Friday, September 17, 2010

2011 Japanese Calendars at J-List

Every year J-List brings you hundreds of awesome Japanese calendars, and we're in full "calendar mode" right now, loaded with amazing calendars you can order now. Browsing the top 50 2011 calendars on the site right now, you can see that, once again, Shirow Masamune's gorgeous art calendars are selling well, followed by popular anime series like Angel Beats, One Piece, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Clannad. J-List loves all the works of Studio Ghibli, and this year's large size Ghibli calendar -- which always features totally new and original art by the way -- looks superb. Finally we have some great original and traditional art calendars. Browse all 2011 calendars now!

Back in Japan

Well, I've made the hop from the U.S. over to Japan, a journey of about 24 hours from door to door. As usual, being back "home" is always a bit of a shock as my brain slowly switches modes. As the plane prepared to land, I was struck by the deep greens of Japan as seen from the air, which looked so lush after several months spent among the dry sandy colors of Southern California. I wolfed down an onigiri while that weird hot dog statue in Narita Airport watched me, and I contemplated the ordered, proper world I'd returned to. Other aspects of the country that stood out to me included the local obsession with having bus schedules in military time, the ubiquity of pachinko parlors as I rode the bus home, and the cleanliness of the country's freeways -- I mean it, you could literally eat off of them.

Since I'd been in the U.S. for so long, my brain now has to get used to speaking Japanese all the time again. Just as it once took me a full minute to recall the word "irreplaceable" after speaking only simple English to ESL students for a few years, I now have to loosen the synaptic pathways in my brain that stored the Japanese language. This morning I was brushing my teeth, and I oddly tried to recall the Japanese word for the fluoride in my toothpaste. For some reason my brain wasn't cooperating, instead substituting kasshi and sesshi, what Centigrade and Fahrenheit are called in Japanese. Then something clicked and I had the word: fusso. Hopefully I'll be back in full Japanese mode soon.

And now I get to fight off my jet lag...

Nothing says "welcome to Japan" like the Narita Hot Dog.`

Prime Minister Maria Ozawa?

Japan's political world got a little more interesting than usual this week as Democratic Party of Japan kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa attempted to take his party's leadership from current Prime Minister Naoto Kan. If Ozawa had been successful, he'd have become the 15th Japanese leader in the past twenty years and the third this year. I'm quite happy that Mr. Kan retained his party's leadership, and not just because I like to post this link all the time (warning, sound will play). No, the Machiavellian Ozawa would likely have been a bad choice for Japan right now -- he's got a very shifty reputation and is not popular with voters, though he is a shrewd politician. That isn't to say that Kan, who lacks the wealth and political connections most "thoroughbred" Japanese leaders enjoy, has been a particularly effective Prime Minister so far. But at least he's got that Star Trek II thing going, so you can remember his name easily.
Prime Minister Ozawa could have provided much-needed stimulus to the country.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gundam Obsession

One thing I love about the Japanese is their tendency towards obsession. Whether it's collecting and displaying anime figures, filling your house with obscure manga or spending several years tracking down a specific poster from a Star Wars museum exhibition in Kyoto (as I have done), there's something fun about going overboard for the things you love. I saw on the Interwebs that a group of obsessive Gundam otaku made a 10-foot tall Gundam statue out of trash -- or rather, out of the plastic "trees" that are left over when you are finished putting together a gunpla, er, Gundam plastic model. It took them 95 days to create the fantastic work, which is oddly enough the exact number of days I've been in the U.S. I salute these awesome fans!
I was floored by this epic Gundam statue, made of discarded model pieces.

Peter Returns to Japan!

Amazingly, I am actually headed back to Japan after three months spent in San Diego doing various important family and house related stuff. In the nearly two decades I've lived in Japan, I've flitted back and forth between my two homes dozens of times, but I've never dallied for so long in the States. I know from experience that I'll have a lot of culture shock to get over when I arrive, as my brain wonders how I could have ever have been used to narrow houses and streets, ridiculously tiny "large" drinks in restaurants, social situations in which I'm the only gaijin in sight, and vending machines that thank you politely when you insert the equivalent of a $100 bill to buy some canned coffee. For some strange reason, my clothes have an odd tendency to get tighter when I've been in the U.S. for too long, and I know Mrs. J-List will be putting me on a strict diet when I get home.

As I prepare for my return to Japan, I'm laden with various products that are available in the U.S. but difficult to find over there, like that "Butter Lite" syrup that I prefer to the honey-derived stuff they eat in Japan, and proper American peanut butter, which is far superior to the local "peanuts butter." I'm bringing a large American coffee pot that makes 12 cups of coffee at a time, since all they have in Japan are tiny pansy coffee makers that make maybe one American-sized cup. I've also got a generous supply of Taco Bell "Run for the Border®" sauce packets -- if you put it on the Chicken Wraps they sell at Japanese KFCs, you can almost pretend you're eating Mexican food. For the record, I do know that Taco Bell is not a good measure of Mexican food (or of food in general), but in having a few dozen of these packets in my glove box I feel I'm maintaining an important cultural link to my home country.
Yes, I'm loaded with Taco Bell sauce.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Japanese and American Cultural Identity

It's interesting having kids who are half Japanese and half American, and my wife and I put quite a lot of thought into what kind of identity we want them to have. It's important to both of us that the Japanese side of our kids be "complete," but exactly what is it to be Japanese? To me, it means that they should have received their compulsory education in Japan and learned their kanji (check), should be able to eat natto, the famous fermented soybeans (check), and should generally get the cultural references that other Japanese get. Also, when they grow up, they should be able to have a conversation that names no actual subjects in sentences and takes five minutes to get to the point. (Just kidding.) Of course, the American side is equally important, and we've always taken steps to expose them to as many aspects of life in the U.S. as we can, including summer camp each year, sightseeing trips to D.C., and awareness of fun events like Halloween, Christmas and so on. My kids are also familiar with all the Schoolhouse Rock songs and the full catalog of Weird Al Yankovich.
I've made sure to teach my kids the important stuff about being American.

Big and Small Kanji on Japanese Toilets

One of the first great mysteries foreigners encounter in Japan are toilets with a handles that turn in two different directions, with the kanji for "small" (小) and "big" (大) written on either side. After a while you learn that one handle turn will let out just a little water, for when you have made shoben (小便) or "small convenience," while the other is a full toilet flush for daiben (大便) or "big convenience" (respectively, no. 1 and no. 2). I wonder if this innovative Japanese toilet feature won't be getting popular in the U.S. soon. Increasingly I've been going into restaurants and other establishments in San Diego and seeing similar toilets with a two-flush water saving system. Now if they can get those butt-washing toilet seats in the U.S. en masse, I'll be a happy gaijin.
It seems dual-flush toilets might be taking hold in the U.S.

Koseki, the Japanese Family Registry

Japan's Case of the Mysteriously Vanishing Elderly continues, and now it seems there are an amazing 234,354 centenarians listed as "missing," including nearly a thousand who, according to the official numbers, are more than 150 years old. While this all started when a family declined to report the death of their grandfather in order to fraudulently receive his pension benefits, the real problem comes from limitations of the family registry system. Japan tracks its citizens in a national registry called the koseki, which dates back to the Meiji Period and is based on ancient Chinese systems. Any birth, marriage, divorce, name change or death is supposed to be recorded in the registry when they happen, but it obviously doesn't always go as planned, judging by the "missing" elderly Japanese citizens. It's a very conservative system, and one reason Japanese women are still not allowed to keep their maiden names when they get married is, it would mess up the neat symmetry of this venerable registry system. Since foreigners are not Japanese citizens, we're excluded from being listed on the koseki, and when my children were born the city would occasionally send out social workers to check up on how my "single mother" wife was getting along, which we got a big laugh out of.
Don't worry, Japan's elderly aren't really going missing.