Friday, June 19, 2009

Cosplay Fetish Academy Ships!

J-List is happy to announce that Cosplay Fetish Academy, our newest English-translated PC dating-sim game, is in stock and shipping now! It's a fun and wacky title about a boy named Ryouji and his twin cousins who all get sucked into a bizarre alternate dimension where all the girls wear the skimpiest costumes you can imagine. If you're interested in PC dating-sim games from Japan, it's a title we know you'll like!

CosFeti official site

Japanese TV and Food

Japanese TV never fails to entertain, although some shows might seem a little mundane on the surface. The Japanese care a lot about food, especially beautifully prepared food, and there are a lot of shows that feature nothing more than well-known actors or comedians sitting around talking while they eat, like the popular Mina-san no Okage Deshita ("Thanks To Everyone") in which Taka from the comedy duo Tunnels (who you may know as the Japanese player from Major League 2 & 3) exchanges witty banter with different guests over dinner while the viewers look on. Another popular food-centric show is Bistro SMAP, in which the popular male idol band members cook an extraordinary meal for that week's special guest, competing for a kiss on the cheek by that guest (if female). They have foreign stars on quite often, and everyone from Harrison Ford to Tom Cruise to Catherine Zeta-Jones make appearances whenever they're in Japan to promote a film.

All the top stars eat at Bistro SMAP when they're in Japan.

Fun with Japanese Proverbs

The Japanese love to use kotowaza, ancient proverbs that they pull out when they need some extra wisdom, and these famous sayings are fun for foreigners to memorize since no one expects you know them. One such phrase is ningen banji saiou ga uma (nin-gen BAHN-gee sai-OH ga oo-mah), meaning "All things in life are like Saiou's horse," which recalls an old Chinese story about a man named Saioh whose horse ran away, which seemed like bad luck, until it returned with another horse soon, which turned out to be good luck, then his son broke his leg (bad luck) which kept him from riding away to war the next day to be killed (good luck). In other words, when something good or bad happens, you can never say for sure how it will turn out in the end. Another phrase you hear a lot is, ishi no ue ni mo san-nen (ee-she no OO-eh ni moh sahn-nen) which literally translates as "Three years sitting on a rock..." and essentially means that if you're going to try something, be prepared to keep at it for three years before giving up. My own version of this is, I will watch three episodes of just about any anime out there before deciding whether it's to my taste or not. If I'm not hooked by episode 3, I move on to something else.

Nana-korobi ya-oki is another one: fall down the 7th time, get up an 8th, e.g. Never give up, never surrender.

Of Peanut Butter and Root Beer

This morning I was late for work, so I grabbed a piece of toast and prepared to run out the door with it hanging out of my mouth, anime style. I reached for the peanut butter and saw that I was almost out, so I stood there scooping every precious bit from the bottom of the jar to put on my toast. American peanut butter is one of those things I've really come to appreciate since coming to Japan, because no matter how long I live here I just can't learn to like the overly-sweet "peanuts butter" the locals eat. Other items I didn't value enough until I couldn't find them easily included Vlassic pickles, micro-brewed beer, a good selection of cheese and of course all manner of Mexican food. Root beer is another item that's quite difficult to find in Japan, except for Okinawa where it's a local favorite and A&W restaurants are five times more common than McDonald's (go figure). In our refrigerator right now there's a single can of root beer, which my family of four is going to divide up tonight as root beer floats because we only have one can -- isn't that pathetic? Living away from your home country really makes you appreciate the little things in life, which is why I always recommend studying a year abroad to young people whenever I get the chance.

Living in Japan makes you appreciate the little things in life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Japanese Name Weirdness

Sometimes names in Japan work in ways that are puzzling to Westerners. At a recent concert celebrating the 10th year of his career as a popular singer, anime otaku and all-around handsome guy, Gackt officially changed his professional name to...GACKT, using capital letters. "To commemorate this day, I've decided to go from using unassuming lower-case letters to giant, in-your-face capital letters!" In a similarly odd fashion, singer Hiro Tsunoda always uses a Lucky Star-style star character between his first and last name, which can be typed using Japanese fonts but not properly in English. When Japanese singer Minako Honda altered her stage name to include a small circle at the end, similar to pop group Morning Musume, my wife got a premonition that something bad would happen as it's supposedly not a good idea to try to alter your own destiny by changing your name; sure enough, the singer died a few months later. Another quirky name in Japan is Toys "R" Us, which is written in katakana except for the 'ra' character in hiragana, corresponding to the backwards "R" in the company's English name.

Japanese Shoe Removal Culture

There are certain things you can find in a Japanese house that would be missing in most homes in the U.S., such as a traditional tatami room with paper shoji doors, a washing machine with a hose to let you wash your clothes with last night's bath water, and a toilet that cleans your butt for you when you're done. Another thing that homes in Japan have is a genkan, the recessed area located just inside the front door where Japanese people leave their shoes before entering a home and some businesses (including J-List). The Japanese might not think twice about their own shoe-removal culture, but it can be quite interesting if you're learning about the country from the point of view of an outsider. In anime and Japanese doramas a story might revolve around a girl who opened the front door to her boyfriend's apartment to see from the shoes left in the genkan that he was entertaining another girl, a subtlety which might be missed by Westerners. Similarly, the sight of a genkan overflowing with shoes is a cultural signal that a heck of a party going on, although this might not be immediately apparent to us. In the anime Toradora, you can immediately tell the respective personalities of the two main characters from how they remove their shoes: neat-freak Ryuji lines his up carefully, while the wild Taiga kicks her shoes off with abandon.

A lot of information can be communicated by a Japanese genkan.

Herbivore Men vs Carnivore Women

Like all things, Japanese society is constantly moving in new directions, and it's interesting to see the terms that are invented to describe new social groups as they're identified. Like hotaru-zoku, the "firefly tribe" of men whose wives have forbidden them from smoking in the house, forcing them to light up on dark balconies, which looks like fireflies from far off; or host-kei, handsome males who look like they could work in an expensive "host bar" pouring drinks for well-to-do female clientele; or arafo, which describes the generation that's currently "around forty" and at the height of their professional careers. One group being talked about a lot lately are the soshoku danshi or "herbivore men," a term that describes the way that many men in Japan have become less ambitious and more laid back about life, happy to take it easy at home rather than pursue a woman for a night of passion, redirecting their energy into hobbies and men's fashions. The term goes hand in hand with nikushoku joshi, the recent social trend of "carnivore women" who are more proactive in life and in their careers, happy to confess their feelings to a man rather than wait for him to make a move, and actively pursuing romantic love for themselves.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Kokoro of Code Geass

In an episode of Code Geass, the anime about an alternate-reality Earth in which Japan is conquered by the evil Empire of Britannia, Zero asks his friend Suzaku a question. "What is it to be 'Japanese,' and how do you define the concept of 'race'? Is it through language? The land where people are living? Blood relationships?" "No, not that," Suzaku replies, "It's determined by their kokoro." It's a good scene to illustrate one of my favorite Japanese concepts, kokoro, which essentially means heart, but only the philosophical or spiritual aspects of it. A kokoro is the purest definition of a person's self including their mind, their current and future goals and aspirations and everything that they hold dear. Although I'm not Japanese, the fact that I've lived here for 18 years and have embraced the language and values of the country means that my kokoro has has joined with Japan on some level. It's not unlike my father, also named Peter Payne, who emigrated from Britain to the U.S. in the 1950s and stayed all his life, becoming very passionate about his new adopted country.

Code Geass is an anime that can get quite philosophical at times.

Interesting Bread Culture in Japan

For a country that eats as much rice as Japan, they have some pretty interesting kinds of bread here, too. Introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, pan has been made in Japan long enough for it to morph into some pretty interesting shapes, including a few that Westerners might have trouble identifying. The most basic type of bread, of course, is the normal sliced variety, which can be purchased in standard sized loaves cut into eight, six or four slices, depending on how thick you like your sandwiches to be. Anpan is a traditional round bread with Japanese sweet beans (anko) inside, and Curry Pan is a ball-shaped piece of fried bread that contains spicy curry -- yummy. Whenever I'm passing through a train station and get hungry, I pick up some yakisoba pan, essentially a long piece of bead with chow mein-style noodles stuffed inside, about as simple a snack as you can ask for. One of the most famous forms of Japanese bread is Melon Pan, thanks to it appearing in some well-known anime series. Originally made using a rice mold for making omelette-rice dishes which gave it a shape like an almond, in the 1920s the the bread took on a round shape and got its current name, thanks to the resemblance to a honeydew melon. In some parts of the country it was made with a cookiein ther center, called Sunrise, since it looked like a Japanese flag and hi no de (sunrise) as seen on the Japanese flag.

Good Japanese, Bad Japanese

One of the themes I write about a lot is how people in Japan are sensitive to how they're viewed by the world at large. Japanese who improve the image of the country in the eyes of foreigners, such as animation director Hayao Miyazaki or groundbreaking soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata, attain a lasting halo among fans at home, while Japanese who harm the image of Japan, such as Yoko Ono or canibal-turned-food critic Issei Sagawa, become pariahs. There's a TV show called Nippon All Stars that basically introduces Japanese who have done or are doing amazing things on the world stage, for example Ichiro Ogimura, the hard-working professional ping-pong player that helped redefine the image of the Japanese in the eyes of the U.S. and Europe in the postwar years, or Takeshi Imai, an engineer who's worked to develop techniques for cloud-seeding to increase rainfall in parched areas of Brazil. The other day I saw a segment about Ikuyoshi Nemoto, the chemist who invented a long-lasting glow-in-the-dark paint that emits light for up to eight hours after the power goes off. In addition to probably being responsible for the glowing hands on your watch, his company's products have been widely adopted for use in buildings in the aftermath of 9-11.

Yoko Ono is so disliked in Japan, they write her name in Katakana.