Friday, December 03, 2010

Japan and the Tragedy of Fire

Outside my office at J-List, a fire truck has just driven by, just like it does every evening this time of year. It's our local volunteer fire brigade, driving around ringing a bell and announcing to our neighborhood, "Please be careful with all sources of fire and turn off your heaters before going to bed." Fire is unfortunately all too common in Japan, a country that has historically built homes out of wood and paper which only started requiring smoke detectors a few years ago. Instead of modern central heating, it's all too common for rooms to be heated with a standalone kerosene heater, and it seems every week you see an article of a terrible fire somewhere in the country. At noon every day we hear a blast from the air-raid siren (well that's what it sounds like to me) at a nearby elementary school announcing that it's lunch time, and whenever the siren goes off at a time other than noon it means that there's a fire somewhere nearby. On no less than three occasions I've looked out my window to see homes nearby J-List burning, and once it was a house just a few doors down from us, totally engulfed in fire. Japan's tradition of organizing itself against fires has a long history, since the Edo Period.
There's a long tradition of ukiyoe art of Edo Period firemen.

Of Octopus Tentacles and Japan

Every once in a while I'm reminded suddenly that...I live in Japan. It could be a sudden earthquake causing my Star Wars figures to fall over, all too common in this volcanically active country, or seeing a woman in a traditional kimono expertly punching out out a text message on her high-tech cell phone. The other evening I was putting my dishes away in my mother-in-law's kitchen and saw something you don't normally encounter: a freshly severed octopus tentacle, waiting to be served for dinner as sashimi. Octopus -- called tako in Japanese, no relation to the Mexican food which is incidentally referred to as tacos, using the plural to separate them from the cephalopod version -- is a fairly common food in Japan, and I enjoy a good tako salad as much as a taco salad. But I usually take my octopus cut up into slices, sitting on sushi or inside delicious takoyaki balls, and don't see fresh, wet tentacles all that often.
Sometimes I'm reminded of the fact that I actually live in Japan.

Fun with Japanese Gestures (With Photos!)

There's more to communication than just words, especially in a country like Japan. Often a negative opinion is expressed indirectly, with a subtle word like "chotto..." (literally "just a little" but meaning so much more that was omitted), and learning Japanese ultimately involves picking up on what isn't being said. The Japanese have perfected the art of communicating through silence, too, and you know you've really screwed something up when you're greeted with a terrible, deafening silence from those around you. Gestures are another interesting form of communication, and since Japanese gestures are so different from what we're generally used to in the West, understanding them can be a challenge. The most famous Japanese gesture is the odd waving that Lucky Cat is doing, which can look like "get away from me" although it really means "come here" (or in the case of a shop, "come in and buy something"). There are obscure gestures for, "I have to get home, or my wife will be angry with me" (devil horns), "I am going out with my girlfriend tonight" (an upstretched thumb gesture by women indicates their boyfriends), "watch out, that scary guy looks like a yakuza gangster" and a gesture meaning "I don't have enough money." And anyone who's watched much anime is familiar with the childish-yet-cute sticking-the-tongue-out-while-pulling-down-the-eye insult, called ah-kam-beh! in Japanese.
If you want to learn more about unique Japanese gestures, we recommend this book a lot, and if you like the "black bar" anonymous sunglasses from these pics, see them here.
Ah-kan-BEH! Another uniquely Japanese gesture.

J-List T-shirts are Wacky

J-List's unique line of T-shirts have always been a fun way for fans of anime and beautifully aesthetic kanji to show their unique side, and they make great gifts for the Japan-obsesed people on your list. From our line of Totoro shirts and hoodies to wacky Japanese pop culture references the classic "Respect the Emperor, Expel the Foreign Barbarians" shirt, there's something for everyone. The newest bizarre meme to seize the attention of the Internets is Giga Pudding, a giant egg custard flan that's popular in Japan, and we've got a T-shirt for you -- click to see the hilarious YouTube video. All would make great Christmas gifts!

Cool Products Friday, December 3, 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 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 websites. To see all the J-List products, check out J-List or the updated products link.
Megami Magazine Jan 2011
The brand new issue of Megami is here! Start your new year in style with the cream of the crop of bishoujo anime poster magazines, bursting with almost two dozen extra-large eye candy posters from all your favorite shows. This issue includes a Nanoha mini-artbook for you to enjoy as a special free extra.
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Clock Man Blood Type AB
Clock Man ~ What's Your Blood Type? When you want more than a clock, Clock Man is here! An amusing companion to chat with you, note your birthday and make comments as you wake up in the morning.
Otama Tone Melody -- Pink
Otama Tone Melody ~ Pink Engage in interactive music with the new innovative 'note' toy that plays songs at your own controllable pace. Many familiar classics included.
Swimming Zenmai Ponyo
We Love Ponyo! Today is Ponyo Day at J-List, or something, and we've got a bunch of popular product like the plush toys, fuzzy keychain and wind-up swimming Ponyo.
Neko Bus Basic Plush -- Large
Great Totoro Items, Too And for Totoro fans we've got great items for you (or the people on your Christmas list). Cat Bus plush toys, the Totoro spinning top and more!
Chili Bean Shiba Speaking Handy Plush
We've got a class-A kawaii alert on J-List, with the three plush toys we're posting now. They are awesome to hold or hug, but squeeze them and they'll talk to you. (The red one speaks Spanish since he's a chilli bean).
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One Piece Marine Head Quater 'Gura Gura' Game **Preorder**
One Piece Marine Head Quater 'Gura' Game It's topsy turvy fun with this game that brings the high seas battles of One Piece to your tabletop! Balance the pieces to bring the pirates to victory!
One Piece Chopper 2011 Schedule Book
One Piece Items In Stock Tons of other epic One Piece items are here for the holidays, including 2011 schedule books, iPhone cases, oppai mouse pads and more.
Little Busters!  Converted Edition
Little Busters! ~ Converted Edition The gang of lovable misfits from Key visual novel Little Busters! is at it again, this time in convenient portable form with tons of bundled extras.
Touhou Project  Guignol Quest
Huge Restocking of Touhou Games The action packed Touhou Project shooting games that formed a doujin empire and took the net by storm are back in stock for you today!
Japanese T-Shirt - 'Giga Pudding'
Puddi Puddi Puddi Puddi Giga Pudding! It's a shirt to celebrate the best that Japan and the internet has to offer, with our parody shirt based on the popular "Giga Pudding" commercial from 2008, Takara Tomy's bucket-sized do-it-yourself pudding. The kit itself is out of production, but you can groove to the wacky Giga Pudding song in this wacky Japanese T-shirt.
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Micky Mouse Leather iPhone 4 Case -- White
Mickey Mouse Leather iPhone 4 Case ~ White Bring a little bit of Disney class to your iPhone with this pearl white leather full phone case, emblazoned with the Mickey logo.
Flower Point Mini Frill Skirt
Flower Point Mini Frill Skirt A new piece to add to your stylish Japanese fashion lineup, with this frilly flower-print skirt that looks great with black accessories.
Retro Postcards Traveler  Modern Kanko Ryoko
Retro Postcards Traveler ~ Modern Kanko Ryoko Go on a sightseeing vacation to the past with this book that collects photos of classic Japanese tourists spots from the postwar period. Nostalgia++.
Japanese Hoodie 'Domo-kun' (Hooded Sweatshirt)
Great Hoodies from J-List Christmas gift suggestion #172: why not buy a soft, warm Domo-kun hoody for a special someone on your list? Or yourself?
Queen's Blade vol. 11  Nanael
Restocked Queen's Blade Artbooks We've got all your favorite QB artbooks back in stock too, including the one from Samurai Girls (did we just blow your mind?) and many others.
Moe Moe Angel (Side White) Encyclopedia  Tenshi Jiten
Moe Moe Encyclopedia ~ Angels We have a classic volume of the Encyclopedia series that introduces classical figures as cute moe girls, this one dealing with angels from all sources.
2011 Calendar -- Aki Hoshino
Beautiful 2011 Japanese Idol Calendars Enjoy the most beautiful women of Japan, with our big restocking of 2011 calendars. Aki Hoshino, Yuko Ogura, Mikie Hara, Yukie Kawamura, and more!
2011 Calendar -- Studio Ghibli
2011 Anime Calendars In Stock We've got your Anime Calendar needs for the coming year covered, with newly in stock Persona 3 and 4 calendars, the Working!! anime calendar, and much more.
Meiji Meltykiss Rum Raisin
Awesome New Japanese Snacks See a wonderful new Rum Raisin Meltykiss chocolate delight, plus Karu Jaga potato snacks, Meiji White Horn chocolate and more. Yum!
Glico Winter Pocky w/Cocoa Powder
Big Restocking of Japanese Snacks New Pocky for 2011, Japanese Oreo Soft Cookies, Japan-only Kit Kat chocolate cookies, Fuwarinka Rose Essence Soft Candy, and Takoyaki Puff Snacks!
Hello KITTY WAGARA Bento Set  Box  Buit-in Chopsticks  Bag
Hello Kitty Bento We've got oodles of new Hello Kitty bento items this season, with the current trend to traditional Japanese kimono patterns mixed with cute Kitty icons!
Happy Animal Pink Onigiri Bento Box
Happy Animal Bento Restocked Also back in stock today, the "Happy Animal" line of bento boxes and accessories that share their cute animal logos with you while you eat.
Samurai Sword Chopsticks w/ Sheath Case
This is one of -the- coolest products we've seen! What looks like a miniature sheathed samurai sword from the outside, opens to be a hilt-shaped holder that doubles as a chopstick rest for a pair of full adult-sized chopsticks. An epic bento accessory and gift for your samurai- or ninja-loving friends.
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Banana Carrying Case for Bento
Fun Bento Accessories When life gives you bananas, put them in your banana shaped carrying case for bento lovers.
SAKURA Genuine Earthen Coffee Cup With Sakura Petal Shaped Saucer  Spoon Set 2pcs
SAKURA Genuine Earthen Coffee Cup, Saucer Set Bring a Japanese elegance to your tea preparation with the subtle pink color of these genuine Japanese ceramic teacups and petal-shaped saucers.
Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication: A Self-Study Course and Reference (by Taeko Kamiya)
Japanese Sentence Patterns (self-study) An incredibly practical and useful reference guide and self study course in conversational Japanese, a key to help you prep for actual language usage.
Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants to Japan
Restocked Japan-Related Books The popular handbook for living in Japan is restocked, plus a JLPT preparatory guide, Kanji Power Handbook and bilingual books from Japan.
DX Wide Study Flashcards for Long Sentence  Set of 2 pcs
Restocked Study Items, Stationery Fun Japanese pens are restocked, but our most popular eraser. For anyone studying Japanese (or whatever), we've got more flashcards too.
Buden Hip Pouch  'Scissors Bag' -- Khaki
Buden Hip Pouch 'Scissors Bags' Restocked The kanji carabiner pouches called "scissors bags" were so popular, we sold them all. Fortunately we've gotten more in for you.
Go-Ninja Action Strap -- Black Brave
Traditional Ninja Straps, More Fun ninja phone straps which can be attached to your phone, keys etc. (or even your iPhone, plus Rabbit Incense Holder and more.
Sci-fi Revoltech No.023 Gaigan  **Preorder**
Sci-fi Revoltech: Gaigan, Predator *Preorder* How to catch a Predator? Send an Alien. awesome classic Japanese movie monster, Gaigan. The Alien Queen is in stock too.
Sora Kasugano 1/4 Figure P.E Costume  Yosuga no Sora **Preorder**
Sora Kasugano 1/4 Figure P.E ~ *Preorder* Fans of Yosuga no Sora will love this new extra-impressive size 1/4 figure of the heroine Sora in a cute PE uniform. Deliciously cast off-able.
Haru-Chan Nendoroid Figure  Haru-chan no Kishou Mame Chishiki **Preorder**
Haru-Chan Nendoroid Figure ~ *Preorder* The NHK show Newswatch 9 created this moe mascot to help them forecast the weather, and gave her her own webcomic! Now she's a cute Nendoroid, too.
Cosplay Academy
Cosplay Academy People ask me to recommend eroge in English a lot, and one I like is this super cosplay game by the artist of the Raidy series.
It's not every day that a brand new Tenga is born, so we're pleased to announce the entry of this collaboration between SOD's Tenga crew and the condom makers of Okamoto Industries. Dedicated to promoting social welfare through the safe release of healthy urges, this is a super effective parody item we think you'll really get a kick out of.
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Japanese Condoms, Lotion Kabuto refers to a samurai's helmet, and these condoms will make you a samurai. Also: restocked Japanese personal lotions.
Sexy Twins Perfect Body  Atkkina
Restocked Tenga, Sexy Twins Products We've got plenty of other stress relief items back in stock, including the popular 'sexy twins' simulators, so realistic you'll buy it dinner.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Space Battleship Yamato Opens Today

Today is the "roadshow" (movie release) of the Space Battleship Yamato live-action film, Japan's newest attempt at merging one of its most famous animation properties with live-action and CG. The film was made by TBS over five years and stars many big names, like heart-throb Takuya Kimura as the hero Susumu Kodai (Derek Wildstar) and sexy Reiko Takashima as an upgraded Dr. Sado (Dr. Sane), and it certainly looks like a good effort. The year is 2199, and the Earth is being bombarded by radioactive planet bombs by the evil MacArthur, I mean Desslar of Planet America, I mean Gamilas, and humanity must make the 148,000 light year journey to planet Iscandar to get technology that will heal the Earth. Star Blazers (as the English version was called) was a huge influence on my life and a big reason I am where I am now. It showed the amazing stories that could be told through animation: a crisis involving the extinction of humanity, characters who fall in love and die, noble enemies who fight with honor. I also learned that spring water isn't always spring water -- sometimes it's sake.
I'm looking forward to the Space Battleship Yamato movie.

Challenges of Name Kanji

I wrote last time about how names work in Japanese, and how it can be fun to assign kanji to a Western name and see what crazy meanings you can come up with. Yes, Japan's kanji-based name system is quite complex, both in good ways (since kanji are visually very beautiful, and when you have kids thinking up names for them is fun) and bad (kanji is the hardest part of learning Japanese). There are other challenges, too. It's not uncommon at all for a person's name to be totally unreadable to others, especially the names of older Japanese like my mother-in-law, whose name is "Miyou" written with characters that mean "34 rabbits" but which no would could ever pronounce. Just as you need to know how to spell "Steven Spielberg" do perform a Google search on his name, you need to know the right character for actress Reiko Takashima's name, or you'll get results for different people entirely. In the example below, the leftmost kanji is how you write Japanese singer/actor Takuya Kimura's name, but if you accidentally choose the name to the right you'll get results for the former Yomiuri Giants baseball player, who had the same name (but a slightly different kanji). Incidentally, remember that J-List has hundreds of books, flashcards and other tools to help you learn Japanese

Year End Busy-Ness in Japan

Well, December is here, and everyone is very busy. The old Japanese name for December is Shiwasu, which today is used to mean "the busy time at the end of the year when everyone is running around doing stuff." Besides buying Christmas presents, scheduling Year-End Parties and preparing for the oh-souji ("big cleaning") that everyone does before December 31st so they can start the new year with a clean slate, Japanese people are also busy making nengajo, the famous New Year's Cards they send out to friends to be delivered on the morning of January 1st. Not everyone sends and receives New Year's Cards, though: if someone is in an official state of mourning after the death of a family member (called mo-chu), they send friends an end-of-year greeting card within the month of December letting them know they've suffered a personal tragedy so their friends will know not to send normal nengajo cards. 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese sexagenary cycle (I have no idea why the Chinese zodiac is called that, but it is), and if you were born in 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987 or 1999, it's "your" year -- congratulations! J-List will be carrying plenty of awesome rabbit-themed traditional products from Japan, because that's just the kind of company we are.
2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, so expect a lot of rabbit-themed fan art in the Intarwebs.

J-List Holiday Sale Update, Recommendations for You

J-List's Holiday Sale is going strong, and everyone here is busy as a bee filling the hundreds of orders we're receiving daily (thank you!). There's still plenty of time to get your order by the Holidays, and since you get $5 back for every $100 you spend on the site, there's never been a better time to browse and buy. In addition to new and restocked Fuku-bukuro traditional grab bags, we're posting a popular new J-List Best Seller Snack Set that would make a fine gift. We've got great 2011 calendars as well as those awesome One Piece and Totoro schedule books that we like so much. We have a huge number of fabulous Hello Kitty items, too, but remember that they're very popular and might sell out quickly, like those Hello Kitty Eyeglass Holders that went so quickly. (We'll have more in a week.) Remember to check our convenient J-List Holiday Shopping Guide with products our staff thinks would be good for your Holidays hopping, too!