Friday, April 01, 2011

Our Sojourn in San Diego

It's been interesting being back in San Diego for this brief trip before we return to Japan on Sunday. Part of the reason we're here is to set up a new condo I bought to serve as a San Diego Comicon party pad, I mean a base of operations for J-List in the U.S., and we've been buying furniture and dishes and getting everything liveable. American houses are fundamentally different from Japanese homes, of course, and I've enjoyed watching my family get used to the new place. American homes lack a genkan, the lowered area near the front door where shoes are removed, so there's always a bit of confusion about where to store the shoes (usually they're just jumbled around the front door in a mess). While Japanese are culturally disposed toward hardwood flooring, most American homes (in California at least) have luxurious wall-to-wall carpeting, which many Japanese love as much as gaijin fawn over tatami mats. Japanese homes never have electric garbage disposals, and my family has repeatedly tried to turn on the kitchen "light" only to be surprised by a roaring sound from the sink. The building we're in has a bin for "recycle" trash, but there's almost no separation beyond that point. My wife is used to Japanese gomi separation rules, and she started meticulously sorting cans (steel and aluminum), plastics, "natural resource" items like PET bottles and newspapers, and "dangerous items" like light bulbs until I told her it wasn't necessary. (Incidentally, if you want to live a little more green, J-List has restocked the "Sankaku" kitchen nets for separating your kitchen garbage, also great for composting.)

My wife tried Japan-style recycling in the U.S.

Death and Funeral Culture in Japan

Although many Japanese will tell you they have no religion, when all is said and done Japan is a Buddhist country, and it's common for Buddhist rites to be observed when a beloved family member passes away. If you want to understand the Japanese concept of kata -- a word which can be translated as "mold" (to shape things with), "model" (as in the model number of a computer or other product), "type" (for classification, also being used for blood type), the customary postures taken in martial arts, or (in this case) "pre-defined customary form" in formal ceremonies -- there's no better example than funerals and other death-related customs. Buddhism in Japan is all about remembering your ancestors, principally your parents and grandparents, and there are many rituals to let your loved ones know they haven't been forgotten, which are comforting to both the living and the dead. One such custom is called Shijuku-nichi, or The 49th Day, when the family gathers 49 days after the death of a loved one to remember them. (49 is the factor of 7 and 7, considered the number of days required for a spirit to journey to the afterworld and back).

Death and funerals are very structured in Buddhist Japan.

Hentai Games Now Available through Steam!

J-List is happy to announce that as of today, April 1st, our popular line of English-translated Japanese visual novels, dating-sim games and eroge will be available worldwide through the popular Steam online distribution system. We look forward to having great titles like the futanari game Cat Girl Alliance, the legendary Bible Black and the gorgeous "My Girlfriend is the President" widely distributed through this important new tie-up. Click here to read the JAST USA post on this important new announcement for H-gamers.

Of Japanese Packaging and Sandwiches

Sometimes it's fun to notice the little differences between Japan and the U.S. If you've ordered some of our amazing Japanese snacks, you may have noticed that the packaging is much thicker and sturdier in the U.S. (at least), with two or three layers between you and that Kit Kat bar and drinks in steel cans thick enough to stop bullets. Another difference I came across involved the preparation and consumption of sandwiches. One night I decided to make grilled cheese for dinner, something I don't usually do since the only sliced cheese usually available is a bland-tasting Mozzarella called "melty cheese." I asked my family how they'd like their sandwiches cut, launching into a slightly obsessive explanation of the many ways to approach the cutting of bread, and how I personally preferred a single diagonal cut from corner to corner, or in the case of grilled cheese cuts into four triangles so you can see the melted cheese as it slowly cools. My family stared at me with blank expressions, though, and it dawned on me that the Japanese, who eat rice far more often than bread, have less "sandwich culture" than us (though they can make some pretty cute sandwiches when they want to).

Packaging in Japan is often quite impressive.

Cool Products Friday, April 1, 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 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 May 2011
The latest issue of Megami is here, the landmark moe poster magazine with over 20 new anime posters for you to enjoy. Megami Magazine isn't just the most popular anime magazine at J-List, it defines the spirit of moe!
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NyanType May 2011
NyanType May 2011 NyanType has great news: it's now an official independent magazine! This celebratory issue is packed with free goodies, extras and posters.
Comic Alive April 2011
Comic Alive April 2011 It's time for another issue of Comic Alive, the manga anthology packed with tons of great series! Zero no Tsukaima, Freezing, and much more.
Bomb April 2011
Bomb April 2011 Enjoy all the cutest and sexiest that Japan's idol world has to offer, packed full of hot gravure shots of these new singers in bloom.
Smart Apr 2011
Smart Apr 2011 Whether you like smart women or smart gadgets, this is the magazine for all things geeky and trendy in Japan. We love this magazine.
Simple Girls Tops  Brown
Simple Girls Tops ~ Brown More Y's Enterprise fashion for you today, in this simple yet elegant top that matches streetwear you'd see in Fruits and other magazines.
Girlie Border Knee High Socks
Japanese Fashion Items Fresh stock of fun fashion items, including the Girlie Border Knee High Socks for that "Absolute Zone" look, plus Kawaii Fur One Piece with Bon Bon.
GATSBY Large Container  Purple Men's Hair Wax / Wild Shake
New Varieties of GATSBY Hair Wax from Japan Enjoy the extreme stylings of Gatsby's hair products for men, to give that extra edge to your hairstyle or that epic tousled look.
Totoro Hiragana Study Board
Learn Hiragana with Totoro We have no shortage of fun Totoro related products, and today we've restocked the Totoro Hiragana Study Board, the fun way to learn nihongo.
Japanese T-Shirt -- Stay Strong Tohoku
Japanese T-Shirt ~ Stay Strong Japan Remember: J-List and are teaming up with this great Mirai-chan T-shirt. 25% goes to the Japan Red Cross!
NAVY colored Japanese Gymnastics Uniform Bloomer set  size M
Japanese Gymnastics Uniform Bloomer set Whether you're cosplaying as a gym student or just need a great exercise outfit that will catch the eye, this traditional bloomers set is for you!
Silicon Boiled Potato Peeler Bowl  Microwave safe
Silicon Boiled Potato Peeler Bowl ~ Microwave safe Efficiently speed your cooking by removing peels of cooked potatoes effortlessly! A simple yet amazing cooking tool from Japan.
Rice Bowl Strap
Rice Bowl Phone Strap, Kitchen Items See fun products restocked, from our Rice Bowl Phone Strap to the sankaku net for holding food you for composting, a green idea from Japan.
Pixiv Girls Collection 2011  Pixiv Official Art Collection
The best bishoujo art from artists' social networking website Pixiv is collected in these two awesome volumes -- high print quality and amazing visuals you'll love, which capture the spirit of moe in Japan today.
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Taiga Aisaka Action Figure 'Gu' to Kuru Collection  Tora Dora !**Preorder**
Gorgeous Anime Figures In Stock See that fabulous fully detailed Taiga Aisaka Toradora figure, one of the best ever made, plus the lovely Caro ru Lushe Figma for Nanoha fans.
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls 04 Special Box 02  (Blu-ray Disc)
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls 04 Box (Blu-ray) The second limited edition box of Samurai Girls is here! Contains vol. 4 of the Blu-ray anime plus a great pillowcase and much more.
Gakuen Hetalia Portable  Limited Edition
Gakuen Hetalia Portable ~ Hetalia PSP Games! The PSP has become the premier platform for awesome anime games, and we've restocked some nice ones today. Hetalia, LIttle Busters, and more.
Glico Chocolate on Chocolate Pocky Creamy
Today's Delicious Japanese Snacks For fans of chocolate with their Pocky, Glico has the answer: an amazing new explosion of chocolate on a stick! Try this and other new snacks today.
Case Closed Gummy Candy
Case Closed Gummy Candy Detective Conan, aka Case Closed, is here with his own brand of delicious chewy candy, in fun shapes you'll recognize from the show.
Chocolate Banana Crepe (Harajyuku)  Japanese Food Drops
Restocked Traditional Food Drops Candies Nice restocking of Food Drops candies, including Akiba "Moe Hot Milk" flavor, Mameshiba, and Harajuku Chocolate Banana Crepe -- yum!
Pocari Sweat Powder
Pocari Sweat, Restocked Snacks Got restocked snacks, too, incl. Pocari Sweat powder, new Hi-Chew flavors, Cola Ramune, Japan Oreo, and Lotte Doraemon snacks. Enjoy them all.
Square Totoro Tight Bento Box Brown
Do you like Totoro? We love our friendly neighbor from Studio Ghibli, and try to keep great products like these bento in stock for you at all times. Click to see the epic Totoro bento boxes we restocked today.
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950ml Volume Bento Box Set  Genuine Lacquered 2 tier Box  Elastic Band  Kinchaku Bag
Popular Bento Boxes Restocked See popular bento boxes restocked, including the including the large 950ml Lacquered Bento, the Chrysanthemum Kimono Bento Box and more.
Microwave Easy Spaghetti Maker
Fun Microwave Products from Japan Restocked Fun microwave products restocked, like the Microwave Easy Spaghetti Maker, Mini Microwave Steamer and more.
MP9 Digital Pocket Video Recorder 2GB
MP9 Digital Pocket Video Recorder 2GB This sure turned out to be a popular item: a pen that can record up to 2GB of full frame video and audio. Restocked today.
ENERGEL 0.5mm Liquid Ink Ball Pen  Super Smooth Clear Writing  Quick Dry  - STOY Awarded
Other Fun Japanese Pens See various restocked Japanese writing instruments, the ENERGEL 0.5 mm Liquid Ball Pen for smooth writing, the cool "Euro" pens and more.
Kyoto SAKURA Tea Assortment Set  Sakura Sencha  Salted Sakura Petal  Sakura Shaped Cookies  Sakura Candy
Kyoto SAKURA Tea Assortment Set It's the season for sakura (cherry blossoms) in Japan, and that means wonderful gifts and sakura-themed items like these from Kyoto.
'O-Tachi' DX Long Samurai Sword Keychain -- Black Sheath
Samurai Sword Keychain, Other Items Samurai swords are awesome when attached to your keychain so you can use them for opening boxes, defending yourself from small ninja attacks.
Sakura Petal Floating Aroma Candle -- Light Pink
Sakura Petal Floating Aroma Candles Celebrate spring with J-List -- we've got awesome sakura candles that you can light and float in the bath!
Bowing Lucky Cat Display    Thankfulness
Awesome Lucky Cat Products Several restocked Lucky Cat products, a great way to explore Japan through its luck-beckoning cat characters.
Tsuimaru Blue Color (Forou) **Preorder**
Tsuimaru Reads your Tweets To You *Preorder* This adorable USB creature from Takara Tomy will read your Japanese Twitter feed aloud as you receive messages! Preorder nau.
Blancneige 1/7 Figure Swimsuits ver.  Shining Wind **Preorder**
Blancneige 1/7 Figure Swimsuits ver. *Preorder* Figures based on Taka Tony designs never fail to please, and this new bikini-clad Blancneige is just adorable. Preorders open today.
irenka  Kagami Visual Works (irenka 1 + irenka 2)
Awesome Restocked Artbooks One of the most popular eroge artists around, Kagami presents well over 300 pages spanning 2 artbooks of dripping ecchi goodness!
Ziska 1/8 Figure ! Brandish **Preorder**
Ziska 1/8 Figure ! Brandish A sexy new devil girl figure practically bursting out of her corset, this is Ziska who we're sure you'll like to meet. This amazing figure is in stock now.
Night Butterfly
An exquisite new offering from Japan's stress relief and massage industry, crafted with her pleasure in mind. An elegant item indeed which will let you lay down your burdens at the end of the day.
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G.II  Special Private Massager
Even More Massagers from Japan Other fun personal massagers restocked too, including the G.II -- a nearly operfect waterproof tool for reaching those hard-to-reach spots, plus...Hello Kitty?
Fera Zoma
Also: Fera Zoma, Other Stress Toys for Guys That mouth-shaped love hole is back in stock for you to enjoy, plus Air Doll Eri Himekawa, a very special friend who never has a headache.
Da Capo Limited Edition Boxed Set
Great news! The first shrinkwrapped package game from Manga Gamer has been released, and we've got in stock for you in San Diego now. One of the most epic eroge ever, fully translated into English and available on CD-ROM now.
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How to have more H and more sweet time with childhood friends  UMD PSP Game
Have More H and More Sweet Time with Childhood Friends Enjoy a hot new "H" game on your PSP with Japanese UMD region enabled! Bishoujo loving in the palm of your hand, childhood friend style.
Bible Black
Bible Black, The Game If you want to have a really outstanding eroge experience, try Bible Black. Click to see the legendary game plus some, ah, related products.

The History of Stripe Panty 8 Hours with Real Shimapan Set ****2 Discs, 8 Hours  Real Shimapan***
The History of Stripe Panty 8 Hours with Real Shimapan If you're a fan of Japan's famous striped panties this is the set for you! 8 hours of girls in the panties you love, plus a free pair to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My "WTF, Japan?" Moments

When dealing with Japan, it's natural to encounter some "WTF" moments, like seeing a strawberry & whipped cream sandwich for sale in a convenience store for the first time; that first encounter with an ita-sha, a car decked out as a mobile shrine to an anime character; or being asked if having blue eyes meant I saw the world through a blue tint. I remember being confused by the tendency of Japanese songwriters to put seemingly random English phrases in Japanese songs. Reading through my old CD liner notes, I'd see bizarre phrases like HEART CHECK or BLUE RAY LEMON or GET CHANCE AND LUCK or FAD, FAD, WITH SOMETHING COOL, LIKE A HIDDEN LUMINARY. After a while I came to appreciate that to the Japanese, English represents an emotional investment of (usually) six years of hard work spent memorizing grammar and vocabulary, and songwriters can use English to bring out feelings in listeners that couldn't be accessed otherwise. Plus, English is just so darned kakko ii (cool), so adding a splash of OH PLEASE BE FREEDOM into the middle of a song gives it a special mystique. Another theory might be that the Japanese songwriters are putting bizarre English phrases into their songs to mess with the minds of foreigners who try to comprehend their language...

Did you think I was kidding about the strawberry and whipped cream sandwiches?

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the "Kami" of Business?

When I was in Narita Airport I was browsing in a bookstore while we waited for our flight, and I wandered over to the business section. Just as in the U.S., there are business books that analyze the lives and management styles of the world's most famous CEOs, and it was interesting browsing various Japanese-language books about Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to see how these enigmatic empire builders might look from the viewpoint of the Japanese. (According to J-List's Tomo, they're so far removed from the "plain and uninteresting" company founders in Japan they might as well be kami in the mountains.) I've written before about how the spirit of entrepreneurship works somewhat differently in Japan, which is to say, it doesn't work very well -- for a variety of reasons, the number of young, smart people willing to take risks to create new companies (like J-List) is very low. It's a given that paradigm-changing companies like Google or YouTube or Facebook could never have occurred in Japan, a country where many Internet users think of the Yahoo (Japan) homepage as "the Internet," where many forgo owning computers entirely, making do with a sleek keitai (cell phone) for their email needs, and almost no one has a favorite Linux distro.

Business books about foreign CEOs abound in Japan.

Are the Japanese Different? Has CNN Run Out of Stories to Write?

The ongoing crisis in Japan has caused a lot of deep thinking about the country in general by the Western media, and one article I caught on CNN was titled, "Are the Japanese Different?" This is certainly an interesting question: does Japan's calm, ordered response to this unparalleled disaster indicate that they're somehow fundamentally different from the rest of us? On the one hand the answer is yes -- Japan is an island nation with an incredibly unique and strong culture that enabled it to resist colonization by the Mongols and the European powers (the only Asian nation other than Thailand to achieve this), and it spent 250 years closed off to other nations, living in a highly structured inward-looking society. On the other hand, the common Japanese belief -- really more of a national meme -- that they are fundamentally different, that (for example) the Japanese langauge is more difficult than every other language in the world and that Japanese brains are are uniquely tuned to speak it, is obviously untrue. These beliefs are part of what's called nihonjinron (lit. "theories of the Japanese people"), a body of ideas about the Japanese as a race put forth by both Japanese and Western writers who were trying to describe Japan's "special" role in the world before, during and after World War II. Among other things, the Japanese fascination with blood types determining one's personality derives from nihonjinron ideas, from back in the days when the Japanese Empire tried to figure which blood type made the best soldiers (it was type O, if you're wondering).

Are the Japanese "different"? What do you think?

Monday, March 28, 2011

San Diego and Sushi

I was driving around town with my family and they noticed how many sushi restaurants there were in San Diego. "Yes," I explained, "Sushi is famous all over the world." We started chuckling at some of the names of the sushi restaurants we saw, since they sound pretty funny when you're coming from Japan. We got a kick out of "Wa Sushi" (wa meaning peace and harmony, a word that would never adorn a sushi shop in Japan), and Kabuki Sushi made us giggle at the prospect of being served by waiters in full kabuki costumes, chanting about our food as they gave it to us. We also liked the cheesiness of "Sushi Hut" with its almost-Hello Kitty mascot hawking "sushi and teriyaki." (While teriyaki exists as a flavoring for certain foods like yakitori chicken on a stick or McDonald's famous Teriyaki Burger, it's actually quite a rare thing in Japan and is almost never used as a word -- go figure.)
Know of any other wacky sushi restaurant names? There's one in the UK called Feng Sushi which I thought was amusing.

There are some amusing sushi restaurant names, when you're coming from Japan.

Japan Earthquake Update: Day 17

My family has now joined me here in San Diego, and we're enjoying our time here even as we worry about the situation back "home" in Japan. We're here for an important family event and will be headed back to Japan next week.
The problems continue after the earthquake that hit just Japan 17 days ago, though it sure seems like a lot longer. Life is slowly returning to normal, with food and other products increasingly showing up on shelves, and even gasoline is starting to flow regularly (excuse the pun). Some "necessities" are still difficult to find, for example Japan Tobacco announced it would be halting distribution of cigarettes for two weeks due to procurement issues related to the earthquake, making it potentially difficult to find your favorite brand. Damage has been severe in some areas, for example the parking lot of Tokyo Disneyland -- which was built on reclaimed land that's fundamentally less stable than normal land -- was deeply warped and cracked. Tokyo Disneyland itself escaped serious damage, although it's been closed since the disaster and can't reopen until the rolling blackout issues are behind us.

Japan prepares to rebuild the ravaged regions in the north.