Friday, July 14, 2006

Comparing cars in Japan and America, culture shock I get in my home country, and Americans don't like to say "goodbye"

Japan and the U.S. are very different places, and the cars that people choose to drive are different, too. In the U.S. the top-selling cars tend to be sedans like Civic (#1) or Camry (#3) or larger vehicles like Toyota's RAV4 (#9) or the Chevrolet Tahoe (#10). The top selling cars in Japan are usually small and stylish, often of the type known as "one box" (basically, boxy hatchbox cars), like the Suzuki WagonR (#1), the Daihatsu Move (#2) or the Honda Fit (#4), all very stylish cars that are marketed to hip young people who want to buy an inexpensive car but still have something fun to drive or pimp out. These cars tend to be "K" class vehicles, meaning that they have engines of 1000 cc or smaller, making them very fuel efficient -- the standard-gasoline WagonR gets 47 mpg/21 kpl, not bad at all. Besides the obvious fuel savings, another reason people are buying more efficient cars is that Japan's road taxes are set up to encourage them. Drivers of vehicles with large engines would pay a "road tax" of almost $1000 every year, but drivers of "K" cars pay around $60. Not all cars on the roads in Japan are small and efficient, of course, and you can see a huge range, from BMWs to the really big Land Cruisers, and even a surprising number of Cadillacs and Jeep Cherokees on the roads. But it's nice to have a choice.

Daihatsu Move

Because I live outside the U.S. and only come back to visit a few times a year, it's interesting to see what changes I notice. During the 15 years I've lived in Japan, I've often been on the receiving end of culture shock in my own home country, feeling like Rip Van Winkle, or perhaps his Japanese counterpart, Urashima Taro. When I went to Japan, it was not that common for manufacturers to print Spanish or French on their products, but then one year I came back home and bam, every package was shouting New! Nuevo! Nouveau! at me. Back in 1991, you completed a credit card transaction by signing a piece of paper, but overnight (from my point of view, anyway), everyone went and got those computer terminals you sign on directly. Today we ate dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours, Gaetano's Pizza in Tierrasanta, one of the few businesses to change very little over the past 30 years (despite Walmart, etc.), and I noticed that the sign had been replaced since the last time I'd been there, something I probably wouldn't have spotted if I'd been seeing it on a daily basis.

Something about living in another country makes a person think introspectively about themselves. The features that make Americans Americans and French French are collectively called kokiminsei" in Japan, translatable as national personality." Basically, this word refers to the list of traits that people from a certain groups tend to share, some of which are certainly stereotypical but which may nevertheless be largely accurate. When I started J-List back in 1996, I started tapering off my ESL teaching, saying goodbye to my students as J-List grew to devour all my waking hours of free time. One school I taught at held a party for me, with karaoke and all the trimmings. Afterwards, I got a ride home with one of my students, an interesting lady in her 40s who was studying English because she wanted to live abroad for a few years. "Well," I said as we neared my house, "I'll see you later." "No, you won't," she replied. "A person has the same number of 'sayonaras' in their lives as first meetings, and we won't see each other again. But please be 'genki' in your future life." For some reason, being told "goodbye" in such absolute terms was more honesty than I was used to, and I was somewhat unsettled by her words. It seemed to me that Americans (or at least, this particular American) tended to substitute light-hearted parting words ("see you later") even when this clearly wasn't the case. Maybe we as a people don't like to say goodbye?

Remember that X-Change 3, the excellent dating-sim game by Crowd, is in stock and shipping now. One of the most popular interactive "H" game series ever, the X-Change trilogy follows the life and times of poor Takuya, who has a habit of changing from male to female at various points in his life. If you haven't ordered the third chapter in the series, we hope you will, as it's one of the best games Crowd has done in a long time. Of course, all our PC dating-sims are fully translated into English and mosaic-free, so you can enjoy everything about the story. Why not browse our game selection now?

Pictures of the Miata run. It was a lot of fun, although no matter how I cranked the Initial D soundtracks, it didn't transport me back to Mt. Akagi.

A gaggle of Miatas.

Went to a newphew's birthday party. He was ten. If he were Japanese I'd make a job about him being tensai which means "ten years old" but also "genius" (therefore, everyone who is ten years old is very smart).

My newest nephew Nick wasn't the birthday boy, but he was the star of the show.

"So, why does this guy keep speaking Japanese to me?"

That was quite a good picture. Nick has five brothers and sisters so he will never be alone, even when I'm back in Japan.

Heh, we asked Joey, the birthday boy in question, if he had any profound wisdom to pass on to little Nick. He said: "All I know is, that in ten years of life, I've never learned what the word 'profound' means."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The value of spending a year abroad, various definitions of "bilingual," and observations on Japanese females

If you ever find yourself in the position of giving guidance to a young person, try to turn them onto the idea of spending a year outside their home country, preferably as an exchange student in college. Dorothy was right -- there's nothing that can make you realize that "there's no place like home" than going away for a while and learning to deal with the differences found in other countries on a day-to-day basis. Just taking a trip for a week or two doesn't seem to do the trick -- you have to spend a few months or a year to get the full effect. Since I'm back in San Diego now, everything from Mexican food to Pop Tarts to Peter Pan peanut butter seems a little more precious to me than before I first went to Japan so long ago. Last night I pulled a Bud Lite out of the fridge and savored it slowly, just because I could -- there are hundred other beers I'd rather be drinking, but because you can only get Bud Light in the U.S. of A., it was somehow more special to me. I had the same experience when I lived for a year in New Zealand as a boy -- I remember when the first Pizza Hut in Aukland opened in 1976, and we cried tears of joy to eat something familiar from back home.

The concept of being "bilingual" in a language is an interesting one. After four years of studying at SDSU and fifteen years of living in Japan, I'm as bilingual as I could ever need to be -- I can discuss various subjects, read a newspaper, and so on. But no matter how much you study a language, there's always an undiscovered linguistic country waiting around the corner, a new aspect of the language that can throw you. My father was a nautical engineer, designing high-speed boats and writing books on the theory of marine dynamics, and once he asked me to translate a patent he had created, which was certainly an interesting journey into a bizarre world of arcane kanji and Japanese grammatical structures. Contracts are another highly specialized area of the language, with some features that are no doubt left over from ancient China. For example, when dealing with a contract in Japanese, you quickly become familiar with two kanji, koh (甲) and otsu (乙), which in Japanese law signify the concepts "your" company/entity, and "ours."

The subject of the Japanese female (feminas japonesas) is quite a complex one, and if I should ever find that I am immortal, I might have enough time to pen a book on the subject. I've known quite a few Japanese females in my day, between girls I've dated, students I've taught and my wife, and have come up with some general observations. First of all, Japanese females are usually so organized it's scary, and I've observed female friends whip out little diary books and set a time to meet a month or more in the future. This tendency towards organization is a big plus when managing the household finances, and if you ever marry a Japanese woman, by all means take advantage of this and let her handle the family's savings. Whereas most guys will not split hairs when dividing a restaurant check, I've known Japanese women to meticulously calculate the correct division down to the nearest penny, making sure that no one overpays. Most all Japanese females are constipated, no doubt since they eat so much rice (although they will deny that there is a connection). Finally, I've noticed that a high number of Japanese females have bizarre fetishes, like the urge to pull a man's whiskers out of his face by the roots with tweezers, or an obsessive-compulsive desire to make sure their boyfriend/ husband's ear canals are completely free of wax.

We've got two job openings at our San Diego location, for an experienced T-shirt silk-screener and a general order fulfillment assistant. If you're in the San Diego area and are interested in helping J-List spread our unique brand of Japanese pop culture, we hope you'll apply! For more info see this page (T-shirt printer) or this page (order fulfillment assistant).

A big shout-out to Playboy today, who plugged J-List's extensive line of Japanese snacks in their current issue -- thanks! Some J-List readers will note that we don't currently have some of the items shown in the picture in the magazine, like chocolate Pocky or Green Tea Kit Kat. Because summer in Japan is so hot and humid, we're forced to remove some chocolate items, or they'd turn into so much Melty Kiss, but we'll have these items and many more for you in September, when things start to cool down.

During the show we hit a supermarket, one we always hit in Anaheim. I just had to get my camera out.

I mean, they have marketing in Japan too, of course, but I'm not generally overwhelmed as much as I was in this store, which had tons of PotC stuff in my face, big time.

Another thing you don't see, pricing structured in a way to make you buy more. Which may explain why Japanese people are thinner than us...

This struck me as extremely cheesy for some reason.

I'll have to do a post on ceral one of these days. America, of course, has as many varieties of cereal as there are species of insects in the Amazon basin, give or take. Japan has, like, 8 varieties, if that. This is my all time favorite ceral, Sugar Corn Pops.

Another product name that wouldn't fly in Japan...

They had Lotte Choco Pie! We had to get some of this and eat it with our Romulan Ale (Vodka + Blue Kool Aid). I hate to say it but the consistency was quite different from what is sold in Japan -- the only way I can say is, it seemed to be firmer inside, like, containing more lard. But they were good.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fun in my Miata, all about Sake and what to avoid, and the sound of silence in Japanese

We're quite a Mazda family around here, with a Miata in San Diego, a Miata (or "Roadster," which Japanese think means "road star") in Japan, an MPV, and two previously owned Mazda vehicles. I like the engineering and the design, and I like their underdog status compared with Toyota and Honda -- they work harder since the Mazda brand is less famous. I especially love the two-seater Miata, the most excellent "open car" ever made, and I just got back from a wild run through desert roads around San Diego. It was a little odd, driving Initial D-style with the sandy color of California around me instead of the greener shades of Japan that I'm used to. It was great fun, but now I'm all sunburned (ouch).

Everyone is familiar with Japanese sake (酒, pronounced SAH-kay, never "saki"), or rice wine, the alcohol made from distilled rice, also known as "spring water" to Yamato/Star Blazers fans. Sake has been made for millennia, from 6000 years ago in China and 2000 years in Japan, and is one of the world's oldest fermented beverages. I like to drink hot sake, called atsukan, and I have many fond memories of drinking sake we heated with a camping stove, surrounded by friends while sitting under the cherry blossoms. As with wine in the West, sake has always been associated with religious ceremonies, and when we built our J-List office, a Shinto priest came out to purify the ground with sake and salt to ensure that we would have good luck in the future. One of the most famous brands of sake is Shochikubai, a word that literally means "pine, bamboo, plum" and which refers to three levels of achievement, like the belt colors in martial arts. Because it's widely available internationally, Shochikubai sake is often the first (and sometimes the last) sake that many people try, but truth be told, it's reputation among sake drinkers in Japan is not high -- consider it the "Bud" of sake, if not the "Milwaukee's Best." The J-List staff in Japan recommends that you try a brand called Koshino Kanpai or Shira-Yuki if you're going to sample some excellent quality sake.

I've always been fascinated with onomatopoeia in Japanese, with the differences in how "sound words" work between Japanese and English. Animal noises like "woof woof" (in Japanese: wan wan) are different, of course, but the mechamisms are the same, as with other words, like "twinkle twinkle" (kira kira) or "drip drop" (potsun potsun). The Japanese also assign sounds to odd actions, which we would never think of creating. The "sound" of eyes looking left and right is kyoro kyoro, and this term is applied to a guy who is being unfaithful to his girlfriend by looking at other girls. The sound of snow falling has a sound word, too, shin shin ("sheen sheen") which summons up pleasant images of whiteness outside a frosty window. There is a "sound of silence" in Japanese, too, which is shiiin ("sheen," with a lengthened vowel). When someone makes a joke that isn't funny, it's common for someone to crack wise by saying "Shiiin!" to highlight the lack of laughter from the first person's joke. It takes time to get used to concepts such as these, but it's all part of the wonderful mystery that is Japan.

J-List strives to bring you rare and unique products from Japan. One of our favorite products are the highly detailed miniature toys by Re-Ment, which recreate in fantastic detail famous foods from around the world, household items, home electronics, you name it. Re-Ment has made a cool new toy series that brings you the most famous Japanese foods recreated for you in perfect miniature, with the Washoku ("Japanese food") series that we have in stock today! (full sets are in stock)

Then, another special item for Ghibli fans from Japan: ceramic Ghibli planters for your garden, which you can place your favorite plants inside for a really amazing blending of Miyazaki's organic creations and your living plants. We've got a Totoro planter and a cool one featuring Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service on the site for you now.

Okay, a few more od pics of AX to throw at you, then I can move on...

Asking "Can I take a picture of your T-shirt?" is a lot more socially acceptable than asking "Can I take a close-up picture of your breasts?"

While I really tire of the "Got X?" slogans, this one made me laugh, as it caught me by surprise.

This was much funnier though ^_^

After we were done with the convention, I knew what I needed: a Denny's "too big for one gaijin who lives in Japan" shake. I gave the cup of extra shake stuff that they give you to Yasu.