Friday, October 08, 2010

Ah October, the Season of Cosplay

Will you be attending the New York Comic Convention/Anime Festival? If so be sure to drop by booth 2651. J-List's east-coast team will be there with plenty of awesome J-List T-shirts, manga and dating-sim games, plus free J-List tissue for anyone who comes by.

October is here, which means that Halloween is not far away at all. If you need any awesome anime cosplay products, J-List can help. We've restocked those awesome Anbu Masks in our San Diego office, and have great products stocked in Japan, too, like Japanese high school uniform cosplay, cosplay anime outfits, and even official school swimsuits. We especially love the creations of Matsukameya of Nagoya, a company that makes superb authentic school uniforms and school bookbags. Why not browse all our cosplay items now?

Peter Goes to a Japanese Funeral

A few days ago my Japanese wife's uncle finally succumbed to his illness and passed away at the age of 86, after an amazing life which included serving his country on the Battleship Ise during World War II and unexpected getting an American for a family member. Japan can be a very death-oriented place when it wants to be, and there are many customs related to sending loved ones off to the next world properly. Men wear reifuku, a standardized black suit that can be worn both to weddings and funerals (just don't get the necktie colors mixed up), while women women wear black dresses, being sure to remove all shiny jewelry. As with most ceremonies in Japan, money is involved, and my wife readied our $500 "condolence envelope" to give to the reception desk, making sure the bills were old and worn, as it's rude to give crisp, new bills. (It implies you were eagerly waiting for the person to die.) During the ceremony, the Buddhist priest -- called bozu in Japanese, just like the Bose speaker company -- chants namu ami dabutsu and offers a bowl of rice for the dead with chopsticks sticking straight up, which is only okay to do when offering rice to the dead. When the ceremony is done, the body is taken away to be cremated, and the well-wishers go home, making sure to sprinkle salt over their bodies before crossing the threshold into their homes to keep the dead spirits out.

Since I'm family, I was expected to attend events that the average person normally wouldn't, including otsuya, the "transmission night" ceremony similar in practice to an Irish wake in which close family gathers to help the spirit of the deceased prepare for his journey from this world to the next. Afterwards there was a little dinner gathering where family members could eat and talk and pour beer for each other. The Buddhist priest was also at the party, and he was very interested in what I thought of Japanese funerals. I told him that it was an excellent example of kata, a word which means mold, form, or in martial arts, standard body postures, in this case a highly developed system in which everyone clicks into place, knowing exactly what they're supposed to do (except me, of course). Funerals in the U.S. aren't nearly as ordered.

Later we went out to have drinks with my wife's cousin, whose name is Akira (no relation to the esper who destroyed Tokyo twice), who had come up from Osaka to be with the family. After a couple bottles of excellent wine -- which we were surprised to see were imported by the Kikkoman soy sauce company -- my wife and I realized we were a little too tipsy to drive, so she called a daiko ("replacement driver") taxi service. This is a great invention that I think should be adopted worldwide. Basically it's a normal taxi but with a second driver in the car, who drives your car home with you in it, making it easy and convenient to get home safely and have your car with you in the morning. It seems like a great business opportunity to me!

Japanese funerals are very complex, but fascinating.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Japanese and Seasonal Greetings

Among other things, the Japanese are famous for being an indirect people, and for having a language that uses subtlety and nuance in interesting ways -- some of which can be frustrating to us foreigners, who wonder why the conversation we've been listening to for five minutes seems to lack any verbalized sentence subjects. This unique indirectness can be seen in Japanese letters, which follow a very set form. Before you get to the point of your letter, it's polite to write a seasonal greeting called jiko no aisatsu which changes depending on what time of year it is currently. In October you might write, "The days get colder and the autumn color of the trees deepens around us..." or in May, "The vibrant green color of the leaves has returned..." (Note, it sounds less dorky in Japanese, here is a page with some examples of these special letter-writing seasonal phrases.) If you're in a hurry and can't come up with something beautiful and poetic to write in your letter, there's a word you can use (zenryaku) which essentially means, "Sorry for writing an abbreviated letter to you, I'll move on the actual lbody of the letter now."
Damn, I really want to go to Kyoto this fall.

Fun with Japanese TV Commercials

Japanese TV commercials -- the word is always abbreviated as "CM" in Japanese -- never fail to impress me with their creativity. Like one commercial airing right now for Georgia Coffee's new European Blend, in which former Japanese national soccer coach Philippe Troussier moves from the Eiffel Tower across the screen to Tokyo Tower (a scale replica, proving that the Japanese secretly wish they were part of Europe) to hand a can of hot coffee to a hardworking Japanese construction worker. Or the ongoing adventures of the cute white dog Otousan ("dad"), which lady at Softbank was surprised to hear have quite a following on the Internet. Often the point of a TV commercial is to plant the name of a brand in your mind in a weird way. That's the aim of a new CM run by the Seiyu department store/supermarket chain (incidentally owned by Walmart), which feature a Russian girl at a Japanese speech contest reading a heavily accented speech about how it's mottainai ("a terrible waste") that more people don't come in and buy from the store chain.
Japanese TV commercials are always entertaining. Here are the three commercials:

High School of the Dead and Names

I'm still getting caught up on all the anime series I wasn't able to watch while in the U.S. My current favorite is the awesome High School of the Dead, a classic zombies-take-over-the-world story that's been updated with plenty of fresh anime memes and fan service, yet actually possessing a well-written story. As is often the case in anime, there might be times when characters do things that are puzzling to Westerners. Like how the tsundere rich girl Saya Takagi hates it when Takashi calls her by her family name (Takagi) rather than her first name (Saya), since calling someone by their last name implies a polite emotional distance which she doesn't want between them. Once I called the home of a female student and made the mistake of using the girl's first name by itself without a name suffix like -san on the end while talking with her mother. The woman wanted to know who I was and what my relationship to her daughter was.
I am enjoying High School of the Dead for several reasons.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ambulances, Hospitals and Japan

If you ever read a news article about an accident fatality that occurred in Japan, you'll read words like "the victim was taken to a hospital but died shortly after arriving." It's not that 100% of injured people wait until reaching the hospital to perspire -- in Japan, medical attention begins at the hospital, rather than in the ambulance. Although Japan has a well-run healthcare system which adequately cares for the nation's 127 million citizens to the point that Japanese are the longest-lived people in the world, hospitals aren't always the most modern, a fact I was reminded of the other day when I went to doctor for an eye problem and heard a dot matrix printer churning away in the background somewhere. To Japan's embarrassment, ambulances are essentially only for transportation of the sick and injured, and little if any medical care is given to patients as they ride to the hospital. Why this should be is a complex question -- the pride of doctors not wanting anyone else to do their jobs, the massive conservatism of ambulance drivers, who are "special" civil servants enjoying lifelong employment, and general slowness to change, are all As the country ages, this is one area that certainly needs to be addressed urgently.

K-On! Girls Promote the Japanese Census

It's time for the Japanese National Census, when the government sends out forms asking every head-of-household to report on their family, including number of dependents, what education level each has attained, and what kind of household it is (for example, a so-called two-household residence, for people who live with their elderly parents). Although it seems similar to the U.S. census, there are a lot of differences. There are no questions about ancestry in this country where 98% of people believe themselves to be of the same genetic stock -- even if that's only a convenient social fantasy -- and questions about religion are similarly absent, as that's considered a private matter. It's not only Japanese who are asked to fill in their census forms: gaijin get them too, and the foreign staff of J-List all filled theirs in dutifully. While the U.S. census changes from decade-to-decade based on the social trends of the day, Japan's seems to be pretty much the same every time. Well, with one difference: this year Kyoto Prefecture used the K-On! girls to remind citizens to turn their census forms in on time, which I thought was pretty cool.

Peter's Culture Festival Episode

Over the weekend I went to my daughter's bunka-sai or school culture festival. Anyone who's watched more than a few episodes of anime will have quite a bit of knowledge about the kinds of activities seen at these school events, with each class or school club operating coffee shops, selling yakitori chicken on a stick, or doing something related to their club, like the shop my daughter's English club ran selling American candy to the other students. I had fun roaming the halls, stopping at the "Haundet Mansion" (very scary stuff in there) and the school's M.A.C. or Manga and Anime Club, which published a doujinshi made by all the members. (It wasn't very good, but I bought a copy to show my support to the kids.) While I was at the culture festival, I made a point of pretending not to speak Japanese, to see what kind of reaction I'd get from the students. Most were flustered at idea that they would ever have to use the English they'd learned for nearly six years, but a few blazed ahead, speaking broken English with me and not caring if they made mistakes (which is the correct attitude to have, believe me). It wasn't quite quite as moe as K-On! but it was a lot of fun.
I had fun at my daughter's school culture festival.

Discover Japan through 'Food Drops' Candies

There are many ways to learn about Japan, including through martial arts, through the Japanese language or through popular culture in general. Or you could explore Japan through its exotic food, using the amazing Food Drops traditional candies that J-List sells. From the tip of Hokkaido all the way down to Okinawa, all of Japan's most delightful foods are captured in candy form -- even the wonderful flavors available at Akihabara's best maid cafes are available.