Friday, May 11, 2012

Problem No. 1 in Japan: the Lack of Leadership

Japan faces many challenges as the 21st century progresses, including the ongoing aging of its society, which will see 25% of the country aged 65 or older within this decade. But to my mind, the biggest challenge Japan faces is a total lack of leadership. Japan recently switched off its last nuclear power plant and is currently without nuclear generated sources of power for the first time since 1970, but this didn't come about due to bold initiatives by Japan's leaders sensitive to the needs of their people in the aftermath of 3/11 and just sort of happened as various national and regional politicians avoided making decisions that would get them kicked out office during the next election. While opinions on nuclear power vary -- it may be the best choice for a technically advanced country with no natural resources like Japan, though the real cost when centuries of storage of dangerous material are considered sould be taken into account too -- Japanse politicians should lead the country in a decisive way one way or the other, yet they invariably lead…nowhere. Japanese leaders are failing in other key areas, too. Japan's consumption tax is currently 5%, but the skyrocketing costs of its changing society as well as rebuilding the Tohoku region of Japan have made it pretty clear that this rate needs to rise. Yet the ruling Democratic Part of Japan, fearful of losing power, does nothing...not raising taxes, but also not deciding what other steps it might take instead.

The future of electric power in Japan looks worrysome again.

Mother's Day, Anime Style

Sunday is Mother's Day, a day to do something nice for that very special mom in your life. It's also a good excuse to reflect on the various mothers seen in anime series, and there are several basic archetypes to explore. First there are the "perfect mother" types like Akiko from Kanon or Junko Kaname, the awesome-but-tragic mother of Madoka, who always offer calm advice to their troubled children. Often anime mothers are terrible, which gives their offspring reason to work hard and avoid being like them: ditzy hostess Yasuko from Toradora and Meme Towa, the irresponsible moe mother of Erio from Denpa Onna might apply here. There's a whole class of mothers who are MIA, either because they're living overseas while their kids remain in Japan (KimiKiss, Miyuki) or because they've vanished for some reason (PapaKiki, Please Twins). Then there's time-honored category of "dead mother is watching over us from heaven" like Kanata from Lucky Star, and the slightly less common "anime mother whose soul is enslaved inside a 40 meter tall giant robot," as seen in the Evangelion series. Happy Mother's Day!

A special day to think about Mom.

Cosplay Products @ J-List

Summer is almost here, and that means it's a great time to browse J-List's extensive anime cosplay and fashion pages, which are loaded tons of excellent products from Japan. We've got those delicious over-knee socks so you can create "Absolute Zone" fashions, full cosplay outfits plus fun accessories from shimapan to authentic "spats" (the tight bicycle shorts commonly seen in anime) and more. Click here to view the newest anime cosplay products from Japan.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Random Thoughts on Seasons and Culture in Japan

It's funny the way language can influence our perceptions of the seasons. Yesterday there was an annoying fly buzzing around our house, one of the really smart ones that takes several days to finally kill. When he evaded my flyswatter yet again, my wife laughed and said, "Of course the flies are annoying now. It's May. " She was referring to the kanji for the word urusai (meaning loud or obnoxious, or if said to someone, essentially "shut up!") being written with characters that translate as "buzzing flies in May," an interesting linguistic factoid that foreigners are always fascinated to discover. Cultural traditions can also pop up at surprising times, too. Back when I was a teacher, I had a textbook in which some children were flying a kite in summer, but one of my students was amazed. "Flying a kite is something you do around New Year's Day, why would they do this in the summer?" In Japan, flying a kite (called a tako, not to be confused with an octopus or the Mexican food) is a traditional activity done to celebrate the new year. (If you dislike buzzing flies like I do, note that we've got a new improved version of the popular Fruit Fly Dying House.)

An example of New Year's kite flying, Touhou style.

New Moe Design Elements: the Ahoge Tentacle

It's fun to observe how the visual elements of anime character design change and evolve from season to season. Animators must come up with a way to make their characters endearing to fans, blending existing character traits like glasses, "twintails" hair or those charming crooked fang teeth while inventing new visual memes, such as the recent boom in unique hairpins or the hair ribbons worn by Haruhi or Sora from PapaKiki. One character trait that was quite dominant during the last decade was ahoge (ah-ho-geh, literally "idiot hair," aho being the Osaka word for stupid), an undisciplined stalk of hair that sticks straight up from the heads of characters like Saber from the Fate/stay night series. The basic ahoge went through several revisions, for example morphing into the "antenna hair" seen in Love Hina and Nagisa's family from Clannad. The latest stage in the evolution of anime hair is Nyarko-san, our second favorite blending of moe with the Cthulhu universe, who has a "hair tentacle" she can use to express herself with. (Our favorite marriage of moe and Cthulhu would be our English-translated eroge Demonbane, of course.)

The "hair tentacle" is a new moe character design element.

Train Etiquette in Japan (and Australia)

As I often write, Japanese are the most polite and considerate people in the world, an important thing when you've got a little under half the population of the United States living on four islands with the combined area the size of Montana. When you get on a train here you know that it'll be a pleasant train ride, with people switching their phones into "manner mode" (vibration mode) and generally making sure to avoid causing inconvenience to people around them. There are exceptions of course, like the occasional disturbed individual who thinks that a crowded train is a great place to start raging against Japanese society. Also, for some reason the ultra-tanned fashion-rebels called gyaru who appear in each issue of Egg are usually okay with breaking the taboo of having a phone conversation on a train -- it's as if smashing through one barrier of conformity made it easier to break through others as well. But for the most part, traveling inside Japan is a pleasure.

Random train etiquette wisdom from Australia.

Cool Products Wednesday, May 9, 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.
COSMODE Mar 2012  Super Cosplay Magazine 044
A new issue of COSMODE is here, with hundreds of pages of exclusive content for cosplayers and cosplay admirers, with photo. So whether you're looking for ideas for your next costume, or you just want to check out the cute girls dressed as your favorite characters, this magazine has what you're looking for.
View products »
Egg June 2012 vol. 188
New Issues of Egg Fashion Magazine We've got another issue of Egg for you, the magazine of really cool Tokyo street culture and guaru (aka kogals).
Touhou Project illustration Tutorial Guide
Restocked Anime & Touhou Artbooks We love to bring you amazing artbooks from Japan, and we've got that epic Touhou artbook back in stock + Macross Frontier, Mawaru Penguindrum and more.
Domokun 4' Flocked Vinyl Figure: Classic Brown
Domokun 4' Flocked Vinyl Figure: Classic Brown Domo-kun and friends are here in a new set of awesome vinyl figures. You get Domo, Usaji, and Ta-chan, all ready for some wacky adventures.
Kaomoji Sweets Mascot set (Full Set of 10)
Kaomoji Sweets Mascot set (Full Set of 10) Kawaii mini companions for you to snuggle with at home, on the train, or in your car, all shaped like popular Japanese sweets.
Frilly One-Piece Dress + Top (Beige)  3L
New and Restocked Japanese Fashions If you're wearing last year's fashion, you're behind the trends. Check out these new fashion items that are hot on the streets of Tokyo.
High School Briefcase Bookbag
Popular School Book Bag, Other Cosplay Items We restocked our legendary Japanese Leather School Briefcase, as seen in anime for decades, plus other gorgeous cosplay items from Japan.
Dream Shimabikini  Mint Green M (Vocaloid Bikini Swimsuit)
Vocaloid Bikini Swimsuits, Shimapan for Cosplay Our Vocaloid-inspired striped bikinis sold faster than we could believe. Good thing we have more! Stock won't last long, so get 'em while you can.
LED Light Umbrella
LED Light Umbrella (Blade Runner Style) Walk the rainy night streets with a saber of light, like those seen in popular sci-fi movies, possibly involving runaway androids and/or flying cars.
Mahjong Dream Club
New PS3 & PSVita Games Play mahjong with 13 cute girls in Mahjong Dream Club for PS3, or travel to a wonderful fantasy world in a new RPG for your PSVita.
MUV-LUV Alternative Chronicles 03
MUV-LUV Alternative Chronicles 03 The third installment of Muv-Luv Alternative Chronicles is now available at a new low price. Check it out for more awesome mecha action.
Kanon  Memorial Edition
Great All-Ages Visual Novels & More We've also restocked your favorite visual novels from Key, like Rewrite, Kanon, and Tomoyo After. Make sure you have plenty of tissues.
Fruit Fly Dying House  Strong ver.
Fruit Fly Dying House ~ Strong ver Get rid of those pesky fruit flies with this easy-to-use fly trap from Japan. Great for the hot summer months, when flies like to congregate.
Gelgoog Car Cup Holder  Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam Car Cup Holders Turn your boring normal car into a cool Gundam car with the Gelgoog and Hyakushiki cup holders we restocked. Unlock your Newtype potential while driving to work!
NINJA Shuriken Ice Tray
Random Fun Ice Cube Makers Restocked Also: see fresh stock of some other interesting ice cube tray molds, including Ninja Shuriken throwing stars and Star Wars shaped ice.
Hello Kitty Kaiun Mascot Set of 10
Fun Hello Kitty Products from Japan Mother's Day is coming up, so why not treat your mother to one of these delicious Hello Kitty candy pouches or a set of cute kitty figures?
Totoro Gamaguchi Pouch
New Totoro Items In Stock Enjoy awesome new Totoro products, including "Gamaguchi" pouches for keeping your money and other important stuff in kawaii style.
Rilakkuma Vibrating Massager  Rilakkuma
Rilakkuma, Sushi Vibrating Massagers? These miniature vibrating keychains are the perfect way to grab a quick massage with Rilakkuma. Sushi vibrators restocked too.
Rilakkuma Silicon Chocolate Mold
Rilakkuma Silicon Chocolate Molds We're big fans of the kawaii products of San-X and have restocked several items today, including our popular cake and chocolate molds + plush toys.
Basic Kanji Drill New -- 2nd Grade
Japanese Study Books Restocked Also, fresh stock of the Japanese kanji drill books used by Japanese children, with several back in stock. Study like the Japanese do!
Deluxe Pentel Fude Brush Pen 2way Type
Restocked 'Fude' Pens & More Practice the art of calligraphy at home with modern tools that make practicing this ancient art easier than ever.
Meiji Qun Gummy Mango Flavor (Set of 3)
Enjoy the tastes of Japan while watching your favorite anime, with treats from major brands like Meiji, Morinaga and Glico., since anime is always more fun while eating Japanese snacks Today's new snack is Meiji Qun, an extra-large gummy full of delicious juices. Available in mango and cola flavors!
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Tentacle Mustache
Fun Tentacle Products Restocked From the Tentacle Grape carbonated soda we stock to the wacky Tentacle Fingers, this year as really been a good one for tentacle-themed products.
Okinawa Limited Hi-Chew Shikwasa (Citrus Depressa) Set of 5
Excellent Restocked Japanese Snacks We've got Okinawa-limited Puccho and Hi-Chew goodness, plus Sushi Candy, Giftwrapped Green Tea Chocolates, Sakura Mochi, plus Kracie snacks restocked.
Red x Blue LEGO Block Style 2 tier Bento Box w/ Chopsticks, Elastic Band  Refrigerant Pack
Red x Blue LEGO Block Style 2 tier Bento Box Japan excels at the art of 'cute,' and we think you'll agree that these Lego-style bentos are very kawaii accessories for your mealtime!
ASCII Art Bento - 2-tier Tight Box KITA
ASCII Art Bento Boxes & More Then, we've restocked the popular ASCII bento, a great lunchbox with a cute face made using Japanese ASCII characters. Nerd ho!
Easy Boiled-Egg Shaper -- Fish  Car Shapes
Amazing Boiled Egg Shapers from Japan Make your kitchen more fun, with amazing tools from Japan, like boiled egg shapers plus other food cutters from Japan.
Animal Colored Aluminum Foil for Rice Ball (pack of 12)
Fun Bento Accessories Then: see other bento items, including anti-bacterial sheets, since no one wants bacteria in their bento lunch, and <>kawaii rice ball wrappers.
Mousse-chan Kira-Kira Paper Clay Set    Sweet's Key Holder
Mousse-chan Paper Clay Items Restocked Also, the awesome kami nendo or "paper clay" molds featuring the cute character Mousse-chan are restocked today. Molds are reusable for other crafts!
YOKOBUE  Traditional Bamboo Flute
Fun Traditional Items Restocked Enjoy our yokobue flutes which are ridiculously popular for some reason, plus Fujin and Raijin Lucky Cat, shrine chocolate and more.
Princess of the Crystal Nendoroid  Mawaru Penguindrum **Preorder**
Princess of the Crystal Nendoroid ~ Penguindrum *Preorder* And for Penguindrum fans, we have this great Nendoroid of the Princess of the Crystal. Comes with optional parts and removable clothing!
Yusuke Urashima 1/8 Figure Yu Yu Hakusho **Preorder**
Yu Yu Hakusho Figures, Other Preorder Items Complete your set of cool Yu Yu Hakusho figures with this badass rendition of Yusuke. Comes with Pu. Plus, other awesome items for preorder.
RaFu -- Yuu Kawakami
RaFu ~ Yuu Kawakami Getting out onto the gorgeous glossy paper of this photobook, Yuu Kawakami shows off her love of cosplay and ropes in this stunning item.
Fizz illustration Works
We're huge fans of the gorgeous 2D artbooks from Japan, and carry everything we can get our mitts on. Here's a fabulous moe-kei artbook offers more than 140 pages of cute girls in skirts, stockings, and nothing at all! Highly recommended for moe art lovers.
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PIECES 8  Wild Wet West -- Masamune Shirow ** preorder **
Awesome Works by Shirow Masamune Restocked We've restocked the epic new artbook by Shirow, which is filled with hot 2D girls who gorgeous, you'll understand the meaning of Wild Wet West. Click to browse.
Date Wingfield Reiko 1/6 Cast off Figure  Fault!! **Preorder**
Date Wingfield Reiko Cast-off Figure ~ Fault!! *Preorder* Fans of Tony's character designs, here's a smoking hot figure of a blonde babe who's just waiting for you to take her clothes off.
Animal Getchu!  Cat Type
Animal Getchu! ~ Cat & Fox Type A safe way to experiment with your temptations of seducing a sexy anime cat-girl, these toys make your animalistic fantasies come to life.
The Dignity of Great 'Maria Ozawa'
Fun Toys for JAV Fans Restocked Check out our excellent selection of relaxation toys for our J-List fans, featuring the bodies of stars like Maria Ozawa, Sarah and more. Personal lotion too!
Bakujiri Musou -- Extreme Impact  Samurai Girls Parody Toy
Fighting Girl Onaholes, Too We all love strong girls, and here are some stress toys featuring some of the best female fighters from Ikki Tousen. There are two ways to relieve stress, too.
New Air Dutch Dolls -- Sayaka Ver. (Horse-Riding Type)
Air Dutch Dolls & Related Fun Products Enjoy fun "Air Dutch" (apologies to our friends in The Netherlands), with several dolls restocked, along with "Sweat Scent of Virgin Spray" if you like.
Secret Wive's Club
Secret Wives' Club for NTR? NTR is a slang word meaning netorare or cuckoldry, e.g. the fetish of one's woman being taken by another man. Great game with hot graphics!

Tentacle Grape @ J-List

We stock a lot of fun Japanese snacks and drinks in our San Diego office, and one of the most popular products has been Tentacle Grape, the legendary grape soda with the funny name that our customers love -- available by the single bottle or convenient six-pack. We've restocked some other wacky tentacle related products lately, including those Tentacle Fingers, the classic Tentacle Mustache and more. Never stop amusing us, Japan!

Monday, May 07, 2012

How the Japanese View the American Election

One of the benefits of living outside the United States is not having to endure the endless bombardment of political messages during an election year, though I don't mind turning on the Japanese news to watch their reporting. America's election process can be quite confusing to outsiders, and a large amount of air time is dedicated to informing Japanese viewers what institutions like the Electoral College are and why they exist -- it's a little like trying to explain American football to Europeans who aren't familiar with the rules of the sport. Of course, politics are very different between Japan and the U.S., and even concepts like being politically "left" or "right" are completely separate. Here, to be "right" leaning means to be loyal to the Emperor, usually supporting visits to by Japanese government officials to Yasukuni Shrine, which China and South Korea object to because war criminals are interred in the shrine in addition to normal soldiers. Japanese who are "left" leaning usually oppose the Japan-US Security Treaty of 1951, arguing that Japan should seek closer ties with China and force the U.S. to remove its bases from Okinawa. Happily, 85% of Japanese or more would describe themselves as being in the center, far from the two extremes.
(One person on Facebook chose to be very offended at my use of the word "right wing" in Friday's update as if I were implying a certain political opinion I don't have and wouldn't ever express here. So I wanted to clarify things a bit...I was/am discussing Japanese politics and am not implying anything about any political view held in the U.S.)

Japanese politics are quite different from those in the U.S.

Character Building Through Cleaning

Two defining characteristics of the Japanese people are general humility and the ability to get along harmoniously with others in your group, class or organization. One useful mechanism that helps bring these traits out in people is the practice of students cleaning their own classrooms, including regular cleaning each week as well as oh-souji or "big cleaning" when the school year ends. Taking responsibility for cleaning of one's own space is considered part of what schools teach, important for creating well-rounded citizens since nothing builds character like cleaning a few toilets. The interesting thing is, this cleaning isn't overseen by the teachers or anything, but is organized by the students themselves, and if someone shirks his cleaning duties he'll have to endure the anger of his peers. Schools aren't the only places where people clean their own area: most employees of companies also do this too, including the staff of J-List. For the first 30 minutes on Monday morning, we empty trash, wipe down desks, vacuum and sweep so we can have a clean and productive week. How do you do things in your country?

Japanese students do their own cleaning.