetings from J-List October 4, 2004

Japan is ecstatic about the achievement of Ichiro, Japan's current favorite son, who beat the record for most hits in a season set back in 1920. The Japanese like nothing more than having one of their own gain recognition around the world, and names like writers Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe and directors Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki have a special place in the hearts of people here because they raised Japan's image internationally. The Japanese are great fans of baseball, and to have one of their own distinguish himself in the Big Leagues like that makes everyone very proud here.

As always, it's interesting to watch the unfolding of American politics from outside the U.S. I can really get a bird's-eye view of my own country, looking in from the outside, and I've had interesting discussions with British, Canadian and Australian expats about various aspects of American politics. As the U.S. election approaches, Japanese newscasters regularly follow the campaign, giving commentary on every facet of the battle for president, which is often a tall order since there are so many differences between America's electoral system and the Parliamentary system that Japan uses. Gaijin like me are able to vote in the election too, thanks to the absentee ballot system, which Japanese are always amazed at -- they don't have anything like that for Japanese living outside of Japan. While I've voted for candidates from both parties in my life, I am personally concerned about one party -- GOP or Democrat -- controlling both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency. I believe it's fundamentally healthier for America when power is shared between both parties, which forces them to struggle and reach compromises that are good for all of us.

Time for some trivia. In case you were wondering what the Japanese use to estimate the size of a person's privates, well, we'll tell you, and then you'll know. Unlike in the U.S., where the size of the hand often indicates male size, here the size of a man's nose in relation to his face supposedly indicates whether or not he is well endowed. So if you've got a large nose and come to Japan, you may find yourself surprisingly popular with girls (although your mileage may vary). In similar silly Japanese fashion, the area inside a woman's ear (the little cavity formed by the bottom of the "S" shape) supposedly indicates the general size of her womanhood.

If you use a XML news reader, you can follow updated J-List products easily with our RSS feed, which lets you easily check your favorite blogs and news sites (the link to our "R" feed is http://www.jlist.com/feed.xml). We'd had some problems with our feed which might have caused errors to appear in some readers, but we believe we've fixed them now. Feedback on our RSS feed is always appreciated.

We have a wonderful update for you today, with many great items. First of all, the first batch of 2005 calendars has come in, and we've posted them to the site post haste -- no waiting! We'll be getting more and more calendars in over the next few weeks, so if the item you want to get still says "preorder" it means those calendars haven't come in yet, but will be in soon, so feel free to order it. We've also gotten our stock of the Otaku Catalog, the collection of essays on otaku culture released at the international symposium on architecture and culture in Venice, Italy. It's very interesting reading for anyone interested in Japan's unique sub-culture.

Remember that J-List carries authentic Japanese "loose socks" in two different sizes, and also carries "socks glue" which you can use to glue your socks to your legs to hold them up. Worn by virtually all Japanese high school girls (except those who go to strict schools where they are forbidden), they look great when bunched up just so. Enjoy a little slice of Japanese fashion culture courtesy of J-List -- they also go great with the authentic high school uniforms we sell, too! Great for cosplay, too.