Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in Japan, 2010 Edition

Christmas is upon us, and soon the children will be nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads. The first recorded Christmas in Japan took place in 1552, when missionaries who had accompanied Francis Xavier held mass in a newly constructed church in what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture. After Japan banned Christianity after a particularly bad uprising in 1612, the only Christmas spirit you could find here were the Dutch traders celebrating the fictional holiday of "Dutch Winter Solstice" (wink-wink), plus the famous kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians") of Kyushu who practiced their faith in secret, often keeping statues of the Virgin Mary that had been disguised to look like Buddhist kannon instead. Christmas as a cultural event started to enter Japan at the beginning of the 20th century, with the first commercial Christmas display in a department store in 1904, and the famous confectionery company Fujiya selling Japan's first Christmas cake in 1910. Just as our modern image of Santa Claus has been influenced by mass market advertising of products like Coca-Cola, marketing played a role with in Christmas here, too. The opening of the wildly popular Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and its annual Christmas celebrations is said to be a watershed for the cultural awareness of the holiday in Japan.

One of the major differences between Japan and the West is the way Christmas here is seen as a fun event, a time for gathering in a Christmas party with hats, fire crackers and maybe a karaoke machine, while the most solemn and holy day of the year is New Year's Day. This is contrast to the U.S., at least, where Christmas is more likely to be a quiet time spent with family and friends and New Year's is reserved for loud merry-making. For a gaijin expat living in Japan, nothing says "Christmas" like being asked to play Santa Claus and hand out presents to children (since everyone knows Santa is from America and speaks English), and I've donned the red suit and fake beard many times. At one visit to a preschool operated by a friend of ours, the kids got to ask me questions like, "Where do you live?""What is your favorite color?" and so on. One kid asked me, "Santa-san, what's your favorite food?" and I kind of freaked them out by answering "reindeer hamburger steak." Tonight, though, I'll forgo reindeer meat and eat the special Christmas Eve dinner Mrs. J-List is making, then enjoy the Christmas Cake my daughter baked. All of us at J-List sincerely wish you and your loved ones a wonderful and warm Christmas holiday this year!

A Merry Moe Christmas 2010 to everyone from J-List!

Unappetizing Japanese Food Names in English

It's funny the way the names of food influences our perception of them. I am big fan of tofu, and enjoy many Japanese dishes that are tofu-based, but if you ask me if I'd like some "chilled bean curd" (which is what it is), I might be less enthused about it. It's winter now, a great time to eat the Japanese stew called oden (pronounced oh-DEN, not like the Norse god), and one of the ingredients in this dish is chikuwa, accurately but unappetizingly described as "bamboo-shaped fish paste cake." The curly thing in your bowl of ramen -- called a naruto by the way, in case you didn't know -- is made of kamaboko, known in English as "pressed steamed fish cake," which doesn't sound nearly as good. Being an island nation, the Japanese eat several kinds of sea-harvested plants described with the unfortunate name of "seaweed," although nori and wakame and konbu are all delicious, and undeserving of the derogatory name "weed." (It's even worse for French people, since seaweed is called algue, e.g. algae.) Bottom line, if you want to enjoy Japanese food, try to learn the food names in Japanese. (By the way, one of the most awesome flavors of potato chips in Japan is nori-shio or roasted seaweed and salt, which we're stocking on J-List now!)
Some ingredients of oden stew sound better in Japanese than English.

Last Minute Christmas Ideas?

If you find yourself still in need of a few items for Christmas, J-List is here for you. From our always-popular J-List Gift Certificates (sent via email in PDF format) to our iTunes Japan prepaid cards, we've got products available that can reach you in plenty of time. (Gift certificate orders made up til the 25th will still be processed in time, since Japan is half a day ahead of most other countries.) If you're looking for Japan-style music to make the holiday special, I recommend this Vocaloid Christmas Album, or enjoy some Christmas-themed Amagami tracks. (These are iTunes Japan links. You may need to log out of your current iTunes account to view.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Random Nihongo: How Names Work in Japanese

Names in Japanese are quite different from what we're used to in the West. Right off the bat, the family and given names are reversed, so if you're going to talk about "kawaii" virtual idol Miku Hatsune in Japanese, you'd need to get used to calling her Hatsune Miku. There are no middle names in Japan, and over the years I've been asked quite a lot by my students about my own middle name (Rowland), which they find interesting. Japanese also never name sons after fathers, as my own father did with me, and part of the mystique of the famous thief Lupin III is that he's the third generation to hold that name despite being of mixed Japanese ancestry. It's funny the way certain names push cultural buttons. When I was a teacher, my students would quote lines from the classic Heidi anime to me, since there's a boy named Peter in the show, and anyone named Freddie or Jason would will probably have Japanese people associating them with horror movie villains for a few seconds. I have a friend named Brad who makes Japanese people nervous, since phonetically his name is the same as "blood."
Part of Lupin III's appeal is that his name is Western style.

Don't Say "The Loss of Virginity of Haruhi Suzumiya"

Although most Japanese study English for six years, or up to ten if they take it in university, they're not widely known for their linguistic skills. There are many reasons for this, including Japan's approach to English as a tool for university entrance exams and not for actual communication, and the reality that Japan is an island nation where 98% of the people speak the same language. Japanese people can also be overly concerned about making mistakes, which is the kiss of death to open and free communication. Happily, I'm the type of language learner who never cared much about making errors when speaking, which is a good thing overall, although I have had my share of embarrassing slip-ups. Like the time I confused the word hinan (to evacuate) with hinin (to use a contraceptive) in mixed company, the time I tried to say "the Battle of Sekigahara" and accidentally substituted sekuhara (sexual harassment), or multiple instances of flubbing when ordering mango juice from a pretty waitress. (Mango is close to manko, a word which refers to female reproductive parts.) The new film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a fabulous achievement of animation, but its name in Japanese -- 涼宮ハルヒの消失 Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu  -- is a potential land mine for non-native speakers. That's because the word shoushitsu (SHO-shi-tsu), meaning "disappearance," is dangerously close to 喪失 soushitsu (SOH-shi-tsu) which means "loss," generally referring to the loss of something a girl can only lose once, i.e. "climbing the stairs of adult-hood." So every time I go to say the title of the film in Japanese, I'm terrified I'll make a Freudian slip.
I tread lightly when saying "The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.".

Finding "Tsunderella": a Look at Tsundere Anime Girls

Part of the fun of watching anime is enjoying all the wacky memes that are created, from the venerable girl-with-toast-in-mouth-rushing-off-to-school joke to the bizarre anime face called "gununu." Another popular category in anime is tsundere (TSOON-deh-reh), which describes girls who are tsun tsun (angry, hostile) one moment then dere dere (sweet, lovey-dovey) the next. While the official start of the genre as a named meme is the angry waitress Ayu Daikuuji from the game and anime "Kimi ga Nozomu Eien," the beginning of the genre is harder to pin down. Is the first tsundere Lum from Urusei Yatsura, or perhaps Rei from Sailor Moon, or (at the risk of taking this too far), Lucy from Peanuts? My own vote for Tsundere Prime would be Asuka from Evangelion, who wowed fans with her fiery spirit and delicate complexity of character, especially in the new Evangelion 2.0 movie, with its subtle imagery of the girl with bandages on her hands from trying to learn how to cook for Shinji. Why some anime fans find their "Tsunderella" in this particular character archetype is hard to pin down, but for me it has to do with the internal conflict in the character and the crescendo-like dere dere payoff at the end. The newest development in the world of tsundere is stand alone and PSP-based car navigation systems that feature anime voice actresses saying things like, "Even a fool like you can obey the traffic rules, right? I'm not going for a drive with you because I like you or anything. Turn right in 700 meters!" (Incidentally, if you're a fan of tsundere girls we've got an awesome Rei Kugimya T-shirt in stock in San Diego featuring a tribute to the best tsundere voice actress of all time).
I love the internal conflict in my wife, er, I mean in tsundere characters.

Think J-List for Christmas...And Japanese New Year's

J-List is loaded with awesome Christmas gift ideas, including items that can be sent conveniently through email, like our handy J-List Gift Certificates, which are mailed in PDF format to the address you specify. We're also stocking plenty of fun products for Japanese New Year's Day celebrations, including kadomatsu decorations, awesome mochi rice cakes, rabbit-themed display items and even the soba noodles that are eaten on December 31s while sitting in the kotatsu. Have a great Japanese-style New Year's celebration with J-List!

(Remember, J-List has a special Christmas greetings card for you in PDF format. Print it out and put it by your desk at work if you like. Merry Christmas from all of us at J-List!)

Cool Products Wednesday, December 22, 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.
AKB48  2011 Official Calendar Box
If you like AKB48, you should see their box. No wait, that didn't come out right. Anyway, this is an awesome box of cool stuff including a 2011 calendar!
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Bomb Jan 2011
Bomb Jan 2011 For everything cute girl in Japan there's BOMB, the magazine that's bursting with all the latest photos of the hot idols and starlets on the scene.
Little Devil Ageha  Koakuma Ageha Jan 2011
Little Devil Ageha ~ Koakuma Ageha Jan 2011 All that is gold does not glitter, but all that is Ageha does! The truly glamorous fashion trends of Tokyo are showcased in this brand new issue.
New Year's Decoration  SHIMENAWA with Shishimai
Be in the spirit of the new year with this traditional Japanese decoration, a shimenawa is a length of braided rice rope used for ritual purification and wards against evil spirits. Households in Japan hang such ornaments outside over the new year, lending beautiful, simple atmosphere of festive commemoration that is one of the beautiful aspects of Japanese traditional culture. Now you can join the celebration with your own authentic shimenawa!
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Sengoku Umbrella  Masamune Date
Sengoku Umbrella ~ Masamune Date Masamune Date was one of the most influential samurai and tacticians of the Edo period, founder of Sendai and now immortalized here in awesome style!
Kyoto Nara World Heritage  SEKAI ISAN SANPO
Kyoto Nara World Heritage Guide Book Get the native Japanese view of some of the country's most famous landmarks in this exquisite guidebook to historical Kyoto and Nara.
Black Rock Shooter Blu-Ray  DVD Set First Limited Edition w/Nendoroid Petit Black Rock Shooter  Dead Master
Black Rock Shooter Blu-Ray & DVD Set w/Figures This is cool -- a limited item for BRS fans that comes with two very special Nendoroid figures.
Mari Illustrious Makinami figma Action Figure New Plugsuits ver.  Evangelion New Movie Part.2  **Preorder**
Awesome Figma Figures Mari from Evangelion 2.0, Figure Mikuru from Haruhi, Mana from se' Kirara, Nanoha Takamachi plus Summer Wars!
Aigis Figure Heavy Armed ver.  Persona 3  *Preorder*
Aigis Figure Heavy Armed ver. ~ Persona 3 Wow, is all I can say to this beautifully detailed Aigis figure from Persona 3. In stock now, and very awesome.
Asuka Langrey Fleece Blanket w/Carrying Bag **Preorder**
Evangelion Fleece Blankets Stay warm with the Evangelion girls by your side in these cozy fleece blankets featuring Asuka, Rei and Mari, restocked today. You will (not) be cold!
Gakken Otona no Kagaku Special Living Science  Science Projects for Adult -- Theremin Premium
Whether you're a music enthusiast, a budding engineer or a gadget geek, this new special issue of Gakken's science project magazine for adults provides a fascinating and rewarding project in the form of a premium theremin module that you'll build from the provided parts. Full English instructions are available so there's no need to know Japanese to enjoy this unique feat of electronic music engineering.
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Castle in the Sky Laputa (Blu-ray Disc)
Castle in the Sky Laputa (Blu-ray Disc)  One of the most epic and endearing Ghibli classics of all time comes to Blu-ray! Complete with HD remaster, subtitles and dubs in English and others.
Bathtime with Hinako  Hiyoko  (Region 2)
Bathtime with Hinako & Hiyoko (Region 2)  The popular Hinako series returns, with a detailed guide to exercises you can do while bathing. A great way to save time! It's why these are popular, right?
Ginger for Bath  Ase Dashi Shouga
Ginger for Bath ~ Ase Dashi Shouga Bath powder that brings the power of real ginder and honey to revitalize and awaken your entire body - a real morning pick me up or evening relaxation!
Bamboo Charcoal Shoe Deodorizer
Bamboo Charcoal Shoe Deodorizer  Remove unwanted smells the natural way with this traditional charcoal-bamboo insert for shoes or other pungent locations.
The Ghost in the Shell -- Bilingual comic
Bilingual Manga to Learn Japanese With Also, we've gotten the bilingual Ghost in the Shell manga -- which features all the content cut from the U.S. release -- plus the best translation.
Monster Hunter CG Artworks
Amazing Monster Hunter In Stock Monster Hunter is booming as one of the most popular franchises in Japan, and we've got all the best supporting gear for your "Monhan" needs!
Moe Moe Devil (Side Black) Encyclopedia
Moe Moe Encyclopedia Restocked Then see more Moe Moe Encyclopedia, the artbook series that presents fascinating information with moe moe art. Devils, famous weapons, spy gadgets and more.
HANTEN  Warm Winter Kimono  Blue
Keep Warm This Winter, Japan Style We have some great ways of keeping warm in Japan this winter, including the toasty hanten warm kimonos. New size in stock today.
Electric Takoyaki Maker
Takoyaki Items Restocked We love takoyaki, the batter balls that contain a bit of octopus meat inside. See the popular electric takoyaki maker, plus accessories.
Glico Chocolate on Chocolate Pocky Caramel
New Pocky flavor -- Chocolat on Chocolate (that's French by the way) w/Caramel, Galbo chocolate cookies, plus Lotte Almond Chocolate White!
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Sasebo Burger Drops (Sasebo Limited)  Japanese Food Drops
Japanese Food Drops Resotcked flavors include Sasebo Hamburger Drops, Sapporo Beer and Shirokuma Ice Cream!
Japan Made Oreo
Restocked Japanese Snacks Awesome Japanese Oreos (quite different from overseas), plus Wasabi Rice Crackers w/peanuts, Caplico "ice cream," Powan Marshmallow in Chocolate, more!
ONE PIECE Round Shaped Tight Sealed Bento Box with Washable Utterly Sheet
Awesome Bento Boxes Restocked From the epic saga of One Piece in lunch box form, to 'blue rabbit and moon' and school bus-themed bentos, all are back in stock for you today!
Microwave Easy Spaghetti Maker
Fun Microwave Products from Japan Restocked Fun microwave products restocked, like our spaghetti and omelette makers, rice cookers and more.
TOKYO The Greatest Travel Tips
Awesome Books about Japan A bilingual guide to Tokyo, a Hiragana coloring book, Japanese illustrated conversation book and more -- awesome!
Kutsuwa Study Flashcards w/Check Sheet
Japanese Study Tools, Stationery Asesome flashcards for learning Japanese, the most advanced erasers the Japanese know how to make, Zebra pens and mechanical pencils, and more.
Japanese T-Shirt - Tsundere Tribute
Japanese T-Shirt - Tsundere Tribute If you love the amazingtsundere voice actress Rie Kugimiya, enjoy our tribute T-shirt, which printes her most famous quotes on both sides.
YOKOBUE  Traditional Bamboo Flute
Popular Traditional Items From Japan Whether you're looking for the authentic sound of Japan or an ornament to bring in the new Year of the Rabbit, we've got your traditional items here.
Gift Certificate from J-List
Click to see the best J-List Christmas gift ideas! And if you're in a rush for time, we recommend a J-List Gift Certificate, which will travel at the fast of email to the address you specify. Give the gift of awesome stuff from Japan!
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Ika Musume 1/10 DX Figure Beach Queens  Shinryaku Ika Musume *Preorder**
Ika Musume 1/10 DX Figures *Preorder* The cute and moe Ika Musume comes to life in these adorable "Beach Queens" series figures, now available for preorder!
Ciel Phantomhive Nendoroid Plush  Kuro Shitsuji  *Preorder**
Other Preorder Products We've also got plushes from Black Butler up for preorder just for you, Sebastian Michaelis and Ciel Phantomhive, plus more canned bread?
HIP ONA BEAT K-On! Parody Toy
Restocked Stress Toys Then enjoy a pretty epic restocking of our anime-themed onahole toys including K-On! and more. Also, the oddly popular bukkake lotion.
Wireless Sexy Garter
Wireless Sexy Garter Massager Remote control pleasure in the palm of your hand, a cool concept only the Japanese could have thought of.
My Girlfriend is the President
J-List carries the best H-games from Japan, including the best imported games for hardcore fans. Today se many restocked titles, including My Girlfriend is the President, Fate/stay night, Fate/hollow ataraxia and December When There Is No Angel.
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Lightning Warrior Raidy II: Temple of Desire *Preorder*
Dating-sim Games by Download While we love selling shrinkwrapped package versions of our games, they're also available as Internet download versions, too. See the most popular ones.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Omae wa Mo, Ore no Mono."

You can learn a lot about Japan through its language, including such simple things as first and second person pronouns, which work differentlt in Japanese depending on whether you're male or female, and what kind of person you are. For the pronoun "I" you could choose from watashi (formal, used more often by women), boku (semi-polite, usually used by younger males), and ore (OH-reh, mainly used by "manly" men); and words for "you" include anata (formal, used by women more often than men); kimi (familiar, used mostly by guys to their girlfriends or by anyone talking to a younger person); and omae (oh-MAH-eh, again, a "macho" sounding word generally used by guys). This last word is especially interesting since it basically asserts the superiority of the speaker over the person he's speaking to, a concept that doesn't exist in English, at least openly. When a man uses the word omae to a female he's in a relationship with, the implication is that the girl "belongs to" him in a romantic sense. This generally will make some girls swoon with affection, while others -- those who speak more English and have lived outside Japan, I am told -- may be offended by being thought of as an object to be possessed. I once got in quite a bit of trouble when I accidentally used this word with a friend's girlfriend soon after arriving in Japan. Who would have thought that words like "I" or "you" could be this complex?
Tomoyo from Clannad is interesting because speaks like a man, not like a girl.

Yoichi Watanabe, the "War Cameraman" Of The Year

Since the end of World War II, Japan has been an extremely peaceful country, knowing no war and comparatively little of the kinds of civil strife most other countries experience from time to time. Japan knows it's one of the most peaceful places on Earth, and often describes itself with the word heiwa-boke (hei-WA boh-keh), literally meaning "stupid from too much peace," referring to the tendency of Japanese to view the rest of the world as if it were as safe and harmonious as Japan is. You don't imagine modern Japanese going off to battlefields that often, yet that's just what celebrated war "cameraman" (photographer) Yoichi Watanabe does all the time. For the past 18 years, Mr. Watanabe has travelled to dozens of countries to document the lives of people there, most recently finishing a tour with the American military in Afghanistan. Last week he visited my son's school to talk with the students about what it was like for a Japanese from a tiny island nation like Japan to travel to places like Rwanda and Chechnya, and my son said it was very interesting. (Mr. Watanabe also does non-war photography from time to time, like the new photobook we posted to J-List today.)
War photographer Yoichi Watanabe, and his trademark hat.

Christmas in Japan

My son is in hardcore study mode right now as he prepares for his important high school entrance exam in February. On Saturdays I've taken to driving him to his four-hour juku school then killing time working in a nearby mall, part of the new wave of American-style shopping centers that cropped up in Japan over the last decade. For the past month, the mall has been decorated from top to bottom in colorful Christmas lights, with images of "Santa-san" inviting visitors into shops to make purchases. Although only around 1% of the population of Japan reports themselves as Christian, Christmas is a very popular day in Japan, a time for having a special family dinner while parents and grandparents spoil children with presents from Toys "R" Us. (Incidentally, in Japan the toy retailer represents the backwards "R" in their logo by writing one of the characters in hiragana instead of katakana, in case you were curious.) After Valentine's Day, Christmas is the most important day for couples, and if you want to visit a Love Hotel for some private time together be prepared to wait a couple hours for a room to open up. Between kids and couples enjoying a special date, Christmas is also a very profitable time of year for Tokyo Disneyland.

(Incidentally, J-List has a special Christmas greetings card for you in PDF format. Print it out and put it by your desk at work if you like. Merry Christmas from all of us at J-List!)
Christmas is a time for beautiful lights and a special date.