Friday, October 29, 2010

Of Sake, Eggs and Spring Onions: Being Sick in Japan

I've been feeling a bit under the weather over the past few days, apparently having caught my daughter's cold. After testing the Japanese joshiki -- the near-supernatural "common sense" that most every Japanese person seems to possess -- about sick people not taking baths by taking one with no ill effects, I partook of my large stock of American cold remedies like Nyquil and Alka-Seltzer Plus and went to bed. Nothing is less fun than being sick and not having access to medicine brands you know and trust, and while there are many cold medicines here in Japan, they just don't seem to work well on my giant gaijin body. Incidentally, the Japanese have some pretty interesting folk remedies they turn to when they're sick. To break a high fever, put a raw egg in a glass with sake and a bit of sugar and swallow it rapidly, then wrap a spring onion (e.g. a leek, like the one Miku Hatsune is always holding) around your neck and hit the sack.
When Miku-chan gets sick, she takes her temperature with a negi thermometer.

Men's Fashion Instrumentality Project

If you visit the Lumine Man department store in Shibuya you'll find something pretty cool: a huge display of Evangelion props, including 1:1 scale figures of Rei and Asuka as well as all the Evangelion mechs from the series. It's part of the department store's "LumiNERV Men's Instrumentality Project" campaign, and they're selling all manner of trendy Eva goods for all the fashion-conscious otaku out there. It's really a media event to attract attention to the store's brand more than anything else, but it's kind of cool to see Eva getting so much attention. Which kind of makes me wonder, if being an otaku is that trendy...what's the point of being an otaku? One of the themes of the past decade in Japan has been the slow embrace of "underground" popular culture by the mainstream, with TV personalities like Shoko Nakagawa creating a unique sub-genre of "talent" (a generic word for any comedian or singer who appears on TV) called otaku idol, whose knowledge of anime and manga makes them interesting guests on variety shows. 

What do you think about anime becoming the new hipsterism in Japan? Think it'll spread to other countries?

You can visit the trendy Men's Fashion Instrumentality Project.

Sayonara Party at Shabu Shabu Restaurant

Rushing this update out a bit today, since the J-List crew is going out to an izakaya for the official "sayonara party" of one of our employees. For six years Michiko Otsuka, one of the hardworking J-List picking & packing staff, has lovingly wrapped your outgoing packages for shipment to you. Now she's quitting to start a family with her husband, so we're throwing her a thank-you party complete with a bouquet of flowers we'll be presenting to her, which is something the Japanese like to do at events like this. I like getting together with the other J-List staff over beers and sashimi, although we don't get to do it that often in part due to the popularity of J-List -- processing 300+ orders a day kind of eats up our free time. Anyway, thanks for all your hard work Michiko, and best of luck in the future!
Today the J-List crew is going out for some Shabu Shabu.

Gakken "Otona no Kagaku" available at J-List!

J-List carries thousands of fun items from Japan, including awesome snacks, fun dating-sim games, wacky Japanese T-shirts and DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Most of these products are set up to give you automatic discounts for buying multiples, and we've dropped the DVD discount to a more reasonable three-or-more to get the 15% discount. What can J-List do for you today?

Our big news today is the addition of the popular Gakken "Otona no Kagaku" (Science for Adults) magazine + science kits to our site. Gakken is a really interesting Japanese publisher known for promoting science and education with easy-to-build science projects that give you important insight into the world around us. (They also publish Megami Magazine, so we loved them already.) Each magazine comes with tons of information on that issue's subject, plus everything you need to build that special kit: a 4-bit microcomputer like the ones made back in the 1970s, a working planetarium, an awesome "theremin" to make electronic music with. The magazines are in Japanese, but Gakken has a complete English site with instructions, and also offers technical support via email if you run into problems with assembly. The new science kits are great fun, and I look forward to building some with my son. All future issues will be available, too, plus other great science projects by the company.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All About "Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu"

I still remember my first day of Japanese class back at SDSU, when our teacher taught us one of the most commonly used expressions: yoroshiku onegai shimasu, pronounced "yoh-roh-sh'koo oh-neh-guy shi-mahs." It's a useful phrase that can be used whenever you meet someone for the first time, meaning "nice to meet you," although as with most aspects of the Japanese language, it's rather more subtle than that. At its core, the phrase means something like, "let's treat each other favorably" or "I'm counting on you to do what's expected of you." A new member of a school club or a company might use the phrase as a humble request that the current group members take him under their wing and aid him in the future, and the phrase is also used quite often in business settings as well as greetings for the New Year. When my Japanese mother-in-law met my mother for the first time, she lowered her head to the ground -- the most polite form of bowing there is, known as dogeza -- and used this phrase, essentially saying "Please take care of my daughter from now on."
This is a little cat doing dogeza, which is really, really cute.

Japan's "Parking Areas"

On the weekends I like to go on trips with my family, most often to an onsen (volcanic hot springs) somewhere in the mountains around us. When I ask my wife where she'd like to have lunch, more often than not she'll say, "Let's just eat at a Parking Area." Japanese freeways are a little different from what you might be used to in your home country: they're far from "free," costing $25 each way for us to drive 100 km into Tokyo, or around $10 for a day trip somewhere nearby. Inside the freeway system are convenient rest stops known as "Parking Areas" (P.A.) where you can get cheap udon noodles, buy some souvenirs for your family and enjoy a complimentary cup of green tea from a vending machine. Some Parking Areas are quite famous, and true to form, there are "parking area otaku" in Japan to take joy in visiting that special highway rest stop in an obscure corner of the country. The "king" of Parking Areas in Japan -- the Par-KING, if you'll allow me to make a small dajare pun -- is Daikoku Futo Parking Area in Yokohama, a sprawling rest stop that's become the place to go to show off your tricked out sports car or itasha. If you're ever in the city, try to plan a visit on a Saturday night, as it's one of the more unique sights to see.
The "King" of Parking Areas in Japan, Daikoku Futoin Yokohama.

Fun Visual Memes in Anime

When you first start to watch anime, you naturally encounter concepts that seem strange. Like those funny blue lines that appear over a character's head when they're on the receiving end of some particularly bad luck, or the ever popular nosebleed, usually by a male character who's thinking impure thoughts about a girl. There's a complex "meme pool" in anime that we all tap into, with visual jokes that make perfect sense to the Japanese but which might be more difficult for us to understand. When a character is portrayed as extremely handsome, for example, they'll have "sparkly glitter" shining around their head (or sometimes just on their teeth), and when a character is in "super romantic mode" they'll appear slightly out of focus against a background of roses or bubbles. These memes change with the times, too. In the 80s characters who pulled out "hyperspace hammers" to smash someone who had done something ecchi was a staple gag, while the 90s saw the "giant sweat drop" that grew over the heads of characters when they were upset was popular. I wonder what the defining visual anime joke of the current decade will be?
Anime employs many subtle visual memes that are fun to analyze.

More Improvement to J-List + Traditional Product Update

We continue to make improvements to the J-List site based on customer feedback (thanks!). Today we've reworked the customer account page (accessible from the "My Account" button in the upper right hand side of the site), adding a "change password" function too. We've also updated our popular J-List T-shirt and Hoodies pages to feature easier-to-read size charts right on the page, so you can pick the size you need. All J-List T-shirts and hoodies are printed by our experienced staff in San Diego, using normal U.S. sized shirts and hoodies. By the way, our hooded sweatshirts are the best there are, since we use only the high quality 80-20 cotton blends, not the cheaper 50-50 blends other shops use.
J-List has lways been a great place to find anime products like figures, artbooks and calendars, but we've never been happy being "just" an anime shop. We also have a sprawling collection of traditional items to rival the best gift shops in Kyoto, with great products from our Samurai Sword Umbrellas to high quality bento boxes and miso soup bowls to fun traditional and seasonal items to display in your home. Here are the most popular traditional Japanese products, if you want to browse!

Cool Products Wednesday, October 27, 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 Moeoh Dec 2010
Dengeki Moeoh Dec 2010 First up, the newest issue of Dengeki Moeoh has all the awesome art of an artbook plus many extras. 
Dengeki G's Festival Comic vol. 14 **preorder**
Dengeki G's Festival Comic vol. 14 Manga with a great hug pillowcase attached? Get your Angel Beats on with this limited edition magazine -- recommended and now in stock!
Totoro Soft Lap Blanket 70 x 100 cm w/Box
Totoro Soft Blankets for 2011 So warm, soft and comfy it's like sleeping together with the adorable Totoro himself. These blankets will keep you warm through the cold winter!
Jiji Fluffy Lap Blanket 70 x 100cm  Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki's Delivery Service Blankets, Too! Another great Ghibli memory to warm your bed, this is the new Kiki's blanket that's toasty and super soft and comfortable. A great gift!
2011 Calendar -- Ladies versus Butlers!
Huge Selection of 2011 Calendars This year's anime calendars are outstanding! Over a dozen now in stock, including Bleach, Katekyo Hitman, Ladies vs Butlers, Sora no Otoshimono, more!
2011 Calendars
Other Awesome 2011 Calendars We've got tons of traditional, photo, food and other interesting calendars in stock too, like the 2011 Joy of Sushi and Joy of Bento calendars.
Groomy  The pet on your desk -- Baby (Pink)
Groomy ~ The pet on your desk ~ Baby (Pink) Elecom's popular Groomy line of cute plush toy that cleans your computer screen for you are back! Woof!
Nendoroid Petit Touhou Project Set of 3 Part.2 *Preorder*
Nendoroid Petit Touhou Figures In Stock Kawaii doesn't begin to describe these uber-cute Touhou project figures from Goodsmile's petit Nendoroid lineup. In stock now.
Mousse-chan Kira-Kira Paper Clay Set  Ice Cream
New 'Japanese Crafts' J-List Category We've got a new product category where we'll add fun craft products like the Mousse-chan Paper Clay mold toys or Let's Make Eraser with Microwave.
N3 JLPT 2010  Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken Taisaku Mondai and Youten Seiri
N3 JLPT 2010 ~ JLPT Textbook All the resources you need to master the content for the intermediate level Japanese Government official language proficiency test.
Glico Giant Tomato Pretz
Today's New Japanese Snacks If regular Pretz isn't doing it for you, we've got new GIANT Pretz that's 10x as large. Also, Habanero Cheese Snacks for Halloween, Cute Cube Candy.
Microwave Puchi Taiyaki Maker
Microwave Puchi Taiyaki Maker Uguu! You too can have the cute Japanese sweet pastry snack of fresh, hot taiyaki with this home cooking solution.
Canvas x Chirimen Tote Bag with Bamboo Handle
Chirimen Tote Bag with Bamboo Handle An excellent bag made of canvas and chirimen (kimono fabric), with a magnetic protector flap to keep your important stuff in the bag.
iTunes Japan Music Card
iTunes Japan Prepaid Cards Use J-iTunes cards to get moe apps like a Bakemonogatari clock or the Moe Punch Game and more!
Evangelion Silicon Suction Character Stand **Preorder**
Evangelion Silicon Suction Stand *Preorder* Just what you need to run your iPhone hands-free, an Eva-themed stand to keep it angled for perfect viewing any time!
Black Gold Saw Figma Action Figure  Black Rock Shooter **Preorder**
Black Rock Shooter, Index Figures *Preorder* New figure preorders today for
Ika Musume
Index and a Black Rock Shooter Figma we think are totally awesome. Click to view now.
Gekkan Megumi Kagurazaka
Gekkan Megumi Kagurazaka This photobook is in a class apart. Simply amazing shots of Megumi showing herself to the camera, proving to be one of the hottest AV sensations!
Doujin Dakimakura Hug Pillow Cover -- Mari (Evangelion)
More Doujin Dakimakura Hug Pillows Enjoy more gorgeously printed dakimakura including Mari from Evangelion 2.0 and Ryomou Shimei from Ikki Tousen.
Chu x Chu Idol 2  melodies x memories
Chu x Chu Idol 2 ~ melodies x memories The cute vampire x idol x kissing eroge from Japan gets a sequel! This is the limited edition with ultra-rare awesomeness.
Kanu Uncho 1/5 Cast off  Figure **Preorder**
Kanu Uncho 1/5 Cast off Figure *Preorder* Daiki Kougyou shows us just what Kanu can do in this amazing new massive castoff figure. A true collector's item - preorder to get yours.
ONA BEAT mini! vol. 3 K-On! Parody Toy
ONA BEAT mini! vol. 3~ K-On! Parody Toy If you really love the K-On! girls, I mean really love them, we have some new stress toys for you. Yui, Mio and my own favorite, Mugi!
950ml Volume Bento Box Set  Genuine Lacquered 2 tier Box  Elastic Band  Kinchaku Bag
Popular Bento Boxes Restocked Bento portable meal culture is a huge part of Japanese daily life, and we're proud to bring so much of it to you here. Some of our most popular bento boxes are back today, so check out the updated lineup!
Silicon Heart Cooking Mold
Silicon Heart Cooking Mold You can get your fried eggs to look like hearts for the cutest breakfast ever with this mold that won't melt or bend even in high heat on the skillet. Since it's silicon, you don't need to use butter to keep the egg from sticking, which is where the 'heart' part comes in.
Kana  Little Sister
Anime Games for PSP We love the PSP for the outstanding anime games that exist for the platform. Today see fresh stock of several including Kana Little Sister & Kazoku Keikaku (!), plus Tales of Phantasia.
Japanese Hoodie 'Domo-kun' (Hooded Sweatshirt)
Great Hoodies from J-List Autumn is here, and J-List is ready for it with our awesome hooded sweatshirts, which we stock in San Diego for your convenience. They stay soft for years, too, since we only use the higher 80-20 blends, not toe cheap 50-50 ones other companies use.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea Playing Cards
Ponyo & Totoro Products The holidays are coming up, and we're preparing by bringing some of our most in-demand Ghibli items back in stock. Check out our Totoro and Ponyo toys and accessories today!
JAPAN illustrated Conversation Book in English and Japanese
Restocked Japanese Study Books Several popular Japanese study books restocked, including Japan Introduced in English in Japanese, Japan Illustrated Conversation Book, a kanji practice notebook and more.
Geometry Yukata  Japanese Cotton Kimono
Cool Traditional Items Restocked Awesome restocking of some of J-List's most popular traditional products. See our Kanji Yukata, Purple Wave Yukata and Dragon Yukata, Chirimen Belt for supreme awesome fashion sense, plus bushido T-shirts made in Japan!
Genuine MINO Ware Tea Set ( Serve  2 Cups ) -- Happy Owl with Love Message
Various Restocked Traditional Items Then enjoy a big restocking of traditional Japanese items on our Dishware page, including porcelain yunomi (green tea cups), , our Sakura Sake Set, Happy Tanuki Tea Cup and more.
Mini 'Lucky Cat' Solar Powered Relaxation Toy
Lucky Cat, Ninja Solar Powered Toys Enjoy some good luck from Japan's most famous icon of good fortune. Our popular Mini Lucky Cat will wave good luck and peacefulness into your life through the miracle of solar power.
Paper StitchLock Basic
Restocked Japanese Pens, StitchLock See some of the most epic Japanese pens, erasers and other stationery items from J-List. Today we've got the Stitchlock Paper Sticher, the 3 Way ENERGEL pen/mechanical pencil, TRADIO Fountain Style Pen and Mono-Zero eraser.
Glico Pocky Milk
Fun Snacks from Japan! A large restocking of the best Pocky flavors, including Pocky Milk Chocolate Pocky and Praline, plus Calorie Mate (all flavors), FritoLay Japan Thai Cuisine Cheetos, plus Sushi Gummy that you make, then eat!
Queen's Blade Ruro no Senshi COMPLETE
Gorgeous Queen's Blade Books Restocked We love these fighting beauties, yes we do, and you do too if our restocking has anything to say about it! We've got another batch of some formerly sold out Queen's Blade books, plus Cattleya!
TENGA New Hole Warmer
Amazing TENGA Toys Got fresh stock of some of our more popular stress relief products, too, including the Tenga Hole Warmer, tthe NABURI onahole, Gal Get Chu 10-mode vibrator plus Real Scale Air Figure.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Living with Parents in Japan

Like many Japanese families, my wife's parents live with us in one big house, occupying the lower floor while we live upstairs. The idea of a child growing up and "leaving the nest" when they finish school doesn't always work the same here as it does in the U.S., and it's common for the oldest son or daughter to stay at home permanently, essentially taking responsibility for the family home (and business, if there is one) as well as taking care of the parents as they get older. This custom affects the dynamics of families somewhat, since a son or daughter who will live at home must find a spouse who doesn't mind joining that family. My wife happens to be an only child, which has actually been a bit of a chain around her neck all her life, making it impossible to pursue certain dreams as they would carry her away from her parents. Still, I don't mind it at all, and like having a proper Japanese family to be a part of. Yesterday was my father-in-law's 73rd birthday, we all went out for delicious Korean BBQ.

Remember me to write about my theory that love hotels keep families together, since young adults can actually go somewhere to be with their boyfriends/girlfriends without having to move out and live with them, like most people (?) do in the U.S. Therefore love hotels can be said to keep Japanese families together. 

Having more family members means having more brithdays, which means more Korean BBQ!

Hooters Japan vs Maid Cafe

Japan's first Hooters location opens today in Tokyo, and the Japanese Internets are buzzing about the new restaurant, where food and drinks are served by voluptuous waitresses and the slogan is (as one Japanese news site quipped) "The meat pie and oppai are both very large." While I'd personally prefer a nice maid cafe where a Goth-Loli or cat girl or imouto-themed maid brought me omrice (an omelette served over rice) with a heart drawn over the top in ketchup, it certainly will be interesting to see the reception the chain receives here. 40 girls have been hired to work as waitresses, ten foreign women and thirty Japanese ones, although if they're requiring the foreign waitresses to be Japanese bilingual that might make things a bit more interesting for customers. I expect it will feel pretty much like Hard Rock Cafe, which has been a fixture in Tokyo since 1983, existing as an ethereal bridge between East and West that's sometimes enjoyable to visit.

So which do you prefer, the Western approach of Hooters or a more demure, subtle Maid Cafe experience?

Japan's first Hooters opens today, though I'm more a Maid Cafe man.

Training J-List Employees

Last week I went into Tokyo on a buying trip to look for extra-cool products for the coming Christmas season, since I have a feeling we'll be needing lots of stock. I was training our newest J-List employee Ai, who's in charge of finding new bento boxes, fun traditional products and interesting Japanese pens. (It will come as a shock to some readers, but Ai-chan is not an A.I., unlike pretty much every character in anime and games with that name.) Training Japanese employees on what products to get for J-List can sometimes be a challenge, due to the difference in the way they perceive their own country compared with "outsiders" (which is what the word gaijin really means) like us. While you or I might view a traditional tatami room as a mysterious and magical space quite unlike any other, a Japanese would likely see it as just another room, not understanding what all the fuss is about. Some of J-List's most popular products -- the generic clear umbrellas that are everywhere in Asia, those traditional kompeito candies, or kanji name stamps -- completely baffle our Japanese employees at first, until they come to view their own country from the outside, as foreigners do.
I'm a big fan of beautiful tatami rooms.