Friday, September 08, 2006

Seeing Japan through iced coffee goggles, relieving stress through coloring books, and how we gaijin can save Japan from its falling birthrate!

Whenever my wife and I try a new restaurant we order aisu kohi, which we use to judge the dedication of the staff and owner to the customers. Are they using bottled iced coffee, or brewing it themselves every morning? What quality of beans are they using? As true aficionados, we've been doing this for a while, and we've mapped most of the eating establishments in our city based on the quality of their iced coffee. The other day we went to Silk Road, a local pasta restaurant which scores a strong 8.4 on our iced coffee chart. It has something else to recommend it, too: extremely gorgeous waitresses, with bright eyes and beautiful faces and stunning Morning Musume-esqe smiles. My wife turned to me and said, "The owner of this restaurant must be a real face-eater." She wasn't making an obscure Dr. Who reference -- the word menkui (men-KOO-ee、面食い), literally meaning face-eater, refers to someone who loves extremely attractive members of the opposite gender. There are quite a few of these interesting words or idioms in Japan that might confuse you, even if you knew what the words themselves meant. A person who talks too much and can't keep a secret has a "light mouth" (kuchi ga karui), while someone with a "wide face" (kao ga hiroi) is well-known in the community. If you're "good head" (atama ga ii) it just means you're smart, and a person who is somewhat uninspiring romantically, more or less lying there like a piece of maguro (tuna) sushi is called, well, maguro.

Japan is facing a serious population problem, with its birthrate of just 1.25 children per woman culminating in the first shrinkage of the national population last year. The reasons so few babies are being born are many. Part of the problem is over-urbanization and concrete sprawl -- if you lived in one of the massive "rabbit hutch" apartment buildings in Tokyo that strongly resemble Borg Cubes, you wouldn't want to have eight kids either. Changing social patterns is another part of the equation, as women become empowered and learn to say no to marriages in which communication with their husbands involves little more than meshi! furo! neru! (dinner! bath! sleep!). The other day I was bouncing around some blogs written by foreigners living in Japan, and I noticed something: a high number of them were written by proud gaijin men or women who had found a Japanese spouse and were beaming with joy over their newborn children. A high number of these couples seemed to have two or three kids, too, which is more than the average Japanese couple (usually just one). Maybe, I thought, the answer to Japan's quandary is for Japanese to embrace kokusai kekkon, or international marriage, promoting marriage between Japanese and people from other countries. Maybe the addition of "ingredient X" that people not born in Japan would bring to relationships would stimulate a "renaissance of love" of some kind in Japanese society. Foreigners like you and me might just hold the key to saving Japan! J-List is doing our part to bring Japanese and gaijin around the world together, of course, with our "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend/Boyfriend" and "Kiss Me I'm Gaijin" T-shirts, and our newest "eye chart" shirt that might just serve as a conversation starter for that someone special.

Japan is the land of the boom, as they say, and you never know what will end up being popular. Japan can be a stressful place, and this year people have hit on a unique way to relieve that stress: coloring in coloring books! A whole line of popular books which let you recreate famous works of art with a variety of materials -- from crayons to professional colored pencils to paints -- while developing your own style and relaxing at the same time. We've got some of these on the site now, so if you're looking for a unique way to remove your daily stress, a high quality coloring book that lets you recreate the world's best art might be just the ticket!

The new 2007 calendars are here! Every year J-List carries hundreds of Japanese anime, JPOP/JROCK, gorgeous idol and other calendars from Japan, and we're happy to announce the the main volley of our calendars have arrived and are posted to the site. These extra-large glossy calendars are the most beautiful you will ever see, printed on thick poster-size paper stock that will look great all year and beyond. These are preorder calendars: make your order and we'll hold it until the items you ordered come in, which should be in October or November. We've got about 75 new calendars posted for preorder now, with many outstanding calendars for 2007, including the Studio Ghibli calendar (with all new art); calendars by virtually every gorgeous Japanese model you could name, from Yuko Ogura to Aki Hoshino to Yua Aida; fantastic calendars for popular anime like Bleach, Naruto, and Full Metal Alchemist; the most popular male stars in Japan like Gackt; and much more. This year the coveted "CL1" top spot goes to the gorgeous Kumi Koda, the stylish JPOP star who has had a fabulous year, and we've got her dynamite calendar, too. Because these calendars aren't sold outside of the domestic market, they're a really special way to bring a piece of Japan home with you all throughout 2007.

Remember that J-List has the most excellent selection of Domo-kun products from Japan you can ever find. Domo-kun is the official mascot of NHK, Japan's public broadcasting network, and he's become a cult favorite all around the world. Many of the items we have are of limited availability and will never be available again. Do you like the cute Domo-kun plush toys wearing samurai costume? Perhaps some of the cool Domo-kun straps that go on your phone, camera or keys look pretty cool? How about our really, really bg Domo-kun plush toys? All are among the Domo products that are nearly out of stock, and once they're gone, they'll be gone forever. Why not browse our Domo-kun product pages today?

More pictures from while we were in the U.S. My son and I got homesick for some sushi, so we headed to the Korean sushi restaurant. (There 's, um, a lot of Korean culture growing in San Diego.)

So far so good. The sushi guide looks the same.

Of course, you would never get kimchee with your sushi in Japan. Trust me on this one.

But ah, nothing goes so good with sushi as Asahi beer.... All in all the meal was good, if about 2x more expensive than in Japan. Turns out the lady was even Japanese, not Korean, but she had been so sure this gaijin buying sushi couldn't possibly speak Japanese, that we spoke only English until it was time to pay the bill. Silly.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A happy day in Japan, forgetting which kind of English you speak, and feeling "natsukashii" with my old Japanese textbook

It's a boy! All Japan is currently cheering the news that Princess Kiko has given birth to a boy. The new royal son -- the first male heir to be born in four decades -- is third in line to succeed the current Emperor, Akihito, known in Japan as the Heisei Emperor, since that's the name of the current era. The birth of a male heir ends the long controversy over whether Naruhito's daughter Aiko would be allowed to fill the role as Empress. Japan has had eight females in that position in its long history, but none since the Meiji Restoration, in which Japan "restored" the role of the Emperor after 1300 years of being little more than a political figurehead. The new birth takes the pressure off poor Masako-sama, wife of the Crown Prince, who had fallen into depression over pressure from the Imperial Household Agency to get pregnant with a male heir.

I've got a Yankee friend who lives in Tokyo, and the other day he asked an odd question. "I forget, do Americans stand in a line, or in a queue?" Forgetting your own dialect of English might sound like a strange thing to have happen, but in a place like Japan where foreigners of all nationalities are grouped together into one big gaijin melting pot, little things like vocabulary and grammar can seem pretty unimportant. It's quite common for gaijin to hang out with foreigners from other parts of the world, and I've been known to throw back a beer or two with friends from other countries -- it's fun to debate American politics with Canadians or Australians or Brits, since they're emotionally divorced from the day-to-day political issues in the U.S. One word I accidentally picked up was "uni" (you-NEE), slang from down under that means university, but none of my friends back home knew what I was talking about when I used it. Part of the issue is the lack of native speakers around -- it's incredible how your own language changes when the social group around you changes. I suspect this phenomenon is not unrelated to how a person's written grammar and punctuation goes to hell from hanging out in Internet chatrooms too long.

Recently, I went on eBay and found a copy of my very first Japanese textbook, Foundations of Japanese Language by Soga. Reading through this old book, which has been surpassed by much better works nowadays, left me totally natsukashii (NATS-ka-SHEE, translatable as "so nostalgic I look like one of those manga characters with a tear rolling out of my eye"). Looking back, I realize I went through several stages as I struggled to learn this wonderful, difficult language. First, I worked to master hiragana, the syllable-based writing system that looked like so many snakes squirming there on the page (snakes! on a page!). I went through a phase where I reduced sentences into mathematical equations, which allowed me to swap out elements to say what I wanted to say, and after that, a period of growing my vocabulary by reading manga and transcribing song lyrics for karaoke. After coming to Japan, I buckled down for more serious study, including the subtle art of keigo, the special subset of language used in polite situations. Invited to a Japanese friend's house, I dediced to try my polite language with my host, but I messed it up so bad that he didn't even understand what I said. I'd taken my shot and messed it up terribly, although I certainly learned from the experience. (Aside: I once saw a news conference where this happened to a foreign correspondent who had asked the Emperor a question...Akihito didn't understand what he was asking, and I felt so bad for that poor reporter.)

In Japanese, the word nampa means to flirt with members of the opposite sex and try to take them home (apologies to our customers in Nampa, Idaho). Our newest wacky Japanese T-shirt aims to help break the ice between you and potential Japanese females by displaying a standard "eye chart" (as soon at doctor's offices everywhere in Japan) that's specially designed to help your nampa skills. The text on the eye chart essentially says "Hey, how are you doing? You look pretty good. Are you doing anything right now? If not, let's go have some coffee together..." Since potential Japanese girls have to get up close and personal to read the small text, it's an interesting secret weapon that can break down the barriers between you. This might lead to a beautiful relationship! Printed with high quality silkscreening for long life, on an 6.1 lb 100% cotton shirt (orange). Sizes S-XL are available.

Remember that J-List is your source for getting Japan's best anime, manga, JPOP/JROCK, gothic fashion and other magazine, direct from Japan through our "reserve subscription" system. All magazines are chosen for high numbers of pictures and other visual elements, so even if you don't read the language, there's plenty of great information in each issue, with lots of cool color pictures and other stuff. In case you ever wondered, the top-selling magazines (based on current subscribers) are, Megami Magazine (great bishoujo girls and loads of posters); Goth-Loli Bible (the voice of gothic cosplay culture in the world); FRUiTs (Tokyo street fashion); Hiragana Times (with articles in both English and Japanese); Newtype Japan; Kera (gothic and "punk" fashion), SHOXX (J-Rock in the extreme); Cosmode (anime cosplay); Nihongo Journal (for learning Japanese); and Comic AG (our best-selling "H" manga). You never need to pay in advance and you can cancel your revolving subscription at any time. By the way, if there's a magazine you'd love for us to carry, please suggest it to us!

Time for more pictures from our trip along Historic Route 66. Hope the pictures are intereting.

My updates during the trip were brought to you by KOA, which is Kampgrounds of America (clever spelling), which usually had Internet access for us.

Ever wondered what people in Nevada do when it's hot? They find a river and pretend it's a beach.

Complete with boats and a jet-ski!

We discovered another important past-time during our trip, too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Japan's most famous businessmen, when not to laugh at your students, and all about our prefecture

Japan's fascination with businessman Takafumi Horie (whose nickname is "Horiemon" because someone thought he looks like the character Doraemon) continues today, as the famous founder of Yahoo-wannabe Livedoor -- and the company that publishes the Japanese version of Eudora, if you want a bit of trivia -- enters his "not guilty" plea in court. He's accused of violating a slew of stock-manipulation laws, including "announcing" mergers for companies he'd already secretly purchased the stock for then profiting when the shares went up. Perhaps Japan's most recognizable businessman until his arrest in January, he was in the headlines daily. He never wore suits, preferring dark T-shirts, even when meeting with very high-ranking businessmen, and had the audacity to acquire other companies through hostile takeovers, something that just isn't done in "harmonious" Japan.

All things considered, laughter only belongs in a foreign language classroom if it builds confidence or friendship among students, and if you're an ESL teacher, it's probably best not to throw your head back and laugh openly when your students make an error. That being said, there have been times during my career as a teacher when it was very difficult not to keep the giggles away. One older student was describing a scene about skyscrapers in New York, but she kept saying "skycrapper" instead, which had me twisting this way and that as I tried to avoid laughing while I imagined some kind of divine lavatory in the sky. Another time a student told me how he fixed his car radio over the weekend, only he didn't say "fixed," but another word entirely which starts with the same letter, and I struggled to keep from laughing out loud at this. We were talking about careers once, and one student who planned to take the test to enter the National Postal Service told me his dream was to become a "post officer," which struck me as amusing, even though it's a logical mistake when you stop and think about it. I feel bad about these lapses, although I know that I've given as good as I got, providing my Japanese hosts with many hours of amusement thanks to my own language slip-ups over the years, like the time I tried to order some mango juice, and, er, nevermind, it's a long story.

J-List is based in Gunma Prefecture, a crane-shaped piece of land that's located right in the center of Japan -- the heso (belly button) of the country, as the Japanese like to say. Situated right on the edge of the Kanto Plain, where Tokyo and Yokohama are, the primary cities in Gunma are Maebashi (the Prefectural capital, once famous for its silk industry); Takasaki (a vibrant commercial city, although because it was never bombed during World War II, the roads are noticeably narrower than in other cities); Ota (home of the Subaru corporation, and the old Nakajima Air Works, where Japanese Zeros were built); and our own Isesaki. Virtually all the cities in Gunma are former castle towns, and almost without exception, the City Offices are built on the grounds of the former castle ruins, which fills some kind of continuity with the past that I as an American can't quite fathom. Like all corners of Japan, Gunma is famous for many things, including konnyaku (a gelatinous food made from potatoes that's so firm that several elderly people a year choke on it and die), karakaze (the biting wind that blows over the mountains in the winter) and kakaa-denka, extremely strong-willed women (like my wife). If you want to buy some land in a place like Tokyo or Nagoya you need to work really hard to achieve your goal, but in Gunma there's plenty of land for the population of 2 million. Thus, people in Gunma are famous for having a poor work ethic, and being somewhat lazy.

J-List's wacky Japanese hats are off to a great start, with many customers picking up our fun embroidered hats that feature slogans like "I'm looking for a Japanese girlfriend" or our parody Otaku logo. Our hats are extremely well made, using Vintage Chino Twill Caps Alternative Apparel, and they're fully size adjustable (one size fits all, guys or girls). We're posting our newest original hat offering today, based on our best-selling "Ecchi" parody of the Ecko logo, which features two rhinoceroses engaged in some interesting social activities. Check out our newest wacky Japanese hat today!

We've got another new product category for you too: posters featuring the amazing artwork of Dan Kim, creator of the Clone Army manga series (and the creator of the JAST USA H-game webcomic, H.H.). These limited edition posters are 11x17 in size and would look great on any wall. Browse our new poster selection now!

This month's "Game of the Month" is Private Nurse, a great 2-CD release from G-Collections in which you play Hiroki. You've been sick all your life, but one day your mother tells you that she's hired a private nurse to take care of you. The next thing you know, you've got your very own private nurse, Maria, who is totally dedicated to curing you. Maria is going to be much more than a nurse to you: she'll be your teacher, too. But what about Ayano-chan, who you've known since childhood, and who is secretly in love with you? A fabulous game of love and "H" and healing from G-Collections. Special pricing this month!