One of the fun aspects of living in Japan is getting to watch Japanese television, which is always entertaining. One show we like is TV Champion, which pits contestants against each other to show off their amazing talents, whether it's remodeling a home using things people have thrown away, baking bread in the shape of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, showing off knowledge of Disney trivia or creating works of art with origami. Last week's show was a special treat, with three dedicated "Lego artists" making amazing creations with Lego blocks, everything from a Phoenix with flames coming out of its tail to a 3-D aquarium. For the finale, the winner created a giant car-shaped kid's meal found at family restaurants in Japan (it's called BuuBuu Lunch, BuuBuu meaning "zoom zoom"), which opens up into a complex underground world for little Lego children to play in. My own favorite entry was a 3-D space station made with Legos, with docking ports for the Space Shuttle, working lights, and compartments where Lego spacenoids could play "zero gravity soccer." See the fabulous creations here (the page is in Japanese).
Convenience stores (combini in Japanese) are fun to check out when you come to Japan. There are dozens of convenient store chains here, dominated by Seven Eleven Japan, which created the category in 1974 by adapting an American concept with Japanese-style distribution practices. Some other popular convenience stores are Lawson, MiniStop, Circle K Japan, Sunkus (the name is a merging of "sun" and "thanks"), and Yamazaki Daily Store. Convenience stores offer many products, including Japanese-style food (bento and onigiri/rice balls), various bread products (both sliced white bread and various specialty breads like Melon Pan and Curry Pan), drinks like canned coffee and bottled tea, all manners of candy and gum, aloe yogurt, and inexpensive toys for kids. The concept of personal checks doesn't exist in Japan at all, and most people pay their monthly bills by taking them to their local convenience store where they can be read by the cash register. In the winter, I love to go to a convenience store and get niku-man ("niku-mahn"), a Chinese bun which is basically meat inside steamed bread -- yum. There are microwave burritos to be had here, but be warned: with ingredients scrambled egg & ham or pizza and sausage, they might surprise you. Like Japanese banks, convenience stores here compete by trying to appear as similar to each other as possible, and by and large, you won't find something in one chain that's not available everywhere. Recently, Japan's combini industry has been moving towards large, customer-friendly parking lots, closing stores with smaller plots of land and creating dozens of dry cleaners, used car dealerships and "late night bookstores" located in buildings that obviously used to house convenience stores.
Most people know that in Japan, shoes are removed before you enter a house. This is done because to the Japanese, there's nothing dirtier than things associated with feet. Japanese houses always have a lowered section near the front door called the genkan, a convenient place to leave your shoes so they'll be there when you need to go out again (we built one into our house in America). Japanese know that Americans leave their shoes on inside the house from watching American television, and it looks very funny to them. While watching Shrek with my son, he commented on the fact that Princess Fiona was in bed with her shoes on, something unthinkable in Japan. Inside the house, Japanese usually wear slippers, and if a gaijin goes to a Japanese person's house, the Japanese person will give him slippers to wear, even if they're much too small for his feet. Although we try to "live like Americans" when we go to the U.S., most of my Japanese family (including myself) quietly leave our shoes near the front door when back home -- it just feels to odd to walk on carpet with shoes.
Here are today's "really cool products" that I thought were especially noteworthy. Note: the J-List links below may be for adult products and should probably be considered "not safe for work." See the JBOX.com site if under 18 or offended by this kind of stuff.
Tall women vs. short men. What would you do if all the women in the world were taller than you? Here's an interesting fetish which pits five girls 5'11" or higher against short men. The result is very interesting indeed.
Asuna Elmarit Figure. When you think of 80s anime, the name of Haruhiko Mikimoto comes to mind. He created the characters for Macross, Megazone 23, and many other influential anime series. Now he's penning a Gundam side story, a great item for Gundam fans as well as lovers of his dreamy art style. Comes with a figure!
Okinawa Domo-kun Strap. Here's a cool "ethnic" Domo-kun item, for fans of the spokesmonster of NHK, the Japanese BBC. A great strap for cell phone, PDA, camera or keychain, it shows Domo with an oni (ogre) in his backpack.
Sabra 002 Jan 2005. Ah, Sabra magazine. Although it's not the most popular magazine at J-List, we recommend it for its fantastic photographs, which are some of the best "sexy idol" shots you will see. Comes with a DVD which is also nice, and you can't beat the price. There is a lot of other cool electronic stuff you can follow in the magazine, too.
Yulia Nova Cosplay Series. Yulia Nova is a busty nude idol from Russia who has thousands of fans here in Japan, and around the world, thanks to the magic of the Internet. These three DVDs are the first all-new material (material that was shot more recently than Kizu-san's second trip to Moscow) to be released.