Friday, October 22, 2004

Greetings from J-List 10/22/03

Like Bill Gates and Donald Trump, the movers and shakers of the Japanese business world -- the "shacho" or company presidents -- are constantly in the public eye. One of the most famous Japanese businessmen is Son-shacho (President Son, pronounced "sohn" so that it rhymes with bone), owner of the Softbank investment empire, which started back in the early 1980's when young Son-san brought a little game to the U.S. called Invader Game (Space Invaders to you and me). Now he's the prime mover behind Yahoo BB, a broadband provider that's cropping up everywhere, and has his investment fingers in every pie here. Another star in the business world is Takafumi Horie, the 31-year-old president of Livedoor, a Yahoo clone who wants to own a baseball team. The blogging young businessman, famous for wearing T-shirts even when being interviewed by prestigious news shows, rubs many established businessmen the wrong way. A third person who's well known in business here is President Goshn, Brazillian-born head of Nissan installed by Renault in 1999. He's turned the company around beautifully, and is hailed in the business press as a miracle-worker here in Japan.

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and you've never seen a more massive tangle of concrete, narrow roads, and interesting urban culture. A sprawling megacity that overflows into neighboring cities of Kawasaki and Yokoyama, the Tokyo metropolitan area is a separate geographic entity, not part of any prefecture (much like the District of Columbia in the U.S.). Tokyo's population of 12 million rises to 14 million during the day, as people from the surrounding areas commute up to 2 hours to work. The city has been the unofficial capital of the country since 1603, when Shogun Tokugawa unified the country and put his seat of power there; this status became official with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The name Tokyo means "east capital" and contrary to advertisements for airlines I've seen, it doesn't mean "capital of the East" (as in, the most important travel destination in Asia) -- Tokyo is to the east of the old capital of Kyoto. This naming comes from China, home of Peking/Beijing ("north capital") and Nanking ("south capital"). The layout of Tokyo is heavily influenced by the Chinese practice of feng-shui, or finding good luck through careful design of landscape or the layout of rooms.

If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, there's plenty to do, but bring plenty of money. The first place foreigners will probably want to go to is Akihabara, Japan's Mecca for electronics and otaku culture. To get there, ride the Yama-no-te loop line that goes around Tokyo, and watch all the other foreigners on the train; when they all get off, that's Akihabara. To experience the urban grunge fashion found in FRUiTs magazine and see a lot of cool shops, go to Harajuku; hit the Meiji Jingu shrine while you're there, since it's nearby. For a taste of Japan's youth-driven night culture, go to Shibuya on a Saturday night and just people-watch -- be sure and check out the famous statue of Hachiko, the faithful dog who waited at the station for his master to come home, not knowing that he had died, and the "scramble" intersection, Japan's most famous crosswalk. Roppongi is good for its clubs, and the Hard Rock Cafe there is the best in the country (there's a giant gorilla climbing up the side of the building). Shinjuku is a major train station and commercial area -- a whopping 2 million people pass through the station every day. As a fan of 80s anime, I've always loved Shinjuku, which appeared in everything from Megazone 23 to City Hunter. While Tokyo is a little short on traditional Japanese culture, one of the most popular sightseeing spots is Asakusa, a large shrine area with many nice shops around it. Of course, if you like sushi as much as I do, try to find any excuse to go to Edokko Sushi in Narita City, near the airport, for the largest, freshest sushi you'll ever find. We went there on our way to Guam and fell in love with it all over again...

Remember that orders for 2005 calendars will be closed soon, and when that happens, it will be very hard for us to get the excellent and rare Japanese calendars that you want unless we happen to have some in stock. Orders for calendars made after Nov 5th or so will be very hard to fill, so we ask that you get your calendar orders in as quickly as possible. They make wonderful Christmas gifts too!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Greetings from J-List 10/20/2004

Japan is very different from the States, and there are different social engines at work here. While I feel it's important not to over-beautify Japan with talk of the Way of the Samurai, or giri and ninjo (the Japanese classical ideals of honor and empathy), there are some concrete social concepts that are part of everyday life here. One is the concept of in-groups (uchi) and out-groups (soto), the idea that people outside of your group (your family, school club, company, etc.) are treated different, in effect by erecting a verbal "barrier of politeness" between you and them. Relationships in Japan are very vertically oriented, with a clear top and bottom -- you always speak differently to someone older than you, or to someone higher than you in a senpai/kohai (senior/junior in an organization) relationship. In North American English, we tend to speak more or less the same way to everyone, regardless of their age -- this ability to talk with people without excess formality is something English speakers do every day. However, when speaking with a superior in Japanese, you'd generally use polite language; failure to do so would sound "cheeky." I'm 36, and I've got Japanese friends in their 50's, but I can only think of them as "friends" (tomodachi) if I'm thinking in English; if I think about them in Japanese, they automatically become "acquaintances" (shiriai) in my brain.

There are some other concepts at work in relationships in Japan. One is "enryo," a word which means restraint or as a verb, to refrain from doing something. My Japanese teacher at SDSU explained it to us like this: a Japanese person comes for a visit to your home. You offer them a drink, and they say no thanks, they're fine. You offer again a few minutes later, and again they decline your offer. Finally you make your offer a third time, and they gladly accept. It may sound odd, but enryo is a kind of politeness that's important for getting along in a country with so many people crammed into a small space. It seems to be related to Japanese humility (kenson) -- if you tell a Japanese woman how pretty she is or compliment her English, she'll probably disagree with you strongly, a way in which Japanese avoid being boastful. There are many phrases in Japanese that illustrate this tendency to show humility in front of others. For example, when you give someone a gift, you usually say "Here's something that's not interesting" (tsumaranai mono desu kedo...) or if you bake someone a cake, you say, "I'm not sure if it tastes good or not..." (Oishii ka dou ka wakaranai kedo).

We've gotten in another huge volley of 2005 calendars yesterday and have added them to the site. We now have a total of 150+ amazing Japanese calendars in stock and on hand, with another 100 available for order but not in stock yet. Although it's our busiest time of the year, we love Japanese calendar season because of all the really special items we're able to make available for everyone -- uniquely Japanese calendars like the Joy of Sushi or Bento, talented artist calendars like Yoshitaka Amano, sexy idol calendars featuring beautiful women like Chisato Moritaka, delightful and rare anime calendars, and more. But remember -- calendars are a very seasonal item, and our current excellent supply will start to dwindle fast as the year rolls on.

Today we have a very special item for you: very limited stock of the ultimate Ghost in the Shell fan item, the Innocence Collector's Box, a massive 20 lb box that comes with tons of incredibly rare and special items for fans, including five DVDs totaling 549 minutes playing time, two art books, a deluxe figure of the gynoid robot, and more. Stock will be very limited on this amazing item, as it's already nearly impossible to find in Japan even though it just came out. (We'll be getting the Innocence Gabriel bassett-hound music box version in on Friday for fans who want to wait for that item.)

J-List's anniversary sale on English-translated dating-sim games is almost over! During the month of October, we're offering $1 shipping on all H games for you, allowing you to save tons of money on the excellent dating-sims we sell. International customers get half off the normal shipping, so if you're outside of the U.S./Canada, you can save too. As always, buy 4 or more games, get 20% off, too!

Interested in the hit Japanese mannequin drama OH! Mikey? This is a deliciously bizarre parody of an American family living in Tokyo, with fashion mannequins playing all the parts of the story. In addition to the cute antics of young Mikey, there is the oh-so-dapper father James, his wife Barbara, the playful Tony and Charles, Mikey's venomous cousin Laura, and more. All five DVDs in the OH! Mikey series are subtitled in English, so you can enjoy this most excellent and wacky example of Japanese television even if you don't understand Japanese. (The DVDs are region 2, so we humbly recommend the region free DVD players we just happen to have in stock). 3/22/05

Monday, October 18, 2004

Greetings from J-List 10/18/2004

Hello again from Japan, the home of a car called the Toyota Ism (named after the English suffix -ism, from words like existentialism, etc).

We're back from our vacation on beautiful Guam. It was a blast! My family had the most fun at the "Sea Walker" tour, which lets you walk along the sea floor 20 feet under, with an air helmet resting on your shoulders while fish eat out of your hand. Now the J-List staff is very refreshed, and we're hard at work, catching up on orders and email received over the weekend.

Today is my anniversary, the day I first came to Japan back in 1991. I sure experienced my share of culture shock back then: vending machines on every corner, streets that were 1/8 the width of what I was used to in San Diego, and a confusing mix of sparkling new glass buildings right next to rice paddies. Air conditioners also heat rooms, Kit Kat chocolates are wrapped three times, and Japanese-style toilets don't have seats -- you just squat and do your business as best you can. I was also surprised to find Christians in Japan, something I hadn't really been expecting. For my first Christmas in Japan, I was asked to play "Santa-san" at the local Baptist church -- having a real gaijin for your Santa Claus is the height of fashion for any Japanese organization. Mormon missionaries are a part of daily life in our prefecture, too -- they offer free English lessons to students as a way to get converts, and they're famous for riding mountain bikes and playing basketball with locals. I was shocked to see that they even had Japanese Jehovah's Witnesses, who stand outside of train stations in grey suits handing out Japanese versions of The Watchtower.

Every since my son was born, I've been enjoying my second childhood. I loved the original Ultraman TV series when I was young, and was able to relive it with my son when he was that age. (Japanese preschoolers sing a version of "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands," substituting "Ultraman" and his specium beam attack.) Now my son and I are having fun watching the classic Gundam series of the 80s, which are a lot easier to watch in Japanese now than when I was trying to understand them in 1987. The other day he busted me though, suddenly asking me how come I knew some much about anime when I wasn't even Japanese. I had to do some fast talking to get out of that one...

It's "shinmai" season in Japan right now, when "new rice" (the rice that was recently harvested) makes its way into the marketplace, and everywhere in Japan, restaurants and stores advertise that they're using delicious, fresh rice in their products. Although annual consumption of rice decreases every year as the Japanese diet undergoes changes, they still eat rice two or three times a day. Rice is so ubiquitous that the word for cooked rice (gohan) is used to refer to any meal, even if it doesn't include rice. Virtually all Japanese cook rice in an electric rice cooker, which allows rice for the whole family to be prepared with the press of a button. Companies like Mitsubishi and Zojirushi complete to bring the best rice cookers to market, with features like automatic timers, inner pots made of copper to simulate the taste of cooking rice a hundred years ago and the ability to bake bread.

When the three former Romanian gold medalists Lavinia Milosovici, Claudia Presacan, and Corina Ungureanu agreed to appear in the buff for two Japanese DVDs, they probably thought that no one outside of Japan would ever see them. Japanese video company V&R Planning offered a staggering amount of money to shoot the videos here in Japan secretly, but of course the secret got out, thanks to the power of the Internet. Now Gold Bird and Euro Angels are cult favorites, and are among the most popular DVDs ever carried at J-List. J-List stocks both of these amazing titles for you, as well as many other amazing ballet, gymnastics and other great DVDs that only the Japanese could have thought of.

Remember that J-List carries dozens of rare and cool items by Shirow Masamune, the creator of Ghost in the Shell (which indirectly spawned The Matrix), and pretty much the most incredible artist in Japan today. We stock many items for Shirow fans, including figures and toys, his illustrated novels, trading cards, and more. We also have all of his excellent Galgrease posterbooks in stock, each featuring four double-sized posters and a pack of really excellent trading cards. Get all three posterbooks and get 15% off, too.