Friday, October 15, 2004

Greetings from J-List 10/15/2004

Hello from the J-List crew, this time in beautiful Guam, a small island three hours from Japan, and a U.S. possession that bills itself as "where America starts her day" (since it's on the other side of the international date line from the rest of the U.S.). So far the J-List staff has had a lot of fun, eating at Hard Rock and riding in submarines and doing plenty of shopping, generally enjoying our time as tourists here. To be honest, the weather's been less than cooperative, with sudden squalls interrupting our company vacation, but we're having fun nevertheless.

Reality TV has been around for a few years in the U.S., but the idea has been a popular facet of Japanese television for some time. The genre was perfected by the popular show Denpa Shonen (lit. "radio wave boy"), which creates weekly serials such as following two commedians as they hitchhike from the bottom of Africa to the top of Scandanavia, or showing the adventures of two other Japanese men determined to pedal a swan boat around the Japanese islands. A Japanese entertainer named Nasubi spent more than a year in a tiny apartment in Tokyo completely in the buff, trying to prove if a man could live only on things he won in contests. Of course it's Japan, so it's assumed that everything shown is "yarase" or scripted TV, a big problem here -- but if the producers didn't arrange for Nasubi to win something this week, he'd starve and die, and ratings would plunge. The most recent reality television in Japan pits thrifty individuals against each other, trying to see who can live for one month on $100 or less. You'd be surprised how cheaply these people can eat, when they set their minds to it.

One popular Japanese show that's above using faked stories is the venerable TV Champion, which features talented contestants competing to make outrageously beautiful works of art, folding extravagant origami creations, crafting beautiful cakes that resemble famous cathedrals around the world, or renovating old houses on ridiculously low budgets. It's always a joy to see what the creators of this show will bring us next. Japanese chefs making amazing works of art out of bread? 1001 creations involving strawberries? Testing archaic knowledge of kanji or Japanese history?

We've got tons of amazing items on the site for you now, from useful things for your kitchen to our amazing 2005 Japanese calendars to delicious snacks, DVDs, manga and more. We have so many amazing items on J-List, it can be hard to take it all in. In order to just view items updated in the last 3 days, you can use our handy "three day link", here:

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Greetings from J-List 10/13/2004

Hello again from Japan, where one of the most popular flavors of yogurt is aloe (but it's really good, trust me).

Japan can be a very complex place, presenting many conflicting faces at the same time. While it's true that Japan is a peaceful, wealthy nation with lots to offer anyone who lives here, the other side of the coin is that many Japanese can't handle the more oppressive elements of Japan's buttoned-up society, and opt out of their lives. There are around 30,000 suicides a year in Japan, the same number as in the U.S. despite the fact that Japan has half America's population. Tokyoites know when the trains stop due to an "injury accident," it really means that someone decided to end it all by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Those who take their own lives in Japan fall into several broad groups, such as middle-aged salarymen who face the embarrassment of "risutora" (layoffs, from the English word "restructure"), young students who can't endure the social pressures of Japanese school life, and business owners drowning in debt. Most recently, young people are forming "suicide pacts" and doing away with their precious lives in groups, presumably because they're too scared to die alone. Part of the problem is that counseling and use of drugs to help people in distress are all but non-existent in Japan, and when someone has a problem, they don't know where to turn for help.

The most famous Italian in Japan is Gioramo, an Italian man who speaks Japanese fluently and appears on variety shows as a sort of informal ambassador between Japan and Italy. Whenever there's a quiz show about the Roman Empire, Gioramo's on hand to offer his insights, and he also hosts the late-night Italian language show on NHK's educational channel. Japan has a tightly-knit pantheon of entertainers (aka "talents") who appear on TV, and it's interesting to observe how the entertainment world works here. It seems that as long as you're in a category all by yourself, you can be on Japanese TV. There's only room for one cross-dressing enka singer (the venerable Kennichi Mikawa), so no others need apply; American Daniel Kahl holds the monopoly on foreigners who speak Japanese with an accent from Yamagata Prefecture; and if you're looking for a very intelligent Japanese bilingual from Sri Lanka, Wikki-san will fit the bill, but he's the only one. In the 1990s, Ai Iiijima was the #1 adult film star in Japan, equivalent to Mimi Miyagi in the States. Through hard work, she was able to beat the odds and re-cast herself as a mainstream entertainer, and appears regularly on a variety of reputable shows, despite her infamous background. Since she occupies this unique niche on Japanese TV, it's doubtful that any other JAV idols will be able to jump into mainstream television.

We've got a great announcement for fans of Yulia Nova: the next two DVD releases are available for preordering. These fabulous discs feature two hours of dynamite footage of Russia's loveliest angel, who is incredibly popular both in Japan and throughout the Internet. Fully remastered for perfect video quality, both discs feature optional English subtitles and are free of pesky mosaics. There's a lot of good stuff for Yulia fans to look forward to!

For fans of our amazing 2005 Japanese calendars, we've got good news: we got in a whole bunch of calendars yesterday, and have posted all these items on the site, complete with new digital pictures so you can see how good the illustrations are. This year's Japanese calendars are really special, with beautiful illustrations printed on large sheets of glossy coated poster stock. Preorders for calendars we haven't gotten in stock yet will be closed very soon, by the end of the end of October or so. These amazing calendars, which are printedexclusively for the Japanese market, are really something to treasure, and we hope you'll look through our updated calendar pages. It goes without saying that these calendars make excellent Christmas gifts, too, but you should order soon, to make sure your calendar doesn't get away!

We're taking a trip! The entire staff of J-List is packing its suitcases and going to the island of Guam for a weekend of fun in the sun. Located just three hours from Japan, Guam is a kind of miniature version of Hawaii. While we're gone, the part-time staff will continue preparing all orders. We'll obviously be a little slow to reply to email over the weekend, but we'll get everything caught up when we get back. Itte kimasu! (lit. "I'll go and come back later").

October is just about half over, but some people still haven't taken advantage of our $1 shipping sale for all English-translated dating-sim games, which allows you to load up on some of the best recent game releases and pay just $1 for shipping per game (US/Can., international customers get half price on shipping). Also, in time for Halloween we've got some cool "goth" versions of our Domo-kun shirts, but these are limited edition shirts that won't be available forever. If you like these wacky designs, make sure you pick your shirt up ASAP!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Greetings from J-List October 11, 2004

One of the biggest problems the Japanese face today is it's anemic birth rate of just 1.38 children born per couple. There are many reasons why Japanese are having less children: increasingly complex lifestyles, women wanting to do more with their lives before having children, and the high costs of raising a child in Japan. Unlike the U.S., Japan doesn't have a large inflow of immigrants to take up the slack, which is why there are more Japanese over age 60 than under age 18. A big part of the birthrate problem seems related to the lack of sex drive in married couples, who find themselves perfectly happy to forgo sex in their married lives, causing the coining of the term "sekkusuresu" (sexless) in the Japanese language. Evidence of this can be seen in the high number of homes being built with separate main bedrooms, so that married couples can sleep in separate rooms. My wife reports that most of her female married friends have very infrequent conjugal encounters with their husbands, although they might be otherwise happy with the relationship in general.

The dynamics of money are quite different in Japan compared with the U.S. First of all, Japan is a very cash-based society, and it's quite common for monthly salaries to be handed out in bulging envelopes of cash (although many companies opt for the safer method of direct-deposit into employee's bank accounts). Personal checks don't exist here, and the concept of giving someone a signed slip of paper then walking off with merchandise is quite alien to the Japanese. Credit cards are slowly gaining acceptance, but it's more common for people who need to buy something on credit to use one of the high-interest "personal loan" companies that advertise on television so much. It's well known that the Japanese have a high rate of savings -- although it's been dropping in recent years, the average household still has US$120,000 saved, mostly in cash bearing extremely low interest. Just how low? I happened to pick up a bank statement my wife had on her desk, which reported a whopping 87 cents earned on a $10,000 CD over the course of a year. Although she knows this is lower than she could get in the U.S., she insists on doing at least half of her saving in Japan because it gives her peace of mind.

The word for foreigner in Japanese is "gaijin," written using the characters for "outside" and "person." While it simply refers to foreigners, the word is kind of harsh and can sound derogatory depending on how it's used. For this reason, the new official word for foreigners in Japanese is "gaikokujin" or "outside country person," a word that sounds much softer to the ear. If you watch the news on NHK, Japan's version of the BBC, you'll only hear this word used. One thing about foreigners living in Japan: while they usually don't appreciate Japanese calling out to them by saying "Hey, gaijin!" they're more than likely to use the term amongst themselves openly, without a second thought. We're rather odd that way...

Remember that J-List carries the famous Japanese gum Black Black, a caffeine-laced gum that will wake up you and keep you awake. Enjoyed by everyone from college students to truck drivers, Black Black has been mentioned in novels by William Gibson. And as with most of our gum and snack items, if you buy 10 or more you get a 15% discount at checkout.