Friday, May 28, 2010

Strange Japanese Birth Customs

You never know when Japanese customs will catch you off guard. When our kids were born, I insisted on being in the operating room during the birth so I could be the one to cut the umbilical cords and help bring them into the world. This was rare enough that I got some surprised comments from the doctor and nurses, who were impressed with my dedication. I was talking about this event with my wife one day, and she told me "Oh yes, and I still have those umbilical cords saved in a drawer." Supposedly, it's considered a requirement for parents to save that all-important memento of their children when they're born, to dry it and put it in a specially decorated box and keep it safe. Another interesting child-related custom is that of throwing baby teeth that have fallen out either on the roof or under the house, depending on whether the tooth that came out was on the bottom or the top of the mouth, respectively. This ensures that strong teeth will grow in the future.
Oh look, honey, I found an old box in a drawer, I'll just open it and OH MY GOD!

New Advertising Trend: "Twitter Yatteru Yo!"

Japanese advertisers are a creative bunch of people, good at coming up with new and interesting ways to get consumers to think about their products. Like showing the same TV commercial twice back-to-back to make it harder for viewers to tune the ad out subconsciously, or communicating an abstract emotional message, like a commercial about a girl who was angry with her father because he worked too hard and neglected his health by not drinking Regain™ energy drink. In recent years, just about every TV commercial has ended with a Google-like search box showing the company's name being searched for, a subliminal "call to action" advertisers employ called uebu yudo or "web guidance." The newest trend might be to use TV advertisements to get Twitter followers, which was kicked off by the makers of Puccho gummi-filled soft candies, who started adding Twitter yatteru yo! (We're doing Twitter!) at the end of their TV commercials to get people to follow them.
Puccho plugs its Twitter feed in TV commercials -- a new trend?

Evangelion 2.22 Report: It Will Make You Warm Inside

My son and I are loving the new Evangelion 2.22 movie, which is a real joy to watch, especially in Blu-Ray format. A lot of what's fun about the new Eva movies, other than the stunning visuals and (I'll admit it) hilarious fan-service, are the subtle differences made in the characters. In the updated version of the iconic elevator scene between Asuka -- whose family name has been changed from Soryu to Shikinami to reflect the changes in her character -- and Rei, Asuka says, "This is why I hate Japanese people, they never say what they mean. How do you feel about that baka, Shinji?" Rei replies, "I don't know...but when I'm with him I feel warm inside. And I want him to feel warm inside, too." In the original, Rei was far less likely to show actual emotions, and her feelings for Shinji were more vague, while the new Asuka is less tsun tsun (angry, short-tempered) and more dere dere (capable of expressing honest feelings of love).
The new Evangelion movie is a real treat for fans. The fan service is also good.

About iTunes Japan Cards -- iPad compatible, too!

J-List carries the iTunes Japan prepaid cards, which are an awesome way to get access to the latest JPOP, anime and other music that's compatible with your iPod, iPhone and iPad, like all the new K-On! songs. You can also buy fun Japan-only apps, like the Baka Test English study game, a fun dress-up anime game, and of course those Love Plus mini-games. Having a Japan iTunes account also gives you access to cool features like the Free JPOP Single of the Week, too.
J-List's "End of Fiscal Year" sale is almost ended! Rather than count all the stock we have left over, we'd rather sell it to you. For the rest of the month, we'll give you a gift coupon for $5 for every $100 you spend (shipping not included). When you add an extra artbook or interesting Japanese snack product to your shopping cart, you're helping the J-List staff out -- thank you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mai Waifu

It's funny how words move from one language group to another in this hyper-connected world we live in. Like the hilarious phrase "mai waifu" (my wife, but misspelled on purpose), first uttered by Kimura-sensei from Azumanga Daioh and used today by anime fans whenever they want to express their devotion to a particular anime character (as in "Kagami-chan is mai waifu!"). The other day I was checking my Twitter feed and reading some tweets by Japanese people who were following me. One person said, "Now in Akiba," but instead of writing the word "now" in Japanese (which would be 今, ima), or perhaps writing the English word in katakana (the writing system reserved for writing foreign words, which would be ナウ), he wrote "now" using hiragana (なう), usually only used for Japanese words or grammatical particles. I wondered why Japanese users would purposely write a word incorrectly, than I thought of the meme of "mai waifu" and realized it was a similar phenomenon.
 
The origin of the "mai waifu" meme, filtered through 4chan of course.

Japan, Land of Sushi

One of my favorite foods is sushi, and when someone in our family has a birthday, we often send out for a big plate to celebrate. While the classic sushi with raw fish on top (called nigiri-zushi or hand-gripped sushi) has become quite famous all over the world, I was surprised to find some variations of sushi that I hadn't known about before coming here. Like chirashi-zushi, essentially a "tossed salad" of fish pieces over a bowl of vinagered rice, or inari-zushi, a little bag made of fried tofu with rice in it, which is sweetened with soy sauce and sugar. One of my favorite varieties is maki-zushi, or rolled sushi, and we eat this at my house quite often. It's easy and fun to make: just take sheets of nori, spread rice that's been flavored with the convenient powdered sushi flavoring called sushi-no-ko, then add good things like strips of scrambled egg, canned tuna fish and mayonnaise or cucumber, roll and eat. J-List has some interesting sushi related products from Japan for you, including the awesome Hello Kitty rolled sushi molds we posted today, plus -- wow -- Sushi Food Drops candies.
Sushi comes in many delicious forms.

Lost in Lost

Well, Lost has finally ended, and I have to say thanks to the producers and cast for one wild wide. I certainly learned a lot over the past six years, like when you and your Japanese wife set out to watch a TV show that features characters from all corners of the globe speaking wildly different dialects of English, you're going to be pausing to translate a lot. (Yes, Lost is shown here with Japanese subtitles, but it's broadcast a year behind the U.S.) Over the years, Lost has provided me with plenty of neta, which is the name for the fish part of a piece of sushi, though in this context it means ideas for J-List posts. Like when I wrote about what it's like to listen to the Korean dialogue parts of the show and try to catch the few words that are the same in Japanese, such as yakusoku ("promise") or muron ("of course"). Or the "pop Buddhism" they often employ, from the Dharma Initiative (which sounds like those adorable Daruma dolls, although the two words aren't directly related) to the concept of a katami or possessions of a person who has died which are given to his friends later, or the ever-present number 108, which is the number of times the bells are rung at Buddhist temples on New Year's Eve.

So keeping spoilers to the comments, for people who haven't seen the last episode/season yet, what did you think? Emotionally satisfying but intellectually disappointing? Good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle?

The dialects used in Lost are difficult for Japanese to understand.

Popular of Products on J-List Surprises Us Sometimes

Sometimes when we add new products to the J-List website, we've got a pretty good idea they might be popular with our customers, like the Samurai Sword Umbrellas we stock, but often, we never know what products will become hits. When a customer asked us to add Gatsby Hair Wax to the site we were happy to oblige, not knowing that Japanese hair care products would become a huge category for us. Ditto with the mayonnaise cups for bento -- our customers love them, and it's hard to keep them in stock. The "Food Drops" candies are another product we didn't suspect would become so popular, but we've moved more than 10,000 tins of candies. Finally, when an artist asked us to stock the Let's Make Eraser with Microwave and Paper Clay mold toys we said sure, not suspecting how many people would love to buy them. What interesting products can J-List send you today? (And don't forget that our Fiscal Year Ending Sale is still going on!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

All About the Japanese Word "Genki"

Ogenki desu ka? This is one of the first phrases a student of Japanese encounters, and it corresponds to the greeting "how are you?" although "are you well?" would be a better translation as it's a yes/no question. In the context of this greeting, genki means "fine" or "well" and you can reply to this greeting by saying Hai, genki desu (Yes, I am fine). But genki can have other meanings, such as describing children running around ("energetic"), or someone beaming with happiness about something, or someone getting healthy after an illness. (The word can also refer to the unique state a man may find himself after waking up in the morning.) The o in ogenki desu ka is an honorific prefix that shows respect, and it's often found on family titles (okaasan = mother, obaasan = grandmother), Buddhist words (otera = Buddhist temple), and "cute" words often around kids or babies (oshiri = a cute-sounding word for a person's rear end).
"Genki" is the quintessential Japanese word.

Japan Nurse Panic!

I saw a news report on the BBC's website the other day about the challenges Japan faces as its population ages. All Western democracies are getting older, but Japan is a bit of a special case due to its low birthrate, high longevity and lack of meaningful migration from the outside. One area of the economy that's starting to feel the pinch is health care, and Japan needs about 40,000 more nurses annually than are currently available. If this were to happen in the U.S. or Europe, it wouldn't be that difficult to bring in workers from countries like the Philippines, but in the case of Japan all health care workers would require a nursing license...and the ability to read kanji characters perfectly. Japan is starting to face the question of how to attract health care workers -- occasionally you'll see news reports that a group of 30 nurses arrived from Indonesia, although the fact that it's a rare enough event to warrant national news coverage speaks volumes -- but so far it's slow going. Maybe they can create a special category of nurse that can provide care to patients in areas that don't require reading kanji perfectly? Either that, or cute moe robot nurses to take care of us.
Among other problems, Japan is facing a shortage of nurses, especially the moe kind.

Narrow Houses in Japan

I recently passed by a restaurant I'd not been near for a while, and found myself doing a double take: over the past few months someone had taken half the restaurant parking lot and built a tiny two-story house on it. Because of the oddly shaped plot of land, the narrow house was about a car length in depth, and living inside it would be like living in long hallway. Yes, the fact that Japan has about half the population of the U.S. crammed into an area the size of Germany does make people do things a little differently here, like businesses built with homes above them, like the rural liquor shop my wife's parents operate, which is attached to our home. While you or I might cringe at the idea of living in a tiny, oddly shaped home, there's a whole category of architecture called kyosho jutaku dedicated to building pleasant, functional homes in places where land is at a premium, like Tokyo. There's even an interesting TV show on Saturday mornings that showcases newly built homes on fantastically tiny plots of land.
There are some oddly shaped buildings in Japan.

Site Order Problem + Sale Reminder & More

First of all, we had an unfortunate issue with the J-List website system that caused order check-out to break for several hours. Sorry for the problem -- everything is fixed now!

Life in Japan is all about enjoying each season in its own way, and J-List has many outstanding products to help you have a more Japanese summer. Want to get cool after a hot day? Try Cool Bub, a fizzing tablet that will relax you with bubbles that go all over your body while it fills the bath with minty cooling freshness. Beat the heat this year with mugi cha, Japan's famous barley tea that's caffeine free and very healthy to drink. Finally, if you're looking for something special to start the summer with, may we suggest the new line of Studio Ghibli wind chimes, with Totoro, Jiji, Ponyo and Jiji the Cat? The sound they make as the wind blows in through the open window.
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). We've seen J-List customers adding extra dating-sim games, T-shirts and even magazine subscriptions, which can optionally be pre-paid for a year. What awesome products from Japan can J-List send you today?