Friday, November 19, 2004

Greetings from J-List 11/19/2004

During my time here in Japan, I've had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of Japanese people, from children to an 88 year old barber who used to tell me what our city was like after World War II and the GI's were here. I've encountered smart young people who loved literature and an unexceptional middle-aged salaryman who surprised me by showing me pictures of the trip he took on the Siberian Express. But the one type of people I've met all too often are the bored, personality-less Japanese who seem to have no interests, hobbies or dreams whatsoever. Although there are middle-aged men and unfulfilled housewives who fall into this category, most of the people who fit this description have been teenagers, seemingly so bored with their lives that all they can think of to do is baito (part time job, from the German word arbeit) and video games, even as the springtime days of their youth pass them by. I know part of the problem is that I'm an over-stimulated American, but I've got tons of hobbies, hundreds of fun things I like to do alone or with my family, so it's especially shocking to meet someone who, when asked what their interests are, truthfully answers "nothing." We've racked our brains coming up for a word that describes this uninspired segment of Japanese society, but have come up empty, so I'll dub them shumi-nashi (translatable as "the Hobbyless") and see if the term sticks.

Japan is a complex place, and sadly, more than a few people choose to opt out of the rest of their lives through suicide. All too often, they choose as their final resting place a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji with the dubious honor of being Japan's most popular suicide spot. It's called Aokigahara Jukai, a "sea of trees" that lies near the various picturesque lakes that dot the Fuji area. Every year police and firefighters do a sweep of the forest to find anywhere from 50-100 bodies inside, a number which acts as a bellweather for the general emotional health of Japan as a nation. Part of the problem is news coverage -- as reporting on the number of suicides in the area increases, more and more people are drawn there. Aokigahara Forest is dangerous for other reasons too: mineral deposits in the ground cause magnetic compasses to stop working, which can trap hikers inside, and strange air currents have caused plane crashes, too. My Buddhist wife, who is quite in touch with the spiritual world, has declared that we won't be taking any family vacations in the Mt. Fuji area in the near future.

The most popular way for students of the Japanese language to find what level they're at is the Japanese Ability Test (Nihongo Noryoku Shiken), held every December at cities throughout Japan and around the world. There are four levels to the test: level four requires you to read hiragana, katakana and about 100 kanji (it sounds like a lot, but it's easy, trust me), while the highest level, level 1, requires the ability to read the 1945 joyo or "common use" kanji, a requirement for entering a Japanese university. But there's an even higher level for gaijin aiming for mastery of the language: giving a speech in Japanese. On Sunday, J-List's own Daisuke will be tying the knot with his fiancee, and according to the United Nations Convention on Japanese Weddings, as the boss of the groom I must give the opening speech in Japanese. Wish me luck!

As if we didn't have enough incredible 2005 calendars in stock for you, we've got two new items in today that you'll just love. First is a larger, deluxe Totoro 3-D desktop calendar which features Hayao Miyazaki's most popular creation enjoying some corn after a day's harvest. Then, we have a great Kiki's Delivery Service 3-D calendar which features Kiki preparing to depart on her great adventure with her black cat Jiji. Both are made of extremely detailed pre-painted resin and both can be used as unique photo stands when the calendar pages when 2005 is over.

Remember that J-List's wacky Japanese T-shirts are a fun way to wrap yourself in an esoteric Japanese message and broadcast your love of Japan to others. Our shirts are all 6.1 lb weight 100% cotton and printed with the highest quality silkscreening method that will last for many years. J-List goes the extra distance for you too, offering sizes from small all the way up to 3XL for most shirts. Order 3 or more shirts and get 15% off, too! These unique shirts make great gifts, too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Greetings from J-List 11/17/04

There are always interesting ways to gain an understanding of a society through its language. One word that speaks to Japan's rule-oriented approach to behavior are the words chanto ("properly") and chanto shita ("proper"), which are used to grant a higher status to "the way things should be done." Once, when I went to pick up my daughter from school, I watched the teacher showing the kids a kami-shibai (a story told to kids using sheets of cardboard with pictures on them) about the proper way to brush your teeth, the proper way to greet others, and so on. The word chanto was thrown around a lot. Of course teaching kids is one thing, but it's interesting to note that the concept of there being "one" correct way to do things comes up in a variety of situations. Almost without fail, those who don't do what's expected of them -- young people who drop out of school and play guitar in front of the train station, couples who live together without getting married, even crazy gaijin like me who quite their English teaching jobs to start companies selling interesting things from Japan to people around the world -- are seen in a negative light by society at large. Some examples of the word chanto in Japanese sentences are, Chanto benkyo shite kudasai (Please study properly) or, Kare wa chanto shita sarariiman desu (He is a respectable company employee).

Another word that comes up a lot is futsuu, which just means normal or average. Most Americans I know might be mildly insulted if you implied that they were the same as everyone else, but in Japan being futsuu is not a bad thing for most people. When I was in college, I strove to be as different from everyone else as I could be, reading manga and learning as much as I could about Japan, but most of my Japanese friends were actually offended if I said they were a little "kawatteru," a word which means "different" or "odd" -- they wanted others to see them as average and normal, or at least that's the face they showed to me. At one of the Japanese bishoujo game companies we work with, there's a slightly odd programmer who has legally changed his name to Reije Abe, or in Japanese name order, Abe Reiji (ah-BEH REI-ji), because he wanted his name to have the same pronunciation as the English word "average" in Japanese. As an "individual" American, sometimes I am hard pressed to understand Japan, even though I've lived here for 14 years.

J-List is happy to be able to bring you hundreds of import calendars from Japan, unique poster-sized calendars that are printed for the Japanese market but available to you through us. Every year, it's fun to see which calendars prove to be the most popular with our customers. As usual, anime calendars are leading the pack, with the beautiful Studio Ghibli in the top spot, followed closely by the Totoro desktop calendar for this year. Other popular anime shows like Inuyasha and Naruto have also done very well, with Full Metal Alchemist a close third. Calendars by famous artists like Vampire Hunter D creator Yoshitaka Amano and Haruyo Morita have done well this year, as have traditional art and photography calendars. Sexy calendars like Mai Hagiwara and Yoko Matsugane have also done very well, too. Every year some calendar manages to totally surprise us by beating all our sales estimated -- this year's surprise has been the Hokusai art calendar, featuring illustrations of the famous ukiyoe artist who also coined the term manga, meaning "whimsical pictures".

We're excited to officially announce X-Change 3, now posted to the site for preorder. The X-Change series is a popular dating-sim game trilogy in which you play Takuya Aihara, a normal Japanese boy who gets changed into a girl through bizarre chemistry accidents. Each time, he has many interesting adventures in his female body, as he desperately looks for a way to return to normal before the changes becomes permanent. Preorder this great new game for free shipping when it's ready. (X-Change 1 and 2 are in stock on the site.)

Remember that J-List carries photobooks, DVDs and currently, 2005 calendars, featuring Japanese ultra-cute bikini idols, who represent an interesting sub-culture in Japan as a whole. These cute-as-a-button girls generally fall into two camps: cute girl "sister you always wish you had" girls like Yuko Ogura, and the gorgeous girls like Yoko Matsugane, who are called "gravure idols" in Japan (from the French photogravure, an old kind of plate-based photography, although I never did understand the connection). Feel free to browse the excellent selection of beautiful Japanese women we have for you.