Friday, January 01, 2010

Our San Diego Japanese New Year's

We had a nice Japanese-style New Year's at home in San Diego. After cleaning the house from top-to-bottom (known as Osoji or "big cleaning"), we settled down to watch to watch the 60th annual Kohaku, the "red-and-white song battle" that pits the top male and female J-POP singers against each other in a competition to see which team can put on the best show, which was broadcast on the Japanese channel our cable company offers. The Kohaku show is more than just the best J-POP event of the year, it's also a bit of entertainment history, and everyone from AKB48 to Jero to Ayumi Hamasaki is there each year. (Fans of J-List's prepaid iTunes Japan cards can browse this year's Kohaku music on iTunes via this link.) After the Kohaku show it was time for Yuku Toshi, Kuru Toshi (Year Going, Year Coming), a show that broadcasts solemn images of people making their way to beautiful Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques to do hatsu-mode (ha-tsu MOH-day), the first prayer of the New Year, overlaid with the sound of a bell th chimes 108 times, a Buddhist tradition tied to the 108 temptations that mankind is subject to. Happy New Year!

Some of the best bands in Japan (and South Korea) performed at Kohaku 60.

The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The story of the Chinese Zodiac is one that's as familiar to Japanese children as Noah's Ark is in the West, so I thought I'd tell it to you. On the day of the New Year the Gods (or Buddha, depending on which version you read) declared a race among thirteen animals to come and offer New Year's Greetings. The Ox knew he was the slowest animal, so he started out before the others. The Rat noticed this and hopped on his back, jumping off at the last minute to claim first place. The Ox came in second, followed by the fleet Tiger. The Rabbit was next, with the kind-hearted Dragon behind, who was delayed by helping the Rabbit across the river. The Horse ran along then, but the Snake slithered between his legs and startled him, beating him in the race. The Sheep, Monkey and Rooster were working as a team to get across the river, and arrived next. Then came the Dog, delayed because he stopped to take a bath along the way, with the Boar coming in last -- he'd gotten confused and climbed the wrong mountain, forcing him to backtrack. The thirteenth animal was the Cat, who had forgotten what day the race was held and asked his friend the cunning Rat, who told him the wrong date, which is why there's no Year of the Cat, and why cats hate mice today.

These are the twelve kanji of the Chinese Zodiac.

Happy New Year from J-List

Happy New Year and akemashite omedetou from J-List! It's excellent to be here for another year, bringing you Japanese bento boxes, anime toys, unique snacks and other products, as well slice-of-life reports from Japan by me. 2010 is the Year of the Tiger according to the ancient Chinese Zodiac (in Japanese, tora), and as you can see we've chosen a nice Toradora! theme for our New Year's greeting to you. (If you like, you can download a nengajo New Year's Card version in PDF format to print it out.) Thanks for being a fan of our little company, and we hope to continue to be a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world all year long!

Happy New Year from J-List. We plan to make 2010 a year to "tora"-y (try) many new things!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Japanese Passenger on the Titanic

Among the fun things we're doing here in Las Vegas, we took the kids to see Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition on display at the Luxor, which lets you experience the history of the ship through the objects recovered from the wreck. My kids were in awe at the various items they'd brought up from the bottom of the sea, from plates to ceramic toothpaste containers to perfume that -- incredibly -- still managed to give off fragrance after 90 years at the sea bottom. There's even a giant bulkhead that they managed to bring up in one piece, which was just amazing to see. As you go into the exhibit, they hand you a "boarding pass" containing the name of a random passenger, and at the end you can look at a list to see if you're alive or dead. Mine was unfortunately one of the third-class passengers who didn't survive...

One passenger who was lucky enough to live was interesting to us, since he was the only Japanese on the ship. Masabumi Hosono was an employee of the Japanese Transportation Ministry sent to Russia to study railroads, and after finishing his assignment, he prepared to cross the Atlantic on the Titanic. When the ship had its fateful collision with an iceberg at 11:40 pm on April 14, Mr. Hosono was asleep, and didn't wake until someone knocked on the door of his second-class cabin to tell him to put his life-vest on. He eventually made his way to the lifeboats and, hearing an announcement that there was room in lifeboat no. 10, he jumped in. His life was saved, but he might have wished it hadn't been: he was attacked in the Japanese press for living when so many others had died, and fired from his job at the ministry, and some even called for him to commit suicide to atone for his dishonorable act. If he'd died, the world of music would have been less bright: he was the grandfather of Haruomi Hosono, one of the founding members of the influential band YMO, which helped bring Ryuichi Sakamoto to the world stage. Anyway, the Titanic exhibition was fantastic, and if you're going to be in Vegas any time soon, I highly recommend you go see it.

Do you know the story of the Japanese passenger on the Titanic?

Have a Happy New Year

Well, it's the end of another year. Time to watch the parade of famous singers on this year's Kohaku Uta Gassen (Red and White Year-End Song Festival), and eat soba noodles which supposedly give you long life since the noodles are long. This has been an awesome year for J-List, and we thank everyone for helping make it a successful one. The way to wish someone a Happy New Year while it's still December is yoi o-toshi o (yo-ee oh-toh-shi oh), literally meaning "[please have a] good New Year." After January 1st has arrived, you say akemashite omedetou (ah-kay-ma-shtay oh-meh-deh-toh), literally "congratulations on entering the New Year." So until we meet again, please have an awesome (and safe) New Year's celebration, and yoi o-toshi o!

Arashi is going to be featured in a big way at this year's Kohaku.

Abercrombie & Fitch is the new "Gap" of Japan

We're still having fun here in Vegas, doing tourist-ey things with the kids like exploring interesting casinos and seeing what shows we want to take in. We're also in "power shopping" mode, hitting all the outlet malls and loading up on clothes, shoes and other things to take back home. Being Japanese, my wife is quite good at organizing her shopping, and she's made a point of hitting the after-Christmas sales at Aba-Kuro, also known as Abercrombie & Fitch, the newest in-demand trendy American clothing brand in Japan. While Japanese are paying $100 or more for a single piece of clothing from the just-opened flagship store in Ginza, my wife will smile at the more reasonable prices she paid at the sales here in the States.

Abercrombie & Fitch is the new "Gap" of Japan.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Strange English in Japan

The Japanese are extremely creative when it comes to language, and often invent new English words to describe the things they use every day, a phenomenon known as wasei eigo or "made-in-Japan English." Sometimes these words can be quite confusing if you were to hear them used in casual conversation, like pepa doraiba, or "paper driver," meaning someone who has a drivers' license yet doesn't drive regularly; or risutora, from the word "restructure," which means having one's job eliminated; or rokehan ("location hunting"), to scout for a location for a video shoot; or ekiho, what the girl at Starbucks calls out when I order my coffee "extra hot." After a while you start to get a feel for the cognitive leap that caused the word to be created, like the way the word "skeleton" is used to mean translucent, like the original iMac. The worse thing is when I get used to these strange "English" words and am crazy enough to use them on anyone outside of Japan. If someone wished you a Meri-Kuri, would you understand that they were talking about a Merry Christmas?

Did everyone have a Meri-Kuri (Merry Christmas)?

Spirited Away + Earthquakes = Strong Emotions

I wrote a few weeks ago about how I believed I'd "cracked the code" as to why Japanese animation is so compelling to people around the world: it's all about the emotions. From boy-meets-moe love stories to anime series with involved love triangles, and even stories that make you taste the sadness of losing someone you love or jealous rage through the characters on-screen, there's something special about the way anime pushes our emotional buttons. One anime I've enjoyed recently is Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, an extremely realistic series about a young girl and her brother who are caught in a devastating quake in Tokyo. The story is about how Chihiro Mirai grows as she is spirited away to a magical world caught in world of death and destruction, and you really feel the fear and confusion in the characters as you watch them deal with great adversity, like Tokyo Tower falling down around their heads. Other forms of media have their emotional highs and lows, of course, but I think there's something about the way the Japanese combine character, setting, and unique visual elements to really make you feel the story in unique ways.

To me, anime is at its best when it conveys strong emotions.

Japan's "Forget-the-Year" Parties

Hello again from J-List, now in Las Vegas, where we've taken the kids for some post-Christmas relaxation. We hope you had a great Holiday!

2009 is winding down, as everyone looks back to reflect on all this year has held for us. Right now it's the season for bounen-kai or "Forget-the-Year" parties in Japan, and any bar, restaurant or izakaya (a kind of cozy traditional Japanese pub-restaurant) you visit will be crowded with groups of people having these year-end parties. Since it's naturally a big time for Japan's major beer manufacturers, there are plenty of advertisements in trains and around town promoting good times with friends and lots of ice-cold Asahi Super Dry or Kirin Ichiban Shibori to go with it. Not only does Japan have traditional Year-End Parties as an excuse for friends to get together and drink, there are New Year's Party for celebrating the new year that's just begun, held in January. Japan does love to drink socially, and even has a word for the concept: "nomunication," which is the word nomu (to drink) + the English word "communication."

Japan's beer companies are heavily advertising for "Year-End Parties."