Friday, April 02, 2010

Bizarre Festival is Bizarre: the Kanamara Steel Phallus Festival

Unfortunately the announcement of the new J-List retail shop in Akihabara turned to be an April Fool's joke (heh, even our staff in San Diego fell for it) -- apologies to anyone who was planning on visiting the store. But if you're interested in a unique experience, you might try the Kanamara Matsuri, translated as Festival of the Steel Phallus, one of the most bizarre and interesting sights you can see in Japan. It's essentially a Shinto fertility festival held in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, and the crowds go wild as they celebrate the shape of the male member, even carrying a giant mikoshi shrine through the streets of the city. The festival is held the first Sunday of April (this Sunday), so if you happen to be in Japan and are looking for something really interesting to do, give it a try.

(Remind me to write a post on how Japan's lack of "uptight-ness" is such a wonderful thing.)

The Kanamara Festival is a celebration of, er, the human penis.

Japanese Culture and "Hanami" (Flower Viewing)

It's hanami season in Japan, a period of approximately ten days when the millions of cherry trees located in Japanese cities bloom with beautiful colors. As with most aspects of Japanese daily life, it can be fun to observe what cultural bits of information you can discover. At parks with cherry trees, different groups will spread out blue tarps for their members to sit on, and instantly each tarp takes on the properties of a little house. Since the surface of the tarp is considered "indoors" (uchi), people remove their shoes before stepping onto it, and there is a clear sense that the top of the tarp is "clean" while the dirt just beyond is "dirty" (since it is soto or "outside"). Females might even say ojama-shimasu as they step onto the tarp, which literally means "I apologize for disrupting you in your home" and is said when you enter someone's house. Food and alcohol will be readied as the group prepares to contemplate the beauty of cherry blossoms, but they may need to engage in some ice-breaking first, as Japanese will usually show enryo, a kind of social hesitation at being the first to start eating and having fun.

A big blue tarp can teach you about Japanese culture.

Walking To School Together

Last time I talked about safety in Japan, including the way elementary school children walk to school in an organized group called a han, with a sixth-grade student as leader who keeps the kids in the group together and presumedly protects younger students from ijime (bullying). As with many things in Japan, this is part of a tradition that goes back for generations, and when my daughter went to school with the other kids in the neighborhood, she walked the exact path that her mother walked many years before...which was the same path used by her grandmother even earlier. I think the school han system is good because it keeps kids safe and gives them a structure to follow as they get accustomed to school life, and it's certainly preferential to the Lord of the Flies trauma that was riding the school bus in America. Still, not everyone agrees it's a good thing, like a friend of mine from the U.K. who had a Japanese wife and cute haafu son. My friend disliked the way the the kids were made to walk in a line wearing little yellow hats "like baby ducklings following their mother" because it seemed like a form of social programming which robbed them of their individuality. He eventually opted to take his family back to the U.K. rather than see his son assimilated into a really cute Borg collective. What do you think? Is preserving the tradition of kids walking to school together with neighborhood kids good, or should things be more flexible?

Japanese students walk to school in their assigned han; lead by the "head honcho."

Spring, the Time of Thinking About Cosplay + Sale Note

Ah, spring, the time when the hearts of otaku everywhere turn to the upcoming summer anime conventions and the costumes they want to wear, and happily, J-List has a huge selection of items for you. In addition to our extensive line of complete cosplay outfits for guys and girls, J-List is honored to represent the famous Matsukameya of Nagoya, a company which makes extremely high quality real school uniforms for fans all around the world, custom made to their size. The company's outstanding summer and winter school uniforms for girls and gakuran style uniforms for boys are so good, I can honestly say I've never received a negative word from our customers in the many years we've carried their products. Click here to browse all anime cosplay items, or here to view the top 50 cosplay items this week.

J-Lists's Spring Sale extended another week! The cherry blossoms are still in bloom, so we figured we'd extend the J-List Spring Sale another week. We'll send you a store credit worth $5 for every $100 you spend for your next purchase, which means you can add an extra T-shirt or box of Black Black Caffeine Gum to your order and save. But like the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms, this offer will blow away soon.

J-List Spring Sale!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Some Big News for J-List: A Retail Shop in Akihabara!

Some big news for J-List fans -- come by our retail store on your next trip to Japan!

For Immediate Release
April 1, 2010
J-List, one of the first anime shops on the Internet, announced today that it has opened a retail store in Tokyo's popular Akihabara area. The store will stock anime figures, anime artbooks and magazines, bento boxes, plus the popular "Tenga" male stress relief products.

J-List founder Peter Payne said, "Ever since beginning operations in 1996, we've had one goal: to create the premier anime shop in Akihabara, the center of Japan's otaku spirit. We're happy that this day has finally been realized."

The J-List retail shop is located on the 2nd floor of the Don Quixote shop facing the main Chuo Dori thoroughfare. The store will also stock the company's signature Japanese-langage T-shirts, including "Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend" and anime parodies like the "Tsundere" kanji T-shirt.

To commemorate the new retail shop launch, J-List is giving away a copy of the Pixiv Girls Collection 2010 artbook in a Twitter campaign run in partnership with In addition, the site is extending its 2010 Spring Sale event giving all customers a $5 coupon for every $100 spent on the site. Customers can take another $5 off any order over $25 for today only by entering JLISTAKIBA in the "store coupon."

J-List can be accessed at (includes NSFW products) or (PG products only). For details on the Twitter campsign and to see beautiful pictures of the artbook, click over to Danny Choo's site now.

(Hope everyone liked our little April Fool's joke, thanks to Danny Choo for the idea and the cool graphic. The winner of the free Pixiv artbook has been selected, using a random number generated from And the winner is... @De_JaY -- congratulations!)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Japan is Safety Country

Japan is definitely a land of opposites, often presenting conflicting images to visitors from the outside world who are trying to make sense of the place. One of my first impressions about Japan was that it was a dangerous place for children, due to the steep hardwood stairs that every Japanese home seemed to have, and lack of safety features like baby gates and child safety seats for cars, which hadn't come into use yet. But on closer inspection, there are many ways that Japan is actually more safe, sometimes almost ridiculously so. There are no school busses in Japan, so for safetty kids are taught to walk to school in a tight group called a han which is lead by a sixth grade leader called hancho (where the English word "head honcho" comes from). All pools in Japan are shallow as a safety precaution, and when Japanese encounter swimming pools with deep water as in the United States it can often be dangerous, since they're so unfamiliar. Schools are completely enclosed in a strong net which serves to keep dangerous people from entering the school grounds or students from leaving, except through the main school gate. And I saw recently that the Yamanote (yama-no-teh) train line in Tokyo is installing safety gates that will keep people from falling, I mean jumping, onto the train tracks, an anti-suicide precaution.

And yes, "safety country" is the kind of English your brain produces after you've lived here too long, as I have. ^_^

A group of children walk to school together, with the hancho taking charge to make sure everyone is accounted for.

How to Prepare for Coming to Japan

One thing I like about running J-List is being able to help people be closer to Japan. One of my Twitter followers told me he's coming here in a few months and asked if I could give him some advice on how to get ready. How you prepare for a visit to Japan depends on whether you'll be staying only a week or two or if you're planning on being here on a long-term basis, of course, but I'll do my best. Although Japan is a modern industrialized nation, it's amazing how often little cultural differences can cause problems for visitors from abroad. It can be difficult to find a bank you that accepts bank cards from overseas (hint: the ATMs at Seven Eleven are a good place to start checking), and there are arbitrary limitations on how much of your own money you can withdraw per week, so have a backup plan when it comes to money. If you have special medical or other issues, it's best to assume you won't be able to find what you need in Japan and bring extra medicines/whatever with you. Products like deodorants may be difficult to identify at first, so bring some extra from home lest you accidentally find you've been applying feminine products to your underarms. If you have especially large feet it can be good to bring an extra pair of shoes -- above 28 cm (American size 10/British size 9.5/European 44) can be hard to find. Of course everyone should study Japanese for several years before coming here, but if this isn't possible, we offer some useful Japanese study tools to help you get started. Finally, don't forget to bring an open mind with you: no matter what you expect to find in Japan, it will surprise you with strange customs like the way you're supposed to slurp your noodles rather than eating them quietly.

Any other advice I should send to my twitter follower? Put your personal advice for coming to Japan in the comments.

Coming to Japan? Bring some spare shoes if you have big feet.

This Man Would Like To Sell You Some Sakura Ramen

The Season of the Sakura has come to Japan, and all throughout the country cherry trees are exploding like beautiful fireworks. One of the best things about Japan is doing hanami or flower viewing, which usually involves spreading a tarp under the cherry trees and having a party with your friends, drinking lots of beer and sake while the petals fall all around you. Flower viewing has been popular in Japan since the beginning of written history, with the first hanami recorded in the Nara period (710-784), although the word initially applied to viewing of ume or plum flowers, which are also pretty. It's common for companies to seize on the coming of spring to sell new products, and if you turn on the TV you'll be bombarded by images of special beer brewed just for spring or the newest video camera perfect for recording your child's first day of school. The Maruchan noodle company has gotten into the spirit, too, hiring black enka singer Jero (iTunes Japan link) to advertise special spring-themed versions of their ramen noodles, with sakura-ebi or tiny freeze-dried little shrimp inside (yech).

Enka singer Jero, in a new campaign promoting ramen noodles for spring. Doesn't look that good though.

The Joy of Dagashi, Traditional Snacks from Showa Japan

J-List carries all the newest snacks from Japan, but we go one better by stocking the oldest, in the form of dagashi, which is the traditional snacks and candy eaten in Japan since the Showa Period, which are still popular. The most popular traditional snack has got to be Kompeito, which has been eaten in Japan for 400 years -- it's popular with anime fans since it shows up in the film Spirited Away. Another fun snack is Neri Ame, lit. "liquid candy" that you apply to the included chopsticks then "knead" it until it turns solid. I also love the mochi chewy soft traditional candies, and of course Bontan Ame is fun because it's soft candies that you can eat wrapper and all since it's made of rice. Best of all, these snacks are all ridiculously inexpensive, so you can sample a whole bunch. Click here to see all our traditional dagashi snacks, or here to see all snacks ranked by popularity.

Monday, March 29, 2010

ESL Teaching and "How are you? Fine, thanks, and you?"

"How are you?" If you've ever taught English as a Second Language in Japan then you know the correct answer to this question is, "Fine, thanks, and you?" One interesting aspect of the Japanese is how they treat language as if it were a science not unlike mathematics, and obsess over whether an answer is "correct" or not. Although there are many ways to answer an open-ended question like "How are you?" -- happy, tired, thirsty, looking forward to getting home -- it's usually expected that teachers will reinforce the phrases the students are learning without confusing them too much. When my son was studying for his "Eiken" English test, it got to the point where he'd ask his Japanese mother to help him rather than me since she had an innate sense of how to understand each question, whereas I would offer multiple answers to each problem, explaining various ways to go about each answer, which isn't what he wanted.

Teaching ESL in Japan means striking a balance between "real" and ESL English.

Korean Dramas on Prime Time in Japan

Ever since the official opening of cultural exchange between South Korea and Japan in 2001, there's been a lot of popular culture flowing across the Sea of Japan (although the Koreans hate that name). Although the big "Winter Sonata" boom has died down, Korean dramas have established a permanent place in the hearts of Japanese television viewers. Now for the first time, a Korean drama will be broadcast during "golden time" (what prime time is called in Japan), as TBS gets ready to show a new offering starring that handsome Lee Byung Hun in the 8:00 pm time slot. My wife has become quite a fan of all things Korean and watches the K-doramas just about every day. She's even taken my son over to Seoul for a couple days for shopping and sightseeing, since it's so close (the bus ride to the airport takes more time than the flight). They're staying at the Lotte Hotel, where I assume they give free Black Black caffeine gum to all guests, although I could be wrong about that. Koreans are getting more and more interested in Japan's popular culture, too and we sell a ton of our iTunes Japan prepaid cards to customers in Korea every day.

The "Yukkuri" joke below is because from the Japanese point of view, Koreans try to take credit for creating huge swaths of current Japanese and Korean shared culture, from Kendo swordfighting to enka music. It's all very silly, since there's been massive contact between the Korean peninsula and Japan since prehistoric times.

Japanese "Common Sense" is Hard for Gaijin

When I arrived in Japan, one of the concepts I had to get used to was joshiki (pronounced joe-sh'ki), a word meaning "common sense" which is quite important in a homogeneous country like this one. Joshiki is the list of things that every Japanese person knows unconsciously, but which are totally alien to foreigners since we didn't grow up here. In Japan it's joshiki that socks are never placed on the dining room table, even clean ones -- since they're associated with the feet they're "dirty" even if they've just been washed. Similarly, washing dirty shoes in the family washing machine would supposedly require buying a new one, so strong is the Japanese association with dirt and feet. People have been separating trash into complex categories for so long it's second nature to them, but I still screw up no matter how hard I try. Another example of this "universal common sense" that poor gaijin can't easily get in sync with is teikyubi, a set day of the week when restaurants or retail stores will be closed to enable the staff to have a day off. No matter how long I live in Japan, the day I make a special trip to my favorite ramen shop will be the day it's closed.
A sign informing customers that the store is closed on Monday.

Our Favorite Magazine Subscriptions & Spring Sale Reminder

J-List sells the most interesting anime, manga, hobby and ecchi magazines from Japan direct to you, and we're really proud of how popular our product lineup has become with customers. We sell some really special manga magazine like Dengeki Daioh or Shonen Ace which are loaded with your favorite manga stories. Then there are specialized books for zed books for aficionados of yuri or yaoi. If you want to learn about Japan, we recommend popular offerings like Hiragana Times or Kateigaho International. Magazines that give free stuff to readers are always appreciated, and we recommend Megami Magazine, NyanType, or the new Dengeki G's Festival we just got in stock. Click here to see all revolving magazine subscriptions, or here to browse the top 50 Japanese magazine subscription offerings.

Remember: J-List is having our 2010 Spring Sale! For the next week, we'll send you a store credit worth $5 for every $100 you spend for your next purchase. It gives you a good excuse to throw an extra few Kit Kats or a case of your favorite Japanese gum to your cart if you're only a few dollars under the next $100 amount. The gift codes never expire and can be used any time. Celebrating Spring with J-List!

J-List Spring Sale!