Saturday, April 10, 2010

Flower Viewing 2010, Summer Wars Style

I took the kids to Ueda, a town in Nagano Prefecture famous for its "1000 sakura trees" park inside the old Ueda Castle, which is where a lot of the scenes from Summer Wars were set. Here is a Flickr slidedshow of the pictures if you'd like to see them.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Counting Things in Japanese and English

It's funny how human language seems to follow certain patterns. The other day I was talking with the Japanese staff of J-List about how groupings of animals have unique and sometimes obscure names, such as a herd of cows or horses, a flock of birds or sheep, a pride of lions, or a school of fish. This is apparently something Japanese never study, and everyone was fascinated by this bit of linguistic trivia. Having unique names for groups of animals seems like something that would be rare as far as languages go, and yet it's not so very different from the complex (but fun) system of counters used in Japanese. When counting thin, flat objects like sheets of paper you count them with mai, e.g. ichi-mai, ni-mai, san-mai. If the objects are long and narrow you use hon, which becomes ippon, nihon, sanbon for one, two or three tube-shaped objects. (Random trivia: Roppongi means "six trees.") Learning to count obscure objects properly can become an obsession with foreigners: I always make a point of counting pairs of chopsticks using the correct ichi-zen, ni-zen, san-zen because Japanese expect foreigners to get them wrong.

Recreating Hawaii in Northern Japan

The Japanese certainly do like to dream big and build even bigger, and some of the projects they've come up with over the years are really amazing. Like Ssaws, a giant indoor ski resort built to allow busy Tokyo residents to enjoy skiing all year round without driving for hours to get to the mountains. Or the Seagaia Ocean Dome, a giant indoor beach constructed in Miyazaki Prefecture so vacationers could experience the summer sun even in the heart of winter, since everything was enclosed. (They even had a volcano that erupted every hour.) Last week J-List's Yasu, who keeps our site well stocked with manga, artbooks and Japanese study supplies, took his wife and three daughters to northern Japan to visit Spa Resort Hawaiians, an interesting complex of hotels and pools designed to recreate exotic Hawaii without leaving Japan.

Spa Resort Hawaiians is just like being in Hawaii, er, maybe.

Running Into Sumo Wrestlers in Tokyo

Since Tokyo is just a 45 minute Shinkansen ride from J-List's home prefecture of Gunma, it's quite convenient for us to go down for shopping, concerts or just to hang around for a few hours. Whenever I'm in the city I like walking through its immaculate streets, visiting random shops or perhaps hitting my favorite toy store, Yamashiroya in Ueno. In Tokyo you never know when you'll come across a "guerilla live," which is when a band sets up its instruments and gives an impromptu performance at random locations, or encounter some unique Japanese marketing, like the time I ran into a column of about fifty attractive Japanese girls all wearing Swatch T-shirts and fashionable watches as they marched military-style through Shinjuku, saying nothing but making everyone aware of the company's brand. I like it when I turn a corner and suddenly find myself face-to-face with a sumo wrestler, which happens with surprisingly regularity depending on what part of Tokyo you're in. There's nothing that makes me say, "Woah, I'm in Japan!" more than that.

Running into real live sumo wrestlers in Tokyo is fun.

New at J-List: Erect 81's JAV T-Shirts

J-List is happy to announce a new partnership with Erect81, a famous private-label T-shirt maker based in Tokyo that makes some of the most unique T-shirts you are going to find. The shirts we're posting to the site are especially awesome if you're a fan of Japan's sexy JAV world, because you can now wear official T-shirts featuring all your favorite Japanese adult stars. The shirts are beautifully printed on thick cotton, with large designs that will last for years. Browse our new selection of shirts on the Japan T-shirts Page now.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Japanese are Creative with Language

The Japanese strike me as a very creative people, and I'm often amused by the things they bother to come up with names for. Having your significant other sleep while using your arm as a pillow is known as ude-makura (oo-day mah-koo-rah) or "arm pillow," and the word for "waking up and doing stuff then going back to bed afterwards" is nidone (ni-doh-neh), or "second sleep." This creativity extends into the realm of English, too, for example the beer I had last night called Asahi Strong Off, a name which perfectly reflected the strong taste and lower calorie content. Some businesses with interesting (if odd-sounding) names include Heartful Life (a home renovation company) and a "used fishing tool shop" called Tackle Berry, which shows a picture of Huckleberry Finn pulling in a fish with his fishing rod as its corporate logo. Very weird, but very creative, too.

There's nothing like a Strong Off at the end of a hard day's work.

Strange Fashions in Japan: Pair Look

It's funny, the way fashions can seem like the coolest thing to people one year yet be embarrassingly outdated a decade and a half later. Like the pictures of my mother from the 1960s with a hilarious hairdo held in a "U" shape by liberal amounts of hair spray, or any shot of George Cloony from his "Facts of Life" days. In the 80s there was a bizarre fashion trend in Japan called "pair look" in which couples would actually wear matching outfits on dates, and it's threatening to come back in style, if the Tokyo fashion blogs can be believed. (It's very popular in Korea, too, especially with couples on their honeymoon.) Supposedly the newest fashion trend in Tokyo is...guys wearing skirts. Called sukaato danshi or "skirt boys," the trend consists of men wearing long skirts (really more like aprons) over their clothes as they go about the day. If you want to follow what's new and cool in the Japanese fashion world, keep your eyes glued to our Fashion Magazines and More page.

Japan has many strange fashions, like "pair look" that's threatening to come back.

Out-of-the-way Tourist Spots in Japan

The Japanese government has rolled out a new logo and slogan designed to encourage more tourists to come and experience, "Japan. Endless Discovery." But what places should you visit once you're here? Everyone knows about great tourist destinations like Kyoto, Nara or the Ghibli Museum, but as long as you're in Japan, why not find some of the more out-of-the-way tourist spots to explore? Like a town in Chiba Prefecture that brands itself Japan's version of England's Dover Cliffs, for some reason. Or if you like bizarre museums, check out the Tobacco and Salt Museum, which tells you the history of, well, tobacco and salt in Japan. You could visit the "koto-playing sand" at Kotobikihama Beach, which sings as you walk on it, or find a "Melody Road" that plays music as your car drives over lines dug into the road surface. There's even a desert of sorts, the Tottori Sand Dune, a 16 km stretch of sand which looks like it could have come straight out of Tunisia -- the local tourist board has even imported a camel for you to ride. Or you could visit Gunkan-jima near Nagasaki, the eerily beautiful "Battleship Island" that was a miniature city housing coal miners and their families from 1887 to 1974. When the mines became unprofitable, everyone left overnight, leaving one of the most striking examples of haikyo (modern ruins) in the world.

What are some other unique places to visit in Japan? Post answers in the comments.

Did you know there was a desert in Japan? 

Spotlight on J-List's Kanji & Anime T-Shirts

Whether you're Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend, want to show the world your love of Bento Boxes or don Domo-kun for all to see, J-List has a great line of interesting original T-shirts and hoodies. We're really happy with the newly release anime T-shirts, like our tribute to Tsundere voice actress Rie Kugimiya, our great K-On! + Beatles parody, or our wonderful Toradora! parody shirts. All shirts are made in San Diego by our professional local staff (not mass-produced in Asia) and all shirts are full U.S. sizes. Click here to see all T-shirts and hoodies, or here to view the top 50 items this week.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Love Plus Comes to the iPhone (If You Have a Japan iTunes Prepaid Card)

You probably know you can get access to the awesome JPOP music and anime songs using the popular iTunes Japan prepaid cards that J-List sells, which are fully compatible with iPod/iPhone/iTunes all over the world. Happily, the cards also give you full access to software applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch and new iPad not available outside Japan. Like the brand-new Love Plus games, which give you a virtual version of the three girls from the Nintendo DS dating-sim who interact with you, with full CG animation and voice. They'll do things like move and talk, tell you the time and if you have something coming up on your calendar, and react to on-screen touches with content that changes depending on the season. Each game costs just 600 yen, and they're available here if you have purchased a prepaid card from us. (If logged into to a non-Japanese account, please log out as they won't display).

J-List Spring Sale!

Twitter, Anime Fandom and English Education

Like many, I've gotten into Twitter, posting my random thoughts on life, the universe and everything while passing along information on stuff we've posted to the J-List site. It's interesting to see the amazing variety of people who follow me -- Japanophiles from the U.S. and Europe of course, but also out-of-the-way places like Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and even an anime fan from Saudi Arabia. It's great to be able to have random conversations with people about various topics, and I often throw out questions as I'm blogging to get input and ideas from around the world. I've also gotten quite a few Japanese followers, which I think is great since Twitter is the perfect vehicle for Japanese to put the many years of English they've studied to use as a "living" language. The problem with Japan is that in the past, the only time knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary has really been needed is during university entrance exams, and there was almost no opportunity to actually use the language. So if you're on Twitter already or would like to give it a try, follow me and let's chat!

Of course there had to be Twitter fan art for me to post here, now nice.

The 65th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Yamato

Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the sinking of the Yamato, the most famous Japanese battleship of World War II. Growing desperation had caused the Japanese to organize the first kamikaze air units around October 1944 -- in Japanese they were called tokkou (toh-KOH), which means "special attack forces -- but despite an amazing 2,525 suicide attacks made by Japanese pilots, the Allied forces continued their advance. By the start of the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945, the Japanese fleet was only a shadow of its former self as war planners decided to send the Yamato and eight support ships on a "special attack" mission despite the lack of fuel or air support, which predictably ended with the sinking of the ship and loss of 90% of her crew. My wife has an uncle who fought in World War II, stationed on the battleship Ise, which would have been sent off with the Yamato's squadron if it hadn't been too damaged. Whenever I get the chance I take my son to hear the fascinating tales he can tell us.

Moe Yamato-tan says, "War is bad. Peace is good." 

Yakiniku, Awesome Korean BBQ in Japan

Yesterday was my son's birthday, and in our family that usually means going to our favorite Korean BBQ restaurant for a special meal. Called yakiniku, Korean BBQ is a popular dish with Japanese families, who eat it about as often as Americans will enjoy Chinese or Thai. At the restaurant you order what kind of meat you want -- kalbi beef, chicken, pork, plus vegetables -- and then everyone fries it up over the fire located in the center of the table, taking pieces off and eating them as they cook. It's a fun social way for everyone to eat together, but you have to be good with the chopsticks, or someone else will steal the piece of meat you had your eye on. Japanese believe you can tell a lot about a person from their blood type, and it's not rare for Korean BBQ meals to turn into conversations about this phenomenon, with my wife saying, "Look at the way Peter hoards the pieces of meat near him. That's standard behavior for a person with B-type blood." 

Of course, the Japanese adapt Korean BBQ to their own tastes somewhat, adding a delicious sauce for dipping the meat in that Koreans don't use, and when we ask "real" Korean establishments if they have any, they just yell at us about how Korea invented kimchee and not Japan. Also, in Korean BBQ establishments in Korea or the U.S., the meat is usually cooked by a restaurant employee rather than the customers themselves.

Japanese love to eat yakiniku, or Korean BBQ.