Friday, December 23, 2011

The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The other day my son said, "I really hate rats. It's because of a rat that we don't get to have 'Year of the Cat.'" This is a reference to the venerable story of how the Chinese Zodiac came to be, as well-known throughout Asia as Noah's Ark in the West. On the day of the New Year the Gods (or Buddha, depending on which version you read) declared a race among thirteen animals to come and offer New Year's Greetings. The Ox knew he was the slowest animal, so he started out before the others. The Rat noticed this and hopped on his back, jumping off at the last minute to claim first place. The Ox came in second, followed by the fleet Tiger. The Rabbit was next, with the kind-hearted Dragon behind, who was delayed helping the Rabbit across the river. The Horse ran along then, but the Snake slithered between his legs and startled him, beating him to the finish line. The Sheep, Monkey and Rooster were working as a team to get across the river, and arrived next. Then came the Dog, delayed because he stopped to take a bath along the way, with the Boar coming in last -- he'd gotten confused and climbed the wrong mountain, forcing him to backtrack. The thirteenth animal was the Cat, who had forgotten what day the race was held and asked his friend the cunning Rat, who told him the wrong date. This is why there's no Year of the Cat, and why cats hate mice today...and why my son hates rats.

2012 is the Year of the Dragon. No Year of the Cat for us.

Comparing America and Japan

There are some fundamental differences between Japan and the U.S. which I like to explore from time to time. The Japanese love to eat white rice with every meal, plus 'sealed' sandwiches with the crusts cut off and apples with the skin removed, which makes them roughage-challenged and (for females) usually chronically constipated. They are also generally thin: I weigh 100 kg / 220 lbs, and it's a rare thing for me to see a Japanese who's bigger than me, unless it's down in Ochanomizu in Tokyo where sumo wrestlers can be seen riding trains. My high school in San Diego went from grade 8 through 12, and I remember taking Spanish 101 with students several years older than me, though this would be unthinkable in Japanese schools, where barriers are always maintained between senpai and kouhai. Finally, the Japanese don't have any meaningful profanity in their language. The "S" word (kuso) is used on children's TV all the time and no one thinks anything about it, and looking back, raising kids without having to fret about what words they might be picking up was rather pleasant. The only "bad" word in Japan is the "C" word, manko, also known as "the bane of foreigners ordering mango juice from a pretty waitress" because they're doomed to make a Freudian slip sooner or later.
Can you think of any other core differences between America and Japan?

Considering some differences between Japan and America.

Random Nihongo: How Kanji Works

Kanji is the primary writing system used in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. In the case of Japanese, kanji characters are used to express higher meaning while hiragana is used for grammatical particles, past tense endings and so on. (In theory, all Japanese could be written using only hiragana, but it'd be very hard to read as there'd be no "chunks" of meaning for the eye to catch easily.) While kanji can look like meaningless squiggles at first, in reality it's a highly structured system with more than 3000 years of history. Most kanji start out as a stylized picture of an object, with abstract layers added to express more complex ideas. Above you can see yama "mountain," one of the most elementary characters there are, and touge, a mountain pass or ridge, which incorporates the character for mountain plus "up" and "down." Characters for cliff, valley, to climb etc. also incorporate the mountain kanji, so everything is grouped together logically. Then there's iu, to say, which looks like a bunch of books on a table, and the character for "to read" (yomu) incorporates this on its left side, as do related words like language, theory and to translate. Sadly I fear for the future of kanji use in Japan. The rise of computers and cell phones causes Japanese people to start to lose the ability to write kanji as soon as they graduate from university, since almost no one hand-writes kanji characters like they used to. (Incidentally, if you're interested in kanji, we've got dozens of Japanese study products in site for you.)

Last Minute Gift Idea: a J-List Gift Certificate!

J-List has had a great time this year, bringing Japan's most kawaii and awesome products to you for the holiday season. If you find you've run out of time but still need to get an awesome gift for someone special on your list, may we suggest a J-List Gift Certificate? They're sent in a high quality PDF document, which can either be emailed by you to the recipient or printed and presented to them directly. J-List Gift Certificates never expire and can be used on either or We'll be processing incoming gift certificate orders every few hours through Christmas, so get your order into us now!

Remember our EMS Sale is Still On

Remember that we've extended our J-List EMS Sale, which lets you order cool products from Japan and have them shipped by the fastest shipping method available, getting money back when you order. You'll get a $15 coupon for an EMS order over $100 (total not counting shipping), or a whopping $40 back for an EMS order of $200 or more, which gives you a great excuse to browse our site now for great Japanese snacks, super Totoro items, Hello Kitty, Touhou, K-On!, and make an order now. Offer ending soon!

Cool Products Friday, December 23, 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.
Prince Animage 2012 Winter
Every page of Prince Animage is designed with the fan girl in mind, featuring only the most popular male characters and series. Filled with 12 awesome posters of some of the cutest anime boys, plus a special omake gift from Uta no Prince-sama.
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COSnap! vol. 02
COSnap! Vol. 02 Get inspired and be amazed when you open the pages of COSnap magazine, made for the serious cosplayer and casual admirer alike.
Hiragana Times Jan 2012
Hiragana Times Jan 2012 Study up on your Japanese reading skill while learning about current topics in Japan, this is Hiragana Times Magazine.
Erio Towa Prize Figure  Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko
Gorgeous Figures In Stock Then see nice anime figures in stock, including a gorgeous Erio Towa plus the very awesome Sniper Karin from ToHeart2 Dungeon Travelers.
2012 Calendar -- Evanglion 2.0 **Preorder**
2012 Anime Calendars In Stock We're loaded with epic anime calendars right now, including the 2012 Evangelion calendar. We posted interior pictures today, and they are gorgeous!
Totoro Pass Case
Totoro Pass Case, Pen Case Travel with your favorite friend, Totoro, with these cool new cases that feature Totoro and soot sprites on a leafy backdrop. Awesome.
Sitting Jiji Plush Large -- Kikis Delivery Service
Restocked Ghibli & Totoro Stuff, Too Then see our popular Jiji the Cat plush, plus Totoro playing cards (very high quality, I use these with my kids) and those awesome Totoro china cups.
Rabbit Moko Moko Parka  Pink
Kawaii Japanese Fashions Restocked Japan leads the world in cool teen fashion, and we've got some wonderful pieces available like the Rabbit Parka and Panda Dress. Hurry, they'll sell out again.
Poka Poka Sheep Yutanpo (Hot Water Bottle)  Pink
Poka Poka Sheep Yutanpo (Hot Water Bottle) Count these sheep as you go to bed, and be happy and warm your bed. Soon you'll want to go to sleep, when you have Yutanpo Sheep.
The Moisturizing Mask with Wet Sheet  2pcs
The Moisturizing Mask with Wet Sheet ~ 2pcs Protect yourself from the harsh winter with a protective moisturizing mask, great for when you have a sore throat.
DECO Packing Tape  Keep Out
Awesome Japanese 'Keep Out' Tape Restocked Mark the barriers of a no-intrusion zone or a box you want to keep sealed with this great tape from Japan that really makes a statement. Restocked.
Tiger and Bunny Official Hero Book
Restocked Artbooks from Japan We love artbooks from Japan, and have restocked several today, including Tiger & Bunny the gorgeous new Pixiv offering and more. Click to browse.
iTunes Japan Music Card
Cool New Anime Songs Posted to iTunes Japan We've got the superb Mawaru Pinguindrum character song album, as well as the new I Have Few Friends character songs. Nice!
Super Marisa Land
Super Marisa Land A Touhou Project-themed take on the 2D platformer, Mario-style, that is a super fun import Japanese game for your PC.
Queen's Blade  Spiral Chaos (PSP the Best)
Awesome Region-Free PSP Games from Japan Enjoy the ecchi Queen's Blade or Ikki Tousen PSP games, the Hatsune Miku pantsu simulator rhythm games, plus Busou Shinki!
Pen Typle Video Camera  micro SD Type
Pen Type Video Camera ~ micro SD Type Spy on your friends with this pen-sized video camera and microphone! The possibilities are literally endless.
Gift Certificate from J-List
Gift Certificate for the One You Love Give the gift that says, "Your nerd score is over 9000, so buy yourself something cool from Japan." Orders processed constantly through the 25th!
Lucky Cat Maneki Neko Coin Bank  Black
Lucky Cat Coin Bank ~ White or Black Give your lucky coins an extra boost with these lucky cat coin banks, available in white or black. Yes we Nyan!
New Year's Decoration  SHIMENAWA / Kingashinnen
New Year's Decorations Protect yourself and your family from bad luck this coming year with a traditional shimenawa, to be placed in your home.
Mini Magic Sakura Tree
Mini Magic Sakura Tree You can recreate your own Hanami flower viewing at home with this amazing mini 'magic sakura' tree! This popular item restocked today!
Arrow Style Ear Cleaner w/ Dragon Ema (Wishing Board)
Restocked Traditional Products Then: a mimikaki cleaner in the shape of a New Year's arrow, plus a dragon ema wishing board and other traditional items.
Volcano Candy  Coris Kazan de Awawa Set of 3
J-List is proud to bring you tons and tons of unique and delicious snacks from Japan, and we have new items for you today. Try Volcano Candy that erupts in tasty grape-flavored bubbles, or Cratz Smoked Cheese, the perfect thing to go with your beer. Japan just doesn't quit!
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Ramune Soda Melon
US Shipping of Japanese Snacks & Drinks  We love our customers, so we've stocked up some excellent treats in our US warehouse, like ramune, curry and energy drinks.
Bourbon Every Burger
Restocked Japanese Snacks & Drinks Enjoy awesome Pocari Sweat powder mix, Every Burger cookie hamburgers, Kracie Dinosaur and Insect Making Gummy, Gummy Takoyaki, plus awesome Collon!
HANA-KEROSAN 2 Tired Bento Box w/ Trio Set
HANA-KEROSAN 2 Tired Bento Box w/ Trio Set Bring a little bit of cute froggy to your lunch table with this super cute pink bento box, complete with matching chopsticks, fork and spoon.
METAL MODE Blue Men's 2 tier Bento Box set   1000 ml Tight Box  Chopsticks  Thermal Bag
Awesome Bento Boxes Restocked It's never too late to get yourself a new bento box, the Japanese way to enjoy your lunch. From traditional to modern, we have dozens of styles.
Lucky Cat Chopsticks Rest Set  5pcs
Lucky Cat Chopsticks Rest Set ~ 5pcs These cats may look lazy, but they are actually very helpful with keeping your chopsticks off the dinner table, plus they're so kawaii.
Kawaii Red Cheek Panda Chopsticks Rest
Kawaii Panda Products, Too Japan is in the middle of a great Panda Boom, and we've been restocking kawaii products every day. See the new items today.
Vivid-Colored ECO Re-usable Silicon Bento Cup  3pcs
Japanese Bento Cups, Other Accessories Restocked Reduce your carbon footprint by converting over to using these washable, reusable silicon cups, perfect for serving snacks or packing bentos.
Kantan! Character no Obento  Simple! Character Bento
Restocked Bento Books & Cookbooks J-List carries lots of fun books for making Chara Ben or character bento, which we've restocked for you today.
Deluxe Pentel Fude Brush Pen 2way Type
Restocked 'Fude' Pens from Japan Super awesome pens restocked on the site, incl. "fude" pens for writing Japanese brush calligraphy, a very popular product category at J-List.
Mini 'Lucky Cat' Solar Powered Relaxation Toy
Lucky Cat, Ninja Solar Powered Toys Enjoy Japan's most famous icon of good fortune. This Mini Lucky Cat will wave good luck and peace into your life through the miracle of solar power.
Saber  Saber Motored Cuirassier  Fate/Zero  **Preorder**
Saber & Cuirassier ~ Fate/Zero *Preorder* Here's a totally awesome figure of Saber from Fate/Zero riding a badass motorcycle like a bat out of hell. Can't wait to see this in the anime!
Phantasmoon Figma Action Figure  Carnival Phantasm **Preorder**
Phantasmoon ~ Carnival Phantasm *Preorder* And here's another fabulous figure for Type-Moon fans, a fully-posable Figma of Phantasmoon, Arcueid's alter ego from Carnival Phantasm.
Summer School Girl  Natsufuku Joshi
Restocked Photobooks Check our newly restocked selection of naughty photobooks, like Summer School Girl, Ashi-pan, AKB48 Graduation and Natsu Raru.
Kyonyu Artworks
More Ecchi Artbooks, Too See fresh stock of the popular Kyonyu Artworks artbook for fans of oppai, plus gorgeous Queen's Blade artbooks.
Nana 1/8 Cast off Figure Dark Berry Mint Color  School Swimsuit Mecha Nurse Girl  **Preorder**
Nana 1/8 Cast off Figure *Preorder* You might not think it to look at this cute angel-nurse-mecha girl, but she's hiding a pretty sexy body under all that clothing. See for yourself!
I Only Need Onanie Hole  I Have Few Friends Parody Toy
Check out this totally awesome parody onahole shaped like a miniature female body. And not just any body, but the body of one of the cute characters from hit anime I Have Few Friends! Another great stress relief toy from our friends at Tamatoys.
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Greatest Stroker II
Greatest Stroker II is Back in Stock Not your regular stress toy here. This motorized toy is sure to add an extra level of relaxation for men looking for a release. SCIENCE!
Bubble Shake Onahole Toy  'Real Type'
Popular Onahole Toys Restocked From the popular Bubble Shake series to the exotic feel of Fera Zoma and other anime-inspired toys, we've got a huge restocking today.
Pepee OMEGA 3
Awesome Japanese Personal Lotion See fresh stock of the most popular pesonal lotions from Japan, including Pepee Omega 3 and Onatsuyu ~ Female Nectar, plus...Kuroneko Lotion?
e-Rotar - High Design Rotor for Women
Stress Toys for Awesome Girls The classic Japanese "Rotar" [sic] massagers are restocked, which every female should own. Click to see what awesome stress relief we can provide. (I love this pic of Mio, heh.)
Love 0 Kilometers
Great New Import Eroge Today Enjoy Love 0 Kilometers, a game about two quirky families (think Brady Bunch) who decide to exchange children! Also a new DVD-based players game.
We Love Master *Preorder*
We Love Master *Preorder* Remember you can preorder the great upcoming eroge titles from MangaGamer, available only through J-List. We Love Master is a great yaruge type game!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Japanese Year-End Party Season

Yesterday I went down to Tokyo, visiting Akihabara to scout for awesome products I wanted to carry on J-List. (The latest twist on the "maid cafe" concept is a "girl's dormitory cafe" in which you sit around with Japanese girls in their pajamas, playing Wii or engaging in cute banter with them.) While I was in Tokyo I met up with a friend from Italy to have a bounenkai, usually translated as "year-end party" though the kanji actually mean "forget-the-year party." The Japanese are big fans of drinking and will pull out sake or beer at any excuse, and at this time of year drinking establishments are crowded with friends or coworkers laughing and reflecting on the past year over a Suntory highball. There was certainly a lot to forget in 2011, between the sad events of March 11 and other trials the year held for many of us, and as my friend and I drank we did our best to forget them.

A season to drink and forget the past year.