Friday, February 12, 2010

Higurashi no Naku Colony

I saw on CNN's website that Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had officially apologized for colonizing the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, expressing deep regret for the sadness his country caused. If you saw the news article, you might have thought, "Wow, Japan finally apologized -- now the two countries and get on with their lives." In reality, this was the 7th official statement of apology to Korea, and the 44th apology issued since World War II ended. As a dispassionate observer who loves both Japanese culture and Korean food, it's difficult to know how to feel about the long history between the two countries. On the one hand, one of the themes of Japan over the past 150 years has been its great respect for that other influential island nation, England, and how it tried to emulate it by creating a British-style empire in Asia. On the other hand, they did many terrible things, and haven't faced up to them as they should have, especially with their own people. Happily, the best antidote for the bad feelings left over from war are peace, commerce and shared popular culture, and in the time I've been in Japan the relationship between the two countries has really blossomed. Of course, the most interesting soccer games are still the ones between Japan and South Korea -- both teams really try hard to win ^_^

Tthe history between Japan and Korea is a complex one, though it's getting better.

Christians in Japan

When I came to Japan back in 1991, I had a lot of pre-conceived notions about the place, many of which proved wrong. One of these was the idea that the Japanese were "not religious," so imagine my surprise at finding myself in the Maebashi Baptist Church my first Sunday after arriving, where I'd been invited by some of my students. The next week, I even ran into some Jehova's Witnesses standing in front of the station, handing out Japanese-language versions of the Watchtower. Now my daughter attends a Christian school established in 1888 by missionaries who'd come to Japan during the Meiji Era, which makes for some interesting discussions when it's time for me to help her with her homework. One challenge is that since the Japanese version of the Bible was translated from the original ancient texts rather than from the English version, all the names sound very strange to my year, like Paulo, Petro and Yohan for Paul, Peter and John. If you want a linguistic challenge, try reading the Old Testament in Japanese! (If you're curious, between 1-2% of Japanese report themselves as Christian.)

I've known quite a lot of Japanese Christians during my time here.

Japanese Magazine Subscriptions from J-List

Among the many fine products J-List offers, we have a popular line of magazines which can be purchased on a revolving basis, with us charging and sending each issue to you as it comes in, so you never have to prepay and can cancel at any time. We have a great range of magazines, too, from popular anime magazines like Newtype and Animage to more specialized offerings for every taste, like J-ROCK/J-POP mags SHOXX, Cure and Myojo, or the popular Yuri Hime. If you like fashion magazines we've got plenty to offer you, like Egg and Kera and Goth-Loli Bible. Many magazines give you awesome free stuff with each issue, from the many posters of Nyan Type and Megami Magazine to free figures and other goodies from Dengeki G's Magazine and others. There's even a magazine to help you learn Japanese: Hiragana Times. Click here to view all our magazine subscriptions, or this link to see them ranked by popularity.

Spider-Man Pulls a Rickshaw on Japanese TV?

Sometimes the most mundane Japanese TV shows turn out to be interesting. Like one I caught the other day called Waratte Koraete! Darts no Tabi in which Japanese comedian Tokoro George (who provided the voice for Ponyo's father, if you happened to see that version) threw a dart at a map of New York, then sent a cute Japanese idol there with a camera crew to see what interesting things she could uncover. The girl -- who was dressed as Uncle Sam, complete with fake beard -- walked around the East Village area of Manhattan, asking people she met if they could point out some interesting sights. One was McSorely's Old Ale House, a pub that's been open since the Civil War and apparently never cleaned, and another was the legendary Astor Hair salon, a local landmark according to the owner. Then a guy who gives people rides in a jinrikisha (er, a rickshaw) while wearing a Spider-Man suit showed up, to the great delight of the Japanese viewers who had never seen such a thing. During his interview, he spoke to the Japanese camera crew using extremely easy-to-understand English, and I felt sure that he'd taught ESL in Japan at some time in the past.

You can see some wacky things on Japanese TV.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Laissez Faire Nature of Religion in Japan

As a general rule, the Japanese have a very laissez faire attitude when it comes religion, blending Shinto and Buddhism so seamlessly that no one thinks it odd that most homes have both a butsudan, or a Buddhist altar, and a kamidana, a miniature Shinto shrine made of wood. It's common for Japanese Christians to blend these cultural themes into their daily lives, too, having a Buddhist altar which they use to remember their ancestors even as they attend the local Catholic or Baptist church regularly. In the 18+ years I've lived here I've met only one Japanese Christian who told me he didn't engage in Shinto or Buddhist cultural activities such as the traditional prayer for good luck in the New Year, and I once taught English to a girl who told me her family was Shinto, and therefore they never went to Buddhist temples to attend events or ceremonies. The vast majority of Japanese enjoy a great deal of spiritual flexibility, and the result is, I think, a very positive one for the country.

Happily, the Japanese are always very free and flexible when it comes to religeon.


The Influx of New Words from Japan

It's interesting to study how language and the brain interact to create our perceptions, and it's not uncommon for an idea to be so closely tied to a word in one language that it becomes impossible to replace it with one from another language. No word could illustrate Hemingway's love of bullfighting as well as aficionado, one who has afición for the sport, and his use of the term gives an unmistakable flavor to his fiction. In a similar if somewhat less romantic way, the rise of Japanese popular culture has brought a slew of new words to us, like moé (mo-EH), which could be translated as "the warm feeling you get when contemplating your favorite super-cute anime character," or otaku, the label of preference for the current generation of Japan-obsessed anime fans. I mean, what English word could possibly replace a specialized term like tsundere, which describes the archetypal anime girl who's both angry yet also full of love, or angry at herself because she feels love? Or the many nuances of yuri, which describes the drama of girls falling in love with other girls?

Words from other languages can add a certain je ne sais quoi to your meaning.

Of Anime Figures and Dating-Sim Games

J-List carries thousands of fun products from Japan, including the beautiful prepainted anime figures from Japan's top toy studios. Queen's Blade is the popular book-based fighting RPG which has spawned so many beautiful artbooks and figures. Then there are the many "cast off" figures we stock, which give you, ah, various reconfiguration options when it comes to the clothes your anime figure are wearing. We also carry all the most famous figure lines, like Figma and Revoltech, and we also carry the kawaii Pinky Street line of toys with clothes you can change (well, you're actually changing the bodies). Finally, the Nendoroid toys we carry are great fun, since you can display them in so many ways. Browse all figures ia this link, or click here to see the top 50 figures this week.

Remember, J-List is having a great Valentine's Day Sale on our interactive dating-sim games, which means that this is a great time for you to pick up a title or three. Here's how it works: buy Bazooka Cafe and you'll get a coupon back for $5 when we process your order. But you get another $5 for other games you buy, so if you add three more games, that's $20 back, which is in addition to any other discounts that may apply. The sale even applies to the newly shipping Cat Girl Alliance, the fun game of cat girls and futanari. Why not pick up a bunch of titles now and save?

"Preferential Gift" to Shareholders by Japanese Companies

Like America, Japan is a capitalist country in which investors can buy stock in companies in the hopes that it will rise in value, but unlike the U.S. there are some interesting things companies do to make their stock more attractive. It's common for large companies here to issue kabunushi yutai or "preferential shareholder gifts" to individuals holding a certain amount of company stock, a custom that's tied to the tradition of giving seasonal gifts twice a year. If you've got stock in McDonald or Starbucks, you'll get a booklet of coupons for free products sent to you, while Ito Ham distributes a succulent ham to all shareholders with 1000 or more shares. Asahi Beer sends a beautiful gift box of its flagship Super Dry to its shareholders, while the Mercian company actually creates a special premium wine for holders of the company's stock. But the king of the "shareholder gift" game has to be Takara Tomy, which creates rare fashion dolls that are only available for purchase by shareholders, which means I have to keep coming up with ways to keep my wife from buying stock in the company, since she loves Licca-chan dolls. This tradition of giving perks to shareholders may seem strange, but in a country where gift-giving is as important as it is in Japan, it's a cheap way for companies to create goodwill among their stockholders and (if the gifts are really special) generate some buzz for their company.

Monday, February 08, 2010

"False" Dialects of Japanese in Anime

Like other languages, Japanese comes in various dialects. Some of these are regional, like "standard" Tokyo speech or the more colorful Osaka-ben (Osaka dialect), while other speech patterns are based on sex, as illustrated by different first and second pronouns for men and women. One interesting aspect of the language is the existence of "fake" dialects which show up in anime or manga but which are never used naturally by any real Japanese person, ever. One of these is ojosama speech, a special way that pampered rich girls like Cerina Iori Flameheart from Ladies Versus Butlers speak to indicate that they're well-bred. Instead of saying yoroshiku, a casual way of saying "Nice to meet you," they'll use the more refined-sounding yoroshiku-teyo, which is no more authentic than a sign advertising Ye Olde Bookshoppe. Then there's the rough "old man" speech used by almost every elderly male character ever animated, in which the phrase so da ("that is so") always changes to so ja. (Aside: in Japanese versions of Star Wars, Yoda speaks this standard form of "old man" speech, which is quite a shame considering how much Yoda's unique dialect to his character adds.) Yet another example of a stylized dialect of Japanese in anime is the "kid speech" of characters like Rika from Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, who adds nano desu to any sentence, making her sound more feminine and cute. Learning Japanese through anime is a fun way to expose yourself to new vocabulary, but it's important to realize that the medium does have its limitations.

Anime features many "false" dialects that no one actually speaks, nano desu!

The Disappearance if Haruhi Thoughts

This weekend was the opening of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and since I'm one of the few people in the world who can say it's his job to watch anime, I went to check it out. It was excellent, with many twists and turns that Haruhi fans will surely enjoy. I'm a big fan of hardcore science fiction stories, and have read just about every book about time travel ever written, from Guns of the South to The Time Ships to Time After Time and even To Say Nothing of the Dog. It struck me while watching the Haruhi film that Western-style stories about time travel (or time dilation in space) are relatively rare, and the anime series that do deal with these themes have clear Western inspirations. In the case of Haruhi, many of the "future Mikuru" ideas are lifted from the Hyperion books by Dan Simmons (this is actually the book Yuki gives to Kyon in episode 3), and the Haruhi-as-Godhead story harkens back to the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life." Gunbuster is essentially an homage to the awesome SF books Ender's Game and The Forever War, with skimpy uniforms added for fan service. When Japanese do create "timeslip" stories, they tend to be simpler, about a character who goes back in time to buy a red straw hat for his future girlfriend, or the well-trodden genre of modern Japanese person going back to Japan's "Warring States" historical period. Western time travel stories are sweeping tales about Deloreans man's mastery of technology and looking at society through different lenses, while Japanese time travel tends to be a device to put dramatic pressure on different characters.

So, what time travel books have you read that you can share with us in the comments?

Haruhi Suzumiya is back in a new movie, and it's pretty bad-ass.

Products for Espers, Time Travelers and Aliens

J-List is loaded with fun products for Haruhi fans. First, we've got several outstanding T-shirts, like our popular "No Normal Humans" T-shirt that has gorgeous kanji, or the popular "I Would Die for Haruhi" shirt design. Churuya-san, a cute-ified version of Tsuruya from the series, is another popular shirt (nyoro~n). We love the detailed Haruhi Figma toys made by Max Factory, and we have all the best figures on the site for you to browse. Finally, I can't help but recommend the excellent magazines that are loaded with free stuff, like Nyan Type or Megami Magazine, available by revolving month-to-month subscription from J-List.