Friday, July 23, 2010

J-List Comic-Con Update

We're enjoying our time at the San Diego Comicon, which is a a fantastic celebration of worldwide popular nerd culture. If you're at the show, we hope you'll come see us at booth 129 in the heart of "Anime Alley" and say hi, and check out the selection of items we have for you. Remember that we're having a special week-long sale for everyone who isn't lucky enough to be here in San Diego with us. Through Sunday, for every $100 you buy on J-List, you'll get a $5 coupon to use with your next order.
We are loving life at the San Diego Comicon right now. Come visit us at booth 129!

Uniformity in Japan

Just as Americans are accustomed to thinking of our country as a union of semi-soverign states, each with its own unique history and traditions, one of the hallmarks of Japan is "uniformity." During my bachelor days I travelled around the country quite a bit, going from cold but vibrant Hokkaido in the north, through the barren Northern Honshu area where sad enka songs were born, and all the way down to modern, bustling Hiroshima, and one thing that has always stood out for me was how similar many things were. Roads, signs, telephone poles, the way schools are constructed, all seem to be following one master blueprint, with little or no variation between regions. There are exceptions of course -- the cold climate of Northern Japan requires sturdier architecture to withstand the heavy snowfall compared to the rest of the country, including veritically oriented traffic lights rather than horizontal ones -- but by and large many aspects of life in Japan are remarkably similar whether you're in Tokyo or Kyushu or wherever.
Traffic lights in Japan always look like this, except in the colder parts.

Japanese Food is Very "Herushii" (Healthy)

One interesting aspect of living in Japan is getting used to the, ah, unique pronunciations of English words the Japanese often employ. For example, the Japanese word for "healthy" is kenko-teki, but for various reasons -- mainly related to the Japanese having positive feelings about anything expressed with English words -- the worth "healthy" is often used as-is, written in the katakana writing system as a foreign loan word (ヘルシー). Due to limitations of Japanese phonetics, however, it sounds like herushii, something that took me quite a while to become accustomed to. Some other "English" words that are mangled by Japanese pronunciation include "micro" (pronounced MEE-cro about half the time), and "theme" (which is teema in Japanese, due to the fact that it actually came from the German, not English). J-List is happy to be working with Nitroplus, the legendary game company that publishes Demonbane, but in Japanese their name is actually pronounced like "nee-tro" rather than the English word "nitro." Confusing much?
Japanese food is considered very herushii?

Of Math and Star Wars

I'm convinced that people can do anything they decide they can do. For example, I'm not good at math, and if you give me a difficult math problem I'm positive I won't be able to solve it for you. But if you were to change the math problem into something I care about, such as Star Wars, I'm sure things would be different -- a word problem calculating the speed at which the Death Star orbited the planet Yavin would be pretty awesome. I drive a Mazda Miata with a stick shift, and I love the car, driving it everywhere when I'm in San Diego. My Japanese wife cannot drive a stick, and refuses to get behind the wheel of my car because she's sure she'll end up stalled on a steep hill with cars behind her honking angrily. If only she'd decide that she could drive a stick, I'm sure she'd suddenly do much better, and if she could do that then maybe I could decide to be good at math, too.

(Incidentally, the Japanese word for a standard transmission on a car is "mission," and so I tease my wife by saying "Mission: Impossible" to her, which is a really bad joke, but actually one of my better dajare gags.)
How long would the Death Star take to orbit Yavin traveling at 4000 mph?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

San Diego Comic-Con is Here Again!

We're getting ready for the San Diego Comicon, which is going to be a blast. We hope you'll come see us at booths 129 and 228 in the heart of "Anime Alley" near the East end of the convention center. We'll be loaded with awesome J-List T-shirts, Totoro and Ponyo plush toys, PC dating-sim games, Samurai Sword Umbrellas and more good stuff. For those not fortunate enough to be able to attend the convention, we have some happy news -- a special week-long sale! During this week, for every $100 you buy on J-List, you'll get a $5 coupon to use with your next order.
Party time, San Diego Comicon is here again!

Kanji Is Fun

One of the challenges in learning Japanese is tackling kanji, which is not easy for Westerners, as it's a very different paradigm from anything we've ever used. The usual way to learn kanji is to start at the beginning, with ichi, ni and san and all the other characters covered in the first grade, and going from there. Some kanji you encounter early on include jin, or person, which is added to the end of countries to make that nationality (e.g. America-jin is an American, nihon-jin is Japanese), and ko, a word that means "child," or in some situations, "girl." I remember learning that adding the -ya kanji for "roof" to nouns made a word meaning a shop that sold that item, e.g. hana (flower) + ya = hanaya (a flower shop). When I learned the word for car (kuruma), I haltingly asked my teacher if I could say kuruma-ya to mean a shop that sells cars, and the answer was correct. In making the mental leap myself, I'd taken my first step into a larger world.

Dressing Up To Go To Wal-Mart?

Although I try to avoid going to Wal-Mart, sometimes I find myself needing something that's convenient to buy there. Last night at 10 pm or so I asked my Japanese wife if she wanted to with me so she could pick up American make-up, soap and other items she likes to stock up on when in the U.S. Her response was amusing to me: "I can't go. I don't have time to put on make-up and dress nicely." I explained that if she dressed up in special clothes to go to Wal-Mart at 10 pm she'd be in the only person in America doing so, and she decided that a T-shirt was okay to go out in after all. The episode illustrates the Japanese view of kakko (kah-koh), lit. style or fashion, and how they often place a lot more importance on how they look than we might in the U.S. It's also common to find skiers, golfers or surfers in Japan with exquisitely chosen outfits and equipment, before they've even begun to learn the sport in question.
Do you dress up to go to Wal-Mart?

Throwing Yen Away

If you walk around San Diego and happen to see some Japanese yen coins on the ground, I might have put them there. Since I arrived from Japan, I've been finding yen in my pocket that isn't worth terribly much, so rather than carry it all the way back home with me I've been dropping the coins in parking lots and on sidewalks for others to find. I often do the reverse when I'm in Japan, tossing pennies or dimes or quarters from the U.S. that I happen to have carried back to Japan with me onto the ground, where they might be picked up by someone and puzzled over. Perhaps there's some high school student who isn't sure of their future, I reason, and finding a "lucky penny" from the U.S. will push them to study English more. Or perhaps finding a cool Japanese five-yen coin with its stylistic "zen" design and hole in the center (so you can carry your coins on a string) will make someone's day in the U.S. It's silly, of course, but if I can make one person happy by tossing a few coins around, I'd consider it a good exchange.
If I have yen I don't need, I like to toss some coins to the four winds.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of Personal Checks, Garbage Disposals, Bread and Tissue

When going to the U.S. from Japan, there are little things you notice. First, being able to pay for something by writing a personal check is convenient, yet something that's totally unknown in Japan, where people usually use cash for purchases, and the concept of checks doesn't exist at all. Garbage disposals are another thing -- it's so easy to get rid of uneaten food and other nama gomi (lit. "raw garbage") with one, but they aren't allowed in Japan because of all the rice people eat, which would clog the pipes. In Japan bread only lasts a couple of days before it goes stale, yet bread in the U.S. seems to last for two weeks or more, presumably due to higher levels of preservatives. And tissue in the U.S. is markedly different from Japan. Not only is it more expensive -- you can get a five-pack of large boxes of tissue for $3.00 at Japanese stores, which seems ridiculously cheap to me -- but the sheets are thick and luxurious, almost too much so, and I get the impression that it's made that thick so they can give you fewer sheets in each box. And what's up with rose scent? Every time I sneeze I feel like someone has put perfume inside my nose.
Tissues in the U.S. are different from Japan is subtle ways.

Peter's Favorite Places to Visit in Japan

In the tradition of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Japanese are keen on organizing famous places into convenient sets of three. The three most beautiful Japanese gardens are Kenroku-en in Kanazawa Prefecture, Kairaku-en in Mito and Koraku-en in Okayama, for example, while the three best night views of Japanese cities are Hakodate, Kobe and Nagasaki. In that tradition, I present to you...Peter's favorite three things to see in Japan. Number three would have to be Byodo-in temple near Kyoto, a serene building built in 998 A.D. which can be seen on the back of the Japanese ten yen coin. Next is Todai-ji, the beautiful temple in Nara that houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan, a wonderful area to explore. And my all-time favorite place in all Japan is Sanjusangen-do, or the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays, a fabulous elongated building in Kyoto housing 1001 wooden statues of Buddha. Walking the length of the 850 year old building to see all the statues all will really change the way you view the world.
It's said you can find your own face among the Buddha statues.

Too Many Eulogies

So far this has been a heck of a year for losing awesome people, including Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper, J.D. Salinger and the "Great Bird of the Anime Galaxy" Carl Macek. Now Peter Fernandez, who provided the voice of Speed Racer, wrote the famous theme song and directed all the episodes has passed away at the age of 83. Like Robotech creator Carl Macek, Peter was responsible for guiding a generation of young people towards Japan, although no one knew the word "anime" back in 1967. He single-handedly created the impression that dubbed Japanese animation sounded "funny," with odd syllables tacked onto the ends of sentences to make the mouth movements fit better. My mother met Mr. Fernandez at an auto show and talked his ear off about her nutty son who learned Japanese and went to live in Japan all because of Speed Racer (there was a little more to it than that, Mom). Incidentally, Peter's influence on the anime community wasn't all positive. After the success of the first two seasons of Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato, the melodramatic anime series about the battleship Yamato being converted into a spaceship to save Earth from destruction, Peter was brought in to produce the third season, the Bolar Wars. Since he didn't know the (excellent) voice acting staff that had done the first two seasons, he brought in all new talent, which unfortunately rendered season three unwatchable to old school fans like me, since the voices are all wrong.
Speed Racer reaches the finish line in the sky, uh-huh.