Friday, December 30, 2005

On the Japanese concept of "normal," ideas that Japanese can't come up with, and how to be rude to the Emperor

Hello again from J-List. We're still enjoying our vacation in the U.S., this time in beautiful San Luis Obispo, where we've come to enjoy some natural hot springs (an American version of the onsen that we love so much in Japan). We're doing the whole tourist thing, visiting Hearst Castle, tasting wine, and eating corn chowder and potato pancakes at the Apple Farm Inn (a family tradition, whenever we're in the area).

Language always reflects the society that creates it, and there are many interesting words that give insight into Japan. I know that I consider myself quite a unique individual, and if you said I was the same as everyone else, I might be mildly insulted. But to many Japanese, being thought of as pretty much the same as everyone else -- embodied in the Japanese word futsuu, meaning "normal" or "usual" -- is not a problem at all, at least on the surface. When I was in college, I strove to be as different from everyone else as I could be, reading manga and blasting JPOP music in my car, but I had Japanese friends who made funny faces if I ever implied that they were very different from other Japanese, using either the words kawatteiru (meaning "odd" or "different") or the stronger hen ("strange"). At one of the Japanese bishoujo game companies we work with, there was a slightly odd programmer who legally changed his name to Reiji Abe, or in Japanese name order, Abe Reiji (ah-BEH REI-ji), because he wanted his name to have the same pronunciation as the English word "average" in Japanese. As an unique, individual American, sometimes I am hard pressed to understand Japan...

One thing about Japanese people: they often have a glorious, unifying sense about things, which is called joshiki which just means common sense. Joshiki pervades Japan, and helps explain why virtually all kids go to normal schools (there's no homeschooling in Japan) or why all babies are born in traditional hospitals (alternate birthing methods are very rare). I consider it a good thing that Japanese tend to be on the same wavelength on many important issues, although there are times when they seem to be incapable of conceiving of certain things that, say, might occur to foreigners, above the obvious like child carseats (which weren't required in Japan until 1999). A friend of ours runs a company and has rather a lot of debt, several loans at different interest rates. I suggested to him that he get one new loan at as low a rate as possible and use it to retire all the other loans he had, and this was the most brilliant idea he'd ever heard -- apparently no one thinks of things like that here. Sometimes the ideas that occur to gaijin are better left unstated though. In Japan, the kanji character kimi refers to the Emperor (as in Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem), yet the word is also a very informal word for "you," roughly translatable as "hey dude." I observed that, since kimi also refers to the Emperor, it might be acceptable to use this informal pronoun when addressing the Emperor himself -- surely an idea that could only occur to a gaijin. Bottom line, I don't think the irony of my suggestion was appreciated by the Japanese staff of J-List.

Remember that J-List carries the excellent region free DVD players by Lasonic, which allow you to enjoy DVDs from all countries, not just the U.S. and Canada. Whether you want to watch the high-end indies or anime DVDs from Japan, or enjoy discs from Europe, Australia or South America, the Lasonic players we've got are excellent for you. The players also play just about anything you can throw at them -- VCD, DVD-R/RW/R+ and more. But best of all, they're incredibly affordable, starting at just $68 for the Karaoke-enabled DVD-7880K, $109 for the full-featured DVD-7050, and just $148 for the take-anywhere M-280, which has a 7-inch wide screen and great features. All players are shipped out of San Diego for your convenience and are fully warranted.

Since this is the last J-List update of 2005, it's a good time to look back over the past year, which went by so fast our heads are still spinning. 2005 was a great year for J-List, and we brought cool products from Japan to tens of thousands of customers. We hope you'll continue to expect great things of J-List in 2006! So until next time, we'll say yoi otoshi o ("Have a Happy New Year"), which is what you say in Japanese before Jan. 1st -- after the New Year arrives, you break out with the akemashite omedetou (which literally means "Congratulations on opening the New Year").

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Japanese Daruma, the seasonal nature of Japan, and a sad day for Japan's Adult Video World

Japanese Daruma doll

One of the coolest images of Japan, to me, are the Daruma, the unique red, roundish dolls that are quite visible in Japan around this time of year. A Daruma is a representation of Bodhidharma, a historical figure from India who founded Zen Buddhism and what would become Kung Fu, and who attained his unique shape by fasting and meditating for so long that his arms and legs disappeared -- although I just know that if I were to ask my Japanese wife about this she'd throw up her hands and tell me she has no idea what I'm talking about. Like Japan's Lucky Cat, which beckons good fortune (especially in business or money) into your home, a Daruma is an object that promises to bring you good luck. The doll originally comes with no eyes drawn in, and when you make a wish for the New Year, you blacken one of the eyes with ink. If your wish comes true during the year, you color the other eye, and a Daruma displayed in a home or business with both eyes colored in is a statement of having attained success. While the Daruma is ostensibly a Buddhist icon, it's become associated with Shinto rites such as New Year's Day, and has kind of "jumped" from one Japanese tradition to the other. Every city in Japan stakes out a "meibutsu" or "famous thing," some object or food that it is famous for, and Takasaki, our neighboring city, just happens to be famous for these beautiful Daruma Dolls. Their official train station bento is Daruma Bento, too, which is well-known throughout Japan.

One of the first things I learned about Japan after going there in 1991 was that it was a very season-focused country, with specific customs and activities for each time of year. Want to buy a warm coat? Buy it in the winter months, since no store will stock them at any other time of year. How about a swimsuit? They're not available outside of May-August for love or money. Fireworks are popular in high summer, but if you wanted to get them at another time of year (for example, to throw your own Guy Fawkes Day bash), you're out of luck. Sometimes J-List customers will wonder why we don't have any stock of our cool "tatami" sandals (actually called "zori" in Japanese) right now, and the reason is that our shoe distributors shut down all production of sandal-type shoes when summer ends, and our backorder of these shoes probably won't be filled until April or so. Calendars follow a similar pattern, and as the very strict "calendar season" that lasts from September to December ends, no calendars will be available in Japan until the 2007 season rolls around. The moral of the story is that if you see something cool on J-List, such as our still-amazing selection of over a hundred 2006 calendars, it's better to snap it up sooner rather than later, since all too often the item will disappear from the site forever.

There's been a tragedy in Japan's AV world: innovative indies director Hajime, of Hajime Planning, has died suddenly. Hajime started out as a salesman inside Japan's maverick indies AV studio Soft on Demand, working his way up through the ranks until he was able to become a director, creating the kinds of videos he wanted to see made under his Hajime Kikaku label. He always had a knack for making interesting productions using off-the-street raw talent, with fresh ideas like "Study of Whale Shower." J-List's Tomo had a great relationship with Director Hajime, and attended his funeral yesterday. The ceremony was a Who's Who of Japan's AV world, with everyone in attendance, from SOD founder Ganari Takahashi to Dogma director Tohjiro to stars like Kurumi Morishita, and even the legendary Kazuhiko Matsumoto (who invented the most infamous AV genre to come out of Japan in the past decade) was there. Hajime was very happy to be able to have his works reach fans outside of Japan through J-List, and we were very glad to be able to help people around the world learn about his amazing works.

Remember, J-List is having a great free shipping sale (or half price shipping, for customers outside the U.S. and Canada) on our close-out T-shirt and hoodie designs. We've got dozens of wacky Japanese T-shirts, with original designs that are bold and interesting and show off your love of Japan to everyone. We've added our long-selling "It is forbidden to urinate" T-shirt (which is based on signs you can actually see in Japan, believe it or not) to our reduced price/free shipping sale. Browse our selection now, before your size sells out!