Friday, January 07, 2011

My Son's Juken (High School Entrance Exam)

My son is a jukensei right now, preparing for the most difficult tests of his life which will determine which high school he ends up going to. Ever since my son decided he wanted to attend a high school with a good science program, we've been visiting different schools in our part of Japan to see which one would fit him the best. He's been studying like crazy, at his desk for several hours a day then attending juku (cram) school until 10:30 pm every day. Watching him prepare for these tests over the past year has been an educational experience, and I've learned a lot about my son as well as Japan as a whole. This Sunday is the first of his important tests, for a high school in Tochigi Prefecture which we've selected as his suberi-dome or "stop the slide" school, e.g. an easier school that he can enter if he's unable to get a high enough score on the other two school he'll try for. Wish us luck!
Godai from Maison Ikkoku, the patron saint of all test-taking students.

Japan's Long History of Canned Coffee

There are many things I like about Japan, like turning on the kotatsu for the first time in winter, eating omurice (an omelette-over-rice dish) with a heart drawn on top in ketchup by my wife, or that one time I found myself in an outdoor onsen bath with snow falling all around me. I also love warming my hands with a can of hot coffee while waiting for the train to arrive in winter. The first canned coffee appeared in 1969, when the founder of the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC to you and me) created their iconic "Coffee with Milk" as a way of selling coffee in a portable package, as this was back in the days when milk beverages were sold in bottles that had to be returned to the shop. Canned coffee is the most popular beverage in Japan, handily beating out not just fizzy sugar water but even bottled Asian teas. Marketers are very good at creating products consumers will want to identify with, and coffee lovers can choose from hundreds of varieties of canned coffee, including Suntory's Smart BOSS, Coca-Cola's iconic Georgia Coffee and Roots Aroma & Tasty Blend. If you're curious about the taste, we've got some cool anime-themed canned coffee in stock for you.
There's nothing like cracking open a can of coffee.

The Comic Market and Doujinshi

Doujinshi are the fan-created comic-books which have become a huge engine of sub-culture here in Japan. The word is an abbreviation of doujin zasshi ("companion magazine"), which were originally self-published literary magazines through which writers like Kenji Miyazawa or Yasunori Kawabata got their start, through the word is perceived a bit differently these days. The Holy Land for doujinshi enthusiasts is the Comic Market, the sprawling convention held twice a year at Tokyo Big Sight, and this past December half a million fans made the pilgrimage. I remember the first Comiket I attended back in 1996, and how fast my head was spinning as I tried to take it all in -- the costumes, the books, the crowds. Although most fans living outside Japan automatically equate doujinshi with "ecchi" comics parodying famous anime and video games, the reality is quite different, and I'd estimate that between 75-90% of the products sold, from comics to fan-written novels to crafts and even doujin composed music, are all-ages. (Hmmm, it seems that looking at another country's culture through the lens of the Internet can warp things a bit.) Over the years, Japan's underground comic world has served as an incubator for talented artists who want to go pro, and a huge number of big names got their start there, including CLAMP, Peach-Pit and Rumiko Takahashi. Incidentally, we're posting some really awesome new items from the just-ended Comiket 79 to J-List -- click to see them now!
The Comic Market is the "Mecca" for doujinshi fans.

A New Way of Enjoying Japan -- Through Snacks?

There are many ways to approach a love of Japan -- through its popular culture like animation and manga, for example, or through martial arts. We think another approach might be to learn about Japan through its delicious snacks and candy, and we sell hundreds of fun items to choose from, from the delicious Meiji Rich Chocolate in Strawberry and Green Tea flavor, to "Food Drops" from all parts of Japan (including the increasingly popular Moe Food Drops), plus candy from your favorite anime series, like those Morinaga Caramels from Totoro. Click here to see our entire lineup of Japanese snacks, or here to see the top Japanese snacks today.

Cool Products Friday, January 7, 2011

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 Comic Daioh Feb 2011
The manga magazine with the highest moe-per-page in Japan, Dengeki Daioh is home to Yotsuba, Railgun, Ichigo Mashimaro, Muv Luv, Shakugan no Shana, and much more. Misaka Railgun strap included as a special bonus in this issue!
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Mobile Suit Gundam 00  Yun Kouga Works Complete
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 ~ Yun Kouga Works Complete A must have for any Gundam 00 fan, with behind the scenes looks at the character designs and development process from an amazing female artist.
Halo:Reach Jun Playarts 'Kai' Action Figure **Preorder**
Halo, Snake, Mega Man Figures In Stock Some of the most realistic action figures we've seen are here to celebrate the new Halo game - check these out, now available in preorder.
Tomoe Nendroid Figure Queen's Blade **Preorder**
Tomoe Nendroid Figure Queen's Blade I love Tomoe, and not just because she'd voiced by Mamiko Noto. I also love her strength, and skimpy shrine maiden outfit. Now in stock!
Boa Parka with Bear ear  Brown
This is one of the most adorable clothing items we've ever had the joy of bringing in stock, a cut fuzzy bear-eared parka that will keep you warm and make your friends say "awww" when they see you in it. Great for cosplay too!
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Blue Scarf High School Uniform
Restocked Cosplay Uniforms Also we've restocked some fun cosplay items, from the Blue Scarf High School Uniform Set to "socks glue" that holds your awesome socks up for you.
Leg Warmer Pon Pon x Knit  Black
Leg Warmer Pon Pon x Knit The winter season means cute clothes and fashions that combine warmth and style. These awesome items are in stock now!
egg Jan 2011
egg Jan 2011 If you like Japanese fashion, check out the magazine with all the latest hot tips from Tokyo, fresh for the 2011 season.
2011 Fuku-Bukuro Japanese Cosplay/Anime Items (Lucky Bag)
2011 Fuku-bukuro Grab Bags Restocked There's no tradition quite like Japan's "lucky bags" filled with random, awesome products. We've restocked them, with anime, toy, cosplay & bento!
Rilakkuma Face Pen Case
Rilakkuma Face Pen Case The face of everyone's favorite relaxing bear comes on this super-cute and plush pen case, officially licensed by San-X. Draw and write it easy!
Chopper Wrist Watch Diver Watch Type
Chopper Wrist Watch Diver Watch Type The adorable mascot character Chopper from One Piece finds his way to a wanted poster on your wrist with these new cute watches!
Shining Hearts
Shining Hearts Artist Tony Taka and the game designers at Sega are at it again, bringing a beautiful and memorable RPG experience to your PSP. Super game!
Touhou Project 12.5  Double Spoiler
Big 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! Pew, pew!
Hello Kitty Face Lunch Plate w/Red Ribbon
Kitty-chan kawaii! The Japanese exclamation of supreme cuteness is fitting for these adorable plates featuring the likeness of Sanrio darling Hello Kitty. Great for presentation of your favorite treats!
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Lucky Cat Soy Sauce Bottle
Lucky Cat Soy Sauce Bottle If Kitty-chan isn't enough cat for you, you'll love this fanciful stylized "lucky cat" manekineko sauce bottle with upraised hand forming the spout!
Ponyo Plush Small Size  Ponyo on the Cliff on the Sea
'Ponyo loves Hayao Miyazaki.' Happy 70th Birthday to Hayao Miyazaki, creator of so much that we love at J-List! We've got a nice restocking of Ponyo toys for you.
Meiji Mushroom Moutain -- Strawberry Milk
We have delicious new snacks in stock for you today, from a new Strawberry Milk flavor of Meiji Mushroom Mountain snacks, to peach and plum-flavored Shigekix chewy snack candies. Rice crackers in the flavor of corn pottage too, for a taste of Japanese traditional winter food!
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Chura Moe Pineapple Milk (Okinawa)  Japanese Food Drops
Moe Food Drops from Okinawa, Hokkaido Other new snacks today include two new flavors of "Moe" food drops, Pineapple Milk from Okinawa and Melon Milk from Hokkaido. Deliciously cute!
Glico Winter Pocky White
Restocked Pocky, Pretz, Sakuma Drops See delicious Winter Pocky White, Thin Tomato Pretz, 100% Juice Gummy, Lotte Winter Air Chocolate, UHA Puccho, plus Sakuma Drops!
MOTTAINAI  Natural Leaf ECO Style Bento Set
Enjoy a huge selection of outstanding bento boxes from Japan, from the Mottainai line of ecologically conscious bento that cuts down on waste disposal, to deluxe multi-tiered lacquer style sets and modern stacking block style containers.
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PITTARI  Panda Sandwich Case
Nobody Makes Cute Sandwiches Like Japan Cute sandwich shapers that remove the crust and "seal" your sandwich...nori shapers...kanji study textbooks and more, restocked today.
NORI / Seaweed  Punch  Smile Shape for Decoration Bento -- Nori Patchin
NORI (Seaweed) Punch for Bento Fresh stock of those cute nori punches, used for making cute shapes and faces in your rice balls. Wait, that sounded kind of funny...
Waku Waku! Character no Obento
Waku Waku! Character no Obento Then, learn to make the most excellent character bento with this fun book presenting tons of ideas on every page. Of course my favorite is the Totoro bento!
The Manga Cook Book
The Manga Cook Book We have other popular cookbooks and bento books too. Just restocked, the very popular Manga Cook Book!
Complete Japanese  Nihongo So-Matome N3  Vocabulary Goi
Japanese Textbooks & More Restocked Whether you're studying for the JLPT or starting with the basics of conversational grammar and vocabulary, we have the study tools you need!
Japan Underground
Japan Underground Photobooks We have many photobooks that show you a Japan few can ever really know, from Japan Underground to awesome train stations and more.
TAKE-TOMOBO  Japanese Retro Toy Bamboo flying Propeller
Traditional Toys From Japan See TAKE-TOMBO, the bamboo helicopter toy that's been played with in Japan for hundreds of years, samurai sword keychains and more!
Japanese Coin Key Rubber Cover  Key Chain  100 yen
Japanese Coin Key Rubber Cover & Key Chain Going nicely with the "Japanese Butt Key Covers" we stocked last time, these look like Japanese money.
Remilia Scarlet 1/7 Figure Gungnir ver. Crimson Color  Touhou Project **Preorder**
Flandre & Remilia Scarlet Touhou Figures *Preorder* Griffon continues their lineup of brilliant Touhou Project figures with Flandre and Remilia, both available for preorder starting today.
Zoro Bobble Head  One Piece **Preorder**
Zoro Bobble Head ~ One Piece *Preorder* The personality of Zoro from One Piece really shows through in this fun, expressive Bobble Head toy from PLEX. Preorders now open!
JESSICA 1st photobook -- Jessica Kizaki
J-List is no stranger to gorgeous high-quality photobooks from Japan, and this is another great offering. Beautiful new AV talent Jessica Kizaki is on parade in her first fully uncovered photobook, revealing her delights across 140 pages of succulent imagery that's sure to delight.
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OREIMO PLUS
OREIMO PLUS Combining the themes of Ore no Imouto's title sister Kirino with "Love Plus," you get a very sexy "H" parody dating sim, with animation!
Ore no Kuroneko ga Konna ni Yogosareru Wakewganai
Other new doujinshi straight from the recent Comic Market 79 includes the new Monster Hunter book from circle Udon-Ya, a cute Kuroneko book from Oreimo, new work from Rebis of TGWOA, and more! Check back for regular updates as we get more new doujin in this most bountiful season of the year.
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Demonbane *preorder*
Demonbane *preorder* One of the most epic eroge ever is coming in English, the Cthulhu-mythos title Demonbane. The new engine is nearly complete, so why not preorder it?
Cat Girl Alliance *Preorder*
'Futanari' H-Games & More A lot of J-List customers love the aesthetic genre known as futanari, literally "the two, being one." We recommend Cat Girl Alliance for this!
Yen Ju Lee Hole
Get a feel for the lush beauty of Taiwanese nude model Yen Ju Lee in this new stress relief toy from Japan. Truly a marvel of modern novelty goods production that's sure to help you relax when you need it! Also see her amazing lotion.
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TENGA EGG  Wavy
Other Restocked Stress Toys See the epic pure onahole that lets you be the first, plus the Zhang Xioo Yu "Dignity" Hole and awesome TENGA Egg series.
SOD Mobile Denma  Black
Epic Vibrators from Japan The venerable Japanese "Rotar" [sic] gets new life in this great series from SOD, a miniature Denma style massager for personal use.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hanko Name Stamps in Japan

On the J-List and JBOX.com websites right now we've got a New Year's greetings featuring our mascot character Megumi who wishes you an awesome 2011. In the lower right hand corner of the graphic is a red stamp that's a unique aspect of Japan, the official hanko ("name stamp") of our company. Instead of Western-style signing of documents, it's common for Japanese to use one of these hanko stamps which has been created specifically for that person and registered with the city office. Companies have officially hanko stamps, too, and when you buy a Mac in Japan there'll be a cool stylized stamp on the warranty card that says Kabushiki Gaisha Apple on it. Incidentally, J-List sells cool custom name stamps from Japan featuring your name in kanji, and part of our service is the creation of kanji for your name by our competent native Japanese staff. The name stamps are 100% legal for use in Japan, too. Why not make a cool kanji name stamp for yourself today?
Kanji name stamps are a unique aspect of living in Japan.

The Longest Running Anime in Japan: Sazae-san

Like most parents in Japan, I closely followed the interests of my kids as they were growing up. When my son went through his "train" phase during which he fell in love with Japan's Shinkansen bullet trains, I was right there with him, learning to identify all the major train lines by sight. Girls in Japan are socially programmed to watch whatever "magical girl" anime is currently running, and when my daughter was small it was Ojamajo Doremi (aka Magical Doremi), which I watched with her for years. And ever since my kids could crawl, we all gathered in front of the TV at 6:30 pm on Sundays to enjoy Sazae-san, the story of the Isono Family including father Namihei, wife Fune, daughter Sazae, her husband Masuo and all the rest. (A running joke is that the names of every character in the show has something to do with the sea.) Sazae-san is the longest-running anime series in history, broadcast non-stop since 1969, making it one year younger than me. The only way to describe the institution of Sazae-san would be to imagine The Flintstones staying on the air forever, being loved by each new generation and enjoying regular ratings of 20% or more. I think a lot of the popularity of the show is in its simplicity: it's about a normal, every-day family that has simple problems and misunderstandings to solve. They don't fret about the Internet running out of IPv4 addresses or North Korea shooting Taepodong missiles or the declining birthrate, and it's pleasant to watch, like a doorway to a simpler age.
Sazae-san has been a part of family life since 1969.

Japanese Food Can Kill You

I love all manner of Japanese food, from sushi and sashimi to katsu curry, which is thick Japanese curry rice with a fried pork or chicken cutlet in it -- yum. I'm also a fan of the #1 "fast food" in Japan, gyudon or beef bowl, delicious steamed beef and onions on rice, which is inexpensive and convenient (and available in gyudon flavored potato chip form today, in case you were curious about the taste). While Japanese food can be very healthy, there are certain types that can kill you faster than a Death Note. The most famous deadly Japanese food is fugu (blowfish), which contains a poison that paralyzes your body while stopping your respiratory system, but since fugu chefs must undergo years of training and be licensed by the government, deaths are quite rare today. (Most come from fishermen trying to prepare fish they caught themselves.) Then there's konnyaku, aka konjac or Devil's Tongue, which can be described as extremely firm gelatin-like stuff that can be a choking hazard to the elderly and small children. But the most dangerous Japanese food might be mochi, translated into English as "rice cake," although this sounds really strange to Japanese when they hear it. Mochi is essentially a square of extremely dense rice that's been pressed into a solid shape. Cook it over a flame and it will turn soft and chewy, and it's delicious with soy sauce and nori. Yet watch out -- this past New Year's weekend saw ten deaths from elderly people choking on mochi in the Tokyo area alone. The safe way to eat mochi is to cut it into smaller pieces so it' easier to chew and swallow, and don't let very young or old people eat it alone.
Mochi is one of Japan's most delicious and dangerous foods, but I love it.

Traditional Items at J-List

J-List carries hundreds of awesome traditional products from Japan, from seasonal items that let you enjoy Japan a new way in each part of the year to . If you like sake, we've got plenty of fun traditional sake cups and servers, including the square masu cups for drinking. 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, and you can find many rabbit-themed products in stock. Finally, we love ninjas and stock many fun ninja related products, including shuriken throwing stars that look real yet are made of safe rubber or official "Ninja Food" that promises to make you smarter and/or thinner.