Friday, March 17, 2006

Cultural reasons behind self-introductions in Japan, how to find good sushi, and Zeta Gundam III

A word you hear a lot in Japan is jiko shoukai (自己紹介) which just means "self introduction" but which has a special cultural meaning here. In almost any situation where people will be interacting, be it a classroom, a part-time job or the local PTA board, a new member will always stand and make a formal self introduction, telling the others their name (including how to write it in kanji), where they're from, what their hobbies or other interests are, and so on. Giving this information to the other members of the group allows them to categorize the newcomer properly, and in a country like Japan where factors like age and how long a person has been associated with an organization can determine their position in the senpai/kouhai (senior/junior) system, an official self introduction is important for everything to work properly. The new member of the group will usually use the phrase yoroshiku onegai shimasu, which is often translated as "nice to meet you" but is a lot deeper than that -- it carries with it a humble request that the current group members take the new person under their wing and aid them in the future. Jiko shoukai are used in ESL teaching a lot, too, and since formal self introductions are seen as the "most basic" form of human communication in Japan, the first thing a Japanese student of English leans to do is introduce themselves.

Our landlocked prefecture of Gunma is as far from the sea as you can get in Japan, but we love sushi nevertheless, and are always looking for good sushi restaurants. Japanese usually eat their most famous food mawari-zushi style, with plates of sushi moving along a conveyor belt, allowing you to take whatever you feel like eating as it glides by. Over the past half decade or so, Japan has experienced a deflationary spiral, with the prices for several everyday items actually falling. During that time, it seemed that the only sushi restaurants that could flourish were the cheapest ones, which offered plates of sushi for 100 yen or less. My wife and I disliked this trend, since the neta (the fish part of the sushi) at these places always left a lot to be desired, and life is too short to eat bad sushi, after all. Happily, we finally found a place that serves better quality fish at reasonable prices, with delicious red maguro and beautifully shaped ebi and tako, just the way we like it. As I've mentioned before, the very best sushi in Japan can be found in Narita City, near the airport. If you're ever in the area in the evening, take the train to Narita Station and ask any taxi deiver where Edokko sushi is (it's a three-minute walk from the station).

I took the day off early yesterday to go to a movie with my son. It was the third and final chapter in the Zeta Gundam: A New Translation movie trio, which compiles the 1985 Zeta Gundam anime series into three movies, adding new animation and various scenes in. As a card-carrying old school anime fan, I've always liked Zeta Gundam, the proverbial "Empire Strikes Back" of the Gundam world, when everything came together just so. It was great seeing the new designs for the characters as well as the new, improved ending. Being the father of a ten-year-old boy has given me a great excuse to experience a second childhood along with him. Oh, see the trailer here (Quicktime 6 req'd).

The Japan-only Kit Kat flavors have been extreme popular this year, and now we've got a new variety: delicious French Bretagne Milk, a white chocolate Kit Kat created by Le Patissier Takagi, who you may know from his appearances on Iron Chef. It's in stock on the site now! We've still got the excellent Green Tea Kit Kat for 2006 in stock, too, although we've sold through more than a quarter of our stock in just a week, so we recommend picking yours up sooner rather than later.

Spring is here, and there's no better way to deal with the constantly-changing weather than with one of our J-List hooded sweatshirts! J-List's hoodies are soft and warm, made of the best 80-20 blends available. We've got wacky messages like "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" and "Support the Emperor and Expel the Foreign Barbarians" as well as other aesthetically pleasing kanji. We're happy to announce reduced shipping on all our hoodies both inside the U.S. and for international customers, making it easy to pick up a hoodie!

Some shots from the film. If you're afraid of spoilers, stop reading now, although Zeta Gundam fans seem to extremely rare, well below the species threshold. Here's a shot of Camille, which according to Wikiedia is spelled Kamille (ugh).

This is Hamaan Kahn, the cool bitch of the Zeta universe. Damn, now I have to watch Gundam 0083 to see her 5 second cameo in that show.

The ending was reworked. While I won't give anything specific away, I'll say that "all the stupid stuff was undone" (and that goes for all of ZZ Gundam). Here's a money shot of Sayla, Char's sister and a character in the original series (famous for saying "Casval-oniichan!").

Mirai had to get a scene at the end, too. Amuro, too.

Another shot of Hamaan. God I love the redesign on her.

This totally snuck up on me! One of my favorite comics ever, coming to to a theatre near me. How thoughtful.

Monday, March 13, 2006

American magazines in the Japanese news marketplace, creases on your eyelids, and the truth about slurping noodles

Japan is a very literate nation, and there are many daily newspapers and weekly magazines that report and compile the news for Japanese readers. Over the past decade, as people here have gotten used to more and more participation in all forms of Japanese life by American and European companies, the American magazine Newsweek has worked to make a name for itself in the Japanese-language news market. Although most of us take the Time-Newsweek-U.S. News magazine format for granted, I'm sure it took some time for Japanese readers to get used to it. Compared with Newsweek's general approach to the week's evebts, most Japanese magazines are more specific, covering politics (AERA, Focus), business (Nikkei Weekly, President), arts and literature (Bungei Shunju), local events (Tokyo Walker, Pia), and so on. While color pages are always present, most Japanese magazines are still largely black-and-white, making Newsweek's all color printing a pleasant surprise for readers. There's one other big difference: it's common practice for some weekly news magazines typically read by men to include a few pages of beautiful models who appear au naturel, to give a little kick to the week's news, something that Newsweek doesn't emulate. The past week's issue had an interesting article asking "who owns English?" which discussed how the language is changing as it's adopted by countries all around the world. Japanese tend to obsess over "correct" English from America and the U.K. to the exclusion of all else, yet English is everywhere, in use in nearly all corners of the world, and always changing. So when the makers of Pocari Sweat come up with a new slogan for their sports drink ("Re-Body," click here to see the commercial I'm talking about), maybe it's not quite as weird as it first sounds.

Last night we had udon (oo-DON) noodles at my house, which are the fat, white noodles, as opposed to the thinner, grey soba (buckwheat) noodles. If you know anything about the way Japanese people eat noodles, you can probably guess that it was a very loud dinner, with everyone slurping away at full volume. We weren't being rude or anything -- you're supposed to slurp your noodles while you eat, bringing the little bowl of noodle sauce close to your mouth and sucking in both noodles and the sauce as you guide the noodles with your chopsticks (this makes it taste better). On several occasions I've found myself on the receiving end of comments from Japanese people that I eat "very quietly," not slurping my noodles enough, but after fifteen years here I think I've got the slurping thing down. While slurping ramen, soba or other noodles is perfectly okay, this doesn't extend to spaghetti, and every once in a while we see someone in a restaurant slurping his pasta like a vacuum cleaner, to the amusement of the other patrons.

In Japan, there are often concepts that are very difficult for Westerners to grasp. One measurement of beauty here is related to the number of creases in a persons eyelid when their eyes are open -- one crease (hitoe, hee-TOE-eh) or two creases (futae, fu-TAH-eh). Single-creasers have slender, traditionally Asian eyes, while those with double creases have larger eyes that look European to the Japanese. Getting plastic surgery to change the appearance of your eyes is quite popular among TV stars and young Japanese (although not as much as South Korea). I have to admit, I'd never considered that people had different numbers of creases in their eyelids until coming here -- it was a totally alien concept to me. Incidentally, we sell a wacky item called Double Eyelid Makeup, basically eye makeup that's very sticky, which "glues" your eyelids so that your eyes look larger, more like a foreigners'. We love to bring you our trademark "wacky things from Japan," this this item certainly fits the bill!

The Final Fantasy XII Potion was a smash hit, the most popular item over the weekend by far. Happily, we've been able to get additional supplies of this great item, which is a blue-colored health drink loaded with herbs and caffeine that comes in a gorgeous blue glass bottle that looks like a health potion from Final Fantasy, with one of six different caps. Whether you want to recharge your hit points or just display this oh-so-cool item, we've got stock for you, and at a reduced price, too. Also, we've posted full sets of these great potions to the site now, at least until our stock of these sells out. Each potion comes in a special box and contains a foil-wrapped card, and will be carefully shipped to you by our dedicated Japanese staff.

I went up to Karuizawa again over the weekend, and decided to visit the outlet center they have there.

Being an outlet, they have lots of stuff like L.L. Bean, Levi's and Eddie Bauer, which may be boring to you, but when you live in Japan these are shops that are convenient to have around. Here you can see that the Nike shop keeps their English at the level of most customers.

I liked this restaurant name.

Among the many stores in this large shopping center, there's one that sells Bounty paper towels, which are a big hit with Japanese housewives, tired of their puny Japanese paper towels.

I wasn't ready for a big jolt of culture shock, when I saw all the Spam you could buy. I mean, the only time I ever had anything to do with Spam was when we played our annual game of Spamball (you hit a can of Spam until it breaks open) at the anime club at SDSU. I go to Japan for a while, and Hormel gets delusions of grandeur?