Friday, November 26, 2004

Greetings from J-List 11/26/04

First of all, happy day after Thanksgiving, if you're in the U.S. -- we hope everyone had a warm and wonderful holiday with friends and family. It's usually quite hard for American expats here to get into the spirit of that particular holiday, since the Japanese don't have anything like it, and usually we go to KFC and get a bucket of chicken. However, this year we actually managed to find real frozen turkey at a supermarket that sells various import foods. It was even on sale, since most Japanese don't have large enough ovens to cook a turkey in (but we do). So for the first time in my life, we're going to have a traditional Thanksgiving in Japan - wow!

While the various cultural gulfs that separate Japan from the West can feel vast at times, it's also amazing how close we can be, too. I like to go to karaoke, and once I was asked to sing September by Earth, Wind and Fire by a student of mine, who wanted more than anything to hear it sung by a "nama no gaijin" (a foreigner in the flesh). I obliged, amazed that the Japanese would have an affinity for pop music from the 70's. My wife has always surprised me with knowledge of obscure American television that was shown in Japan, like "My Wife is a Witch" (Okusama wa Majo, aka Bewitched), Charlie's Angels, Knight Rider and Wacky Racers (Muttley's Japanese name is Ken-Ken). My experience with Chinese living in Japan has been quite different. An American friend of mine married a Chinese exchange student from Beijing, and once I took them out to the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi. Virtually all of myriad cultural references that surrounded us were totally lost on the poor girl -- she wasn't even sure who the Beatles were or what they'd been famous for.

It's time for more wacky tidbits from the Fountain of Trivia, our favorite Japanese TV show, which amuses us every week with off-the-wall trivia that you never dreamed of. On Thai Airlines, there's a section that's even nicer than First Class reserved for Buddhist priests. There are 48 official ways to defeat your opponent in sumo wrestling (called "shiju hatte" or the 48 hands) -- and also arm wrestling. One of Nintendo's first products was a "love meter" which measured the amount of love between two people when they held hands. There's a national competition for supermarket clerks, who compete on speed, efficiency and friendliness. There's a record featuring the howling of Hachiko, the famous dog that waited years for his master to return home to Shibuya station in Tokyo, not knowing that his master had died -- they played the record into a Bowlingual dog translator to try to decode what he was saying. When you clip your fingernails, the pieces fly away from you at an average speed of 39 kph (24 mph). Manekin Pis, the famous Belgian statue that Japan is utterly fixated with, commemorates a brave boy who, when he found a bomb with a lit fuse, thought of a unique way to put out the fuse and save the town. Finally, Charlie Chaplin's manager...was Japanese.

A useful word to know in Japanese is kakko ii (KAH-koe EE), which literally means "good style" and corresponds the slang word "cool." The Japanese can be very style-oriented, and like to surround themselves with cool things -- incredibly advanced cell phones, fashionable clothes, and products with English written on the package, since English is always cool. The opposite of kakko ii is kakko warui, which describes anything that is uncool or out of fashion. Things that are not popular in Japan these days include drinking martinis (made uncool by too many scenes of actors drinking them in "trendy dramas" on TV), jeans bleached with "chemical wash" (to make them appear old), and taking leave of someone by saying "Bye Bye Kin" (BAI BAI KEEN), which was made famous by Listerine commercials here (baikin is Japanese for bacteria, so you're saying goodbye to the germs in your mouth). Another word that means uncool in the Tokyo area is dasai (da-SAI), which supposedly is a reference to Saitama Prefecture, the somewhat-urban, somewhat-rural area north of Tokyo that's not unlike Orange County near Los Angeles. Dasai is supposed to be short for dame na Satmama (stupid Saitama), but is used in the Kanto area to refer to anything that's generally dorky.

Announcing J-List gift certificates! Our customers told us that they wanted the convenience of giving the gift of cool things from Japan to their friends and family, and we've listened. Now you can buy gift certificates in several different amounts, choosing several options, like a message for your recipient and whether you want the certificate to be from J-List or JBOX.com. You can also opt for electronic delivery via email, or have us send your recipient a physical gift certificate that they can use online. Gift certificates will be redeemable after Dec 10.

Remember that J-List carries a full line of Japanese snack foods, with many rare cult favorites in stock for you, like Pocky, Black Black caffeine gum, and also the delicious and popular Felix the Cat bubble gum, which is famous all the world over (we're not sure why this is, but we don't mind). Why not make someone a unique gift basket of treats from Japan this year?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Greetings from J-List 11/24/04

The Japanese import many words from other languages for use in their daily lives. Usually the words are from English, but every once in a while words from other languages sneak in, like randoseru (school backpack, from the German raenzel), ankeeto (questionnaire, from the French enquete), and pan (bread, from the Portuguese). This doesn't stop the Japanese from assuming that every word written in the katakana syllabary is English and trying to use the terms with English speakers. A source of confusion for Yanks is that the Japanese have imported many British words, such as bonnet (hood of a car), water closet (bathroom), dust bin (trash can) and pants (which refers to underwear everywhere but the U.S.). Some traditions the Japanese have embraced, such as the penchant for eating Christmas Cake around 25th December, also seemed odd to me at first, but of course, Christmas Cake is a concept the Japanese picked up from the British. Living in Japan can help you learn a lot about the world!

The largest group of foreigners in Japan aren't American or Australians or Brits. They're Koreans, an interesting group because many of them were born and raised right here, and often don't even speak Korean unless they attended one of the Korean-only schools that pepper the country. To an American like me, it's odd that these people would not be considered Japanese, as all children born in the U.S. get to be American citizens automatically. But the relationship of Korea and Japan is a very complex one, somewhat akin to that of Britain and Ireland, and more or less by mutual agreement of both sides Koreans often live for generations inside Japan, never allowing themselves to become culturally assimilated. Or is it the Japanese who keep the Korean population from truly becoming part of their society? I couldn't possibly say for sure. On the one hand, it's not difficult for anyone (even white-boy gaijin me) to get Japanese citizenship as long as he meets certain reasonable requirements. Japan is always very sensitive to possible accusations of racism, so there are no groups that aren't "allowed" to become Japanese citizens. Many Koreans object to the Japanese requirement that all persons wanting to become naturalized must take a Japanese name, e.g. Taro Yamada, as well as requiring that many jobs, including teaching at public schools, be done only by persons with full Japanese citizenship. Koreans living in Japan make sure they only hang out with other similar-minded Koreans (e.g., South with South, North with North), lest questions arise about their loyalties. There is, unfortunately, a lot of organized crime related to North Koreans, everything from making North Koreans born in Japan pay protection money to "support" relatives back home to mass-production of high-grade cocaine. Gunma, the prefecture we live in, has many companies that make pachinko machines, and for some reason, pachinko, North Korea and crime always seem to go hand-in-hand around here.

We're extremely happy to announce that Little My Maid has gone "golden master" and is on its way to the CD-ROM duplicators now. This is an amazing game, one of the most popular interactive dating-sims ever released in Japan. You are a Japanese youth who is depressed about failing your college entrance exams and the subsequent loss of your girlfriend, Yukari. You meet a strangely-dressed maid on a beach, and the next thing you know, you've been invited to a mysterious mansion where beautiful maids serve you every whim. Can they heal your pain and allow you to find eternal happiness? A fantastic game that features full facial animation, 100% mosaic-free graphics and a game story of unsurpassed depth, we hope everyone will preorder the game for free shipping when it's ready. (You also get cool Little My Maid cards, keychains and other stuff with every preordered copy.)

Whenever we get new candy toy items, so-called because you usually get some kind of candy inside with the toy, we think to ourselves how cool it'd be if the Japanese would make miniature toys based on the Battlestar Galactica series, one of my own favorites as a boy. Well, the Konami toy company has heard our pleas, and an amazing series of miniature toys based on the original series is coming in March 2005. Preorder this incredible set now!

We'll be moving our mailing lists to a new mail server that will have lots of new features. If Friday's mail fails to reach you for some reason, or if you notice any other problems with our update emails, please contact us and let us know about the problem. Thanks in advance!

Are you interested in finding a Japanese girlfriend? If so then we've got just the right item for you, our best-selling "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" T-shirt, one of our most popular products in our history. Featuring a bold message in easy-to-read kanji and "rising sun of Japan" circle, it's available in a hooded sweatshirt, too, as well as a cool "flowing calligraphy" alternate version. We also have shirts for females looking for males of the Japanese persuasion, too.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Greetings from J-List 11/22/04

Hello again from Japan, where the law that governs private ownership of weapons is known as the Swords and Firearms Control Law.

I do love the food here in Japan. But while sushi, sashimi and udon noodles may be what you think of when you think of Japanese food, people here eat many different things. First of all, many Chinese dishes have been folded into Japanese food life for so long it's impossible to separate the two, with items like fried rice (chahan) and chow mein noodles (yakisoba, really good with kim chee in it) being the staples. The Japanese eat a lot more meat these days than they used to, although a steak here is often really a "hamburg steak" or steak made from hamburger meat. In addition to steak, the Japanese have a fun dish called Shabu Shabu, thinly-sliced meat which you boil in a pot in front of you, then eat. Yakiniku, or Korean-style barbecue, is also very popular. Ramen is a Japanese twist on noodle dishes eaten in China, and each corner of Japan is famous for a different type of ramen. The batter-fried shrimp and vegetables known as Tempura is heavenly, although it it's not really Japanese -- it originated in Portugal. The Japanese also adapt Western foods and come up with something original. One of my favorite dishes is Omurice, fried rice with ketchup with a thin omelette over it -- it's especially delicious tasty when my wife draws a heart shape with ketchup for me.

What's your hobby? My hobby is studying English. When you come to Japan to teach ESL, or English as a Second Language, you have to be prepared to be immersed in a society where complex linguistic concepts aren't expressed very often, and it can take actually take a toll on your language skills. When I first got here, I was confused by the other English teachers I met, who seemed to be speaking far too slowly and clearly, pronouncing letters in words that are usually reduced, like the "t" sounds in "party" or "button." When I was a teacher, I'd go for months speaking almost no English except to my Japanese students, and after a while, my speech patterns would get pretty weird. It's possible to lose the ability to recall difficult words, too -- I once racked my brain for an hour to come up that word that means "something you can't live without" (the word was "irreplaceable"). When you're teaching English to kids or low-level adults in Japan, you end up doing a lot of "jiko shokai" (self-introductions), teaching them how to talk about themselves. Before long you're saying things like "My hobby is anime" about yourself.

Have you gained some weight? If you're a big person and come to Japan, be prepared to hear light-hearted comments about your weight, especially if you gain weight. Although it's usually taboo to make mention of a person's girth in the U.S., in Japan it's quite common to start a conversation with a friend by asking him if he's gained weight recently. It's not fun, but you get used to it quickly enough, and the Japanese mean no harm in it -- it's just a kind of small talk, like talking about the weather.

We love to bring you cool things from Japan each and every day. Many of the delicious chocolate and snacks that we sell are only available in the cooler months, since they melt like nobody's business in Japan's humid summer. One of our favorite snacks is Melty Kiss, a yummy fudge square that, in addition to having one of the most bizarre names in Japan, tastes great. This year we're overjoyed to announce that in addition to classic "Precious Cocoa" flavor, we've got Matcha Melty Kiss this year -- a cube of velvety green tea wrapped with chocolate fudge. Yum!

Remember that 2005 calendar season is going on RIGHT NOW. Every day more and more of our unique calendars sells out and is removed from the J-List site automatically. We still have 180 amazingly rare anime, JPOP, traditional, swimsuit model or other calendar in stock for you, but the longer you wait, the greater the chance that the calendar you want will disappear before you can pick it up. These amazing large-format calendars are great because they're only sold in Japan around the end of the year. When you've got one of these great items on your wall, you know you've got something special. Get 4 calendars and save 15% off, and get your mailing tubes free, too. Browse our selection right now by searching for the term "calendar."