Wednesday, July 22, 2009

J-List Will Be At the San Diego Comic-Con -- Will You?

Japan had a partial solar eclipse which was really cool if you happened to be in Okinawa today, where the sun was completely blocked out by the moon. I watched from San Diego via video chat, and although I couldn't see much, it was fun to get swept up in the eclipse-mania that all Asia experienced today. Technology is an amazing thing.

We're getting into Comic-Con Mode preparing to meet and greet thousands of fans in booth 129, right in the middle of Anime Alley near the rightmost wall when facing the San Diego convention center. We'll have all our best T-shirts, great dating-sim games, hundreds of toys, figures and bento items, and much more, so we hope you'll come by to browse our booth or just say hello. And to anyone who's not able to attend the biggest and best convention in the world, we're happy to announce a special discount all week long just to make you feel better. For every $100 you spend at J-List (not counting shipping), we'll send you a $5 coupon for your next purchase, giving you a great excuse to throw another Pikachu Onigiri Shaper into your cart to reach the next $100 level. Hope to see you at the show!!

Japanese Grammar and Your Friend "Ne"

Recently I wrote about some of the interesting grammatical particles that exist in Japanese, which "mark" the various parts of a sentence, including the subject/topic, the object, and so on. There's a related group of sentence-ending particles that change the tone of the overall sentence, such as ka, which changes a statement into a question. Another of these is ne, which you can easily hear if you watch more than a few minutes of an anime or J-dorama. In general, it means something like "isn't it?" or "aren't you?" but can have some other nuances to it. Here are some brief examples:
Biiru, nihon desu ne?
Kono anime wa omoshiroi desu ne.
Ne, ikimashou! Hayaku sakura o mitai desu!
The first sentence means, "That will be two beers, right?" and is asking for confirmation. The second sentence means, "This anime is very interesting," and in this case the ne adds some stress to the meaning: it's a really interesting anime show. The third example means, "Come on, let's go! I want to see the cherry blossoms quickly!" In this case the ne is just acting like a prodding word to get the person's attention and/or convince them to hurry up. The ne word ending is generally used by girls more than guys, and any male students of the language should be careful that they don't pick up too much feminine-sounding Japanese, because suddenly finding that you've been talking like a girl for the past six months really sucks. Don't ask me how I know, I just do.

Japan, Land of a Thousand Islands

Japan is an archipelago consisting of more than 6800 islands, which was created by the volcanic activity that gives the country its earthquakes and wonderful hot springs. There are four main islands: large Honshu ("main province"), slightly bigger than Great Britain; southernmost Kyushu ("nine provinces," since there used to be nine kingdoms there), closest to the Korean peninsula and always a doorway to new cultural influences such as Buddhism, kanji and Christianity; small Shikoku ("four provinces"), which still has four prefectures; and Hokkaido ("sea road to the north"), known for its dairy products and potatoes. In case you're curious about what the fifth largest island is, I'll tell you: it's a tiny island in the Sea of Japan called Sado, off the coast of Niigata Prefecture. It's mostly known to history as a place of banishment, and over the course of 1,000 years many disgraced Japanese historical figures were sent there to live out the rest of their days. It was also the scene of a gold rush in the Edo 

Japan Drives on the Other Side

I do like my current life, living in Japan yet getting to visit the U.S. frequently to attend fun anime conventions and stock up on American peanut butter and tortillas. But flitting between the two countries means being at peace with driving on the opposite side of the road, thanks to Japan's long tradition of modeling its institutions on the U.K., including driving on the left. While it's really not that difficult to switch from one system to the other -- just go the same way the other cars are going, and always make sure your body is closer to the center of the road than your passenger at all times -- I do occasionally forget and start driving on the wrong side late at night when there are no other cars around, to the horror of whoever's riding with me. While the driving pedals are of course in the same locations no matter which side of the road you're on, the steering wheel controls for the "winker" (as a turn signal is called in Japan) and the windshield wiper are reversed, which means it's quite easy to go to make a turn and find your windshield wipers are suddenly moving. Also, I am generally unable to get into a car on the correct side to drive it on the first try, to the general amusement of my wife, who snickers as I pretend I had decided to take a stroll around my car for no reason.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Politeness in Japan: Humility and Exhaultation

Japan is a country that believes in getting along harmoniously -- a good idea, considering that they have half the population of the U.S. crammed into an area the size of New Mexico. The Japanese have evolved a system of politeness that acts as a guide in many formal and business and some day-to-day situations, which consists of two parts. The first is that you should act in a humble way, keeping strong opinions to yourself in certain situations and deflecting praise others might direct at you away from yourself ("no, this cake I baked isn't delicious at all, please have some"). You then raise up others to a higher position than you -- say, someone you're doing business with, a customer in your shop, or a guest in your home -- with special language, called "exalting" speech. Certain common phrases, like irasshaimase (ee-rah-shai-MAH-say, meaning "welcome"), which is what employees in a business say to customers as they come in, are based on this formal system of politeness. Of course, Japan isn't always such a well-mannered place, and you can verify this by going to a supermarket and watching the middle-aged women beat each other for the last tray of sashimi, but by and large, politeness plays a big part of getting along in Japan.

Love, Do You Remember?

It's time to mark a very special anniversary which has meant a lot to many of my generation. While you might reasonably expect me to write about the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and mankind's first historic walk on the moon, which will have been covered by others, I'm actually talking about the Macross 1984 movie "Do you remember love?" film, which began its general release on July 21, 1984, exactly 25 years ago Tuesday. (This was the then-15th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, Japan time; the film had a limited showing two weeks before in two Japanese cities.) The release of the Macross movie did nothing less than redefine everyone's perception of anime up to that moment, showing how good extremely well-made animation could be and cementing Macross as one of the major achievements of the era. Like the release of Star Wars in 1977, the Macross movie imprinted itself on the minds and imaginations of a generation of otaku, and will forever be remembered with nostalgia. Back in high school I rented a VHS copy of the movie from a comic shop in San Diego and took it home to watch with my friends. It was my first exposure to the Japanese language, to say nothing of my first anime shower scene, and it really opened my eyes to an amazing new world.

The Law of Scarcity When Living in Japan

When you pass a Subway sandwich shop, do you enthusiastically head inside, happy to be able to eat such a rare treat? When I'm in Japan I often do, since there aren't any of them in my home prefecture of Gunma, located about 100 km northwest of Tokyo. When I make a trip into Japan's capital or to the U.S., I'm always happy to have a Subway sandwich for lunch, because it's something that I can't eat whenever I want to back home. Really, there's nothing in your life that wouldn't become extremely valuable to you if you were suddenly transported to a place where it was unavailable, and I am much fonder of things like Raisin Bran or Pop Tarts or Lite Beer from Miller than I would otherwise be, since they're things I can't get easily at home. I first learned about this phenomenon when I went to live in New Zealand in 1975, which was before a lot of the foreign chains started doing business in the country. As I recall, there was one McDonald's and one Pizza Hut, and they were a godsend to an American family living in a new place.