Friday, February 11, 2011

How Kanji Works: Birds and Alligators

Japan uses kanji characters to communicate written meaning, a system that has worked for the Chinese for the past 3000 years or so. Although they may look like random chicken scratches at first, there's a lot of logic built into these little characters. For example, all kanji that have to do with expressing reading, speaking or language have the character for "to say" on the left side (it looks like a stack of books on a table), while characters that have to do with the sky (cloud, lightning/thunder, etc.) have the character for "rain" as part of their structure. Happily, the Japanese have been quite good at reforming their written language in the decades after World War II, standardizing how kanji are written and ejecting hundreds of old, archaic characters that no one needs to know. Some examples of these retired characters include kanji names for animals like wani (alligator, which is 鰐, nobody wants to have anything to do with that) and the dozens of unique kanji for all the birds, and now the "official" way to write these names is katakana.

My Son's "Juken" (High School Entrance Exam)

Today is an adventure for my son: his juken, or high school entrance exam, which he's prepared for all year. This morning we got up early, riding the train down to Yokohama where the two high schools he'll be applying for are located, both of us wearing health masks to make sure we didn't catch this year's flu from someone while riding the train. Naturally he had the Kit Kat his mother had given him, since Nestle's popular chocolate-cookie snack has become the official food of test-takers and hardworking students in Japan, as it sounds like kitto katsu ("you will surely win"). Today and tomorrow he'll take his tests, divided into math, kokugo ("national language," e.g. Japanese) and English. It's been a big experience for him, learning to focus himself on something important although he was just 14 when this all began, and I've learned a lot about my son. Of course every parent views his or her own child in a special light, a phenomenon that's called oya-baka or parent-fool in Japanese, but I can't help feeling pride for my son.

The Japanese have created an amazing culture of advancement through studying hard.

More "Wasei Eigo"

Last time I wrote about the concept of "bottle keep," which is when you pre-purchase a bottle of liquor for your own use at a restaurant or bar. It's just one of a large number of "foreign" words used in Japan that might confuse you. Japanese always wonder why we look puzzled when they use some "English" words, like anketto (which is actually French, enquête, meaning "questionnaire") or arubaito (from the German arbeit, which the Japanese use to mean "part time job"), and these wasei eigo ("made-in-Japan English") words which make perfect sense...to the Japanese. How many of these can you guess the meaning of? (Answer below.)

American dog fancy shop morning service
shutter chance baton touch soft cream
guts pose handle keeper link free
coordinate snap oneman bus virgin road

Looks like a "goatse" but it's...Handle Keeper

(Answers to the above words: American dog = a corn dog; a fancy shop is a shop that sells Hello Kitty and other character goods; morning service is breakfast served at a coffee shop; a "shutter chance" is an opportunity to take an excellent picture; "baton touch" is a relay racing term, but any time you hand off responsibility to someone you can use it; soft cream is soft-serve ice cream; a "guts pose" is posing with an exaggeratedly strong pose; handle keeper = designated driver; link free means "it's okay to link to this website"; coordinate snap is coordinating fashions and photographing them; a "one man" bus is a bus with only the driver, and no second employee whose job it is to take your ticket; and while we might say "walk the aisle" to discuss a woman getting married, the Japanese would use the phrase "walk the virgin road.")

Random Japanese Snacks and Drinks

You can always rely on J-List to have fun snacks and drinks from Japan. Like the Poppin' Cookin' series of "DIY" sushi and other fun foods that suddenly became popular on the Internet, or Japan-only Pepsi that comes with an awesome Gundam "Bearbrick" toy with each bottle. I'm also a fan of wacky drink flavors from Japan, like the legendary Pocari Sweat energy drink powder mix (note, contains no sweat), and our newest wacky hit product, Morinaga Panckes-in-a-Can, liquid essence of pancakes, which are actually good. Which would you like to try?

Cool Products Friday, February 11, 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.
Megami Magazine Mar 2011
Epic Anime & Manga Magazines Naturally we have many outstanding anime and manga magazines in stock, ready for you to browse and buy. Many come with free stuff (called omake, oh-mah-kay).
Dengeki Moeoh Dec 2010
Super Magazines by Monthly Subscription It's common for issues to sell out quickly, so why not consider a revolving magazine subscription instead? We'll reserve your magazine automatically.
Chopper Man Hat
Fun One Piece Products Japan loves One Piece these days, and there are hundreds of great products in stock at J-List. I like the Chopper Man plush hat personally...
Den Den Mushi Measure -- Strawhat One Piece **Preorder**
New Den Den Mushi Measures In Stock Or check out the Den Den Mushi tape measures, which we've restocked today. Very weird, yet oddly compelling.
Evangelion 2.0 Mouse Pad 3D -- Shikinami Asuka Langley
J-List always has a large stock of Evangelion products, like the new 3D Eva mousepads we got in recently, which provide wrist support for otakus.
View products »
Rangiku 3D Oppai Mouse Pad  Bleach **Preorder**
'Oppai' Mouse Pads, Too If if you want mouse pads that offer a unique tactile experience, we recommend the oppai mouse pads, which really make using the mouse fun.
Roman Letter Mouse Pad -- Black
Roman Letter Mouse Pad ~ Black Or go with this more basic mouse pad, which shows you how to enter hiragana into a computer. It's both nerdy and useful.
Boa Parka with Bear ear  Brown
More and more J-List has been stocking rare and awesome Japanese fashions, and our customer have been buying the products in droves. This makes us happy. Look for items like the Boa Parka with Bear Ears, authentic Japanese school book bags, awesome Japanese socks and more.
View products »
Double Eyelid Makeup
Double Eyelid Makeup Also, we have fun hair and skin health items, like the Double Eyelid Makeup which promises to make Asian eye look "large" like foreigners.
Hello Kitty Mini Push Style ONIGIRI Shaper
Hello Kitty @ J-List J-List carries hundreds of Hello Kitty items you can only buy in Japan, including bento related products, fashion items, toys and other items. Click to see.
Evangelion Nerv Black iPhone 4 Case **Preorder**
Amazing Japanese iPhone & iPod Products Got an iPhone or iPod? J-List has some fun products for you, which we're happy to carry for our customers. Anime cases, headphones and more.
Poddities iPhone 3/3GS Strap Adapter  NETSUKE Phone Strap Holder
Amazing Poddities iPhone Carabiner Adapters The Poddities line is cool because it includes a metal strap adapter that screws into your iPhone 4 or 3G/GS. Attach phone straps, carabiner clips, anything!
Nausicaa Blu-ray Disc
We Love Anime Blu-Ray The best anime Blu-ray are at J-List, like Nausicaa released in full 1080p with subtitles + dubbed tracks in English, French etc. Also the new Haruhi movie!
Totoro no Dondoko Odori **Preorder**
Epic Totoro & Ghibli Products J-List has carried a great supply of Totoro and Ghibli products ever since we were founded in 1996. Click to see the most "wishlisted" Totoro items today!
DIY Sushi Candy
The newest video to go viral on the Internet caused dozens of J-List customers to search for "Poppin' Cookin'" on the J-List website. We've gotten in fresh stock of the popular "DIY Sushi" which you make by adding water to powder and mixing. "Soft Cream" in stock too.
View products »
New Movie Evangelion 2.0 Wafers w/Trading Card
Anime Snacks from Japan We now carry many fun anime-themed snacks, like Evangelion Wafer Cookies w/trading cards, Eva chocolate and Haruhi and Eva Coffee. Browse now!
Shikinami Asuka Langley Special Chocolate (Evangelion)
Amazing Chocolate from Japan Also, J-List is loaded to the hilt with awesome chocolate from Japan. Remember that chocolate goes away in May, maybe today is a good day to order?
Nestle Kit Kat Mini Bar Pack -- Daigaku Imo
Kit Kat has become the symbol of anyone working hard to study for a test in Japan, and to the rest of the world, wacky flavors of Nestle's famous chocolate-cookie snack have become a symbol of awesome chocolate products from Japan. Click to see J-List's current lineup of Kit Kat flavors.
View products »
HONWAKA Happy World  Beno Box  Genuine Lacquered 2 tier Box  Elastic Band
Traditional Bento Boxes with Japanese Characters We love traditional bento with hiragana or kanji printed on it, and we've restocked several today for you. Very traditional and awesome.
Rilakkuma Brown 2-Tier Bento Box
Kawaii Anime & Character Bento Too You can always fund fun cute bento boxes, including anime- and character-themed offerings, on our Anime & Character bento page.
Kawaii Onigiri Kitchen Sponge
Kawaii Things for your Kitchen Japan redefines kawaii (cute) every time it turns around, and we have some amazing products for your kitchen. Click to see...
Vegetable Shaper Assortment Set  SAKURA, Plum, Maple Leaf, Chrysanthemum
Restocked Bento Accessories Why eat boring, ugly bento when you can make it beautiful with vegetable shapers and other bento accessories from J-List.
Stand Style SHAMOJI / Rice Scoop
Amazing Rice Scoops (Shamoji) When scooping rice, you need to use a rice scoop, called shamoji in Japanese, an we've posted several popular ones on the site today.
SAKURA Lover's Miso Soup Bowl  Chopsticks Set
More Traditional Items in Stock More traditional products, incl. the Sakura Lover's Miso Soup Bowl, the most excellent bowl-and-chopsticks you will ever see.
japanes T-shirts
J-List loves to make fun and wacky Japanese T-shirts for our customers. One of my favorites is the Emergency Exit shirt, a long-seller! Which of our wacky anime, kanji or stylish Japanese T-shirts and hoodies do you like?
View products »
Kutsuwa Study Flashcards w/Check Sheet
Tools to Help you Learn Japanese J-List genuinely wants to promote the study of Japanese, since the more language you know, the more fun things are. Click to see the top study items.
Kanji Practice Flashcards vol.1 version 2 - Level 4  3
Kanji Practice Flashcard SALE Whenever I'm asked what the single best product for learning Japanese is, I steer people towards the White Rabbit kana and kanji flashcards.
Beautiful Kanji Training
Learn Japanese with your Nintendo DS See Beautiful Kanji Training, Kanji Test DS, plus hiragana tools like Dora Gana and AIUEO Study w/Anpanman.
Zebra Sarasa Ball Point Pen 0.5 Set of 5 Pastel Colors
Restocked Japanese Pens The best pens from Japan are Zebra's Sarasa line. See fresh stock of these, plus the Zebra Check Age Pen Set and Mild Liners.
KUSHI  Red Maiko Comb with Gift Box
Awesome Traditional Products How cool can a comb be? Awfully cool, if it's a beautiful traditional comb from Japan like the ones we restocked today.
WASHI  Yu-zen KIMONO Shaped Coaster Set
WASHI Yu-zen KIMONO Shaped Coaster Set Also cool: coasters made of washi paper featuring beautiful images of kimonos. Usually only available in gift shops in Kyoto.
Aselia  The Eternal **Preorder**
Aselia The Eternal *Preorder* Remember, we posted this outstanding Japanese RPG for preorder last time, so fans of Japanese gaming can enjoy the titles in English. Preorder now!
Mirai Suenaga figma Action Figure **Preorder**
Mirai Suenaga figma Action Figure *Preorder* We have tons of quality anime figures and other toys for preorder, like the Mirai figure from Danny Choo's website. Click to see our selection.
Hetalia Axis Powers Trading MIni Figure Basic Set of 8 *Preorder*
Hetalia Axis Powers Figures Also: the popular Hetalia Axis Powers One Coin figures were too popular for their own good, and they sold out in no time.
Alfin 1/7 Figure  Shining Force Feather **Preorder**
Alfin 1/7 Figure, Snow Miku *Preorder* See other figured posted for preorder too, including Snow Miku (!) and Alfin from Shining Force Feather.
English Dictionary for Adult  Otona no Eitango Cho
Super Awesome Japanese Photobooks Also, be sure to browse our most popular photobooks, including the English Dictionary that puts words on all parts of a beautiful model's body.
Demonbane *preorder*
We've been working on expanding the market for English translated eroge and visual novels for a long time, and we're overjoyed that the epic Cthulhu mythos game Demonbane will be shipping soon. Preorder it now, or one of our other recently announced titles, and take advantage of our free "Heart de Roommate" sale this month.
View products »
Beat Blades Haruka  Choukou Sennin Haruka
Restocked H-Games from Japan We carry import visual novels, of course, and have dozens in stock. Click to se some of our best.
BAND GAL!! -- Yukko  K-On! Parody Toy
Anime Parody Stress Toys Otakus get stressed out, too, and sometimes it's nice to have something to take the edge off. Enjoy anime parody versions of onahole!
TENGA FLIP LITE SOLID BLACK
Restocked TENGA Stress Toys, Famous Lotion Then, enjoy the Tenga Flip Lite amazing hole toy, two of our most popular models, plus the legendary "Pepee" lotion you see in all the best JAV productions.
SOD Mobile Denma  Black
Epic Vibrators from Japan The venerable Japanese "Rotar" [sic] gets new life in this great series from SOD, restocked for our female customers today.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Today is Manga Day

This morning my car (which has a "car navi" that greets me and tells me interesting trivia) reported that today, February 9, was Manga no Hi or "Manga Day." The day was chosen because it's the meinichi (the anniversary of the death) of the man who gave us manga as we know it, Tezuka Osamu. Tezuka-sensei created pretty much every famous old-school manga work, including Astroy Boy and Jungle Emperor Leo (aka Kimba the White Lion), illustrating 150,000 pages in his lifetime and inventing the "big eye" character designs that define manga and anime today. He also showed that the medium of comics was perfect for deep literary works (Buddha, Adolph, Hi no Tori) as well as entertainment. In addition to being a great day to pick up a manga comic and raise a glass to the "God of Manga," February 9 also happens to be "Meat Day," since 2-9 can be read as niku meaning "meat." If you want to enjoy a good Korean BBQ meal, the meat is half priced today.
This is the bus stop I would like to find myself at.

The Definition of Trust in Japan: "Bottle Keep"

One concept in Japan I like a lot is shinrai (SHEEN-rye), which just means "trust," although as is usually the case in Japan, it's a bit deeper than that. When you go to a Japanese bar you'll usually see many bottles of alcohol with names written on them, Yamada, Tanaka and so on. These are bottles that regular customers have pre-purchased for their own use, which they can drink from any time they come in, a practice known in wasei eigo ("made-in-Japan English") as "bottle keep." Having many bottles with the names of regular customers on display allows the establishment to show off how popular they are, and also how trustworthy. The trust part is important in this relationship, since the customer needs to know the pub owner isn't going to touch his expensive bottle of Suntory Hibiki 12-year old whisky when he's not there. The Japanese idea of trust is also an important part of the shoukai (introduction) system, whereby business and other relationships are nearly always formed through official introductions. You'd never do wrong by someone who was officially introduced to you by a trusted third party, as it would be "stepping on the face of" the person who put their reputation on the line for you.
Would you trust your bartender to "bottle keep"?

Interesting Japanese Game Show Files

I write a lot about wacky Japanese television because, well, it's so wacky. While I do my best to correct the stereotype that Japanese "game shows" have developed in the West -- the "Simpsons go to Japan" episode in which Homer and family must endure physical torture to win plane tickets back to Springfield comes to mind -- sometimes I'm reminded of the fact that stereotypes are based on reality. One show my family likes to watch is called Dasshutsu Game DERO! ("Escape Game GET OUT!"), which puts famous "talents" (never boring nobodies off the street, like in American game shows) in some amusingly dangerous situations. In some segments photogenic stars like Aki Hoshino or the funny comedian team London Boots must clip wires attached to bombs that correspond to answers to trivia questions, and clipping the wrong wire will cause the bomb to "explode" with steam and noise. In another section, two teams of people are put in a Dostoyevskian locked room standing on metal beams that are receding into the wall. If they can't answer the question they're asked quickly enough, the beam will disappear and they will "fall" into the (CG-enhanced) darkness below.
Japanese "talents" must solve puzzles to exit a locked room alive.