Saturday, October 08, 2005

What ordering a "tako" in Japan will get you, fun ways to learn Japanese, and our new kanji T-shirts

There are many interesting foods in Japan. One of our favorite treats is takoyaki, especially popular in the Osaka region. In stark contrast to the English word taco, tako is is Japanese for octopus; to differentiate the crustacean from the Mexican food, the Japanese always use the plural word "tacos" (takosu) for referring to the latter, even if they're talking about just one taco. Takoyaki are basically fried balls of batter that contain a piece of cooked octopus meat inside, painted with a delicious sauce. If you ever find yourself in Osaka, be sure to go to Otakoya, a takoyaki shop near the famous Glico neon sign in the Dotonbori area. Be warned though: you may have to stand in line for a couple of hours to be served -- that's how popular takoyaki is. Once in rural Japan we happened across a takoyaki vendor who decided to call his shop Tako Bell. My wife and I were completely floored with laughter at this unexpected sight. (Incidentally, we have some takoyaki making supplies on the site today.)

There are many ways to learn a foreign language: the Grammar-Translation method, the Communicative Approach, the Natural Method, Total Physical Response, and so on. Another time-honored way to learn a language is to "get attention" method, which I've labeled the Social Feedback Method to give it a cool-sounding name. Using this method, you learn enough phrases and words to passably communicate with the target group in such a way that you always get positive feedback, be it getting laughs from Japanese at a party, impressing cute Japanese girls, what have you. I had a friend who had taught English as a Second Language all around Asia, and he got incredible mileage from the phrase Shumi wa nan desu ka? which means "What is your hobby?" Another phrase you might try out is naruhodo, which means "I see" or "that's right" and implies having been convinced that the opinion of the person you're listening to has just made an impression on you. Another staple is honto (HONE-toh), which means "really" and can be used as a question (Honto?) or as an affirmation (Honto!). Another phrase that can be fun to know is "hen na gaijin" (lit. "strange foreigner"), but more on that below...

In Japan, instead of signing documents, you usually stamp them with a red "name stamp," called a hanko, that features your name in kanji, or in the case of a corporation, the company's name in kanji. While these name stamps can seem pretty odd to foreigners -- after all, what's to stop someone from stealing your stamp and taking all your money out of the bank? -- all in all the name stamp system seems to work pretty well. We've made two cool Japanese T-shirts that feature the unique name stamp design. The first shirt is for everyone who secretly wishes they had been born in Japan: Nihonjin ni naritai, "I Wish I Were Japanese." The second T-shirt features a phrase that all foreigners who come to Japan manage to learn within 24 hours, Hen na gaijin, "I'm a strange foreigner." Both shirts are in stock in standard sizes and ready for your order!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Foreigners and Japanese living in Japan, all about name suffices, and more

Hello everyone! It's time for another slice of life from J-List.

It's fun living in Japan and observing Japanese life and society, and some days I like nothing better than to sit and watch the Japanese people around me while pretending to work on my Powerbook in a Famires (a "family restaurant"). It's also interesting to observe other foreigners living in Japan, and study the psyche of this "lost gaijin generation." First of all, it's been my experience that foreigners here are often jealous of other foreigners, especially of those who speak better Japanese than they do; hence, most are always willing to badmouth Dave Spector, an American "talent" who's been on TV for two decades and who speaks perfect Japanese (bastard). Lafcadio Hearn, one of the first Western writers about Japan, also had to endure more than a little criticism by other foreigners living in Japan at the time. There seem to be three or more "stages of eye eversion" that foreigners go through when meeting another foreigners on a train, which I haven't been able to understand. I've stuck up some interesting conversations with people from Ecuador to Iran to Sri Lanka, speaking Japanese when the gaijin in question didn't know English. As Japan's population continues to decline, the share of foreigners working in Japan can only go up, and I wonder how the dynamics of society will change when that happens.

You probably know some of the suffixes that are used at the end of names. The most famous is -san (SAHN, rhyming with "one") which is added to the last names for politeness (e.g. Fujita-san), and sometimes to the first name (Tomo-san) to show a little, but not too much, informality. The -san suffix is used in business settings, too: for example, when we call Canon to order more Wordtank electronic dictionaries, we refer to them as Canon-san, and they call us J-List-san. Two other suffixes that are heard often are -kun and -chan, for boys and girls respectively (e.g. Taro-kun, Hanako-chan). Someone who is older (senpai, or upperclassman) would generally use one of these with someone who was younger than him (kouhai, or underclassman); the younger person would use -san when speaking to the older person. One suffix that comes up in anime frequently is -sama, for addressing high-ranking persons, samurai lords and so on. Actually, -sama is rarely used in regular Japanese life except in certain situations (addressing letters, for example). There are several polite phrases that have the -sama suffix in them, though, such as otsukare sama deshita ("thank you for your hard work," said at the end of the work day) and gochisou sama deshita (lit. "it was a feast," said when you're finished eating).

One of the most popular category products in Japan right now are "candy toys," miniature models and figures that usually come with some kind of candy inside the box. Today we've got a great item for Star Trek fans everywhere: Star Trek Alpha, a new set of Federation and alien ships from Furuta, the premier miniature maker in Japan. We've got full sets of these amazing toys for you.

The new Download Editions of our PC dating-sim games are proving to be very popular with J-List customers, which makes us very happy. We've posted the rest of the download versions of the popular G-Collections titles, allowing you to choose between shrinkwrapped CD-ROM or download versions (whichever you prefer). All titles are ready for your immediate order!