Friday, June 01, 2007

Back in Japan again, thoughts on social uses of alcohol in Japan (and "nomunication"), and all about sumo wrestling

Hello again from J-List. Once again I've made the journey from California to Japan and am back home with the staff here, ready for another update of Japanese goodness for you. As usual after returning to Japan, I was up at the crack of dawn, my body refusing to sleep past what it was sure was the middle of the day. I got up and took a brisk walk, enjoying the hours before the day's humidity began, but in the later afternoon I'll pay for rising early as jet lag starts to set in. I hope I don't fall asleep in the middle of today's update...

There's no way around it: alcohol is often an important part of social life in Japan, and there's even a word for the special kind of interchange of ideas that occurs over beers after work: nomunication, combining the Japanese word for drink (nomu) with "communication." Along with the naughty words (which aren't nearly as colorful in Japanese as they are in English, usually being translatable as "fool" or "slow-witted" and not anatomical in nature at all), foreigners coming to Japan usually pick up vocabulary related to drinking fairly quickly. One of the first phrases I learned after arriving in Japan was toriaezu biiru (toh-ree-AH-eh-zu BII-ru), meaning "Let's start with some beer," a good way to order while letting your server know you'll be adding some food items to the order presently. You quickly learn words like "bin biiru" (beer in a bottle, good for pouring drinks for each other in a group) and "nama biiru" (draft beer in a big mug). Any food that you munch on with your beer is called otsumami (oh-tsu-mah-mii), and the Japanese love to eat things like asparagus wrapped in bacon, oil-fried tofu and a fish called hokke (HOK-keh), which the Internet tells me is called Atka Mackerel although I never knew what it was called in English until today. Of course, beer isn't the only beverage consumed, although it's the most popular: sake (pronounced SAH-keh, never "saki") is also popular. Known by its formal name nihonshu, one of the most popular ways to drink it is hot, which is called atsukan (AHTS-kahn). If you have a few drinks you might find yourself pleasantly buzzed, which is horo-yoi, but don't drink too much or you'll feel terrible in the morning. Once while looking up words in my Canon Wordtank over several beers I came across a Japanese word mukae-zake (mu-kah-eh-ZAH-keh, "going to meet sake with more sake"), which my electronic dictionary faithfully translated as "the hair of the dog that bit one." I'd never encountered that term before coming to Japan, so living here has taught me some of my native language as well!

Sumo wrestling, the official national sport of Japan, is incredibly old -- it's mentioned in one of the first written histories of Japan, the Kojiki, which dates from A.D. 712. In sumo, two opponents must push each other out of a ring or into the ground, but this is easier said than done when your opponent weighs 300-400 pounds. There are six 15-day sumo tournaments held during the year, three in Tokyo and one each in Nagoya, Osaka and Kyushu. The bouts are broadcast daily on NHK, with the highest ranking (and thus the most famous) wrestlers competing at the end of the day's bouts, so if you catch the last 30 minutes of the day's broadcast you can get to see all the best matches. There are officially 48 different methods for defeating your opponent in sumo, called the "48-hands." These include yorikiri (pushing your opponent out of the ring while you grip his belt), oshidashi (pushing him out without holding his belt), uwatenage (throwing your opponent down in a quick motion), and hatakikomi (changing directions suddenly so that your opponent loses balance and falls). Sumo is so popular with foreigners in Japan that the matches are broadcast in English as well as the local language. As the years pass and different sumo wrestlers retire, often moving on to manage sumo stables, there have been times when the top spots are dominated by Hawaiian wrestlers, and even a period when there were no Yokozuna (Grand Champions) at all. Right now, the sumo world is being dominated by Asashoryu, a Mongolain wresltler who regularly mops up the dohyo with the other wrestlers. (If you like sumo wrestling, we highly recommend our wacky "Yokozuna" T-shirt, it's really a great joke.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

More fun at Star Wars Celebration IV, all about Japanese bathing, and some interesting ways you can study Japanese (or anything)

The Star Wars Celebration IV convention continues, and we're having lots of fun. Highlights have included Carrie Fisher coming by our booth and fawning over our "beware perverts" T-shirt, talking about the intricacies of Japanese dating-sim games with Jedi Master Kit Fisto, and seeing a fun Boba Fett dressed as a clown, along with an entire legion of other cosplayers. The Opening Ceremonies were great too, featuring the official unveiling of the new Star Wars stamps by the U.S. Postal Service, a professional belly-dancing Metal Bikini Leia and a Star Wars birthday cake, complete with cake for all the fans, too. This con is quite a rare event, and there are visitors from all over the world here. It's especially fun to see the "Stormtrooper Nationalism," with costumers tweaking their uniforms to match their nation of origin, like berets on the French 501st and a sombrero-sporting Stormtrooper from Mexico. As always, we're having fun meeting customers and selling the "Japanese Chewbacca" (as many fans say when they see our Domo-kun plush toys). If you're able to be at the show on Monday, come say hit to us in booth 924!

The Three Stormtroopers

The Japanese are great lovers of all forms of bathing, and many onsen (OWN-sen, volcanic hot spring baths) have been in use in Japan for over a thousand years. The Japanese are also fans of thinking of long lists of ailments that a given hot spring will supposedly cure, and part of the challenge for an onsen-loving gaijin is learning enough kanji to be able to read these various medical ailments, which include chills, arthritis/rheumatism, muscle cramps, piles, heat rash, "feminine" health conditions, and nerve issues. The Japanese tendency for assigning various healing properties to things can cause problems sometimes, especially with Japanese TV shows that love to get creative with the facts (known as yarase or "faking it") in the interest of higher ratings. When a TV station in Osaka showed a documentary citing American research that indicated dozens of health benefits of eating natto, Japan's famous fermented soybeans, they caused a national run on the food, making it impossible to find in stores for days. The trouble is, the evidence was almost completely fabricated, which caused a huge scandal for the station.

When you start to learn a foreign language, it's important to be flexible and come up with strategies for learning that fit you. These can take many forms -- in the beginning I treated Japanese sentences as if they were mathematical equations, which allowed me to swap out the object, subject and verbs like changing variables. I later embraced karaoke as a study aid, transcribing Japanese songs to help me remember the lyrics. To practice his English spelling, my son pronounces words as they're written, for example saying the "gh" in "enough" until he's internalized the spelling properly. The Japanese are good at coming up with interesting ways of studying, since they're arguably the most studious people on Earth. One method I thought was cool is the "Zebra Check Set" that lets you highlight the information you're trying to memorize with a special pen then place a plastic sheet over the page causing that part of the page to disappear, allowing you to quiz yourself until you have the information down.

Remember, you can get your favorite anime, JPOP/JROCK, manga, Tokyo fashion, cosplay and other magazines sent to you every month through J-List's popular "reserve subscription" system. Here's how it works: order the subscription item and we'll hold it in the system for you, and send each issue of the magazine you want to you until you ask us to stop. You never have to pay in advance, and you can stop or change subscriptions at any time. All magazines are chosen for their great content and color pictures, so you can enjoy them even if you can't read the Japanese. Browse our subscription mags now!

Some pics from the Opening Ceremonies, which were pretty fun. A major geekout, to say the least.

There were some cool moments, like when all the celebs got on stage, and seeing the new Star Wars stamps. Then there were some shaky parts, like having Captain Typho sing "Celebration" at us.

They did a moving piece on people of the Star Wars world that are no longer with us, including Alec Guiness and Peter "Charming, to the last" Cushing. It was somewhat amusing, in a black sort of way, to see the parade of no-longer-living actors as they were being killed on-screen, as poor Admiral Ozzel was.

George Lucas had a live feed during the show, too.

Star Wars cake. Yum. Actually it was made with lard, which made me picture Jabba for some reason.

The finale of the event came when a real Boba Fett did a jet pack flight.

Some more pics from the floor, since I'm sure you want to see them. This girl had a great idea.

Fabulous concept, with the little lit-up Emperor on his hand.

Then again, not all of the ideas were fabulous.

There was a google of bikini Leias running around the show.

You know, it's amazing how far modern digital cameras can zoom up.

I might be going by here tomorrow to pick up a Star Wars poker and card set. Very tempting.

These guys should have worked out some Three Stooges routines.

We take our Matsukameya high school uniforms (girl and guy) to these shows so customers can see how amazingly well made they are. This girl preferred the guy's uniform.

In closing (so I can get to sleep), here is the aforementioned Boba Fett Clown. Goodnight.