Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My return to Japan, and little things that bothered me along the way

Hello again from J-List! I've made the hop from California back to Japan, and have once again slipped into my "Japan self." As usual, there was a day or so of culture shock as I got used to being in Japan again -- at Narita I found myself staring at the tiny rear ends of the stylish Tokyo girls walking in front of me, wondering how they could sit on something so small. Yep, I'm back in Japan now!

I've lived in Japan since 1991, a very long time indeed. After you've lived here a certain number of years it's possible for foreigners to apply for permanent residence status (the equivalent of a green card), which I obtained in 2001. Some gaijin who love living in Japan opt to go all the way and apply for Japanese citizenship, but I've decided that this path isn't for me -- it's more fun being an American who can speak Japanese than to be a blonde Japanese who talks kind of funny. Every time I go to through Narita I encounter two of my pet peeves, though. The first is the little card visa holders have to fill out when going through immigration: "Reason for returning to Japan?" Since I consider Japan to be my true home, having to write a "reason" is always annoying, and I leave it blank on purpose every time. The second minor annoyance are the Japanese signs that say Okarinasai (oh-KA-eh-ree-na-SAI), which means "welcome home," next to English signs that say "Welcome to Japan." The unwritten implication is that only Japanese people live in Japan, whereas anyone who speaks English as his native language is just visiting here, which is always mildly offensive to me.

While going through the airport I was reminded again of how much Japan takes its cues from the United States. When going through customs, you're required to declare any cash amount over US$10,000, just as when entering the U.S., and the amounts of how much wine, tobacco and coffee you can bring in without paying duties are also very close to the rules that apply in America. Compared to Japan, it seems that Europe is a lot more comfortable with breaking with the U.S., as seen in the recent "no" vote on software patents (which I cheered).

I'm happy to be back in Japan, but I'm happy for another reason as well: today is "D Day" for our hikari fiber (fiber optic) Internet line, which was installed this morning. It's taken us five years of hard lobbying including involving our city's mayor, but we finally have a decent Internet connection at J-List, with a maximum speed of 100 Mbps. J-List is located in a small city that's not exactly known for its tech companies, and what's worse, we're in the middle of the agricultural part of town (our office is surrounded by rice paddies), so it's been a lot of work getting NTT to bring fast internet to us. But our patience has finally paid off, and things are much faster now!

Monday, July 18, 2005

The end of Comic Con, and all about the Japanese concept of "enryo"

Whew! Well, we've just finished the final day of the San Diego Comic Con 2005, and boy was it was a lot of fun. There were something like 100,000 people at the show, and I think we met almost all of them at our booth. If you stopped by, thanks! Now my three week vacation in the USA has finally come to an end, and it's time for me to head back to Japan. I don't mind going home, but I will sure miss the wonderful weather we've had in San Diego -- it's in the high 90s there now, with plenty of humidity.

A week after I head back to Japan, my son will be coming to the States for his annual dose of American culture and English. In addition, a school friend of his will be coming for his first ever homestay in the U.S., along with his mother, who will be staying in our house, while both boys attend various summer camps and other activities. Knowing Japanese people the way I do, I made sure to teach my mother one important phrase of Japanese: enryo shinaide (en-RYO shi-NAI-day), which literally means "don't hesitate [to make yourself at home]." A key concept that's important to understanding Japan and Japanese people, enryo literally means to hesitate or to refrain from doing something. The concept comes up often in normal Japanese daily life, for example when eating pizza with friends. What do you do with the last slice? Japanese will almost let it sit there, denying that they want it, out of deference to the others who might like to eat it -- quite different from my college days when we'd fight each other to the death over the last slice of pizza. Enryo also comes up when you enter someone else's house: immediately, Japanese will start acting very polite, declining offers of food or drink, making statements like okamai-naku (o-ka-MA-ee NA-ku), "please don't trouble yourself." It's closely related to the Japanese sense of humility (kenson), something that is very important in Japan. In moderation, concepts like enryo are a pleasant aspect of the Japanese character, but of course, if someone were to visit your house for two weeks but be shy about eating, showering, doing laundry and so on, it would get awfully tedious. And so I made sure my mother knew the magic words enryo shinaide.

We had a treat for the attendees at the show: a new hooded sweatshirt version of our popular Totoro T-shirt, which looks and feels great and can now be found on the website. Our high quality hoodies are the best you can buy, 80-20 cotton-polyester blends that stay soft no matter how many times you wash them, much nicer than many of the cheaper 50-50 blends we see in stores. Enjoy our great new Totoro hoody in sizes S through 2XL now!

For the new update, the J-List staff in Japan has plenty of cool stuff for you, a bizarre DVD of a unique toy line (Maywa Denki), cute San-X toys for fans of plush toys that are cuter than Hello Kitty, cool fans with kanji on them, delicious Japanese snacks, more traditional Japanese sandals, a great Story! Image! Figure! series for fans of Trigun, cute Nattou Chan plush, Hidamari no Tami solar-powered relaxation toys, and more. See all new products on the J-List site here.

(yes, it's another "Peter is too busy to post actual pictures blog entry, sorry!!!)