Friday, January 27, 2012

The History of Akihabara

Akihabara is the area of Tokyo famous for its Electric Town shopping district and for being the international center of otaku culture. It's a popular destination with foreign visitors to Japan, and you can always tell the train has arrived there because all the gaijin will get off suddenly. But Akiba, as it's often called, hasn't always been the Holy Land for anime and computer nerds. In 1869, after a devastating fire in the area, the Meiji Emperor ordered a temple built for prayers against future fires, which people started referring to as Akiba-sama, a Shinto/Buddhist deity believed to protect against fire. When the area was ordered cleared of trees to prevent further fires from reaching the more populated areas of the city, the field (hara) that resulted was named Akihabara, the Field of Autumn Leaves. After World War II, shops selling vacuum tubes to students attending a nearby technical school appeared, and this formed the base of the electronics retailers that are so famous now. During the 1990s, home electronics and computers were available just about anywhere, making Akiba less important as an electronics hub, and shops specializing in anime CDs and videos, doujinshi comics and PC dating-sim games started to take over.

Some background on Akihabara, one of the most internationally famous parts of Tokyo.

Random Nihongo: Particles

When I started studying Japanese I was anxious because I knew the grammar would be unlike anything found in English or the smattering of Spanish I'd taken in high school. Happily I found that, to me, the grammar and syntax wasn't that bad -- I learned to memorize base sentences and switch out the nouns, verbs and adjectives until I was comfortable using them, and of course I read lots of manga to pick up new vocabulary words. One unique aspect of Japanese is that there are grammatical "particles" which mark certain words, clearly indicating the sentence subject, object, etc. Here are a few examples in case you're curious:
wa and ga
The "subject" and "topic" markers of sentences, and if this sounds a little vague, join the "confused by wa and ga club." In a nutshell, wa is the master subject marker of a sentence, and ga is used in certain situations, including questions or when you need emphasis.
Example: Nihongo wa muzukashii. Dono hen ga muzukashii? (The Japanese language is difficult. What part is difficult?)
The object marker for sentences, by happy linguistic chance, is "o." Can they get any more convenient?
Example: Kinou eiga o mimashita. (Yesterday I saw a movie.)
Filling the role of "to" (as in where you're going, or to whom an action is directed), and "into" for verbs like to enter. It's "in" spelled backwards so it's another easy one to remember.
Example: Neko wa hako ni hairu. (The cat goes into the box.)
A marker for questions.
Example: Kore wa zombie desu ka? (Is this a zombie?)
ga, keredomo, keredo, kedo
These all mean "but," ranked from most polite to most informal.
Example: Ugoite mo ii keredo, totemo kiken yo. (It's okay to move, but it's very dangerous.)
It's often the case that words a person chooses to use say a lot about their character, like a tomboy who uses the first-person pronoun usually used by males. In the anime Bakemonogatari (and the new sequel Nisemonogatari), it's common for characters to always use the word keredo (above, meaning "but"), which provides an oddly formal and precise quality to everything the characters in the show say, though no one really talks like that.

Characters in anime often speak in unique ways.

Crime in Japan

I've written before about how one of the more pleasant aspects of living in Japan is that people tend to be honest and upstanding, and chances are if you lose your wallet or camera it will be turned in at the local "police box," as the tiny two-man police stations that dot Japanese cities are called. That's not to say there's no crime in Japan: as with all countries, there are thefts, assaults and the occasional murder, but in general the chances that crime will affect a given person are low. Sadly, one type of crime is still too common, the bank transfer frauds known as Ore Ore Sagi or "It's me, it's me! Scams." Usually they take the form of an elderly Japanese person receiving a call from a "grandson" with a cold (hence the change in his voice) who says, "It's me, it's me! Don't you know your own grandson?" The swindler then proceeds to tell some lie about how he's gotten in an accident or made a costly error at work and needs $5000 transferred to his bank account right away to fix things. The problem is bad enough that police are often posted by bank ATMs to ask patrons if they've received any suspicious calls, and the ATMs themselves display warnings when transferring money. These types of crimes are reportedly less common in the Osaka area because criminals can't mimic the Osaka-ben dialect as easily.

Bank transfer scams are still a problem in Japan.

Cool Products Friday, January 27, 2012

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.
Chocopa Plushy Phone Case (Choco Panda)
If there was an award given for the cutest product of the year, we'd have a winner! These adorable new creations from San-X feature Chocopa, the Chocolate loving panda, with some amazingly cool accessories like cell phone cases and accessory bags.
View products »
Fruits Mar 2012 NO 176
Fruits Mar 2012 NO 176 The magazine that brings you the best in Tokyo streetwear in a no-frills package that gives you hundreds of HQ photos of authentic fashion.
Kirino Kousaka 1/8 Figure -memories-  Ore Imo **Preorder**
New Kirino, Shining Hearts Figures In Stock Great new figures in stock today. Check out the swimsuit version of Urayukihime from Shining Hearts and three moe versions of OreImo's Kirino.
EVA-02 Neko Mimi Hoodie *Preorder*
Evangelion Neko Mimi Hoodies for Preorder Proclaim your love of Eva to the world with these great nekomimi hoodies designed to resemble the Evangelion units. The latest in otaku fashion.
Evangelion Mug Cup -- Eva Unit 01
Evangelion Mug Cup ~ Eva Unit 01 Give your coffee that extra kick when you serve it with this amazing mug cup featuring Unit 01 from Evangelion.
Itazura Cat Coin Bank -- American Short Hair
Itazura Cat Coin Bank, Other Cute Products Restocked J-List has tons of cute ways to save money, like our popular line of Itazura Cat coin banks featuring cute pop-up kittens and puppies. Now restocked.
Monster Hunter Airu Stereo Headphone
Monster Hunter Headphones and Other Items Get your Monster Hunter groove on with these stylish headphones styled after the cute game mascot cat-creature Airu. Restocked today.
Lace Decoration Over Knee Socks (size M-L)  Black
Lace Decoration Over Knee Socks The perfect addition to any girl's assortment of over-the-knee socks, with stylish white lace on black. Great for gothic cosplayers too.
Black Shirt and Border Setup
Wonderful Japanese Fashion Items You'll find at we have a huge selection of great fashion items, perfect for those who are in love with Japanese fashion and trends, newly stocked.
Panchira Office Lady -- White M  Perfumed Panties of OL
Fun Cosplay, OL Pantsu Restocked Lots of great ecchi cosplay items back in stock, like sailor uniforms, swimsuits, panties, shimapan, pantyhose, kneesocks, and more!
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.
Japanese School Bag  Sports Type
Japanese School Bags Restocked It's the kind of thing Japanese people take for granted, but those school book bags they carry in anime are pretty awesome. Now you get your own!
Steins Gate Hiyokurenri no Darling - Artbook/Guide
Restocked Anime Artbooks Artbooks are the best, and we've restocked the new Steins;Gate dating-sim game fanbook plus the Otona no Anime Yearbook and Hetalia guide to Italy.
Diablock Colors Shoes  Blue/Yellow -- size 17cm
LEGO-style building blocks are one of the world's most popular toys, and that's true even in Japan. Let your kids take the joy of LEGO everywhere they go with these colorful Velcro sneakers from Diablock, Japan's premier building block manufacturer.
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Chi's Sweet Home 2012 Calendar
Chi's Sweet Home 2012 Calendar Our 2012 anime calendars are going fast, but we've got good news: we got in a few units of the Chi's Sweet Home calendar for fans of Japan's cutest lost cat.
2012 Calendar -- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Madoka Magika Calendar Update Also we posted internal photos of the pages in the Madoka calendar for this year, one of the most popular anime calendars. Grab one while they're on sale!
Totoro Microwave Safe Tight Bento Box
Totoro Bento Box, Other Ghibli Items Restocked See the great Microwave Safe Tight Totoro Bento Box we restocked today, plus high quality playing cards (or "trump" as the Japanese say) of Totoro and Jiji.
Animal Chocolate Pocky Stick Silicon Mold w/ microwave  Oven
Pocky Decoration Molds, Pocky Chopsticks! I knew the silicon mold that allows you to decorate Pocky sticks would be a hit, and we sold out fast. We got more for you, though!
Tokyo Limited Kit Kat Orange Sky Tree ver. **Preorder**
Japanese Kit Kats are among our most popular products, and our customers love to taste the unique types of Kit Kat made for the Japanese market by Nabisco. In addition to the Sakura Green Tea Kit Kat we got in last time, we've posted Kit Kat Message Packs for students taking tests, plus Tokyo Sky Tree limited Kit Kat!
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Meiji Horn Bitter Set of 3
Meiji Horn Chocolates In Stock, Too Also enjoy new flavors of Meiji Horn chocoaltes, which quality and elegant chocolates from Japan that will lift your spirits when you eat them.
Ramune Soda Raspberry
Ramune, Mario Mints & More in San Diego Enjoy some sour candies in Super Mario tins, authentic Japanese ramune in multiple flavors, essential treats and more, now shipping from San Diego.
Chopper 2 Tier Bento Box w/ Chopsticks  Elastic Band  ONE PIECE
Chopper 2 Tier Bento Box ~ ONE PIECE  A great bento box for lovers of the One Piece series that comes with everything you would ever need, from chopsticks to bento band.
Navy Ume Modern Slim Bento Box  Genuine Lacquered 2 tier Box  Elastic Band  Microwave  Dishwasher Safe
Traditional Bento Boxes Restocked When you want to show off your lunch to your co-workers or friends, do it with a box that will awe and impress. Several nice ones restocked today.
2 Sizes Triangle Onigiri Maker  Large  Small
2 Sizes Triangle Onigiri Maker ~ Dual Dize! Create your own Japanese style onigiri (rice balls) with this easy to use shaping kit. The perfect way to make a delicious lunch.
Bear Silicon Cooking Cup  Oven  Microwave Safe
Bear Shaped Cooking Cup Are you into bears? This great silicon cooking cup is very versatile, allowing you to create foods like bear onigiri to bear cupcakes.
BUB  Healthy Sparkling Bath Tablet    Milky White Rose        20 pcs (1 Box)
Healthy Sparkling Bath Tablets BUB Restocked No one knows bathing like the Japanese. Enjoy our healthy and fragrant sparkling bath tablets, now restocked in three delightful aromas.
Coffret du couturier Letter Set
Restocked Stationery, Traditional Brush Pens See the popular Coffret du Couturier Letter Set restocked, plus an those traditional fude brush pens that let you write Japanese calligraphy.
more maki -- Maki Goto Premium Photobook
Gorgeous Japanese Idols Photobooks See fresh stock of the kawaii Maki Goto, former star of Morning Musume, plus a really gorgeous photobook offering from Yoko Kumada.
Kobato Hasegawa 1/10 Figure Beach Queen  Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai *Preorder*
Beach Queen Kobato and Ryugu Azusa *Preorder* Great new figures up for preorder. You'll love the adorable Beach Queen version of Haganai's Kobato, and also the beautiful Azusa from Idolm@ster.
Rita Mordio 1/8 Figiure  Tales of Vesperia *Preorder*
Tales of Vesperia, AnoHana Figures *Preorder* We also have an awesomely dynamic figure of Rita from Tales of Vesperia and AnoHana's Anaru in a delectable one piece.
Samus Aran 1/8 Figure ZERO SUITS  METROID Other M *Preorder*
Even More Awesome Preorder Figures Also: see this gorgeous new Metroid figure plus plush toys from Uta no Prince-sama, a great Sayaka Miki figure, Fate/Zero more.
Otonyan vol. 6  Joso Boy Special Magazine
For fans of the popular joso trend in Japan today, meaning boys wearing female clothes, here's a great issue of Otonyan magazine. This is a great item if you're a fan of "trap" themes and think Hideyoshi from Baka Test is awesome.
View products »
Masaki Mizuhara Collection Reira 1/12 Cast off Figure Black ver. **Preorder**
Gorgeous New 'Cast Off' Figures If you like women with truly enormous breasts, then you'll want to check out this amazingly sexy figure of Masaki Mizuhara's ultra-busty Reira.
OTOKONOKO?  Futanari Stress Toy
OTOKONOKO? ~ Futanari Stress Toy This body-shaped stress relief toy is one of a kind, being the first futanari onahole toy we've ever seen. Why not?
Bokkin Boy Beast  Type A
Bokkin Boy Beast (Ring) Give your manhood a shonen power-up with these "girth enhancement rings." Slip one on and listen to your partner's screams of ecstasy.
Azumi Nyan! Pero Pero Hole  K-On! Azusa Parody Toy
Restocked Onaholes for Otakus Wow, popular stress toys featuring Azunyan, Anaru from AnoHana and more, which will make your otaku life more enjoyable.
Puru Puru Oppai Finale
Fun Oppai Toys Restocked The Oppai Onanie Hole is back, one of the most amazing inventions for self-pleasure we've seen, plus the welcoming mounds of Mami from Madoka.
Tsubu Tsubu Lotion
Amazing Personal Lotion from Japan Spice up your private time with our selection of personal lotions, including varieties specially formulated to increase your moe moe kyun.
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." This game is loaded with these themes!
Maji de Watashi ni Koishinasai! S - Majikoi S
Maji de Watashi ni Koishinasai! S - Majikoi S The sequel to Majikoi is here! Pick up where you left off with your favorite Majikoi heroine or romance one of 5 new girls in this fun erotic game.
Rance Quest
Japanese Eroge Restocked, Too Then enjoy Delusion Virtual Character Trouble w/T-CAM, Yurikako Yori Tenshi Made, the BL-tastic Chiral Amusement Disc, Do Love Me Seriously! and Rance Quest.

Still Time to order Chocoalte for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is not far off, but there's still plenty of time to order if you want to get some good chocolate and other items from J-List. We recommend the awesome lineup of Japanese Kit Kat we've posted this week, along with favorites like Meltykiss. Also recommended is the new Pocky Decoration Mold -- just melt chocolate in your microwave, add a Pocky stick and let it cool. You'll have the most delicious Japanese treat around!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Japanese News Media

The Japanese news media operates in much the same way as in other countries, reporting news events to consumers on television and in printed form. Unlike other countries, Japanese still get most of their news from the newspapers -- my father-in-law somehow manages to read four different ones a day while waiting for customers in his rural liquor shop -- and the top five newspapers in the world by circulation are all here. While the mainstream Japanese media does a good job of reporting the news, there are some problems, such as their willingness to self-censor on delicate issues, like the time Google inadvertently published historical maps which showed the regions where Japan's old "untouchable" classes lived (a big taboo), which was widely discussed online yet ignored by the media. One aspect of news programs on television I like a lot are shows in which hard-hitting issues are publicly debated. Recently I caught a show that tried to tackle one of Japan's biggest problems, the lack of competent leadership in politics, overseen by Ota of the comedy team Bakusho Mondai (his IQ is about 250), and various ideas were presented from a wide range of intriguing guests in a way that I've not seen on news in the U.S.

Ota (left) doesn't look like much but he's got a a sharp mind to cut through problems.

Today is Steamed Chinese Meat Bun Day (Nikuman no Hi)

Being from a warm place like San Diego, winter definitely isn't my favorite season, and part of getting used to living in Japan involved not just adapting to the colder climate but learning to deal with the limitations of Japanese houses, which are are usually built with thinner materials (back during the bubble era everyone tore down their house every 15 years and built a new one), with no custom of central heating at all. Still, there are some aspects of winter I like a lot, including the first prayer for good luck on New Year's Day and sitting with my legs inserted into kotatsu heater table while eating mikan oranges and playing with my cat. Another good thing about winter is nikuman or "steamed Chinese meat buns," a delicious treat sold at convenience stores during the colder months, which are a joy to bite into while standing on a freezing train platform. The Japanese love assigning days to random products, and January 25 has been designated nikuman no hi or Steamed Meat Bun Day. This day in 1902 saw the coldest temperature ever recorded in Japan (-42 degrees C/-41 degrees F), which made it as good as day as any to encourage everyone to eat something delicious and warm.

Taiga gives the gift of hot nikuman in winter.

Anime: It's All About the Character

If the anime of the 80s can be summed up as stories about mankind's grand future in space (Gundam, Macross, Gunbuster) and the 90s as a golden age when companies reached their commercial peak making psychologically driven stories (Evangelion, Lain) or re-inventing classic genres (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura), the decade of the 2000s was largely about exploring the characters themselves. Of course, anime characters are no more real than the action heroes seen in Hollywood films, being caricatures of personality types created for the endearment of viewers: the dojikko girls in anime are more cute-clumsy than any meatspace person could be, the tsundere types too predictably angry then full of love at just the right moment to provide a payoff for fans. Still, sometimes realistic elements creep in. In the anime Working!! there's a character named Maya Matsumoto who's obsessed with being perceived as futsuu, meaning normal, average and no different from anyone else. I've actually known some Japanese people like that, including a girl who got offended when I told her she was kawatteru ("a little different") and an eroge programmer who legally changed his name to Abe Reiji because he loved the English word "average."

Maya from Working!!, the ultimate "normal" girl.

Recommended Visual Novel: Demonbane

One English-translated visual novel/eroge I recommend a lot is Deus Machina Demonbane, one of the greatest games J-List has ever had the privilege to bring out to fans. It's a full Cthulhu Mythos game with gorgeous characters and art, and the current package version is the "DX" (deluxe) edition with included artbook. Click here to see all the English visual novels and eroge on the site.

Kawaii Products for your Kitchen and Bento

J-List carries fun bento accessories and other items for your kitchen. Do you need a really cute sponge shaped like a smiling onigiri rice ball, or a sandwich cutter that creates awesome heart-shaped sandwiches with the sandwich insides "sealed" for you? We also carry furikake which you sprinkle over rice plus awesome bento cups by Torune, one of our favorite companies.