Friday, May 21, 2010

iPhone, iPod and USB Products @ J-List

J-List carries many cool products for the wired world we live in, from anime-themed earphones and full-sized headphones to those cool anime iPhone and iPod cases, and Japanese computer peripherals by Elecom, the famous company whose corporate slogan is, "Around the PC." (They even make a case that's great for UMPC-size laptops or Apple's iPad.) Of course our iTunes Japan Prepaid Cards are a popular way to browse and buy the latest Japanese music, from anime songs to the latest Okinawan pop tunes, plus Japan-only applications for iPhone/iPad. Click here to see the top-selling Japan iPhone and Elecom products this week!

Learning English in Japan

My daughter's mid-term tests are coming up soon, so she's been studying to prepare for them. Although she can recite whole blocks of dialogue from The Wizards of Waverly Place thanks to YouTube, she has to learn English "properly," which means focusing on grammar and vocabulary like Japanese students do. When I sat down to help her with her homework, she was writing out lists of verbs in present, past and past perfect tenses -- teach, taught, taught, eat, ate, eaten -- and so on, something I don't recall doing in school ever. In general, there are many challenging concepts in English for Japanese to learn, like the ideas behind definite and indefinite articles (there's nothing like "a" or "the" in Japanese), confusing rules for when to use "in" "at" and "on," and so on. Bottom line: if you're a native speaker of English, give your parents a hug next time you see them.
My daughter learns English using the "YouTube" method.

My Trip to a Japanese Convenience Store

Today I went to the convenience store to grab one of those pre-made microwavable bento lunches. After choosing a "hamburg" lunch, which is a Salsbury steak with rice and other side items, I browsed the drink aisle to see what interested me. American-style soft drinks are adequately represented in Japan, of course, from Coca-Cola to Pepsi NEX! to the new Metal Gear Solid Mountain Dew. The market for bottled tea is somewhat larger, and I counted a dozen or more varieties from green tea to oolong to jasmine and Kirin's British-style "Afternoon Tea." Japanese are very health-conscious, and I saw several interesting products such as Kagome's "One Day Vegetable Juice" (all the veggies you need in juice form) and a large selection of Yakult-style yogurt drinks to keep your insides clean. Nearby I saw a package for konnyaku, which is a firm gelatinous food made from boiled yams that's used in many traditional Japanese dishes, and sold in fruit-flavored packets you can pop into your mouth. (It's called Konjac or Devil's Tongue in English, although I've never met anyone outide Japan who know what it was.) It's considered a very healthy food, but for one problem: it's so firm that children and the elderly can choke to death while eating it, so they put a big warning label on the package.
Konnyaku is a firm food that can be dangerous to eat.

Emotional Highs in Anime: Old School Anime Edition

Perhaps my favorite aspect of anime and manga is the way they allow fans to access various emotions, from boy-meets-moe love stories (Hatsukoi Unlimited or KimiKiss) to series that explore the frustration of not being accepted by your peers (Kimi ni Todoke), and even an anime that enables you to experience the terror of a major disaster (Tokyo Magnitude 8.0). One of the more awesome anime/manga series to come out of the 1980s was Kimagure Orange Road, essentially an intense love triangle between a boy named Kyosuke, the cute Hikaru-chan and the enigmatic Madoka, complicated slightly by the fact that Kyosuke's family had esper powers that they must keep secret from everyone. One day I was sitting in my university history class thumbing through vol. 18 of the manga, when I suddenly realized that the story I was reading was the last chapter, which would finally resolve the love triangle. I couldn't stop reading the intense story even in the middle of class, yet I had to hide my emotions from the people around me while I cheered for the characters.

So what is your favorite anime emotional roller coaster? (Old school or not)

Orange Road was an awesome anime/manga from the 80s.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Suddenly, Without Warning, Funny English in Japan

Japan can be such a funny place. You could be going along, minding your own business when suddenly, bam, the country will hit you with English that's so bizarre you have to stop what you're doing and gaze at it with amazement. I took my kids to the onsen (public hot springs bath), and while I was getting dressed I looked up to see an air filter with "Clean-Poo" written on the side. In neighboring Takasaki (sister city with Kelloggs home Battle Creek, MI, in case you were curious) there's a swimming school called Koma which decided to be cute and write its name with a "c" instead of a "k," resulting in Coma Swimming School, not exactly a place where I want my kids to learn to swim. The letters L and R are the same phonetic concept in Japanese, and most bilingual Japanese I know go out of their way to avoid the word "election" for this reason. A couple of years ago there was a poor restaurateur who built a large Texas-style steak house in our city with a giant sign that read RONE STAR -- I never did find out if he got the name wrong on purpose to show his originality or if it was an accident -- sadly, they went out of business two months after opening.
When you really need to breath clean air, you need the Clean Poo.

Peter's iPad Japan Rerport

I got my iPad from the U.S., and am currently having fun with it. I was really trying to avoid buying yet another gadget that would complicate my life, but one aspect in particular attracted me to Apple's shiny new toy: the ability to buy a month of Internet access a la carte without signing up for any two-year contracts, which is a Godsend for expat-types like me who only travel to the U.S. occasionally. The official release of the iPad in Japan is at the end of the month, and so far it's looking like it'll be a successful launch -- Softbank actually had to stop taking preorders due to receiving too many of them. Still, as I wrote in my post on TUAW, I think the iPad might face an uphill battle here in Japan. While the iPhone has become a hit with Japanese keitai users, the conservative nature of Japan's corporate world means that a lot of media that would go great on the iPad will likely not be available, since Japanese companies are focused on preserving their current profit centers rather than heading off in new directions. I just can't imagine the publishers of Shonen Jump, which sells a whopping 2.8 million copies per week, being in a hurry to embrace digital publishing in a big way. Whatever interesting developments we'll see with the iPad in Japan, you can join in, thanks to the iTunes Japan Prepaid Cards J-List sells, which allow you to buy JPOP and anime soundtracks as well as Japan-only applications like those Love Plus mini-games (note, you may need to change the store to Japan for this link to work). The cards are compatible with all iPhone/iPod/iPad devices.
If you need me I'll be playing with my iPad.

Japanese Names That Sound Like English Words

I write a lot about how Japanese names work, since they're quite different from names in Western languages. Japanese people always have two names, a family name such as Yamada or Tanaka and a given name like Hanako or Taro. As in the west, naming trends change from year to year, so that the names being given to this year's crop of babies always seem strange to everyone until they get used to them. Full names are written family name first, which means that words like "first name" and "last name" are completely useless in the context of Japan, and anime fans might have confusion about whether they should say Miku Hatsune or Hatsune Miku. This rule for name order doesn't apply to us gaijin by the way: foreigners' names are always written in Western order. Sometimes Japanese names interface strangely with English, for example the fairly common names of Soh, Sho, Mai or Yuu, which phonetically match the words "so," "show," "my" and "you," causing confusion during English lessons. I even knew a girl whose name was Wako, pronounced with a long vowel in the first syllable (wah-ko), but close enough to the word "wacko" that I felt sorry for her.
Japanese names like Ai from "Hell Girl" conflict with English words.

Need Any Cool Stuff From Japan?

Do you need anything cool from Japan right now? The reason we ask is, we're having our special End of Fiscal Year sale, which means you can get an extra $5 back for every $100 you spend on the site, giving you a good reason to add some more cool things to your shopping cart. Like our spiffy Cup Noodle Coffee Cup, or those dreamy new Vocaloid Nendoroid Figures, or maybe our popular anime T-shirts and hoodies. The sale ends soon, so hurry!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Building a House in Japan

One of the joys of being a long-term gaijin in Japan is eventually building a house here. Houses in Japan are almost never pre-built by a developer as part of a community of homes as is often the case in California, or bought "used" from people who have lived in them previously. Instead, at least outside large cities like Tokyo where people tend to live in "mansions" (an apartment that's owned rather than rented), houses are generally built from scratch, starting with an architect who will create a design based on your specifications and budget. For a foreigner, this is a great opportunity to go crazy designing the Japanese home of your dreams, adding tatami rooms, shoji paper doors, and perhaps a toko-no-ma recessed area for displaying some ikebana flowers. For the record, buying a plot of land in our prefecture, about 100 km north of Tokyo, will set you back about $100,000. For a custom-built house, budget around $300,000, although you can cut that down a bit by considering one of those "import homes" where all the materials, from wood to concrete to nails, are boxed up in Canada and shipped over by container.
If I could, I'd build an awesome house like the one in Summer Wars.

Japan's McEnglish Conversation Schools are Having a Hard Time

Before I started J-List, I had a career as a teacher of eikaiwa or English conversation. In Japan there's a strict distinction drawn between the concept of "English conversation" (that is, doing useless things like communication in a fun environment) and "English" (learning proper grammar for tests), and since I could teach both subjects, I was always in demand with my students. It was certainly a fun job, and I was able to meet hundreds of Japanese people during my time as a teacher, from small kids to older Japanese who could tell me about what Japan used to be like. Sadly, the past few years haven't been kind to Japan's eikaiwa industry. The country's largest chain of McEnglish conversation chains (NOVA) croaked in 2007, and last month GEOS joined them in death. The reasons these schools went bankrupt are many, including bad management, poor working conditions for teachers and trying to force students to sign muti-year contracts just to sign up. Disruption from the Internet played a role, too, as Japanese realized they could learn English almost as well with services like Twitter.
Times are hard for Japan's English schools.

"Taco Rice" is a Bridge Between America and Japan

The other day my wife had a surprise for us: Mexican tacos, which were certainly more welcome than the local version would have been, since tako is octopus in Japanese. "But we only have one small package of tortillas," she said, "so when those run out we're going to have 'Taco Rice.'" This is a popular dish from Okinawa, the prefecture that spent a quarter-century as a U.S. territory after World War II, and it's basically taco flavored ground beef served over rice with cheese and lettuce piled on. It's more than just a delicious food: like the Spam Musubi, a Japanese-style onigiri rice ball made with pressed ham that's a staple food in Hawaii, Taco Rice a bridge of culture between East and West. While we ate our tacos and our Taco Rice, we carefully applied Taco Bell sauce from the hoard of packets we brought back from the U.S. last time, such a valuable commodity here. Remember, you can sample many different unique tastes from Japan including Taco Rice with our traditional Food Drops candies and new Food Furikake series.
'Taco Rice' is a hybrid Japanese-American-Mexican dish from Okinawa.

Following the J-List Customer Wishlist Additions RSS Feed is Fun

J-List has an excellent RSS feed system, which you can use to see when certain new products on our site become available using a convenient RSS reader like Google Reader. I like to watch the J-List Wish List Additions feed and see what products our customers are adding to their wishlists, which can optionally be made public. Over the weekend I saw plenty of Evangelion UCC Coffee figure sets, Samurai Sword Umbrellas and excellent study products, like the Kanji Practice Flashcards from White Rabbit being added. Click here to view all the J-List RSS feeds.
Remember, J-List is having our "End of Fiscal Year" sale! Yes, J-List's fiscal year is coming to an end soon, and since we don't want to count our stock, we're having a special sale to help you help us clear it out so there's less work for our staff. For the rest of the month, we'll give you a gift coupon for $5 for every $100 you spend (shipping not included). So if you've got $85 worth of cool bento boxes or anime artbooks in your cart, you have a good reason to add a T-shirt or a couple of fun J-snacks to your cart and put yourself over the next $100 amount.