Friday, October 15, 2010

I [heart] Kyoto

Every gaijin living in Japan has a personal relationship with Kyoto, the beautiful city that served as Japan's capital for most of its history. I've been to Kyoto many times, and it's one of my favorite places in the world. Founded in 794 as Heian-Kyo, it was made in imitation of the great Chinese cities of the era, sporting a Manhattan-style grid pattern with wide, straight roads that are actually named, quite convenient as streets are generally not named in Japan. Whenever I'm in the city I make sure to pay a visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a wonderful temple founded in 798 that overlooks the city, and drink water from the waterfall on the temple grounds, which is said to bring you long life. (I always wonder at the Japanese custom of using communal cups at temples, though, with hundreds of visitors drinking out of the same cup in the course of an hour.)

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I typed "Kiyomizu-dera Temple" above. This is a little odd since tera (which changes to dera when joined with another word) means "temple" yet I added the English word at the end. This is a strange convention used in Japan in which the Japanese word for a place is incorporated into its official English name. Tokyo's beautiful Ueno Park is officially listed as "Ueno-koen Park" (koen is Japanese for "park") on maps, while you might find a government-published guide to traditional inns on the Izu-hanto Peninsula (hanto is a peninsula, literally a "half island"). No doubt this policy was the bright idea of some Japanese bureaucrat, and no one ever thought that it was odd.
Kyoto is my favorite place in the world.

The Structure of Anime Films

One of the more interesting classes I took back at SDSU was a course on screenplay writing, which sought to teach us the theory of how good film screenplays are structured. We watched dozens of great films and analyzed how they were neatly divided into three acts: the setup and incident that sets the story in motion, followed by the bulk of the story which ends with things looking bleakest for the hero, then rising action and climax at the end. Anyone who's watched a lot of animated feature films from Japan or Japanese films in general might have noticed that directors here often don't follow this three-act story approach, and it's common for stories to lack any formal structure at all, with endings that are sometimes vague on purpose. I've always gotten the impression that Japanese films are all about capturing an aesthetic that's closer to real life, which is after all "just a bunch of stuff that happens" and not the creation of some screenplay writer. When I watch Japanese films like Snakes and Earrings (about a woman who becomes obsessed with tattoos and body piercing) or Ghibli's Ocean Waves (the story of a girl from Tokyo who goes to live in Kochi Prefecture after her parents' divorce, and her romance with a local boy), I feel like I've watched something
close to reality.
Japanese films often lack the structure of their Western counterparts.

Cool Products Friday, October 15, 2010

Here are today's "really cool products" that I've picked out for you, out of the 30+ new items we've added to the J-List and JBOX.com sites today. Note that some products may be "not safe for work" but that all links will allow you to redirect yourself either to the J-List or JBOX.com websites. To see all the J-List products, check out J-List or the JBOX.com updated products link.
Dengeki Daioh Nov 2010
Dengeki Daioh Nov 2010 First up, get your monthly dose of manga moe with the best print media Japan has to offer, Dengeki Daioh. Yotsubato and more!
Moeru Guitar Kyoushitsu
Moeru Guitar Learning Guide Next, guitar learning is made easy with this beginner's guide that has everything you need to get started and cover your favorite anisongs.
Poddities iPhone 4 Carabiner Strap  Black Leather
Poddities iPhone 4 Carabiner Straps The most high quality, durable iPhone accessory line we sell, these straps and cases will transform your phone's usefulness and functionality.
Taito Edamameshiba Headphone
Taito Mameshiba Headphone Listen to your music in kawaii style with these cute 'soybean dog' Mameshiba headphones from Taito.
K-ON! Battery Charger
K-ON! Battery Charger Want to run your iPhone, iPod, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP or other device with moe power? Then get the K-On! battery charger, in stock today.
iTunes Japan Music Card
iTunes Japan Prepaid Cards Head over to the iTunes Japan store to see the top 200 anime songs in Japan now -- Strike Witches, K-On! and more.
One Piece Round Pen Case  Chopper
One Piece Round Pen Case ~ Chopper Let Chopper guard your pens in this cylindrical case, soft and easy to hold -- it'll hold all your pens and pencils with ease, too!
One Piece Playing Cards
One Piece Playing Cards More One Piece goodness in this great deck of playing cards, with 53 different illustrations on the card faces - such a huge cast of characters!
Ruka Megurune Nendoroid Figure *Preorder*
Awesome Vocaloid Figures Not only do we have that gorgeous Luka Megurine figure in, but that most epic of Nendoroids Miku Hatsune has been reprinted!
Hello Kitty Vibrating Shoulder Massager  Black
Hello Kitty Vibrating Shoulder Massagers In other cool news, J-List has restocked the popular Hello Kitty vibrating personal massagers, one the products that defines us!
Haruhi Suzumiya illustrations  Spring and Summer
Restocked Anime & Pixiv Artbooks See the awesome Haruhi Spring and Summer artbook, a super offering for fans of the Haruhiverse. Also fresh stock of Pixiv Quarterly.
Queen's Gate -- Chairman Junko Hattori (Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaoh) **Preorder**
Gorgeous Queen's Blade & Queen's Gate The best fighting combat artbooks featuring gorgeous girls in full color and hardcover sexy poses are back in stock for you today!
Harrods  The Worlds Most Famous Luxury Department Store
Harrod's ~ Famous Luxury Department Store The Harrods brand fashion lineup is showcased in this tasteful magazine, complete with a limited edition tote bag.
Charcoal Hair Shampoo   200mL (Sumi)
Charcoal Hair Shampoo & Treatment On our new Health -> Hair Care page we've got some cool Japanese shampoo & treatment that uses sumi (black charcoal) to clean really well.
Glico Collon Milk Chocolate
Fun New Snacks from Japan We've got a chocolate cookie snack called Collon, how wacky is that? Also Karujaga potato snacks and Mountain of the Mushrooms strawberry.
Men's 450ml  Koban Bento Box Set  Genuine Lacquered 2 Tier Box  Kinchaku Bag  Elastic Band
Men's 450ml Koban Bento Box Set A serious two-tier bento box and carrying case for those with large appetites, the sleek look will sate your hunger at mealtimes.
Fate Testarossa 1/10 Figure T.F.C. Beach Queen Series  Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st **Preorder**
Fate Testarossa & Nanoha Figures *Preorder* Wave's "Beach Queens" series are among the cutest figures we've seen, and now you can preorder swimsuit versions of Nanoha and Fate!
Print Guard Sensai iPhone4 Evangelion 02 Rei Ayanami **Preorder**
Print Guard iPhone 4 Evangelion *Preorder* Your iPhone can be part of the Human Instrumentality Project with this official Evangelion dust- and scratchguard cover, with five styles!
Rilakkuma Overhead Headphones
Rilakkuma Overhead Headphones Back in stock for today, relax with these cute Rilakkuma bear headphones from San-X. Kawaii! Check out the rest of our headphone and 'earphone' lineup, too.
WAON Bento Box Set  Square 2 tier Bento Box  Chopsticks  Bento Bag
Restocked Traditional Bento Sets Also restocked: the super-cool WAON Bento Box sets, which blend the traditional with the awesome.
Microwave Takoyaki Maker
Microwave Takoyaki Maker If you've ever wanted to make your own takoyaki (octopus balls) but were worried you didn't have the right tools, this handy microwave cooker will give you everything you need to make sure those delicious spheres come out right.
Ichiban Hachimaki -- No.1 Headband
Restocked Traditional Items A huge restocking of fun traditional items for the weekend, including the Red Dragon omamori charm for good luck, "Ichiban" headbands, Lucky Lover's Cat displays, and those awesome yokobue bamboo flutes.
cosplay items restocked
Cosplay Products Restocked Then see fresh stock of the "skirt type" classic anime school swimsuit replica worn by Konata from Lucky Star, plus the classic Blue Scarf High School Uniform complete set.
Macross Ultimate Frontier **Preorder**
Restocked Macross Blu-Ray, PSP Game Macross fans! If you've had trouble finding your Frontier movie, anime and game fixes, we've got you covered with the stunning Blu-ray and super fun PSP game back in stock today.
Rice Bowl Strap
We Love Japanese Phone Straps Looking for a great way to distinguish your cell phone from the rest? Check out our Japanese rice bowl, sushi, 'nyan pon' and omamori (protective charm) phone straps, all fresh in stock. Great for your bag, too!
Rabbit Moon Style Soup Bowl  Mochitsuki Type
Awesome Bento Accessories Then enjoy some of our best bento accessories and kitchen items, including newly restocked childrens' bento, creative egg shapers, and beautiful traditional lacquered bowls.
New Package Uni 0.7 Power Tank Pen -- Black Ink
Moar Japanese Pens! Some great pens from Japan for you, including the One Piece Fragrant Pen and matching Ramune scent eraser, New Package Uni 0.7 Power Tank Pen, ENERGEL for women with pearl and "skeleton" body, the Beetle Tip marker, plus notebooks for learning to write Japanese.
Tokyo Noodle Drops (Tokyo Limited)  Japanese Food Drops
Restocked Japanese Food Drops Candies There's nothing like traveling around Japan, sampling delicious foods from each part of the country, and you can visit Okinawa, Tokyo, Hokkaido and many other regions with the Food Drops we've restocked today.
FritoLay Doritos Featuring Antonio Inoki -- German Potato Flavor
Fresh Stock of J-Snacks Many nice Japanese snacks restocked today, including Japanese Doritos created by superstar pro wrestler Inoki, plus Morinaga Chocolate Caramels, Morinaga Bake, plus traditional Okinawa Black Candy, Pure Mist Candy and Charcoal Roasted Coffee Candy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Japan Ranks 97th in Gender Equality, Or Does It?

I noticed that Japan had been officially ranked 97th in gender equality by the World Economic Forum, comparing to the United States (#19), the United Kingdom (#15), Germany (#13), and the Nordic countries who all topped the list. As usual, it's difficult to say how useful this ranking might be in judging the real situation of women here. While it's true that Japan is in some ways a paradise where men can go to a maid cafe and have a beautiful woman feed him like a child after blowing on his food for him, this is not a good example of what normal society is really like. I'd say that the educational and employment opportunities for women in Japan are among the best in the world, and women enjoy real equality in almost every area. One reality that's hard for "enlightened" Westerners to accept is that much of the time, Japan is the way it is because both men and women prefer it this way. When a woman reaches a certain age, it's nearly a foregone conclusion that she will quit her job to get married, no matter how intelligent or highly trained she might be. (As the owner of a company in Japan, I've lost many a talented female employee to the evil spectre of kekkon intai or "retirement due to marriage"). The reason there are fewer career-minded females than in other countries is largely because most prefer not to make the sacrifices a career would entail, and are happy to let their husbands be the daikoku-bashira or the "big, black pillar" of the household. Also note that in 90% or more of households, it's the woman who controls the finances of the home. Um, having men do most of the work while women control the money is unfair how??
Former model "Renho" is the most powerful woman in Japan today.

Traditional Spirits, Ghosts and Monsters from Japan

One thing about learning a foreign language like Japanese: words don't always match up neatly, and it's not uncommon to have a word or concept that can' t be easily mapped to English. Take the word youkai (yoh-kai), the traditional ghosts, demons and spirits of Japan's ancient past, which could be collectively translated as "folk monsters" if you like. The term youkai covers everything from magical shape shifting animals to ogres to the magical creatures Kappa and Tengu, and these beasties are quite common in Japanese popular culture. Other traditional creatures include the horrifying Kuchisake Onna ("Slit-Mouth Woman") and my own favorite, Miss Hanako of the Toilet, an urban legend about the ghost of a girl who haunts the fourth stall of a certain girl's bathroom at every elementary school in the country. If you're interested in traditional scary monsters of Japan, we've got several excellent books for you to check out.
Traditional youkai spirits are hard to translate into English.

Genji Monogatari Pop Psychology

I recently noticed a flyer for an interesting literary club in my neighborhood called the Tale of Genji Research Circle. I commented on it, and my wife said, "Yes, it's a club where people who love reading discuss the Tale of Genji, especially which character they are most similar to in the book. " The Tale of Genji is a novel written by Murasaki Shikibu in the 12th century which details the fictional son of a Japanese Emperor Hikaru Genji ("Shining Genji"), focusing on the many women he loved. It's not uncommon for women who like to read to identify with one or more characters from the book -- perhaps the wise Murasaki-no-Ue, or the sorrowful Yugao. Another interesting way Japanese analyze personalities is using the famous story of the Chinese zodiac. If a person is cunning, they might identify with the rat, who pushed the cat into a river during the great New Year's Day race (which is why cats hate rats today), or if someone is a little clumsy, they might be compared with the boar, who was so eager to win the race he climbed the wrong mountain, and ended up coming in last.
Which Tale of Genji character are you?

J-List New Website Is Online!

Announcing the all-new J-List Website! After months of hard work by the J-List staff, we're happy to be able to finally take the wraps off our entirely new website. We've reworked the entire site, replacing all product images, making the product categories much easier to understand, and speeding up the site, too. You can also sort any category or search by order of when it was last updated, by popularity, by price and so on, and view products in grid or list view. We think the new J-List and JBOX.com websites are great, and we look forward to another 14 years of bringing you Wacky Things from Japan™! (We'll continue to polish the new site over the next few days. If you notice anything working strangely please let us know!)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creative English Used by my Japanese Students

When a person learns a foreign language, they tend to be very creative in that language because they lack the inhibitions that native speakers have developed over time. Back when I was a teacher I was entertained by various statements made by my students, like one who observed, "We cannot go to Antarctica now, because it is under penguin rule." Or the student who reasoned that a person working in a post office must be a "post officer," which sounds almost logical. There was one lesson I did using obscure icons which students were to discuss the possible meanings of. One sign for "nature walk" showed a picture of a leaf with a footprint on top of it, and one student suggested that it might mean "Don't despise Canada." Then there was student who was asked to make the sentence "I go to Tokyo" into the past tense, and her his (joking, I presume) response was, "I go to Edo." (Edo is the old name for Tokyo.)
"The past tense of Tokyo is Edo."

High School Search

Over the weekend my family and I went down to Yokohama to check out a high school we might be sending our son to next year. He's a jukensei right now, lit. "taking-a-test student," and we're in the process of reviewing various schools that would be right for him. The idea of choosing a high school as one would a university is very strange to my American mind, but in Japan compulsory education stops at junior high, and students compete to get into the high school of their choice. I've been quite amazed at the complex strategies my wife and son have been coming up with -- take the test for school A in February then school B in March, with school C acting as a suberi-dome ("stop the slide") in case the first two prove too difficult. Although it's extremely rare, it's possible for students to fail all their entrance exams and become "high school ronin," the word for a masterless samurai that's been repurposed to mean a student with no school to go to.
We're scouting for high school for my son, maybe as far away as Yokohama.

There's No Way This Pizza Can be This Delicious

Getting Pizza Hut in Japan is always a treat: it is delicious, featuring toppings you can't get anywhere else like broccoli, potato, tuna & mayonnaise, camembert cheese, corn and fish roe (mentaiko), with optional maple syrup crust. Plus, Pizza Hut is usually promoting the latest anime series, which is always fun for an otaku. Last night my family decided to call for a delivery, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of normal everyday pizza, they'd sent moe pizza, thanks to the "There's No Way My Younger Sister Could Be This Cute" art on the box. Of course, not everything about pizza in Japan is perfect. What passes for a large to the Japanese isn't all that big to your or me. Also, the pizza industry apparently didn't get the memo about deflation in the Japanese economy, since two larges set us back a whopping $50.
127 million Japanese think Pizza Hut is "Pizza Hat.".

Big Changes are Coming to J-List

Some big changes are coming to J-List: a total site refresh, with both J-List and JBOX.com sites getting a total renewal that we think you'll love. We'll be flipping the switch sometime around Monday or early Tuesday. We expect things to go smoothly, and all data and accounts will of course be carried to the new websites. We've been working for months on the site, and hope you like it! Tanoshimi desu ne! ("We're really looking forward to this!")

J-List always has hundreds of super cool bento products for you to browse, including those dreamy bento boxes from Hakoya, fun lunchboxes like our Lego Bento lineup, and even fun bento-related accessories like those fish-shaped soy sauce bottles. We also have a great lineup of books to help you learn more about bento and Japanese cooking in general. Why not browse the top bento boxes and bento accessories now?

(By the way, no "Cool Products" post today, since my script is being reworked. Click over to the J-List or JBOX.com sites to see the new products today.)