Thursday, June 15, 2006

Back in Japan with culture shock, all about Japanese dialects, perceptions between countries and A-Kon wrap up

Well, I'm back in Japan now, the land of sushi and small cars and very cute things. No matter how often I zip between the U.S. and Japan it always takes a couple hours to get used to my new environment, and I like to sit back and "surf" the various shades of culture shock that wash over me (no doubt helped along by jet lag). As I stepped off the plane this time, I was immediately hit by the sticky, wet heat that is Japan's June rainy season, an unfortunate aspect of living here. There was a small mix-up with one of my packages not appearing on the baggage carousel, which was resolved by three Narita airport employees who did their jobs so professionally I was actually unable to speak, so great was my awe while watching them. The Japanese are big fans of 24-hour time, and as I rushed for my "Limousine Bus" (a very comfortable bus from the airport) I had to mentally convert the military time of 17:15 to 5:15 PM, something I hadn't had to do while in the U.S. Once I was safely on the bus for my home prefecture, I took in my surroundings. Sitting in the seat across from me was a young woman who was dressed so stylishly, with her little hat and color-coordinated nonsensical-English T-shirt and designer sunglasses, that she seemed like some kind of mannequin in a high-class department store. I knew I was back in Japan...

Every language has dialects (in Japanese, hougen, hoh-GEN with a hard "g"), and Japan is no different. I've heard that, since Japanese are more likely to stay in the same place all their lives, or move to Tokyo for work or education then do a "U-turn" back to their home prefecture soon after, Japan's dialects have a lot more variation to them than North American English. Often dialects are used to add a new dimension to a character in anime, and if you have a group of females in a given show, you can bet there'll be one whose "charm point" is speaking some cute but odd-sounding flavor of Japanese. Usually the subject of dialects is discarded when an anime series is dubbed into English, but not always: in Magic Knight Rayearth, a favorite of mine, there's a country called Chizeta where all the people speak Osaka-ben, which was (of course) brought over as Deep Southern ("y'all") in English. Another favorite anime of mine is Studio Ghibli's Ocean Waves, the story of a Tokyo girl who goes to live with her mother in Kochi Prefecture, on the fourth-largest Japanese island of Shikoku, after her parents' divorce. She has trouble getting along with the other kids in school in part because of the differences between Kochi dialect and standard (Tokyo) Japanese, and she offends the boy she likes by saying he talks like he's in a Samurai drama on TV. Beyond the famous major dialects of Japanese -- comical Osaka-ben, eerily polite Kyoto-ben, Gaelic-sounding Tohoku-ben from Northern Japan -- I've noticed an "artificial" dialect of the language. It's not uncommon for radio DJs to use gaijin-ben, speaking English-accented Japanese as if they were foreigners, complete with the over-inflected sentences that gaijin are known for. I guess it sounds "chic" to their listeners.

It's always fun to analyze how perceptions differ between two countries like Japan and the U.S. To me, my eyes are hazel-blue while the eyes of Japanese people are brown, but that same Japanese will tell you that their eyes are "black" (because the center of everyone's eyes are black). In the U.S., we refer to the # key on a phone as the pound key, but in Japan it's known by its musical notation name of "sharp." Up until World War II, many Japanese counted their ages from "1" starting at the point of birth (as opposed to 0), and many older Japanese still report their age according to this system, making their ages a year off from how it's calculated normally. Finally, there's our coffee maker, a large-capacity Mr. Coffee job from the States (since Japanese stores sell wuss coffee makers fit only for Hobbits). The switch to turn it on shows 0 and 1, and it's pretty clear to most of us that 1 means "on" and 0 means "off." However in Japan, a circle ("maru") is the universal symbol for "yes" and our Japanese staff invariably try making coffee by turning the switch to this setting, then wondering why nothing happens.

We've started a new section at J-List: PC Dating-sim Game of the Month, where we'll showcase a certain game and make it available at a special price for that month only. This month's selection is Casual Romance Club, a game that's kind of in a class by itself since it was released in Japan with the ability to choose either English or Japanese game text, as well as English or Japanese voices (love those Japanese-English accents). Featuring a large box and the most beautiful printed manual you'll ever see (a glossy art book featuring character info and game art), this is a superb game with twelve unique characters (each representing a sign of the Zodiac, naturally) and some of the best gameplay ever. It's a very large game, approx. 3 GB, installed on your PC from a DVD-ROM. On sale at a special price ($10 off) for a limited time now! "Suddenly, without warning, love takes you by surprise..."

Few more pics from A-Kon, since it was so much fun.

I've always loved Deed Leet, or whatever her official name is. (I am an old school fan, and we didn't use to have any English names for the characters in our anime.)

A hot girl at the show...

...who was working security for the dealers' room. Do you wonder why we're into anime?

Two nice costumes.

There were several Asuka's in the room. I liked this one, although there does come a time when cosplaying a 13 year old girl pushes the envelope.

Darling no baka!

Happy customer makes a purchase.

The J-List Mobile prepares to head home after a job well done.

And now, I bring you various quotes from the convention that I thought were notworthy...

"So you're saying, he's permanently cosplaying Tetsuo from Akira?" - said by a friend in reference to, well, nevermind.

"Douche-baggery!" - said by another friend in response to something, I forget now.

"Remember when you're going to sleep tonight, we'll still be in Texas." - friend who was slightly bitter that I was flying home instead of driving back with them.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A-Kon 17 wrap up, Peter's musings on anime cons in general, and who to watch in the World Cup

Well, A-Kon 17 is over and done, and all the fans have gone home. Tomorrow the J-List San Diego staff, aka the J-List Away Team, will start their long 24-hour drive home, while I (bastard that I am) fly out, since I've got to get back to Japan. As usual, this has been an incredibly fun weekend in which we met a lot of our customers, took pictures of a lot of great people in anime costumes, and breathed in the great culture that the 12,000 or so fans at the show had helped create. If you were among the many who came by to say hi to us, thanks for stopping by!

It occurs to me that not everyone reading this will have had the fortune of attending a really good Japanese animation convention, so I wanted to give you my own take on, say, a show like A-Kon, which is the oldest anime convention in the U.S. I'm a really old school fan, having been around when the first anime clubs in universities were organizing back in 1985. Back then, anime was so "edge" that practically no one knew what it was, and there certainly were no products available in English -- to be an anime aficionado back then was to be at peace with watching a video and understanding 0-5% of what was going on. When we stroll the halls of the convention and see all the changes that have taken place since then, we feel a bit like shepherds walking amid our flock, secure in the knowledge that we have, in some tiny way, helped bring about a healthy shift in the ecosystem of young people in the U.S., making them a little more open to ideas they wouldn't have encountered otherwise. We always love to hit the dance floor at a good anime convention, although one girl (dressed like Rei Ayanami) had the audacity to actually tell us we were too old to be there. Other fun things to do at a good convention include hitting the 24-hour anime rooms, trying your hand at some karaoke, or going to the anime game room (with plenty of good old games from bygone eras). We had a lot of fun at this A-Kon, and learned a few things too -- ramune soda and vodka go pretty well together, after all. We'll be back next year!

The eyes of most of the world are on Germany for the World Cup, and Japan is a country that really appreciates a good soccer match (yes, they call it soccer in Japan, not football). Japanese fans are getting very excited at their upcoming first game against Australia. Japan's head coach is the famous Brazilian Zico, regarded by Japanese fans as the "God of Soccer," who came to the country in 1992. While I've not always been a fan of Zico, mainly for his appearances in those awful high-interest loan ads on late-night TV ("I did it all by myself!" he says, showing how easy it is to use a faceless cash machine to borrow money at a 30% interest rate), he has done good things for the Japanese national team. Stars on the Japanese team include midfielders Nakata (a great player who speaks Italian fluently), Ono (known for his passing, he's played in the Netherlands), and Nakamura (he didn't get on with his manager because he's a "team player" but Zico prefers "creative players" who take more initiative). About the only time I see real patriotism and pride in the Japanese is during international sports events, and I think it's very healthy for the country to cheer their national team. We hope they do well!

Nice costumes. There were so many costumes it was impossible to grab pics of more than a handful.

These Yu-Gi-Oh guys were great.

Two guys named Peter. I was so thrilled, and got his autograph for my son.

No con is complete without its share of silliness.

She looks great.

Impossible to take pictures in the dance (or "rave" to use an alternate term that the young people certainly understand). But it was fun to try.