Friday, December 18, 2009

Raising Bilingual Kids

The other day I sat my family in front of the TV to watch Up, the fantastic film by Disney/Pixar, which is called "Uncle Carl's Flying House" in Japan. I'd seen the movie in the States during the summer, so I knew they'd love it, and I wasn't disappointed. When world-famous explorer Charles F. Muntz shows up in his cool-looking airship, my wife said, "Oh, I know what that is, it's a blimp." This is a bit of a running joke in my family because "blimp" was the first English word that my son knew but my (Japanese) wife did not. We've always helped our children grow up to be bilingual so they can enjoy the benefits of both Japan and the U.S. freely, but of course there comes a day when your kids surpass your own linguistic ability. That day came when my son was five or so and called out to a blimp that was flying overhead, causing my wife (who had never encountered that word) to get flustered at how he'd managed to learn a word that she didn't know. When my kids were younger, I'd have "kanji battles" with them to see who could write more characters, and they tried very hard to beat the gaijin only to be vanquished. Now that they're older and my constant use of computers and the Internet has eroded my kanji-writing ability (a phenomenon which plagues native Japanese, too), they can both kick my butt quite easily.

We try to help our kids grow up bilingual, as much as we can.

Getting Used to Japan

Life in Japan is quite different from back home in the States, and there were many things I needed to get used to when I came here in 1991. Constantly standing out as "the gaijin" was one, and getting used to children looking at me as if I were wearing a clown suit or something. Becoming comfortable being in smaller spaces. Learning not to flinch at paying $2 for a newspaper or a video game in a game center or around $5 for the equivalent of a gallon of gas. But there were good things, too, such as learning to take really good service in restaurants or shops for granted, since being treated well is the norm here in Japan. Forgetting the smell of gasoline on my hands thanks to most service stations being full service, like something from Back to the Future, isn't bad either.

Gas stations in Japan are usually full service, and always awesome.

The Japanese "Variety" Show

The cornerstone of the Japanese television world is the "variety show," and although the Western stereotype of these programs isn't entirely accurate -- they rarely throw contestants who answer questions incorrectly into pirania-filled water -- they can be interesting to watch. The "king" of variety shows in Japan is Waratte Iitomo ("It's Okay to Laugh"), which has run six days a week since it began back in 1982, earning host Tamori a place in the Guinness Book. The show is made up of segments that are goofy yet oddly entertaining, like "Rare Beast Hunter Imoto," an ugly female comedian with thick eyebrows drawn on her face who travels the world looking for rare animals to compete against, like the time she challenged a cheetah to a 100-meter dash. On one program I caught recently, several famous "talents" were given sheets of paper and asked to design men's underwear, and it was interesting to see what ideas they came up with. Super cute Becky (no, not that one) came up with underwear that said "I love..." with a space where the man's girlfriend would write her own name, to make sure that he couldn't cheat on her with another girl. Scary, but creative, too.

Popular "talents" like comedy duo London Boots and Becky make us laugh.

Gift Suggestions & Happy News

J-List is loaded with products to make your Christmas more fun this year. We've got amazing snacks from Japan like the newest flavors of Pocky and Japan Kit Kat, which can incidentally be purchased by the sealed box for an automatic discount, if you want to sock some away in your desk at work. We never tire of finding delightful Sanrio products from Japan, like our 3D Cookie Cutter, which make a cool three-dimensional Hello Kitty cookie for you (also works with toast). And don't get us started on how awesome our Hello Kitty massagers, we mean shoulder massagers, are -- these ironic and fun items have been a top-seller this season. If you're rushed for a gift idea, you can check our San Diego based items, including the popular Grab Bags of fun random items, or of course consider a J-List Gift Certificate or iTunes Japan card, which can be sent through email (no waiting). Finally, you should browse our awesome 2010 calendars, since we have more than 100 in stock for you to check out.

In other news, J-List has a Holiday gift for you: we're announcing the end of the V-Mate authorization system for our download H-game products. Previously, customers who purchased Internet Download Editions of our G-Collections games needed to install Virtual Mate activation software and have a live Internet connection when they wanted to play. With the release of the patches we're posting today, Virtual Mate is no longer required (although it is still supported normally). Among other things, this means that anyone running 64-bit versions of Windows Vista or 7 may now purchase and play our games! Now you can run our amazing PC dating-sims on practically any version of Windows without hassle, including the convenient and discreet download versions.

Good news for eroge fans

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Japanese 'Dajare' Jokes

All things considered, it's nice to be able to speak Japanese. You can talk to people in Japan who you wouldn't otherwise be able to communicate with, like the old man who used to cut my hair while telling me local stories from World War II. I've discovered another use for being bilingual: it allows you to make twice as many bad jokes as you otherwise would. For whatever reason, I've become adept at making a kind of Japanese pun known as dajare (dah-jah-rey), although in my family we call them dadajare since I'm "Dada" (which is itself a bad pun). The word for "to enter a bath" is nyuyoku, which sounds close enough to New York that I might make a joke about it...or coin a new word, nyu-yokka (New Yorker) meaning a person who loves taking long baths. Nestle makes a chocolate drink called Milo which is pronounced "mi-ro" in Japanese, which happens to be the informal command form of the verb for "to look." Hence, whenever I see Milo being sold in a store, I'm compelled to point and say, miro! (look at that!). One way to say "I don't have it" or "there aren't any" in Japanese is nashi, which also happens to be what those delicious Japanese pears are called, so naturally I might reply "Japanese pear" if my wife asks me if I have her car keys. I've encountered quite a few other gaijin in Japan on my Twitter feed who tell me that they, too, have become adept at making these bad jokes. Perhaps there's some brain-level connection between bilingualism and seeing humorous (?) connections between words.

Perhaps the most basic dajare joke is, arumikan ni aru mikan, or a mikan orange on an aluminum can.

Amuro in a Gundam Music Video?

There are two people named Amuro in Japanese popular culture. One of them is Amuro Ray, the young boy who climbed into the cockpit of an experimental RX-78 Gundam prototype and, using his intuitive Newtype abilities and a serendipitously placed instruction manual, was able successfully pilot it and destroy two Zaku who were attacking him. In the process, he inspired a generation of boys to dream of piloting their own giant robots, and his famous lines like "You hit me again! Even my father never hit me!" and "Amuro...ikimasu!" (Amuro, launching now!) are known by everyone here. The other Amuro is Amuro Namie (iTunes Japan link), or Namie Amuro in English name order. She's the legendary singer from Okinawa whose popularity created a social fashion phenomenon as young "Amullers" imitated her style, a trend that eventually morphed into the current Shibuya/Harajuku fashion culture you can see on J-List. Now the two Amuros have come together in a new music video in which the singer appears floating in space with the hero of the One Year War, the first time a flesh-and-blood person has been inserted into the Gundam universe. What do you think?

Singer Amuro Namie makes a journey to Gundam-land, complete with normal suit and Lalah-style forehead jewel.

Awesome stuff: Domo-kun Hoodies, Grab Bags and iTunes Cards

J-List is a wonderful window to Japan on the web. Some awesome items you might consider this gift-giving season include our warm Domo-kun and other hoodies, conveniently stocked in San Diego and very soft to touch. We love to find rare and fun traditional items from Japan, like our popular Lucky Cat Tea Cups, which are great for displaying or drinking tea out of. Our fukubukuro grab bags are a huge hit this year, and we have items both in stock in San Diego and Japan, including a new "cosplay" lucky bag. Finally our iTunes Japan prepaid cards, which are fully compatible with the iPod/iPhone sitting under your tree this year, and you can even buy 3000 yen iTunes card credit in a spiffy J-List gift certificate that can be emailed or printed by you. Having an iTunes Japan account has many benefits, including access to the "free single of the week" plus this Christmas album, free to anyone with an iTunes Japan account.

Common Sense and the Japanese

Part of Peter's Unified Theory of Japan is that the Japanese are (usually) guided by a mysterious "universal common sense" that they can all tap into somehow. Called joshiki (JOH-shki), translatable as "common knowledge so basic no one ever need think about it," this is the reason that Japanese generally seem to be on the same wavelength about things, and why we gaijin appear strange and unpredictable to them. When it rains, virtually every Japanese person will reach for an umbrella so they can keep as dry as possible, but I'm likely to just go out into the rain if it's only sprinkling a little -- it's not like a little water is going to kill me. Similarly, the Japanese seem to believe that warm clothes must be worn exactly from October 1 to May 31st, and whenever I wear a T-shirt in November because it's still plenty warm out I feel like I'm breaking some unwritten rule. Getting medicine from the doctor used to be another example of the "common sense gap" between Japan and foreigners. A decade ago, the nurse would dispense various pills or powders to me in little envelopes, but whenever I'd ask what each type of medicine actually was for, she'd look troubled, like no one had ever asked her that before. Nowadays, medical staff are good about clearly explaining the purpose of each type of medicine, which I believe came about in part due to Japan being sensitive to feedback from the foreign community here.

Do you do anything hijoshiki-teki, that is, un-commonsensical?

When it rains, Japanese reach for an umbrella, as seen in this illustration.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Language and Minotaurs

The other day I was watching a BBC documentary on ancient history, because BBC documentaries are awesome -- I hope our readers in the UK know how much we appreciate them. I took note of the way the word "minotaur" was pronounced in the show: MINE-ah-tour, which differed from my California dialect of American English in which the word is pronounced MIN-ah-taur. The question of how to inflect/pronounce words like this wouldn't be an issue in Japanese, thanks to the katakana writing system, which provides an absolute (if imperfect) way to pronounce anything. Japanese who go to America sometimes encounter a native English speaker who can't pronounce names like Chopin or Hermes or Evangelion "correctly" (this word of course being subjective), and are amazed by this. On the other hand, Japanese can have an incredible amount of difficulty reading their own language, especially kanji for names, which can have many possible readings. As I was writing the description for an issue of Dengeki Hime, I encountered a name that used difficult kanji. Not only could I not read the name, but none of the Japanese staff at J-List could read it either, and it took several minutes of Googling for us to find the official pronunciation (it was Manaka Komaki from the game ToHeart).

Minotaur in Japanese is minotaurus, from the Latin. Shirow draws rather nicely, don't you think?

Japan and Train Otakus

Japan has a lot of trains, which is a good thing because they also have a lot of densha otaku, rail fans who love everything about trains, whether it's riding on the sleekest Shinkansen or exploring old abandoned train lines. During my career as an ESL teacher I encountered more than a few students whose main release from the stress of studying was visiting obscure corners of Japan to ride on their favorite train, and densha lovers can even be seen in the political world here -- Land Minister Seiji Maehara is a rail aficionado who has published photographs of steam locomotives. On a TV show called Tonari no Maestro (The Master Next Door), which finds amazing accomplishments by average people and reports on them, I saw a piece on Japan's #1 train lover, who managed to visit all of the 9861 train stations in the country. His name is Takahisa Sugihara, age 61, and he spent 30 years traveling around Japan and stopping at each station, earning himself a listing in the Guinness Book as a result. On the show he reminisced about his favorite stations, like one in Kyushu that's built inside a private home so travelers can enjoy the smell of curry stewing in the kitchen as they pass through, or a station in Aichi Prefecture which faces the sea, making it the most beautiful train station in Japan at sunset.

This train station near Nagoya is the most beautiful in Japan. I want to go there now.

Ocean Waves, Good Times

Anime is a window into Japanese society and a valuable resource for anyone hoping to understand this complex country. The animated film Ocean Waves (Japanese title Umi ga Kikoeru or "I Can Hear the Sea") is a subtle story by Studio Ghibli that tells the tale of a girl from Tokyo whose parents have divorced, forcing her to move to Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku with her mother. The story is about her struggles to adjust to this new part of Japan, where (she says) everyone talks like they came out of a samurai period drama on TV, and of a love triangle formed when two friends fall in love with her. Against the backdrop of the story is the group of high school students who instinctively create a stable group dynamic where everyone can feel like they're a member and no one need feel ike an outsider, which is quite different from my own high school experience, let me tell you. The scene near the end of the film, when the students all have a reunion and share food and beer together while some members of the group dare to confess their secret loves, is great to observe.

"Ocean Waves" is a subtle and deep film by Studio Ghibli, and one of my favorites.

Gift ideas: Wasabi Doritos, Star Wars Stuff, Calendars

J-List remains in Super High Efficiency Mode, processing orders and getting them processed and out the door as quickly as possible. Snacks have been especially popular this year, as customers fun snacks like Japanese Kit Kat or Wasabi Doritos. There are a lot of Star Wars fans in the world, and a lot of people buying wacky Japanese Star Wars gifts for them, like the Lightsaber Chopsticks we have in stock. If you look on our new Plush Toy Page (now separate from our Totoro & Ghibli page), you can see some of the cute new yutanpo toys we've been selling, soft plush toys with hot-water bottles inside to make your bed toasty. Finally, J-List's 2010 anime, J-POP and other calendars have been a huge hit this year, so much that we're selling out of things left and right. The last of the Shirow calendars and the already-decimated Kyoto Animation calendars are in stock now, but for how long? Browse now!