Friday, April 16, 2010

Land of the Lost vs. Anime

Recently I got the urge to re-watch the classic 70s show Land of the Lost, about a family that gets trapped in a strange land populated with dinosaurs and lizard-men and lots of other bizarre creatures. Like Jonny Quest, which I wrote about last month, Land of the Lost was a rare example of a "children's" show that managed to engage and challenge the minds of its viewers, with incredible stories of time travel, alternate worlds and a complete mythos for fans to explore -- it was very much "Lost" for kids. It's no wonder the writing was so good, since SF legends like Ben Bova, Larry Niven and Star Trek's D.C. Fontana contributed scripts, and in the prehistoric days before Japanese animation, it was cutting-edge stuff. Since the show had a budget of about $50 per episode (or so it seemed), they had to get creative on the production side, for example the Sleestak "God of the Pit" who we never see, only hear. While the show did have innovative stories, it retained some of the condescending attitudes of the era -- no matter what kind of dangerous situation Marshall, Will and Holly were in, they'd say things like, "but you might be hurt!" rather than using the word "killed," since kids would apparently be traumatized at the very suggestion of death. Nowadays there are dozens of thoughtful anime series with stories that really challenge the mind, and young people today probably can't imagine a time when virtually all television aimed at anyone under the age of fifteen had to be completely sterile and boring.

Or am I giving TV too much credit for not being condescending to viewers? Maybe it's still bad but I just don't know since I'm grown up and living in Japan.

Land of the Lost told hardcore SF stories in the pre-anime era, and it was gloriousLa.

All About Japanese Variety Shows

Japanese game shows are a popular staple of television here, although "game show" isn't actually that good a name for them since there are no contestants and no cash prizes. The Japanese term "variety show" is better, capturing the wide range of strange and interesting stuff these shows throw out to viewers. One show might invite famous guests on and have them throw a large die with different topics written on each side, like, "talk about something embarrassing that happened to you," and the person will have to talk about that subject if that came up. Often the shows will focus on capturing the amusing reactions of famous stars, like one show I caught the other day which had cute J-POP idols touch objects they couldn't see (but which were visible to us), such as eels or a turtle. Food is another big part of Japanese variety programming, like "Darts Trip" in which darts are thrown at a map and camera crews are dispatched to that location to find interesting stuff to report on, which usually involves discovering exotic regional foods which they bring back to the studio for everyone to eat.

Fun with Japanese variety shows. I love Yoon Sona, the girl in the middle, by the way.

Babies Cry When They See Foreign Barbarians

The other day Yasu, the J-List employee who keeps our site stocked with awesome anime artbooks, Japanese study supplies and those wacky "Food Drops" candies, brought his one-year-old daughter Kokoro to J-List to show her off. Kokoro-chan was a cute baby, but she took one look at me and started crying loudly, since she'd never seen a gaijin before and didn't know what to make of this strange-looking creature. (Fortunately the Cat Bus plush toy I gave her made her feel better.) Before I started J-List I taught ESL for several years and I've had my share of kids who were nervous about meeting a strange foreign barbarian who spoke a funny language. This kind of thing is sho ga nai, as they say, meaning "it can't be helped." Since I was often serving as the first non-Japanese person these kids were encountering, I always did my best to avoid doing anything which might traumatize them or make them associate foreigners or studying English with anything bad. I usually wear sunglasses when outside, but since Japanese don't usually wear them -- I've been told that their darker eyes soak up more sunlight so the world doesn't look as bright to them, although I don't buy that for a second -- I always take my sunglasses off when around kids to keep from scaring them.

Babies often cry when they encounter gaijin, since we're new and strange to them.

J-List Free T-Shirt Sale! Buy 2, Get a "Mystery" Shirt Free

For years J-List has been printing our line of awesome kanji and anime T-shirts and we have a huge lineup of really great designs, no matter what your interest in Japan is. Now in order to help us make room for cool new designs, we're announcing the J-List T-shirt Sale! For every two San Diego-based T-shirts or hoodies you buy, we'll send you a "mystery" T-shirt for free -- think of it like a free "Lucky Bag" surprise. It's a great time to browse our lineup of awesome designs and pick up a shirt or four! Click here to see all our wacky shirts, here to view shirts for girls and kids, or here to browse the top 50 T-shirt over the past week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Job Interviews in Japan

Running a business in Japan naturally means I have to interview Japanese job applicants who want to work for J-List, and I often wonder if they're not freaked out by having a foreigner sit down across from them at the interview. Job interviews work somewhat differently in Japan compared to the rest of the world. Here, in lieu of a western resume or C.V. applicants write out a form called a rirekisho or "personal history form" which shows all school, work and other related information. (We had to learn to fill these out as part of my Japanese class.) A reserved, humble attitude is extremely important during a Japanese-style job interview, too, and successful applicants will actually talk down their own past work achievements in ways that would be incomprehensible in the U.S., where resume-padding and a bit of exaggeration are all part of getting a job. When my wife was learning English in the U.S. they would do mock interviews and she was unable to talk about any of her achievements, so used to being humble at job interviews was she.

Of course, a lot of these odd rules are thrown out the window in the case of foreigners, so if you ever find yourself in a job interview here, don't worry too much about it. They can't very well expect foreigners interviewing for, say, a cheerful ESL teacher to act as if they have no personality as Japanese must do.

Job interviews are a unique (and strange) process in Japan.

More on "Kata" and Japan

I've written before about how one interesting way to make sense of Japan is through the concept of kata, a word which can be translated in many ways, including "mold" (to shape things with), "model" (as in the model number of a computer or other product), "type" (for classification, also being used for blood type), or the customary postures taken in martial arts. It's the word's meaning of "customary form" that I'm mostly concerned with here, and the way it describes the patterns of thinking that become accepted practices in Japan, which no one ever then thinks very deeply about. I saw a news item the other day about popular AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda being named "Police Chief For a Day" in Tokyo to help kick off this year's Spring Traffic Safety Week, and this seemed to me like a good example of kata in action. To have a pop star appear in fluffy media stories wearing a police uniform is silly on the surface, but viewed as a part of a pre-defined idea that famous stars will lend their names to certain projects for the public good, it's easier to understand. (If you are a fan of AKB48, their music is available through the iTunes Japan store with the prepaid cards we stock. You may need log out and select the iTunes Japan store to access the songs.)

AKB48 star Atsuko Maeda was Police Chief for a Day.

Love Letter in the Shoes Box

When you become a fan of Japanese animation, you expose yourself to a world of cultural concepts that are strange and unfamiliar at first, but which are always fun to learn about. Like the nuances between senpai and kohai, or senior and junior in a school or organization, something that doesn't generally exist in America. (The high school I went to went from 8th through 12th grade, and Japanese are always amazed to hear that many classes were taught with students of different grades learning together, which would be unthinkable here.) Another meme you see in anime a lot is a girl or boy who gets a love letter from an admirer wanting to confess their love. In Japanese schools, there are racks of geta-bako or "shoes boxes" where you put your dirty outdoor shoes and change into soft shoes that are worn inside the school. The popularity of a given anime character is often communicated to the audience by how many love letters fall out of his or her shoes box when they open it, a cultural message that would likely be difficult for Westerners to understand at first

"Love letter in the shoes box" is a popular anime meme.

The Top Products at J-List Ranking

J-List carries a lot of unique and interesting products, and it can be fun to see what the top 50 products are, which you can view using this link. Many customers have come to rely on our iTunes Japan prepaid cards to access great music and other content through iTMS Japan, which pushes those cards way up to the to spot. People are rushing to get the last Sakura Green Tea Kit Kat before warm weather arrives, forcing us to remove all chocolate products from the site. We sell traditional dagashi products like the Neri Ame liquid candy you knead with chopsticks, which is all very inexpensive, making it popular with customers. Finally our selection of bento boxes is second to none, and we love to see them move up in the ranking.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Flower Viewing, Summer Wars Style

Over the weekend I wanted to take the family someplace special to enjoy the beautiful sakura that were in full bloom. We opted to go to Ueda (oo-EH-da), a Japanese city in Nagano Prefecture with an old castle that saw a couple of important battles between Ieyasu Tokugawa and the Sanada clan in its heydey. An amazing 1000 sakura trees had been planted throughout the castle grounds, and they were just wonderful to see. Ueda Castle is an especially popular tourist destination this year since it was used as the inspiration for several locations in the animated film Summer Wars. The city has gone all-out to welcome anime fans, publishing an official Summer Wars guide to the areas used in the film in PDF format (links here and here) and selling limited edition Summer Wars products at the castle.

As we walked around the castle grounds contemplating the beauty of the cherry blossoms, I was happy to see stalls selling various foods. They were yatai, small open-air food stands that are always found at Japanese festivals or outside Shinto shrines during cultural events. There's always something good to find at a yatai, from Takoyaki and Taiyaki to Chocolate Banana Crepes and roasted corn and soy sauce, and of course Jyaga Butter baked potatoes, a favorite of mine. It was great to roam around while eating a little of this and a little of that then take a nap under the cherry blossoms. Of course, you can enjoy some of these tastes in the form of the traditional Food Drops candies that J-List sells, which taste remarkably faithful to the original foods.

(You can see pictures from my flower viewing in a Flickr slideshow a few posts down)

Tthe sakura were beautiful at Ueda Castle, and the Chocolate Banana Crepes were good too.

International Marriage in Japan and "My Darling is a Foreigner"

Japanese marrying partners from other countries is called kokusai kekkon, and it's viewed by many here as an alternative choice for those who want something different than what a Japanese spouse offers. Currently about 6% of registered marriages are between Japanese and foreigners (8.4% in Tokyo), a high number considering we account for just 1.5% of the population here. Japanese females often have a rose-colored view of what it must be like to be married to an American, expecting that we hold doors and chairs like perfect gentlemen, do the dishes every night and sometimes cook up a romantic dinner for two. We also say "I love you" often, unlike Japanese men who supposedly don't communicate with their wives as well, in some cases saying nothing more to them than than Meshi! Furo! Neru! (Food! Bath! Sleep!) after getting home from work. Children produced by international marriages must surely be kawaii, just like having your own living Licca-chan doll. (Licca is a popular fashion doll who is half-Japanese, half-French.) When Japanese women think of marrying a foreigner, they probably imagine something like Darling wa Gaikokujin, or My Darling is a Foreigner, a popular manga about a Japanese woman who marries an American man and all the funny misunderstandings they have together. The series has been made into a major Japanese film now, which explores the challenges people from different cultures face when trying to make a life together.

"My Darling is a Foreigner" is now a major film release in Japan.

Anime Cosplay Season is Coming

The summer anime conventions will be here before you know it, and we're busy beefing up our stock of great complete anime costumes and other accessories. Whether you're looking for cosplay outfits for guys to wear or costumes for girls, we've got a great selection for you. We also have those awesome authentic school uniforms from Matsukameya of Nagoya, for making the ultimate otaku statement, as well as great costume accessories like our Ninja Masks, anime Eye Patch and authentic "skirt type" school swimsuit.