Friday, December 02, 2005

A new way of thinking about Japanese animation, and this year's Japanese slang words

Japanese animation has been a huge influence on the West over the years, and there are many ways that American media has reflected that influence, from the anime-style Colonel Sanders to the Powerpuff Girls to The Matrix. But no country is an island, even an island nation like Japan, and there are many ways that anime and related culture has been influenced by the West. In the Japanese dub of Bewitched, Samantha's husband Darren was named Darling, for phonetic purposes similar to why Americans think banzai and the bonsai trees are the same, and Lum calling Ataru her "darling" in Urusei Yatsura is a reference to this. Many anime series of the 80s have included tributes to the final scene from the film The Graduate, a long-running joke that pops up repeatedly. Increasingly, the popularity of anime outside of Japan decides the flow of things here. For example, manga-ka (comic artist) Shirow Masamune and Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo attained god-like status when their works exploded outside of Japan, and the popularity of Dragonball and Saint Seiya in the U.S. caused them to experience a revival in Japan, too.

Language is ever-flowing, always in motion, and it's always interesting to see what slang words become popular here. One year everyone was saying Bye Bye-Kin ("bai bai-KEEN"), popularized by a Listerine commercial that combined the English word "bye bye" and baikin (bacteria), the next everyone was saying "oh-HA!!" as the morning greeting instead of ohayo. The slang that's bouncing around these days is also fun to pay attention to. Since Japanese verbs usually end in ru (for example, taberu, "to eat"), some Tokyoites have invented a new word, caferu (cafe + ru), meaning "to enjoy a cup of coffee in a cafe." Another word you hear in the aftermath of the recent Japanese election is the Evangelion-esque Koizumi Children, referring to the young politicians who rode Prime Minister Koizumi's coattails into office over the Postal privatization issue. The most popular drama of the year was Densha Otoko ("Train Man"), and a lot of this year's words are "Akiba-kei" (related to the otaku culture you find in Tokyo's Akihabara area), such as moƩ (mo-EH) which refers to the passion fans feel for the manga or anime that they love, and Kitaaa!! ("Yes, this is it!"), which you can see on our Mona Neko shirts. Finally, comedian Masaki Sumitani has created a rather odd on-camera personality called Razor Ramon HG (you might not want to know what the "HG" stands for), who does a silly dance and shouts "Foh!" Currently Japanese from elementary schools to the elderly are hooked on this strange word, and imitate him often.

Last time we posted the new Hello Kitty soft acrylic blankets, which are extremely luxurious and stylish. Today we've got another treat for you: My Neighbor Totoro blankets featuring one of the most famous characters in all anime-dom. There are three sizes of blankets on the site -- full sized for use on a bed, a half sized blanket that's great for curling up in front of the TV with, and a handy lap blanket.

J-List works hard to bring you the fascinating PC dating-sim games from Japan, translated into English and great for fans of bishoujo ("pretty girl") games all over the world. Today we've added convenient sets of games by Peach Princess to allow you to buy these great games and save. There are three sets to choose from: X-Change 1 & 2, the Crowd set (which add Tokimeki Check in! and Brave Soul), and the Will set (four games by Will).

J-List is ready and eager to serve you this holiday season, and our hardworking Japanese and U.S. staff are ready to speed your order out to you with speedy speed. Please browse our stock and let us know what we can do for you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Japanese people I have known, what makes girls act so cute, and a fun day for parents

During my time studying Japanese and teaching in Japan, I've met many different types of Japanese people: hardworking salarymen and not-so-hardworking ones, serious students and not-so-serious ones, young people who love the literary works of Osamu Dazai (author of the powerful novel "No Longer Human") and others who read nothing but manga. I've always enjoyed observing the various types of people I've been able to meet during my time here, and teaching ESL was one of the best jobs I could have asked for -- it allowed me to come into contact with hundreds of people, from small children to young individuals trying to determine what path they want to take in life to older Japanese who could tell me about their past experiences.

One archetype of Japanese female I've been fascinated with over the years are the burikko (boo-RI-ko), girls who are extremely concerned with appearing "cute" and girlish in front of others. Coming from the words buru (to pretend) and ko (child), the term refers to girls who act coy and childish as a way of getting attention. The hallmark of a burikko is referring to herself in the third person instead using the word "I" (usually atashi for females). Girl children do this when speaking, and it's a staple of cute anime characters too, such as the character Michiru in the Air TV anime, who introduces herself by saying Michiru wa, Michiru to iu (lit. "Michiru is called Michiru"). This kind of cute behavior is also quite common on TV, especially in the adorable swimsuit idols like Yuko Ogura, who has cultivated the art of appearing cute as a way of turning her fans into melted butter. It's okay, up to a point, but when you see a young woman in her early 20s acting like a 13 year old girl, it can also be annoying.

In Japan, there's a fun custom called "753" which is pronounced shichi, go, san in Japanese. It's basically an excuse for parents to get extremely beautiful photographs of their sons (at age 5) and their daughters (at ages 3 and 7) taken. J-List's own Yasu has a daughter who is three now, and they got some really cute pictures taken of her, complete with pink kimono with little bunnies sewn into it. Kawaii!

J-List loves to bring you unique products from Japan, items that let you bring a little piece of the country into your home. In Japan, they sell high-quality acrylic blankets, so soft to the touch you find yourself stroking them like a cat. My mother is a big fan of these soft Japanese blankets, and regularly has me bring her back some when I go home to visit. This year we're happy to announce that we've got large-size Hello Kitty soft blankets in stock, a real treat for fans of Sanrio's flagship character. The blankets are full-sized, measuring 140x200cm (55x79 inches), suitable for any use, and boy, are they warm.

Announcing lower shipping on all T-shirts and hoodies! As our way of saying thanks for helping make J-List's wacky Japanese T-shirts and hoodies so popular, we've lowered the shipping rates for you. The new weight-based shipping is especially good if you're ordering multiple items -- for example, the shipping for ordering four T-shirts is now almost half what it used to be. This makes our unique T-shirts and hoodies a fantastic item to consider giving for Christmas, especially with our automatic discount for buying 3 or more. We want you to think of J-List when buying great items for your friends and loved ones, and we hope we can serve you in some way today!

Hey, pictures from Japan! I finally found my card reader and grapped a few weeks worth of pictures off my phone. Here are the iTunes cards and iPods they sell in Seven Eleven, er, I mean Seven & iHolding, or whatever they're calling it. Looks kind of condomish.

The second Zeta Gundam movie came out a couple of weeks ago. Here is my oligatory "look, they have beer in Japanese movie theatres" picture.

Four Murasame looks really good with the new character design.

...Yet one of my favorite scenes, the kiss in the park, was done using hte 1985 footage. D'oh!

The other night was Jiichan's Birthday at our house, which always means a bit-ass plate of sushi. We ate ourselves silly, which is called tarafuku (eating so much you are about to burst) in Japanese.

Of course, beer is a requirement when eating good sush. Or even bad sushi.

Monday, November 28, 2005

All about Japanese roads, a Mongolian sumo wrestler does good, and goodbye Mr. Miyagi

You've been in Japan too long when you see a road with two lanes going in the same direction and assume the one on the left is meant for parking. Since Japan is quite a small country, with half the population of the U.S. crammed into an area 1/25 the size, it's not possible to make the roads as wide as some of us would like, and in some cities (notably, old castle towns that didn't get bombed during World War II) there are roads so narrow a car and a bicycle couldn't fit side-by-side. Since buying land for parking spaces is expensive, it's common for some business to expect customers to park on the street in front, despite the fact that cars stopping along the road effectively closes off one of the the two lanes. Many convenience stores are like this -- you can see five or six cars idling in front of a Seven Eleven, often with with the keys in the ignition and the cars running (since no one would steal your car in Japan). Other minor frustrations that make driving in Japan less than fun include railroad crossings (all cars must stop when they come to one) and of course Japan's never-ending road construction.

Well, Mongolian-born sumo wrestler is kicking butt again: Asashoryu won his 14th tournament victory, his 7th consecutive, and for the first time, a sumo wrestler has won every tournament in a single calendar year. At just 143 kg (315 lbs), Asashoryu is a lot leaner than now-retired giants like Hawaiian-born Konishiki or Musashimaru (both over 270 kg/595 lbs when they were wrestling). The emotional Asashoryu was actually in tears as he clinched his victory on Saturday. In other sumo-related news, Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu (whose name sounds pretty cool -- it combines a Japanese harp (koto) with oshu, an old word meaning Europe) was promoted to ozeki, the second-highest rank in the sport. Sumo wrestlers fight 15 bouts in each tournament, held six times a year (three in Tokyo and one each in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka). Sumo wrestling, the official sport of Japan, has been around for centuries, and is mentioned in the earliest written records (around 700 AD). Sumo wrestlers fight their bouts from lowest to highest rank, hence you can follow sumo by watching the last 20 minutes or so of each NHK broadcast, since the most interesting wrestlers appear last. This explains the "hurrying home to catch the last few minutes of sumo on TV" phenomenon you see in expat gaijin living in Japan.

I caught the news that actor Pat "Miyagi-san" Morita of Karate Kid fame had passed away at the age of 73 (along with the amusing tag line from Fark, "Cobra Kai wanted for questioning"). I've always felt an odd connection to the famous Japanese actors I watched on TV during my childhood, like Pat Morita and George Takei (although as a former ESL teacher, I can tell that all the grammatical errors Miyagi-san makes aren't ones a real Japanese person would make, since he actor spoke English as his first language). I hope Pat is enjoying a cold one in the Sapporo Brewery in the Sky.

J-List currently has an incredible stock of over 200 different 2006 calendars from Japan, including rare and popular anime (Totoro, Ghibli), JPOP (Gackt, BoA), Japanese idol (Leon Kadena, Yuko Ogura), traditional photo (Idols in Kimono, Famous Castles of Japan), and much more. This year we're also carrying the svelte 2006 Diaries (aka daily planners) sold every year in Japan, which are a great way to stay organized. All the diaries feature full monthly and daily calendars for 2006, allowing you to write in appointments and keep track of everything. Plus, they give you information like which days are the lucky and unlucky Buddhist days, feature maps of Japan, and great photos to look at all year long. Check out our selection of daily planners from Japan!

Remember that J-List sells the very popular iTunes Japan Music Cards, which are the only way to buy JPOP music from Apple's Japanese iTunes music store, unless you happen to have a credit card registered with an address in Japan (even I don't have one of those). Buying music from the iTMS Japan is incredibly easy -- just make a new account tied to an iTMS Japan music card number, and you can browse and make purchases from the iTunes already in your Mac or PC. All functions of iTunes work in your native langauge even when viewing the Japan store, and of course music from Apple's iTMS-Japan is fully compatible with iTunes and iPods from any country.